Home from traveling, I jump into the gray Corolla. I’ve been a Five Guys Dad lately, flying to Los Angeles for work and back home on weekends to take the boys to soccer and movies and the library and their favorite restaurant. It’s not an ideal way to parent, but what can you do? My job requires it, and my life requires my job.
As usual, I’m first. As I wait, the smell inside the car rises up and makes me shudder. Old burgers and fries. The smell of a grill, the smell of grease. I do not feel like I do when I’m on a sidewalk and the hot fumes coming out of a bar make me hungry and eager to go inside. This smell is stale and disgusting and I hate it.
I’ve never liked this car. I was forced to buy it in a hurry (two cars in two days) when moving here from New York and starting a new life. Everything was rushed then, everything was secondary to trying to keep a toddler and an infant fed and clothed and safe. I overpaid for the car; my half of the negotiations still stands as a particularly disgraceful display of weakness on my part.
Hate the car. And now I can’t even muster up the energy to replace it. My wife never drives it. It sits here all week, its slaughterhouse smell trapped inside like The Ghost of Weekends Past. The good times have faded, left behind like grease-splattered paper bags.
With one exception (when a rat chewed through some hoses), the car has been dependable. I hate it anyway. I hate the color, it’s too small, it’s boring, the carpet is already practically destroyed. We’ve abused it with spills and mud and orange peels and juice boxes and crumbs. The car is filthy, inside and out; the windows are crusted with bird droppings; crumbs and bits of leaves line every possible groove. Being in here makes me feel weak and unhealthy and ashamed.
And now there’s the smell. The smell that conjures up all my frustrations.
Here’s Proust on his famous madeleine:
And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place.
Extraordinary changes? Perhaps—but in my case, they were all going in the wrong direction.