I don’t think I’ve talked too much here or elsewhere about my Dad’s reposession agency. Back in 1984, my Dad decided to leave the rat race and purchase his own business. After a bunch of research, he found the most unlikely of ventures in the most unlikely of places: an established reposession agency based in a sleepy town north of New York City. I’ll have to go into some of the stories of culture shock at a different time, but this was a huge leap of faith for the whole family. We moved into a prewar house on the side of a mountain, surrounded by forest, and facing a fenced impound lot. When I say fenced, I mean chain-link fence topped with barbed wire and floodlights. The house was decent, if you count the inground pool, jacuzzi, and huge living room; it sucked for me because I lived in a tiny unheated room in the middle of nowhere with no car.
Having no car wasn’t an issue until I turned sixteen, because I wasn’t driving anyplace anyway. The bus sucked ass, but I knew my parents were too busy to be carting me all over creation. Besides, I got to drive cars all the time. I had a built-in job helping the yardman start, move, release, and fix the cars in the lot. How many people do you know who were driving Porsches at fifteen? I could parallel park a standard-shift car two years before the driving test. (I got pretty good at picking car locks, too, but that’s another story.) Besides working for my Dad, blowing shit up and exploring the local woods were pretty much all I did in the 9th grade.
By the 10th grade, though, life was getting pretty hellish. The local asshats were making bus rides a nightmare (it’s difficult to stand up to four guys who each outweigh you by 100lbs) and I was getting involved in school activities which meant I was staying after a lot.
Now, my best friend S. was taking a driving course at the Boces which meant he didn’t need a learning permit after taking the test like all the rest of us pukes. He also came from a large family which demanded a part-time chauffeur, something that was difficult for his parents, who worked all the time. They decided that he could help out and be the chauffeur, so they bought him a car. Not just any car, but a used 1970-something Cadillac Coupe De Ville. It was the ugliest car on the road, which is probably why it was affordable. It was also huge. Each door weighed about 500 pounds. The rear bench seat was half a mile wide, upholstered in a lovely shade of blue vinyl. (The car had once been baby blue, but someone had painted it rattle-can gray in the early eighties, and the paint cracked, so it looked like cat puke on a blue rug.)
Now, bear with me here. We spent a lot of summer days at the Dugan house, because of the pool. We also had a fully-stocked garage with lots of outlandish and exotic tools. One day S. came by with the Caddy and asked if I could help him replace the original AM radio with a new cassette deck. No problem, I said. This shouldn’t take more than an hour or two, and then we can swim for a while. We grabbed some pliers and screwdrivers, turned on the radio in the garage, and got to work taking apart the dashboard of his car.
Three hours later, cursing, sweating, and covered in twenty-year-old dust, we still hadn’t budged the thing. We had disassembled half the dashboard, laid it all out in neat sections on the driveway, and still couldn’t figure out how the engineers in Detroit had designed this car. It sounds like we were both idiots as far as mechanical engineers are concerned, but don’t let this story fool you: I had been taking apart and fixing things like radios, engines, and tools for years. S. also had natural skill in taking stuff apart—we weren’t just a pair of monkeys banging on suitcases out there.
For awhile it looked like we were going to have to remove the windshield to get at the back of the radio (I’m not kidding here. There was a flap of metal that curved up and over the back of the glass and down below the back of the thing) but we realized that there was another way. After taking apart most of the AC ducting under the dash, we had enough room to get at it, or at least, see the bottom of it, and we realized we had a problem: the damn thing was huge. I mean, the size of a toaster oven huge. The hole we had was about half the size, and there was no real evident way how to get it out of there.
At this point, S. had had enough of this shit, and just wanted to get the damn thing out of the car. We switched from finesse to brute strength, trading screwdrivers for chisels and hammers. Fifteen minutes later, we had a big enough hole carved out of non load-bearing metal to yank the bottom of the radio down toward the floorboards. When it finally came out, in a cloud of dust and old cigarette butts, we breathed a sigh of relief. It was then that we realized just what a bastard this thing was: it weighed about fifteen pounds, and it looked like a piece of discarded Soviet military equipment. But the corker was that it had one thick wire hanging off the back, which lead to a complicated, ancient plastic harness with no diagram. This meant bad news. This meant there would be no new radio in the Cadillac.
This radio had to die.
But how to do it? How to properly dispose of this foul, ancient, cursed beast?
It turned out that the answer was right over our heads.
At some point, when my mother’s back was obviously turned, S. and I found that we could easily climb onto the roof of the garage. From there, it was a simple matter of time before we started jumping from the roof of the garage, over four feet of solid concrete, and into the deep end of the pool. (The garage was separated from the house by the pool, and was built to withstand hurricanes. It had a two-story peak and a slope gentle enough to scale.) In a good clip, it was a one-minute circuit around the back of the garage, onto the roof, and into the water. We decided we would use this ninja skill for purposes of evil. S. backed the Cadillac up twenty feet (after filling the trunk with the assorted debris from the dashboard-half of it would remain there until the car was officially retired) and we climbed onto the roof of the garage and met at the peak. S. said a few words, which have now been lost to the ages, and lofted the radio up into the afternoon sunshine.
It came down onto the pavement with a dull thud, bounced, and came to a stop. There was no evident damage. I climbed down to retrieve it, handed it back up to him, and he threw it again. This cycle repeated at least five or six times, until one of the corners began to give way. Then, it seemed like the thing just flew apart. In a cloud of electrical components, metal, and plastic, the radio exploded, and we cheered heartily at the death of the beast.
Before retiring to the pool, we examined the lump of metal that had once been a radio. Tubes and wires stuck out the side, and little sheets of metal fell from the back plate. We realized we were standing in a circle of these things, and I bent to pick one up. It was flat, and shaped like an uppercase “E”. There were hundreds of them on the ground. It took us another half an hour to police all of the damn things up.
S. finally did put his stereo in that Caddy, hanging out of the cavernous hole left by the Beast, and it stayed with the car until its retirement. We never did figure out what the ‘E’s were for, but when I take the Jeep radio, which has begun to fail on me more and more, and throw it off the roof of our house onto the pavement, I’m going to be looking for those goddamn ‘E’s.