Red and white, the lights
from the cars glowed on the wet road and turned the desolate piece of
highway, momentarily at least, into a gaudy, neon-lit city boulevard. Exhaust
filled my mouth and nose. The deep, coughing sound of revving
engines echoed through the empty office complex, causing a vibration
in the pit of my stomach, which mingled with the fear already there. Would
I have the nerve to win? Would I let Hashimoto down?
Scott grinned widely at Michelle,
standing in front of our cars holding a tattered handkerchief. She
gave me a disappointed look. I could have asked myself how
I'd gotten into this, but I already knew.
It had started about three
months before, when I thought I heard somebody say something about kamikaze
pilots. It flashed into my mind, like someone had told me,
but I was alone. I was in the Like New Used Car part of Gregory's
Ford and Like New Used Cars, looking at the Dodge Colt I had just bought.
Gregory's was a large place,
it was maybe three hundred yards from where I was standing to the big,
glass-enclosed office and showroom; but it took this salesman only a
minute, it seemed, to reach me as I stood looking at the car. Although
he was a beefy, older man and, even in the mid-day heat, decked out
in a dark blue three-piece suit, he wasn't sweating or puffing a bit. Maybe
he smelled a sale.
How're you doing there,
sonny! he boomed without really trying to. His white
hair showed off his good golfer's tan and his voice was as loud as a
fundamentalist preacher's. In fact, he sort of reminded me
of one of those religious guys on TV. Or maybe they all reminded
me of used-car salesmen.
He must have been impressive
as hell to some people, but not to me. For one thing, I don't
like to be called sonny. Also, he wasn't Fred
Hillman, the young apprentice salesman I'd bought the car from the day
before. I explained how I was to meet with Fred and finish
signing the papers, and didn't call the guy Pops like I
so badly wanted to.
Look here, sonny. I
can handle all of that up at my office. And I'll tell you,
I think that Fred is off today, he said conspiratorially.
I knew Fred would be there and this guy was just trying to get the commission
for himself. Still, can you believe it, he almost had me
convinced. That voice!
I couldn't double-cross Fred,
however. We had shaken on it and that was that. The
big salesman took it okay. He even walked me back up to the
office so I could wait in the air conditioning. He walked
a lot slower on the way back though, and he started sweating.
I flipped through the well-used
December 1978 copy of Mechanix Illustrated from the little rack
in the waiting room until Fred arrived. This was going to
be my first summer with a car so I was excited and didn't mind the wait. The
Cruising Summer! Fred arrived and we finished signing all
the papers. I drove home in my car.
Why a Dodge Colt? You're
a teenager, my friends told me, why not get a fun car, with speed, something
like a Chevelle SS, with a 442 and big, thick tires, and dual exhaust
and stuff, man? Why get a little foreign four-cylinder with
good fuel economy and a speedometer that doesn't even go up to 80?
The Colt was perfect for
me. I had wanted something small and dependable, and the
Colt fit the bill. All my friends with so-called fast cars
seemed to spend more time working on them than actually driving them.
Also, they didn't notice the good points about a Colt, like how you
can park behind a bush if there are no spaces in the lot; and how I'd
paid for my car all at once escaping monthly-payment bondage.
Later, I found out how lucky
I was to have the car. It, or he, I should say, saved my
life. This was after I'd found out that my car was a reincarnated
Japanese kamikaze pilot named Hashimoto. Hashi.
How did I find all this out? He
told me. That's right, he spoke to me. It started
that day in the car lot. He had been talking about himself
then. Sure, I was surprised at first, but luckily had an
open mind and wasn't freaked out by it.
Before I continue this story,
let me assure you that I am not crazy. Really. There isn't
even any history of mental illness in my family. True, my
Uncle Oscar would drop everything, run to the television to watch Lifestyles
of the Rich and Famous and never miss an episode. That
isn't a sign of insanity though, merely bad taste.
At first I thought that Hashi's
voice was just in my mind, that it was telepathy or mind-reading
or something like that. I'd seen it on Star Trek. I
was wrong. Hashi's voice could be heard. I would
determinedly ignore the voice if someone was in the car. Sometimes,
I thought that Hashi did it just to embarrass me.
My girlfriend Michelle heard
him a few times but always believed that I had hidden a tape recorder
in the glove compartment. She thought it was hilarious. I
didn't mind this a bit because her laugh was as sexy as hell.
The one time it did cause
a problem was when I was cruising down a long and winding road with
my friend Andy. Andy was a Beatles' fanatic. He
was so obsessed with the Beatles that he would listen to nothing else. He
carried around a tape of the White Album with him and made me play it
in my car. Andy got bored with any situation he couldn't
think of a Lennon-McCartney phrase to describe. Many people
were put off by his obsession, but not me; Andy was really an interesting
person. Besides, I liked the Beatles.
After Andy had heard Hashi's
voice calling me, our friendship was never the same. Sure,
he would still call Hey, Jude! when he saw me at school,
but we never went driving again.
See, I'm not crazy. He
did talk. Other people heard him. And other people
talk to their cars, treat them like human beings, curse them when they
stall. So its not all that unusual, is it?
Hashimoto had missed the
twisting and turning ship that he had dove for. He had honorably
given his life for his divine Emperor and had received the promised
gift: reincarnation and a new life. Because his mission wasn't
entirely successful however, he was not a noble stag, nor a soaring
hawk, nor even a beautiful chrysanthemum. He was a car.
It wasn't the fact that he
was a car that bothered him so much; there were many worse things that
he could come back as. Think about it, how would you like
to come back as a Nike tennis shoe? Or a toilet seat? No,
he didn't mind being a car. He was angry that he had been
a failure in his chosen mission. This anger, this bitterness
over his lost honor, kept trying to find ways to come out, and would
get me into a lot of trouble.
I had a good deal. He
never broke down, always warned me before there was any mechanical trouble. Hashi
always started and never asked me for anything except a tankful of Shell
Super Unleaded now and then. Smoking was not allowed, which
didn't bother me, and he preferred to be washed weekly and rubbed down
with a good chamois cloth. Fine.
There was this one other
thing. If a American car was going to pass us, he would holler,
Faster, please! and become really upset if I lost, which
was often. I tried to explain that a Colt, which can fit
all four wheels on a speed bump, is not a big, speed-demon-type racing
car. But it was his way, he said, of trying to finally win
the war, beating out those yankee-pig-dog cars. No offense
intended. None was taken.
I'd made it clear from the
very beginning that if I ever felt that I was not in total control,
if I felt that Hashi was taking over the driving, I would stop, get
out, and never come near again. Hashi agreed reluctantly. I
promised to help him regain his lost honor if I could and I hung a Japanese
headband around the rear-view mirror as a symbol of the contract.
Okay, enough background. The
night that all the trouble started I had a date with Michelle. It
was late in August. The Cruising Summer was almost over. We
pulled up to her house as usual, Hashi teasing me about how much aftershave
I was wearing. In my usual parking space however was a Ford
Mustang GT. It was white and had black racing stripes; a
5.0 liter engine; big, fat, Eagle tires; the works. Scott's
Scott was one of Michelle's
Just Friends. You know what a Just Friend is. Someone
who spends more time with your girlfriend than you do, but it's okay,
don't be jealous, because they're Just Friends. Scott knew
Michelle before I'd met her. They went to high school together.
No matter how Just Friends
they assured me they were, I was still jealous. Very jealous. I
admit it. I was also jealous of Scott's car. Not because
I would have traded it for Hashino way! But because
Michelle helped pick it out, and talked about it more than Scott did.
Hashi hated it for reasons
of his own. Every time we pulled up near it, he would start
grumbling and yelling Banzai and stuff.
I can take that car,
Hashi said that evening. He kept repeating it as Michelle
and Scott came outside. I got out and leaned up against Hashi's
side. I can take that car, Hashi said again.
They cut across Michelle's
front lawn and came up to us. Michelle's long blonde hair
gleamed in the feeble glow of the streetlight. She was wearing
that black sweater I gave her last Christmas, and looked so beautiful
that I almost forgot that Scott was there.
Scott was probably a nice
guy, and if I'd given him a chance, we might have become good friends. He
was an Engineering student at school and we'd taken some of the same
Math courses, although never in the same class. We might've
had a lot in common but I wouldn't find out. Any guy who
said that he's friends with the main rival for his girlfriend's attention
lied like a carpet.
How's it going?
he said as they reached my car, smiling like he was really friendly. God,
I hated that. When he askedsarcastically, I thoughtHow's
the car running? I started to get mad.
I want to beat that
car, Hashi said. Shh, I whispered, happy
that Michelle didn't notice.
Let's go, she
said to me. I'll see you later, Scott.
Have fun driving home,
he said and they giggled at some private joke. This got me
even angrierI hate private jokes. He headed for his
I have to beat that
car, Hashi said. You promised. The
headband, Japanese characters on a Rising Sun background, swung side-to-side
and back-and-forth. You promised.
I stood there, undoubtedly
a stupid, slack-jawed expression on my face, and thought furiously. Should
I challenge Scott to a race? If I get badly beaten what will
Hashi do? What if he tries to win? He's a kamikaze
pilot! But how can I go back on my word. Through
the windshield, the headband was still swinging.
Michelle's elbow nudged me
in the ribs and brought me out of my reverie. Hey,
I thought you were going to get rid of that tape recorder. It's getting
old, she said. Are you ready to leave?
One moment, I
said to her, and ran over to Scott's car. He was playing
with the radio while warming up the car. Can I talk
to you a moment, Scott? I said. We set everything up.
I got back into my car. What
was that all about? Michelle asked. I started the motor,
and pumped the gas petal a few times. The engine revved. I
was trying to decide whether or not I should tell her the whole thing.
Well, are you going
to tell me? she asked.
I'm going to race Scott,
I said, hoping that Hashi would say something and force my hand, make
me tell her everything.
Race Scott? Don't
do it, Chris. You'll embarrass yourself. You'll
embarrass me. Why are you so jealous of Scott? I'm
with you, aren't I? You don't have to prove anything to me.
It's not for you,
Then who's it for?
Me, I lied, because
it wasn't really for me, it was for Hashi. Or maybe it was
for me, for I could not brake my promise. Either way I couldn't
tell her the truth.
Sure, I can tell you, because
I know you really won't believe me, and even if you did, so what? Right
then, in the car with Michelle, I decided I could not tell her. Japanese
kamikaze pilot? She would laugh at me, and I couldn't take
that. Maybe I made the wrong choice. Maybe she
would have believed me. I still wonder about that.
Fine, she said
in an flat emotionless tone that signaled to me, as clear as the toll
of a bell, the end of our relationship. Two years over in
one passionless syllable.
We had dinner and saw a movie,
but were two Just Friends out on the town that evening. At
her doorstep, I kissed her goodnight. It would be the last
time I kissed her.
After she went in, I stood
there for a moment, looking up at the stars like I'd done many times
leaving her house, but the familiar summer stars were gone. Autumn
constellations, like Pegusus, the flying horse, and Andromeda, the original
damsel in distress, were high in the sky. A cool breeze hit
me, and I headed for the Hashmobile. Maybe I would turn on the heat.
Thanks, he said
on the way home. He had not spoken the whole night. I
knew you would keep your promise.
I had to, dammit,
I said. But why did it have to be now? And
why Scott? He'll kill us.
Chris, I don't plan
on losing, he said so forcefully that I did turn on the heat.
So there we were, three days
later, lined up, with Scott's car to my left, in the deserted office
complex. Michelle, who had been hanging around with Scott
the past few days, borrowed one of her father's handkerchiefs for a
makeshift starter's flag.
The empty buildings all around
us jutted darkly against the star-filled sky, reminding me of some kind
of prehistoric temple. A modern Stonehenge in glass and steel.
All too true, I thought. Watch
any car ad on TV. We do worship our cars. The
Religion of the Open Road. Oh, what a feeling! If
the liturgy of Father Zeus came back into practice, his symbol would
no longer be the thunderbolt, but the Thunderbird.
Boy, I must've been nervous. I
always get philosophical when I get nervous.
The course was simple. To
get into the parking lot of the huge, monolithic Flamsteed Building,
you had to use an access road called, oddly enough, Flamsteed Road. It
started out on Clarke Road, went straight for about a quarter of a mile
and ended at a little toll gate. At the gate, where the yellow
arm was carefully wedged up, the road narrowed into one lane. This
was the finish line. The first car in the parking lot won.
It was a well-used dragging
strip. The only dangerous part was at the end, where cars
jockey for position to get in the gate first. A spectacular
accident happened at that point a couple of years before, but I wasn't
worried. Scott should reach there about a year ahead of us.
Then again, I wasn't so sure
about that anymore. Trust me, Hashi said. If
you have the nerve, we can win. I was getting more and more nervous
but a promise was a promise and that was that.
Get ready! Michelle
yelled and moved to the side. Her voice was almost drowned
out by Scott's engine, which grumbled ominously. Hashi's
engine was more of a irritated whine.
I had my right hand on the
stick, the gas pedal pressed all the way to the floor and the clutch
out. I was ready. At least Hashi and I would go
out with a squeal.
screamed and threw the hankerchief in front of us. We did
squeal wheel, but not as much as Scott. Smoke poured out
from his back tires and the nauseating smell of burning rubber polluted
I figured that I could keep
up with him at first, when we were in first gear, but would be overtaken
as soon as I shifted to second. Hashi's engine whined; the
sound growing louder and louder. I stayed in first as long as possible,
and we did keep even with Scott.
Then he shifted into second
and shot out a little ahead of us, still to my left. He would
try to get in front of us. We were doing forty-five, higher
than I'd ever been in first, so I decided to shift to second. Nothing
Before I even touched the
stick, from the second my sneaker toed the clutch, I knew that Hashi'd
done it. He'd taken over control. I did the only
two things I could do: I made sure my seatbelt was tight and started
Gears, clutches, shifting,
all no longer meant anything. Hashi was running on pure will,
his spirit coarsed through the metal shell of the car and propelled
it like a leaf in the wind, a divine wind.
The gate approached. To
win, Scott would have to cut in front of us because the gate was on
our side, a little bonus he allowed me. Hashi had kept up
with him all along, however. Scott had never counted on that.
It was less a hundred yards
now. I'll never forget the look that Scott gave me. He absolutely
refused to believe that I could beat him. He had anguished
look of someone who'd been shown the truth about something he'd taken
for granted. The look of a macho football player who had
been told his favorite tackling coach was gay, or of a child when he
is told for the first reliable time that there is no Santa Claus.
I remember that look when
I think of Michelle and him now.
Suddenly, Hashi's hatch popped
open. My whole seat came loose with the explosive sound of
metal bolts popping, and the whole thing, with me still buckled on,
flew out the back window. I almost hit my head on the hatch
on the way out.
I came down hard, flat on
my back in the street, but was cushioned by the padding in the seat. Momentarily
stunned, I tried in vain to get up, but the seatbelt was still on.
By the time I'd regained
my senses, unbuckled myself, and looked at the cars they were nearly
at the gate. No! I yelled because Hashimoto had
started turning into Scott's car. Scott swerved to the left
to try to get out of the way, but could not. Hashi crashed
right into Scott's passenger side with a crack that echoed like rolling
thunder throughout the complex.
A Mustang was a big, solid
car these days, built like a tank. The Hashmobile bounced
of the Mustang's door like one of those little rubber balls that you
buy in a coin machine in the supermarket. He even gained
speed on the rebound, and rolled right through the gate. The
Scott had screeched his brakes
and skidded, stopping in some of the bushes that lined the road. He
got out screaming and cursing, but I could see the damage wasn't that
bad. A Colt can only do so much to a Mustang, even if it
was a Kamikaze Colt.
I walked into the parking
lot of the Flamsteed Building to look at my car. The front
was pretty smashed in, like it had run into a brick wall or two. Green
radiator fluid dripped down over the shattered engine and puddled near
the puckered tires. Hashimoto was gone.
Winter had come and gone
and both Scott and Michelle still wouldn't talk to me. They
think I'm crazy. Responsible for the whole mess. They're
probably right. But I kept my word.
Also, I think I did the right
thing. Why? Well, I'm not making any inferences,
and I'm drawing no conclusions, but down at the Flamsteed Building,
right next to that little gate, a beautiful flower is growing. It
might be a chrysanthemum. Go see for yourself.