It isn’t what you think. Or maybe, if you were a peculiar sort of child in the 1980s, it is what you think.
This memory came to me the other morning as I was walking with Will. We were talking about a car that a lover of his once owned.
I have never been one to take note of cars. Generally speaking I find them uninspiring. But I have a very vivid memory from about the time I was 10 or 11 years old of a particular, peculiar car I used to see driving around my apartment complex. It was not a beautiful car. It was not a car that ordinary people loved. My friends raved about Mustangs or Irocs or other fast and sexy sports cars. This was not that kind of car.
I particularly remember seeing it by the pool area as I would walk with my friends, wrapped in towels decorated with Snoopy or Bugs Bunny or Wonder Woman, still dripping water and feet smack-smacking in wet flip flops or jellies, from the pool to whichever of our respective apartments was likely to have the best snacks, and where we could put Grease on the VCR for the hundredth time without a parent complaining.
It was a Subaru Brat circa early 1980s. Neither truck nor car, it was possibly the strangest mass-market auto ever made. It seemed to exist to defy categorization. It was not a station wagon. It was not a pickup truck. It seemed designed for kids and dogs but this one, yet didn’t seem to be a “family car.” I don’t know who bough them.
Riding in the back of a pickup was sexy but dangerous and also illegal. Riding in the back of a station wagon was probably also dangerous and illegal, but mothers let their kids do that as a matter of course. The Brat had actual seats, outside, facing backward. It seemed built to walk right up to the rules and poke them in the chest and say “I dare you.” It didn’t quite break the rules but did seem to suggest that they were arbitrary and challengable. It was perfect for a kid like me who was a nerd and a geek and a conformist and yet who didn’t fit in to any groups. How on earth can a conformist not fit in? Maybe that was why I was so fascinated by this silly car.
Like I said, I never did pay much attention to cars. But the Brat spoke to me. I don’t remember anything about the driver, and I couldn’t tell you if, at the time, I even took note of who owned it. But I know that I wanted to ride in the back of this Brat, in one of those backward facing seats, and I imagined somehow that such a ride would mean a rush of freedom and I remember thinking of this in somewhat erotic terms. I remember a fluttery feeling in the pit of my stomach when I would see it parked by the pool area.
Maybe this early infatuation with a strange and unpopular auto was partially responsible for imprinting on my impressionable pre-teen brain a love for things that are hard to classify, for liminality, and for the spaces in between. Maybe I should have paid more attention to cars as a child.