Ethan Epstein looks a gift workhorse in the mouth.Oct 27, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 07 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
Nobody ever said to “beware of sisters bearing gifts.” So, when my younger sister offered me her car as she headed off to the Peace Corps a couple of years ago, I leapt at the opportunity.
I’d never had my own set of wheels before, and car ownership—along with having an apartment with a dishwasher, buying my own health insurance, and experiencing occasional back pain—is a crucial way-station on the road to being a Real Adult. Even if the car in question was a bit of a beater, a humble 12-year-old Subaru Outback upon which my sister had bestowed the charming name of “Menard” after a Midwestern discount chain with a catchy jingle, I wasn’t going to complain. Hey, a car’s a car. And more important, free is free.
Except when it isn’t. Oh sure, there were costs I expected to incur—the auto insurance mandate (or is it a tax?) that saw to it I’d be forking over a handsome sum every month, for example. And gas is not exactly cheap these days.
But there were also some nasty surprises from the start. Just a few short weeks after I brought the car down from Boston, I started getting a parking ticket every night. Was I parking too close to the curb, or perhaps near a fire hydrant? No: Apparently the nation’s capital is not a big believer in freedom of movement. According to city law, if you want to park anywhere in the District of Columbia for more than a few consecutive nights, you’re required to secure a D.C. license plate. (And, of course, pay the several hundred dollars that requires.)
I dutifully trudged down to the Department of Motor Vehicles—several times. (I always had the wrong form, or the line was too long, or didn’t I know the DMV is obviously closed on Mondays?) And when I finally managed to apply to have the car registered, it failed inspection.
After I shelled out four figures for a new catalytic converter—whatever that is—the car handled exactly as it had before I plowed the money into it, which is to say, poorly. But at least Menard now sported two shiny new District of Columbia tags, and I could park in my neighborhood without fear of an early morning visit from the dreaded Officer Mack.
I’d like to say that was the end of the saga. Alas, no. Over the following year, the windshield cracked. (Requiring a brand new windshield.) One day, Menard broke down in the parking lot of Ikea. (Requiring a new alternator and battery.) Not long after, that battery died. (Requiring a new battery—again.) At one point earlier this year, when I turned the car on, it let out such a blood-curdling scream that I was unable to drive anywhere in the early hours of the day—I didn’t want to wake my neighbors. It turns out that a car has something called a “serpentine belt,” and mine had come loose. As I endured this parade of very expensive horribles, there were times when I relished the thought of simply driving Menard into the Anacostia River and being done with him, sort of like The Love Bug meets The Awakening.
I don’t fantasize about that anymore, though. I happened to be in Phoenix this September on the rainiest day in the city’s recorded history. Driving a rental car to the airport to return to Washington in the pitch-black, stormy weather, I drove down an underpass—and straight into four or five feet of standing water. The engine immediately cut out, and as the car coasted along through the water, I seriously thought I was going to have to jump out and swim to safety. It was, frankly, terrifying.
Luckily, the car had just enough momentum to make it out of the trough of the puddle, and it stopped a little higher up, in two or three feet of water. I stayed in the car and called 911. The fire department arrived fairly swiftly and was able to push me out to safety, where I waited several hours for a tow.
I was grateful to be safe and dry. But, while the rental car itself was “free,” in that it had been paid for by an employer, I ended up having to shell out for the towing, the late fee, and the unfilled tank (I had planned to fill up at the airport). I was reminded again of a lesson that my old friend Menard had long since taught me: There’s no such thing as a free car.
Joseph Epstein; a fan's notes.Oct 13, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 05 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
Sometime in mid-February, after the long winter, baseball fans are delighted to read, usually over a two-paragraph-long story buried beneath the fold in the sports pages, the tag line Pitchers and Catchers Report. They are reporting, of course, to spring training two or three weeks ahead of the rest of their teams, and the announcement bodes the first news of the lengthy and leisurely baseball season ahead.
Julianne Dudley keeps quiet and carries on.Oct 6, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 04 • By JULIANNE DUDLEY
"If you see something, say something.” To anyone who uses public transportation, it’s a familiar refrain. Yet while the constant warnings to beware of one’s fellow travelers are but a sign of the times, the message is ambiguous. How do you know what qualifies as “something”? As a subway commuter, I regularly see (and hear and smell) some pretty strange things.
Jonathan V. Last, comic custodianSep 29, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 03 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
I met Chris in first grade. Both new to the school, we were wary of each other that year, but by the following September we had become best friends.
Chris and I were inseparable through our boyhoods, partly because our interests always seemed to evolve on parallel tracks: Just as we were giving up on G.I. Joes, we moved on to Transformers. Just as we were leaving video games, we started playing tennis. Just as we discovered girls, we wound up playing more tennis.
Matt Labash, maximal minimalist.Sep 22, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 02 • By MATT LABASH
The surest way to know who you are is to understand who you are not. For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought myself a simple man. I prefer hamburgers to fancy cheeseburgers, with all their dolled-up, dairy-fied excess. I have a “Simplicity” calendar with lots of Lao Tzu quotes. I would rather micturate outdoors than indoors, as it connects me to the land while keeping down the weeds. And as long as we’re showing our simplicity cards, I would rather say “squirt” than “micturate.”
David Skinner, aging jock.Sep 8, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 48 • By DAVID SKINNER
Twice now, as I enter my forties, I have picked up a new sport. First I took up tennis, which I have always enjoyed watching and is known to be a game one can play well into the gray-haired years. And a couple months ago I started playing Gaelic football, a bruising, I hope not bone-crushing, but definitely high-speed, um, melee more than an actual sport, which perhaps no one of any age should play and about which I knew almost nothing.
Irwin M. Stelzer books the barberSep 1, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 47 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
On a recent trip to Washington I had the rare experience of some free time between meetings. Best used to get a much-needed haircut, I thought. A few blocks from my hotel I found myself in a barber shop of the sort that caters to people more modern than I, a gray-haired economist, and generally above my station in Washington society.
Jonathan V. Last abdicates the ThroneAug 11, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 45 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire might be the most daunting mountain in the history of fantasy fiction. The cycle includes five fat books so far, totaling over 4,500 pages, and Martin suggests that at least two more volumes will be needed to conclude the story. Compared with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series or Asimov’s Foundation books, A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t just Everest—it’s the entire Himalayan range.
Fred Barnes on an unforgettable hero.Aug 4, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 44 • By FRED BARNES
Jeremiah A. Denton Jr. had three careers in the course of his 89 years. He was a Navy pilot. He was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for seven years and seven months. And he was a U.S. senator from Alabama.
He excelled in all three, but it was as leader of the POWs at the Hanoi Hilton that he should always be remembered. He spent four years in solitary confinement and was brutally beaten many times. Yet he defied his captors year after year and suffered as much as the POWs he led.
Joseph Epstein sees himself through four eyes.Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
Of late, the last four years or so, I rarely go out for long without being praised. I am praised not for my writing, my perspicacity, my elegant bearing, my youthful good looks, my extreme modesty, but for my eyeglasses. “Nice glasses,” strangers say to me. “Like your glasses,” they say. “Love those glasses,” is a refrain I hear at least once a week. “Where did you get those glasses?” people wearing glasses of their own often ask me. “Thank you for your kind words about these glasses,” I have taken to answering. “They are my best feature.”
Philip Terzian, epical exterminatorJun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
Arriving home the other afternoon by car, I noticed an elongated object straddling the lawn and driveway in front of our house. “Is that a snake?” I asked my alluring wife, whose fondness for such creatures is approximately the same as my own. But before she could answer, or even focus on the spectacle, I could see that it was: an eastern ratsnake, in fact, a few feet in length, recently emerged from hibernation and probably in search of a mate.
David Skinner's first museJun 16, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 38 • By DAVID SKINNER
The first writer I ever met was my Uncle Joe. He was tall, with a fading cap of screwy red hair, big mischievous eyes, and a smile that might have been drawn by Dr. Seuss.
I remember him saying to my younger brother and me that there were goblins in his basement. No way were we going to fall for that. He opened the door, inviting us to take a look. “Go ahead. You can see them, can’t you?” We peered down the basement stairs, into the darkness, but saw nothing. “Whoa, there goes one, did you see it?”
Terry Eastland, Southern fried chicken manJun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By TERRY EASTLAND
I happen to like fried chicken. I like just about everything about it. I like being in the store and looking for the right chicken. I like cutting up the chicken, and then preparing the pieces for frying, and then frying them in the big pan we use for that purpose. And I like eating my portion. I can’t say I like disposing of the grease, a messy business, but then the meal I’ve just eaten has usually been worth it.