Since my sister-in-law was joining us for our weekend sojourn to Pennsylvania, I was ashamedly forced to ascertain the cleanliness of my car. Like most parents of a tender tyke, the interior of my fine Japanese ride was littered with the detritus of childhood; empty chocolate milk and juice boxes, errant crayons, artwork, a paper plate, toys, hair combs, play make up, Happy Meal toys, scrunchies and enough crumbs to sustain a colony of ants through a long winter. But what really got to me was the spilt chocolate milk which had hardened into a carapace of brown shellac within the crevices of my backseat’s armrest. Disgusting.  

A real estate agent once told me that landlords will often try and peek into a prospective tenant’s car to gauge how they cared for their own stuff. If the car looked like a garage dump, the odds were good that the wannabe renter would probably treat the landlord’s property with the same craven indifference. I myself have always seen a car’s cleanliness as a barometer of a person’s mental health. Applying my own standard to myself, however, my car seemed to scream that being perched on a clocktower with a high powered rifle was in my immediate future. Besides, I didn’t want my in-law thinking I was a slob. 

So, being lazy, I drove to the local car wash but, when I got on line, I did a double take when I saw the prices plastered on the billboard. “Holy shit,” I said, “No way am I gonna pay that!” But I couldn’t escape that usurious den of suds because I was trapped in the queue. Muttering angrily, I inched forward with maddening slowness while listening to a customer ahead of me trying to haggle his way into a $100 detail job for the price of the cheapest wash. Not that I blamed him. I know prices have gone up, but this was ridiculous. Finally, when the path was clear, I drove around the back and made good my escape. 

I found a cheaper place down the road but was chagrined to find all the vacuum stations occupied by people who looked to be in for the long haul, so I settled for just getting a seventeen dollar wash and wax. After my car emerged sparking from its bath, I tipped the towel men, and drove back to the first place to use their vacuums. All the quarters rattling in my cup holder would’ve covered it. But, to my surprise, when I slid into an open bay, a sign proudly proclaimed that all the vacuums were free. Wait a minute,” I thought to myself.  Nothing is ever free. Then it dawned on me – the vacuums must be free for customers. But, when I thought about it, there wasn’t any signage stating that I had to be a customer so, failing this diagnostic test of my character, I decided to furtively hoover out my car. When I was finally finished, I got back onto the wash line, which had been evilly arranged to be the only exit out of the place, and once again inched my way to misdemeanor freedom. Then I realized I was both criminal and stupid. 

Looking again at the menu of automotive ablutions on offer, I realized this car wash’s prices were no more expensive than the one I used down the road. I had misread the signs. What I thought was a wash for thirty bucks was, in fact, the price of a monthly pass. Hey, not my fault the regular prices were printed so small. Now feeling like somewhat of a heel, I once again bypassed the attendant waiting to suds up my car and hightailed it out the back. But this time, the manager was waiting for me with a “What the fuck expression?” on his face. He knew I was a two time loser, but my reply was to shrug and make a dash for the highway. I had been prepared to pay for the vacuums, but I rationalized my very petty theft by reassuring myself that I’d made a simple mistake and that I’d use the establishment I’d fleeced by availing myself of their services when I washed my car next. That works for you, right? 

On my way home, I stopped into an automotive parts store and bought a bottle of stuff that promised to restore my dashboard and pleather seats to their original showroom luster and then, after soaking the aforementioned chocolate shellac in possibly carcinogenic solution, I set to work with some old towels and tried to erase all evidence of having sired offspring from my car.  It took some doing, but after half an hour, the interior looked like I’d been talked off that clock tower. 

When my wife came home, I solemnly pointed to my car. “Take a look,” I said. 

“Look at what?” she said. “Did you have an accident?” 


“Then what am I supposed to be looking at?” 

“Look inside.” 

“Oh,” Annie said. “It looks so clean.” Then I confessed my wrongdoings.

“Oh boy,” my wife said. “You’re a criminal mastermind.” 

“Natalie will never eat in this car again.’ 

“Good luck with that.”  

“Let her starve!” I said. “And may her cries of hunger forever fail to move me.” 

Of course, by the time the time we were near the Delaware, my daughter asked, “Do we have any snacks? It’s not a trip without snacks.” 

“Oh,” my sister-in-law said, “I brought some snacks.” 

As I drove, I listened to the sound of my daughter masticating chips and cookies while imagining all the crumbs now mockingly marring the pristine car interior that’d I had risked my spotless criminal record to provide. If I had been arrested for stealing suction, what would I tell the guys in the prison yard? Something tells me I wouldn’t last a day. 

“Can we stop and get a drink?” Natalie said, a few scant miles later. 

“Yeah,” my wife said. “I’m parched.” 

Grudgingly, I stopped at a picturesque general store on the side of the road and to buy everyone a drink. Then, when my daughter saw their display of artisanal lollipops, she begged me to get her one. Just great. She got watermelon. I got banana spilt – and a root beer. As you can tell, my anathematic proclamations regarding car cleanliness do not apply to me.  I guess I’m an automotive Pharisee. 

When we arrived at our destination, everyone ran into the house and left me to bring in the bags. But when I saw the lollipop wrappers, bottles, and empty bags of chips, I shook my head and sighed. I risked my freedom and almost sullied my good name for this?  Does my daughter only want to see me on visiting days? Then I smiled to myself. When I’m an old man, my daughter will probably have to cart my Depends wearing ass to doctors’ appointments while I stink up her car. It might take a while but, eventually, sweet karma will finally exact my terrible vengeance. But you know what? When I think about it, I’ll miss that sweet messy child when she’s gone. All things considered; a dirty car is a small price to pay for happiness. 

Now I just hope the cops don’t read this blog. 

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