By Daniel Pinkwater
In 1969, I married Jill, a gorgeous redhead. Soon after, we acquired Juno, a Malamute dog.
I signed up for a course at the famous Captain Haggerty's School for Dogs, in the Bronx. The course went well. Juno was an apt student. The dog and I went for a lesson once a week. She learned “heel,” “sit,” and “stay,” and overcame most of her bad habits, with one exception -- she was not a good passenger -- she got carsick, drooling copiously with a comical expression on her face. It could have been worse...it never got to the next stage, but it was remarkable how much drool she was capable of.
I took to arriving an hour or so early for our lessons, to give Juno a chance to recover from the ride, and sort of dry out. We would take pleasant walks in the neighborhood, Tremont Avenue, near the intersection of Jerome Avenue, the location of many used-car lots, body shops, places where you could have stereos, tinted windows, and synthetic leopard skin seat covers installed.
Just around the corner from Captain Haggerty's, was Lawrence of the Bronx, European Motorcars. They specialized in the Citroen, the most glamorous and technically spectacular of cars. I was gazing at one, when Lawrence himself appeared before me, an attractive fellow, he had the kind of face you can trust.
"I see you are admiring this fine machine," Lawrence said. "Here are the keys, go for a ride."
"Oh, I'm not in the market," I said.
"I know you're not, take a ride anyway."
"It's blocking my entrance. You'll be doing me a favor."
"My dog drools."
"Dog drool never hurt anything. Take it for as long as you like, it's full of gas."
"It's a beautiful day. Get out on the highway. It will do you good." He tossed me the keys.
It was a beautiful day. I did get out on the highway. And it did do me good. Moreover, Juno did not drool a single drool. I conceived a theory that she had been annoyed by an inaudible-to-humans whine from the driveshaft in my Peugeot (yes, I was already a victim of French car addiction -- so you know where this story is going), and the front drive (still a rarity), in the Citroen, did not give offense to her doggie ears. Anyway she seemed to enjoy the ride as much as I did. I returned the car to Lawrence.
"How did you like it?"
"It can be yours."
"No, no, as I told you."
"What are you driving now?"
"That Peugeot across the street."
"What would you say to an even swap?"
"That would make no sense. The Citroen is this year's."
"And still under warranty. But I have a customer for your Peugeot, so what do you say?"
What could I say? It was in the spectacular bleu andalou color scheme. It drove like a dream. Juno was happy and drool-free in it.
The next day, I surprised my wife. Subsequent to these events came the institution of a policy stipulating that when I go anywhere by myself, I am not allowed to make any purchase more complex than that of a single bagel, sign us up for cults, acquire additional pets, or invite strangers I may meet to come home to stay for a couple of days. She's a bit conservative, but concessions and compromise are at the heart of every marriage. Still, the drooling problem was solved, and Jill enjoyed the car on jaunts around town.
For a week or so. Then....first I quote my father, "Dope! Vhat heppens, deh hydraulics should spring a leak? Deh whole car turns into dreck."
Now I quote from an automotive source, "The central part of the hydraulic system was the high-pressure pump, which maintained a pressure of between 130 and 150 bar in two accumulators. These accumulators were very similar in construction to the suspension spheres. One was dedicated to the front brakes, and the other ran the other hydraulic systems."
Now I quote from another automotive source, "Thus in case of a hydraulic failure, the first indication would be that the steering became heavy, followed by the gearbox not working; only later would the brakes fail."
Interestingly, these things only happened when we were 50 or more miles out of town. There we would limp into some shop where country mechanics had no idea. Not that city mechanics would have.
We were able to proceed by the expedient of carrying crates of hydraulic fluid in the trunk. It came in little bottles, I recall. Quite expensive.
And what of Lawrence of the Bronx? He was gone! Vanished! His number disconnected. We went there, and there was no trace, no one admitted to knowing anything about it, the space was occupied by an undercoating and mud flaps concern. "It's like Brigadoon," Jill said.
There was the warranty, of course, and the official Citroen service facility. They would attempt repairs, it would run for a while, and then, in the morning I would find it in a pool of hydraulic fluid, deflated, pathetic, the bumpers resting on the ground. The mechanics were at a loss. "Maybe if we were in France," they said.
Years later, I encountered Lawrence, walking toward me on 86th Street. While he was still a little distance away, he shouted to me, "Look! I'm sorry, okay?" I got the feeling he did that any time he made eye contact with anyone who looked vaguely familiar.
I'm glad I saw him. It gave me perspective. Many tragic things happen in the Bronx.
The author of more than 80 books, the outlandish, ornery, opinionated, prolific Daniel Pinkwater writes for Car Talk when he sees fit. His infamous calls to Car Talk can be heard on the two-CD set, Car Talk Classics: The Pinkwater Files. Want more DP? Here's his web site.