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Crappy cars 

Venturing into the realm of nice possessions

You are not gonna believe this, but as of this minute it looks like the four of us -- Daniel, Grant, Lary and I -- have seen each other through the crappy-car syndrome. Daniel was the last to convert. He bought a new Ford after his dented old van finally died on Piedmont Avenue this month. I happened to be in it at the time, but Daniel and his boyfriend Mitch were too chivalrous to let me help push it up the road to the Exxon station on the corner, telling me I was needed to steer instead. Damn, I thought. There was a time I'd have fallen down flailing with embarrassment if I was caught pushing a broken car down a main thoroughfare, but these days the idea appeals to me. I don't know why.

Maybe it's nostalgia. When I came to Atlanta 13 years ago, it was in a '69 yellow VW Bug with the door panel held in place by a roll of duct tape and french fries permanently bonded to the floor panel under a crust of dried coffee. It cost me $200, and it was barely above a Moped on the scale of motor evolution. The seatbelt left a streak of rust across the front of my clothes, and if it was raining outside I got wet inside. A coffin on wheels would have been a step up, because at least a coffin provides you protection from the elements.

Also, I kept a tube of silicone bathtub-tile caulk in the glove compartment for emergencies. Like when the gear diagram fell off the stick shift one day, I just caulked it back on. I thought I was innovative in this regard, but it turns out that crappy-car aficionados have known about silicone caulk for centuries (in auto years). Grant used it to attach 1,200 colorful crack lighters to his old car once, and he swore he could mount an actual rack of bowling pins on his hood using silicone caulk, too, but he gave up on the idea after conceding that, even with a crappy car, it's best not to obstruct your view of the road with a bunch of bowling pins.

Back then we used to toast the sunset from the top of the Telephone Factory, and around then was the first time Grant told us it was our duty to catapult each other into greatness. "Dare to leap," he said, and he acted like he was going to leap off the top of the building. Daniel and I did nothing to stop him -- we knew there were bushes below that would probably break his fall.

Lary was the hardest to kick the crappy-car habit. His whole back yard is a big crappy-car emporium. At one point he was driving a rusty, broken, rolling ball of Bondo that barely resembled the BMW it used to be. As an added touch, he would sometimes take the life-sized plastic biblical characters from a neighborhood nativity scene and prop them up in the backseat like cab passengers.

"What are you doing?" I asked him once when I saw him sprinkling potato chips in the backseat.

"Gotta feed the woodland creatures," he said.

One day he looked outside his living-room window and saw that car sitting in a puddle. Upon closer inspection he discovered the puddle was brake fluid. So he finally got another car, after conceding that a car's ability to stop is almost as important as its ability to go. But the car he replaced it with was the junky truck he had up until last month. It didn't even have a front seat, just a folding lawn chair on the floorboard. Then last month he surprised us all and bought a brand new truck. He tried to return it the next day, suffering from "really-nice-car remorse," but the dealership just sent him home. "It's yours now," they said.

I think he was afraid to own something nice, because Lary knows if you value something too much, it starts to own you. Take Grant's flawless, "obscenely fabulous" 1956 Knoll Saarinen Tulip table with matching swivel chairs. It's worth $10,000, and every time you enter his house he has to drape himself over it like a big gay human shield to protect it from your foreign particles. The stress to preserve the furniture's perfect-ness is "ruining my life," Grant says.

So we are working on an intervention, where we'll all go over there and eat omelets on that table right in front of him or something.

Because maybe having nice furniture and a nice car at the same time is a little too much. As a group we don't know yet, because Grant is the only one among us who has ventured that far. We are monitoring him closely, ready to drag him back into crappy land if need be. Yes, he can count on us. Because, looking back to the Telephone Factory rooftop that one night, Grant made us beholden to each other. "Our duty," he said, "is to catapult each other into greatness!" As of now, we are not great yet but at least we are not wholly miserable every minute of the day. At least we can thank each other for that. So if Grant frets any more over that perfect designer table and chairs, we'll be straight over with a tube of tile caulk to fix things right up.

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