ARNIE – TEENAGE LOVE-SONGS
THE SECOND ARGUMENT
The Dealer came up to me and said, “Trade in your Fo’d, And I’ll put you in a car that’ll Eat up the road! Just tell me what you want and Sign that line, I’ll have it brought down to you In an hour’s time.” I’m gonna get me a car And I’ll be headed on down the road; Then I won’t have to worry about That broken-down, ragged Ford.
– Chuck Berry
Arnie Cunningham’s 1958 Plymouth became street-legal on the afternoon of November 1, 1978. He finished the process, which had really begun the night he and Dennis Guilder had changed that first flat tyre, by paying an excise tax fee of $8.50, a municipal road tax of $2.00 (which also enabled him to park free at the meters in the downtown area), and a licence-plate fee of $15.00. He was issued Pennsylvania plate HY-6241-J at the Motor Vehicle Bureau in Monroeville.
He drove back from the MVB in a car Will Darnell had loaned him and rolled out of Darnell’s Do-It-Yourself Garage behind the wheel of Christine. He drove her home.
His father and mother arrived together from Horlicks University an hour or so later. The fight started almost at once.
“Did you see it?” Arnie asked, speaking to them both but perhaps a little more to his father. “I registered it just afternoon.”
He was proud; he had reason to be. Christine had just been washed and waxed, and she gleamed in the late afternoon autumn sunlight. There was still a lot of rust on her, but she looked a thousand times better than she had on the day Arnie bought her. The rocker panels, like the bonnet and the back seat, were brand new. The interior was spick and span and neat as a pin. The glass and the chrome gleamed.
“Yes, I – ” Michael began.
“Of course we saw it,” Regina snapped. She was making a drink, spinning
a swizzle-stick in a Waterford glass in furious counter-clockwise circles. “We almost ran into it. I don’t want it parked here. The place looks like a used-car lot.”
“Mom!” Arnie said, stunned and hurt. He looked to Michael, but Michael had left to make a drink of his own perhaps he had decided he was going to need it.
“Well it does,” Regina Cunningham said, Her face was a trifle paler than usual; the rouge on her cheeks stood out almost like clown-colour. She knocked back half of her gin and tonic at a swallow, grimacing the way people grimace at the taste of bad medicine. “Take it back where you had it. I don’t want it here and I won’t have it here, Arnie. That’s final.”
“Take it back?” Arnie said, now angry as well as hurt. “That’s great, isn’t it? It’s costing me twenty bucks a week there!”
“It’s costing you a lot more than that,” Regina said. She drained her drink and set the glass down. She turned to look at him. “I took a look at your bankbook the other day – “
“You did what?” Arnie’s eyes widened.
She flushed a little but did not drop her eyes. Michael came back and stood in the doorway, looking unhappily from his wife to his son.
“I wanted to know how much you’d been spending on that damned car,” she said. “Is that so unnatural? You have to go to college next year, So far as I know they’re not giving away many free college educations in Pennsylvania.”
“So you just went into my room and hunted around until you found my bankbook?” Arnie said. His grey eyes were hard with anger, “Maybe you were hunting for pot, too. Or girlie books. Or maybe come-stains on the sheets.”
Regina’s mouth dropped open.