Dad has a Volkswagen Rabbit, and I hate it. I hate it because my grampa also has a Volkswagen Rabbit and dad’s compares unfavorably to his. Grampa’s Rabbit is green and has fuzzy, suede-like interior. Dad’s is brown and has sticky vinyl seats that burn you in the summer and sting you in the winter. Grampa’s has a hatchback with black rubber hinges attaching the door to the car, with a lid that conceals his golf clubs and spare tire, and this seems like to coolest thing in the world to me. Dad’s just has a dumb old trunk. Grampa’s still has the cute Rabbit logo on his hatchback. Dad’s has nothing but the outline of where the logo fell off years ago.
Grampa’s Rabbit has a backseat. So does Dad’s, technically, but it’s buried under a compost heap of old New York Times and crossword puzzle books and overdue library books and broken valises stuffed full of spent legal pads.
I hate Dad’s Rabbit because it’s a diesel. I don’t have strong feelings about fuel at age 8, but I do have strong feelings about every trip with Dad taking an extra 20 minutes because that’s how long it takes to get to the nearest gas station with diesel.
I hate Dad’s Rabbit because it’s a manual. I don’t have strong feelings about transmissions either, but the leathery turtleneck that surrounds the gear shift has these pockets that sag like a turkey’s wattle. All the ashes from Dad’s cigarettes collect in there and form a horrible tobacco-y slurry. It’s the most effective anti-smoking ad ever made.
I hate that Dad bought his Rabbit from this weird little German guy named Heinz, who has a Volkswagen farm on his lawn in a development near ours. Heinz buys late-70s VW’s that are on life support, then gets them running again in a state acceptable to guys like Dad, who don’t know anything about cars and are destined to run anything they drive into the ground.
But the biggest reason I hate Dad’s Rabbit is because he won’t let me honk the horn. Whenever I climb into Mom’s Chevy Caprice station wagon, she’ll let me give a quick toot on the horn before we pull out of the driveway. Dad will not allow this. He is vehement that none of us kids are to touch the horn under any circumstances. Even looking at the steering wheel for too long is pushing it.
Dad is not a Commanding Dad. He makes very few demands on us, apart from having his favored spot on the couch and not wanting to see kids with open mouths full of half-chewed food at the dinner table. This makes his anti-horn-honking edict stand out all the more, and leads to rampant speculation among the kids of the house as to what kind of secrets the horn holds.
I’m alone in the house with Dad some weekend afternoon. In a half panic, he throws himself in a coat, readying to leave. Then realizes I’m around.
“I gotta go get something for your mother,” he says, his forehead sweating slightly in spite of cool temperatures. “There’s this album she wants.”
It’s not Mom’s birthday, nor is it my parents’ anniversary. In my young memory, Dad has never bought anything for Mom, at least nothing that wasn’t actually a present for himself. Stacked in our stereo, next to the Steely Dan and George Carlin records, is a two-volume set of the complete Sherlock Holmes that Dad once bought “for Mom.”
So I know from word one Dad is lying to me. He has lied to my face innumerable times since I was old enough to understand him. I’ve heard him sneak into my room in the early hours to swipe money from my sock drawer, because he will not have to account for how this money was blown. I’m aware that lying to your kids and stealing their money are shitty things to do, but this is my life. It would do me as much good to protest against what’s happening as it would to yell at my veins for pumping blood. I clasped my eyes shut for the early morning thefts, and I keep my mouth shut now.
Dad’s trip takes him through the one town that sells diesel gas and to the parking lot of the Caldor’s. I feel like I’ve spent half my life in the Caldor’s parking lot, waiting for some grown up to be done doing something. Dad tells me to wait in the car, he won’t be long. He slams the car door and, rather than head for Caldor’s, makes a beeline for the liquor store in the nearby strip mall.
The cheapness of the deceit bothers me more than anything else. That he doesn’t bother with some kind of evasive action, heading in the direction of Caldor’s before sneaking his way toward the liquor store. That he thinks I can’t read an enormous yellow sign with red lettering that spells out LIQUOR. That he thinks I’ll somehow mistake a bottle-shaped brown paper bag for an LP.
When I see him emerge from the liquor store a few moments later, he doesn’t look the least bit ashamed. He holds his cargo in his hand. He is even smiling.
Dad stands just outside the car, fiddling for his keys. I lean over in my seat toward the driver’s seat, feeling very little resistance from the slack, fraying seat belt (another reason to hate this death trap Rabbit), and press into the center of the steering wheel with as much force as I can muster.
The horn isn’t broken so much as it’s terminally ill. The horn sounds like a cow expelling it’s last dying howl through a vuvuzela. It sounds like the yelp of a cat in heat slowed down 300 times. It sounds like the wail of a banshee that had just hit the voice-cracking stage of puberty. It sounds like a ghost haunting a sousaphone.
Dad is horrified, and embarrassed. He wasn’t embarrassed about lying to his kid about sneaking off to buy cheap scotch, but this embarrasses him. He screams at me for defying him. I say nothing. He starts up the Rabbit and we begin the slow chug home. His anger gives way to the sudden realization that I might drop a dime on him. He tries every dumb joke in his arsenal, every half-remembered Monty Python bit, but I’ve heard it all before.
It is not long after this that Mom cautions me not to get in the car with Dad anymore. She fears he’ll get behind the wheel drunk and wrap us around a tree. Not long after that, Dad accidentally destroys his Rabbit by filling up with unleaded. No one is sad to see the Rabbit go.