Ford Fairlane (a simple tale of middle-class othering)

November 12, 2007

When I was in second grade, I had a classmate by the name of Miriam Mellman. Miriam Mellman had freckles and long red hair and a big twisted mouth out of which speech tumbled like toy blocks cascading from upended sacks. She wasn’t retarded but clearly some lag in her learning and motor capabilities set her apart. She was always in the lowest reading groups and despite her gregarious nature, conversations with Miriam were often frustrating, spittle-flecked.

What Miriam lacked in mental acuity and social grace was compensated for by her fortuitous position as the youngest in a very large, well-to-do suburban, Jewish family.
She always wore cute matching pink clothes, complemented by a pink barrette securing her wild, fiery hair to one side of her pale, slack-jawed face.

The first sight greeting visitors in the foyer of her house was a giant wall of fish tanks stacked together in an impressive edifice of awe-inspiring color and necessity of maintenance (no doubt performed by the hired help always milling throughout the home). Miriam’s mother was humongous and jolly with flapping, fleshy arms always hugging kids and procuring for them the best snacks I remember of any kitchen from my childhood: ice creams in half a dozen flavors, infinite varieties of cookies and the kind of gummy fruit candies posing as healthful stuff fit for bagged lunches. The basement of Miriam’s house was totally finished with a hypnotizing black and white tile floor. It was Miriam’s museum of envy-inducing effects: her own snow-cone maker, an assortment of the best Barbie’s with the coolest accoutrements (the mansion, the cars, etc.), musical toys that savaged stashes of D cell batteries, a real Coca-Cola vending machine which produced cold cans of soda at the mere touch of a button and the grandest of gems: an actual Miss Pac-man arcade game, programmed for unlimited play-no quarters required.

The year was 1987 and my parents were in the market for a new car. “New” for my family meaning, of course, “used.” The beloved, blue leviathan of an Oldsmobile station wagon had been crushed in a biblical sort of lightening storm catastrophe outside my grandparent’s house in Pittsburgh a month before. Amid the whirring of the tow-truck and city tree removal vehicles outside, my brother and sister and I sat in front of the giant old TV set in the living room watching Wild America and playing with tinker toys in a tense and petrified silence while my mother sobbed into her hands in the next room, wailing an inconsolable mantra “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?”

I don’t remember how I got to Miriam Mellman’s house that particular Sunday morning but my mother’s parting words were that “God willing,” she’d be picking me up that afternoon in a new car.

All day as I enjoyed the bounty of Miriam’s toys and snacks I dreamed about our new car. It would be a slick beast of curvy lines and dark, sumptuous interior. Door locks that opened and closed with sliver buttons, a radio with a tape player. New Car. New Car.

As the time of my departure neared, Miriam’s mother put us in the front yard with pogo sticks and roller skates to keep watch. I strained my gaze at every car that lumbered down the sleepy cul-de-sac searching for my mother at the wheel, the shadowy form of my sister’s car seat looming in the back.

When my mother came into view, I knew at once it was was she, precisely because with every part of my cringing, 7 year old being, I didn’t want it to be.

There was nothing wrong with the car except for everything, its most egregious crime being the ugliest car I could imagine existing the world over, the complete, uncannily exact negation of my fantasy. A rude, boxy, late 70’s Ford Fairlane, excessively, offensively ordinary, approximately the unsettling color of Caucasian flesh, the interior the limpid hue of gas station coffee cut with non-dairy creamer. No tape player to speak of. Automatic nothing.

I was so angry and ashamed I could barely bid my friend Miriam a polite farewell. Seething, I climbed into the musty smelling car next to my mother who was beaming expectantly. I didn’t understand things like low-mileage and gas economy and clean maintenance records. I just wanted my family, for once in my life, to own something nice. Something more like the Mellman’s had.

Sensing my unmaskable scorn my mother said softly “I know it’s not the prettiest car, but it’s just what we need and it was a good deal. Dad and I were lucky to find something we could afford.” I stared out the window, stifling tears and watching the naked trees of the autumnal Maryland scenery creep by. I knew that was the heart of the matter and hearing it out loud only fanned my ire.

“I hate it.” I said, unwrapping a pack of smarties, (a parting gift from Miriam’s cabinets of plenty), and enduring the rest of the ride in stony silence, never once looking her in the eye.

*note: I combed the google image search to find a picture of this car. All I turned up were lots of earlier model Ford Fairlanes that look like sexy muscle cars. This was not our car. If you can find an image of the common, hideous, make I remember so well, please let me know!

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4 Responses to “Ford Fairlane (a simple tale of middle-class othering)”

  1. len said

    something like this?

    1968 Ford Fairlane (RHD) (289 V8/3 Speed M)

  2. abbyg said

    I wish! I need a late 70’s model. boxier. totally unsexy

  3. sarah gray said

    You know I went to Akiva all through k-12; I read this and my “man, do I relate to this” meter started quaking…

  4. Ford Fairlanes were only produced until 1970 or so, then were renamed the Torino and maintained a modicum of a sleek look. Prior to 1966 they were pretty boxy, then the Fairlane got all muscle car sexy. You might be thinking of a Ford Fairmont! Look for images of those. Pretty darn boxy and ugly. My apologies to the Fairmont enthusiast.

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