PETROLEUM MANA NOVEL
By STANLEY CRAWFORD
THE OVERLOOK PRESSCopyright © 2005 Stanley Crawford
All right reserved.
1:24 SCALE 1934 FORD SEDAN
You are both too young, Fabian and Rowena, to realize that this 1:24 scale plastic model is to be the first in a collection composing some thirty items altogether. Indeed, the concept collection is still probably beyond you, although if you look around the house of your parents-well, perhaps a better example would be to look around the house of us your grandparents-and pay attention to that moment when your sticky grasping hands approach some bright object and you hear the words, Look but don't touch, Fabian, which indicates that your still poorly coordinated grasp is threatening to close in on an item of one of my collections, a valuable object either fragile, because made of glass, or scratchable, because made of silver or gold or even brass or pewter, or needing to be handled with the greatest of care, because of the incredible sharpness of a blade, for example, or because of the remote possibility of the thing going off in your hands. That's what collections are, my little ones. They are things you do not touch until you have reached the age at which you can be fully trusted and are willing to assume responsibility in the event of breakage or some other form of degradation surely to cause a reduction in value in a collectible.
The 1:24 scale replicas I have bestowed on each of you as the first item in your future collections are, for you, briefly touchable but only under the supervision of your parents, which I have made abundantly clear to them. "1:24 scale" means that each inch of your model represents twenty-four inches in the original real full-sized vehicle. As very young children you two are 1:3 and 1:4 scale adults, as it were, by height. I intend to bestow these models on you every three to six months on the usual holidays, family birthdays, and various corporate milestone dates over the next decade or so, bringing your collection current with what will then be reality, by which time I expect I will have owned some thirty or forty different types of cars. Assembly of the complete collection will come, in short, during your fourteenth or fifteenth year, Fabian, and your twelfth or thirteenth, Rowena, and more precisely, God willing, on the occasion of that birthday of mine I have come to think of as the "big one." At that time I will have also completed these reflections on the real full-sized cars upon which the models are based, to be jotted down in my private 737 on my frequent business trips, during the early morning hours when the rest of the world is sound asleep 30,000 feet below. Or, at this very moment, 19,000 feet, as we are beginning our descent toward O'Hare. My steward has brought a message from the captain to the effect we'll be passing through some turbulence about five minutes before touchdown. At any rate, when you have attained the age of mature understanding, I will present both of you copies of this personal guide to your collections, suitably bound in leather. Or my estate will.
The models are yours, but under the provisional custody of your parents, and in turn under my custody, as the custodian of last resort. I have liberally coached your parents in the manner in which these accurate scale models can be handled, when taken down from the top of the bookshelves where they are to be displayed at all other times, and the manner in which they are to be extracted from their little plastic cases and how your fingertips cleaned in advance will be allowed to touch them lightly, as your parents run them back and forth on smooth surfaces with their hands, while teaching you how to make appropriate car noises, which the dignity of my age no longer permits. I have of course already spoken words to this effect and was thoroughly charmed at the rapt way, mouths open, you stared up at me throughout, curled up on your parents' sofa.
The specific scale model, you are too young yet to appreciate, is far too glittery with plasticized chrome. I have communicated with the manufacturer about this. Nor were whitewall tires all that common back in the dark ages when many roads were still unpaved, which I will explain at a later date. But other details are reasonably accurate and more or less within scale. When literacy turns on its lights within your still tiny 1:24 scale brains, in about three years, if I have anything to do with it, you will notice that the raised letters on the underside indicate that these scale models were manufactured in a miserable tropical country, which you will surely never have to visit, in order to pump up the value of the shares your parents may or may not have in their portfolio but which I certainly have in mine, along with countless other investments which will assure you and your children and grandchildren a life of comfort and ease.
But I stray. This black 1934 Ford V-8 Sedan was not my first car, Fabian and Rowena, but is associated with my very first memory as a child of your age or perhaps a year or two younger. It is of no consequence, this memory, except to me. I was left alone in a mountain picnic ground banging away on aluminum pots and pans when I suddenly realized I was all alone among the pine trees, sitting in the fine sandy dirt next to the long dusty black sedan with red wire wheels, a silver stream babbling down below, along which ran a pair of railroad tracks where sooty steam engines puffed by every hour or so. To my eternal shame I burst into tears and began howling-of no consequence at all, this unfortunate episode, except that as a result I resolved, when I reached the age of being able to make resolves, to display signs of weakness or panic never again.
My point is this, my little ones. Your first memory, which is what you are now beginning to create, will affect the rest of your entire life-concepts, I know, still foreign to you: life, entire life, rest of entire life, and so on-but which I mention in order to alert you to the need, sooner or later, to select very carefully your very first memory for use later in your life.
Who knows? It may even be that moment when I pressed my face close to yours on the sofa and pulled the little plastic cases out of the gift bag and handed them to you simultaneously so as not to trigger any sibling rivalry, or any more of it. Or else that moment when you, Rowena, began squealing and banging your model against Fabian's, threatening to crack the plastic, and I gently pulled them away from both of your hands and took them off to your rooms and placed them high on the shelves above your beds. Perhaps that will be your first memory of your grandfather.
1:24 SCALE 1939 FORD FORDOR SEDAN
Your great-grandparents were frugal people who bought cars only every five to ten years, unlike the son-in-law the universe has bizarrely chosen to torment me with and who seems to be perpetually shopping for cars, in a misguided attempt to curry my favor. His bulbous forehead is already beginning to show in yours, Rowena, a worrisome sign. You have no doubt heard the terms Republican and democrat and will soon be staring wide-eyed at various relations in the family and friends who walk in the door, attempting to see differences which are in fact quite invisible. What you should know, even before you can intellectually or emotionally grasp these differences, is that the frugality and generally virtuous comportment of your great-grandparents, who of course were my parents, were deeply marred by the fact of their being liberal democrats and voting for Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy. No doubt had they lived long enough they would have voted for those other three whose names will never cross my lips. It is also one of the closest held family secrets that your great-grandfather was a card-carrying member of the South Bend local of the metal fabricator's union, to my perpetual shame. Your father of course pretends to be a liberal democrat in order to annoy me, as are no doubt a few, a very few, of his colleagues in the investment banking law firm where he and your mother have tapped into another fountain of eternal wealth. Your mother, my daughter, is a staunch Conservative Republican, which I trust she used to make clear every time she changed your diapers. Without her principles, your father would have talked her into flushing you both down the toilet a long time ago.
At this early age, that is all you need to know about Republicans and democrats. Despite the odds, my liberal democrat parents gave birth to me-inconceivable as it may seem that a man as trim and controlled and disciplined and organized as me, whom you are fortunate to have as your grandfather, was ejected into the world via the usual messy birth canal and was able to recover from the experience and eventually amount to more than everyone else in my generation.
The green 1:24 scale 1939 Ford V-8 Fordor Sedan that I present to you each, Fabian and Rowena, on the occasion of my birthday, was a vehicle crucial to my successful life journey. "Fordor" is not a spelling mistake: it was Ford's way of saying "four-door." Corporations, my little ones, can spell any way they like, given their size, which you should not construe as license to spell any way you like, when the time comes for you to learn how to write in the next few years. At any rate, from its back seat I witnessed the first stages of the triumph of the automobile over all other forms of conveyance, notably streetcars and passenger trains, whose rails were being dramatically ripped from the streets of our cities as I came of age. I was filled with joy and a sense of triumph as the sharp nose of our family Ford cleaved through crowds of benighted pedestrians, our tires free at last of those moments of uncertain traction on the slippery streetcar tracks, so quickly paved over.
As in most things my liberal democrat parents were confused. You will notice identical signs in your father. Not my first memory, I have instructed you in that, but my second or third is of being read to by my well-meaning mother, attempting to indoctrinate me in the virtues of rail travel by putting me to sleep each night with "The Little Engine that Could." Fortunately you will never have to undergo this experience. Eventually I put a stop to the practice by removing the book one afternoon to a hiding place I had developed in among some holly hushes on the north side of the garage wall, where I proceeded to cut out all of the images of the "little engine." I left them on the damp ground for their inks to fade and for the paper to rot away, though I was careful to return my mother's scissors to the kitchen drawer. I tell you this only to suggest that should your father take to reading you texts that make you uncomfortable in any way, I would turn a blind eve to your making them disappear.
My father on the other hand held a more correct view, despite his union membership, as evidenced by the manner in which he kept a handwritten list in pencil, on a long sheet of cardboard tacked to the rough wooden boards of the garage wall, above his mechanic's workbench, in among dozens of tattered and faded pinups torn from the pages of certain magazines. The list was of streetcar lines and interurban rail systems which had been abandoned or had gone bankrupt, and each time he read of a new one in the newspaper, he scribbled its name on the cardboard. As a young boy himself once, he had been shouted at by a streetcar motorman on the Cottage Grove line in Chicago, causing him to wet his pants before an assembled audience of passengers-reason enough to become a pioneering proponent of the private automobile.
When you are a little older, Fabian, I will explain to you the meaning of the pinups, of which I obtained only the most shadowy of glimpses while being herded in and out of the darkened garage by my mother, often with a towel over my head.
But more important, it was toward the end of the era of the 1939 Ford Fordor Sedan that I began my career as an inventor, eventually successful beyond precedent, at least in terms of financial recognition. At age nine I devised a coin-operated chewing gum machine made out of a shoe box, balsa wood, pins, and tape. This ingenious machine, which I attached to a stand just inside the living room door, earned a profit of 500 percent from various visitors to the house who feared, from rumors I spread, that if they failed to buy a stick of gum on the way into the house and on the way out as well, they might well find one of their tires flat in the driveway. The original machine, my first invention, has miraculously survived in working order. It is on display in the new wing of the Manor in that full scale re-creation of my Indiana boyhood room where now and then I demonstrate its workings to visitors and journalists and explain how it was my first and best instructor in the ways of capitalism.
I have composed these words in the air as usual, in the wee hours when everyone else needs to sleep, on the way to Taipei, after a first yielding of the fifteen-minute video I took of you two unwrapping the gift boxes for the 1939 Ford Fordor models-after much fussing by the captain to get the wide-screen projection TV to work. Next time test it on the ground, I snapped. Which only made my chief steward drop the remote. Finally the co-pilot came down from the flight deck and got the tape to play. A lovely scene, you two in your bunny pajamas and your little bunny rabbit slippers on the sofa, so excited to see what was in the boxes, one of those happy evenings when your father had to stay late at the office. Your blue eyes were open wide with expectation, Rowena, though yours were a little shifty under your dark fluttering lashes, Fabian, perhaps resisting your mother's whisperings into your ear about how to open the box.
Fortunately you two missed your father's incredulous and sarcastic remarks regarding my commendable efforts when he arrived home late from the firm. This, after you had been sent to bed with your new 1:24 scale Ford Fordors safely installed on their shelves. I was simply-and generously-attempting to explain yet one more time my intentions in creating these collections of model cars for my only grandchildren. I thought this a courtesy I owed my son in-law despite his liberal democrat inclinations and despite my impression that we had already covered this ground a month or two ago when I first announced my plan.
Because, I was saying, the cars I have owned over a period of many decades, including of course the strong association I had with my own parents' cars, starting with the most ordinary Fords and ending with the best vehicles money can buy, over a period of many decades-because a collection of these models is the best possible record of my trajectory from humble beginnings to stellar success. It as simple as that.
A fraction less than you might think. Far, far less than the help you and Deedums have received from me, I corrected. And will receive upon my death, if you manage to behave yourself until then. An unlikely event, I would wager. Though this I did not say.
At which moment your grandmother Deirdre came downstairs from having read you two your bedtime stories and called out to me in her melodious voice as she entered the dining room, Oh Fabian and Rowena just love those little cars you gave them, Leon.
Whereupon I stood up and said my plane would be ready in forty minutes. Taipei again, I added and excused myself quickly enough to cross the room before wiping a tear from my eve at Deirdre's rare words of encouragement.