Chevys, Fords, and BMWs

My wife, Maureen, posted the following blog on her page at which is another terrific page, a lot of mental health insight, from the perspective of being married to someone with schizophrenia.

I’m taking more time off on this end, as I write my memoirs and some other “bigger” projects. –JH

<a class="StrictlyAutoTagAnchor" href="; title="View all articles about Crazy People here” >Crazy People by Maureen Cooke here” >Maureen Cooke:

Bay City, Michigan. 1958.

The Ford Motor Company released the Edsel, whatTime Magazine named one of the 50 worst cars of all time.

We are living on Litchfield with Grandma and Grandpa Foley. I don’t like living there. I like having my own house, my own room. I like making noise if I want to make noise, and Grandma and Grandpa Foley don’t like noise. And they are always cold, even in the summer, so they always have the furnace going, and I always have prickly heat.

But I like the kids on the block: Sean Finnegan, whose mother has bleached blond hair, owns a zebra-print chaise lounge, paints her nails rose-pink, and talks on a red telephone. She doesn’t even have a party line. And I like Kevin O’Brien because he lives next door to the funeral parlor, and the funeral parlor porch is the best place to play in Bay City.

And I like the uncles, who come over and drink with Grandpa Foley and Wight Dad. There’s Uncle Jimmy and sometimes Uncle Bob, whose head always looks round to me. I haven’t seen him in years, so I have no idea if his head was indeed round, but that’s how I remember him. He’s married to Aunt Joan, who’s now a friend on Facebook, and is an amazingly hot-looking 80-something. She attributes her looks to her smoking – says it kept her thin.

Uncle Jimmy’s married to Aunt Lil, who was always my favorite aunt; she lives across the street in a brown, frame house with a wrap-around porch. The house was meant to be an apartment, so there are three separate entrance doors, which, when I’m 6, I think is the neatest thing there is. And when Grandma Foley starts complaining that Aunt Lil can’t keep her house clean and is “just like the Mexicans” always buying television sets before buying a stove that works, I decide I don’t like Grandma Foley, that she just doesn’t understand fun when she sees it.

But because everyone lives so close, we have Sunday dinner – chicken. Grandma Foley puts the chicken on early in the morning – before 8:00 – and then we go to 9:00 Mass at St. Mary’s. It’s High Mass, my favorite because there’s chanting, and it’s all in Latin, and I don’t understand a word of it although I can say Dominus Vobiscum and Kyrie Elison. I will be 40 before I discover that Kyrie Elison is actually Greek, and I will find this out, from of all people, a convert.

Natural-born Catholics, in my opinion, should know more about the Church than converts, but that is a different discussion for a different day, I was talking about the uncles and Sunday dinner.

We’d eat about 2, when the chicken was done, which meant that when you picked the chicken up out of the pan – and it was always whole-body in those days – all of the meat fell off. Grandma Foley worried a lot about salmonella, trichinosis, and glass shards traveling through your body and piercing your heart.

But finally we’d get to eat: chicken and white bread with real butter – that she didn’t want me to pound, so it would be soft – and frozen peas and sometimes brussell sprouts, and always a pie: homemade crust with a chocolate pudding filling. Sometimes, on holidays, Grandma Foley made a lemon meringue but not for regular Sunday dinners.

And after dinner Grandpa Foley, the uncles, and Dad would start drinking. Usually beer. In the bottle. And then they’d smoke and drink some more. And Grandma Foley and Mom and Aunt Lil and sometimes Aunt Joan would clean the kitchen and mutter to one another about all the drinking because they knew where it was headed.

Dad worked at Ford that year; he was a salesman, and he drove a loaner – and, of course, it was a Ford. A Fairlane. Which would prompt one of the uncles to tell him – jokingly – he ought to work for Chevy because that company knew how to make a car.

The thing is, when people drink, the joking invariably turns ugly.

And my father would say that at least Fords knew how to build a transmission. Hoots of laughter from the uncles: “Yeah, and what good is a transmission without an engine?”

“Fords,” my father would say, “started the auto industry. If it weren’t for Fords, there’d be no Detroit.”

(Dad, there is no Detroit. Not anymore.)

Again hoots of laughter: “If it weren’t for Ford,” they’d howl, “there’d be no Edsel.”

And probably if my father hadn’t been drunk by then, he might have laughed. But drunk people – at least not my drunk uncles, grandfather, and father – have no sense of humor. He would glower at first, then say:

“And if it weren’t for Ford, I wouldn’t have a job. I’d be nothing but a deadbeat like you.” (This would be said to any of the uncles, regardless if they were working or not.)

And then the least drunk of the uncles would say, “You want a real car, one that’ll run forever, get a Checker. Just drop a new engine into it every 100,000 miles. Now that’s a car.”

To which my father would growl, “That’s a taxi.”

Then my Grandpa Foley would chime in: “Ford. Chevy. They’re all the same. The thing is, Wight, you’ve got a job.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” my father would yell. “You want me out of here. You just say it. Say it to my face, old man.”

And then Grandma Foley would come into the living room – that crowded, crowded, smoky living room with all the drunk uncles and the doilies on the arms of the couch – and she’d be wringing her hands: “JesusMaryandJoseph,” said as one word, “JesusMaryandJoseph, Emmet. Not again. They have no place to go.”

And my grandpa: “I didn’t say that, you old bat.”

And my father: “You want us out of here, you just say it. You just say it to my face.”

By now my grandpa was drunk and angry: “I want you out of here. You and your noisy brats.”

Which brought my mother into the fracas: “We have nowhere to go, Daddy.”

And my father: “Nobody calls my girls brats.”

And then Grandma Foley and the aunts and my mother would cry because the men were at it again: Drinking and fighting, and why couldn’t we all have a ‘normal’ Sunday once in a while? Like the Jews. You don’t see the Jews fighting.

“Of course, you don’t see the Jews fighting,” Grandpa Foley would yell. “It’s the niggers who fight. Joe Louis. Now that was a fighter. One hell of a boxer.”

And pretty soon, everyone would settle down and start talking about all those ‘niggers’ who knew how to fight, with my mother trying to shush them, trying to stop them from using the ‘n’ word, and then Grandma would tell her to stay out of it, at least they weren’t killing each other.

And all this – all those Sundays listening to the uncles fight and watching the women wring their hands is why I don’t like discussing cars. I don’t want to hear that Toyota is better than Nissan and Honda’s best of all and that the Americans can’t build cars like they used to. I don’t want to hear it. Ever. Listening to people discuss the merits of one car over another makes my stomach hurt.

Until I met Jonathan.

Jonathan had (still does) a 328IS BMW. A little silver car with a black leather interior. The first time I met him face-to-face was at the Long Beach here” >Long Beach Airport – tiny little airport, white stucco with blue trim – but close enough to the ocean that you can smell the water, what some people call the ‘salt’ but since it smells just like the Great Lakes, I think I’m simply smelling water. Or fish.

At any rate, it took four different attempts to fly me from Albuquerque to Long Beach here” >Long Beach. Jonathan tends to be impulsive, so the first time he tried to fly me out, it was 7:30 at night, and he decided he wanted to see me and bought a ticket for a 9:00 flight. We were “Skypeing” with one another. I told him I couldn’t make a 9:00 flight and to cancel the ticket. He told me I could so make the flight, and I said I couldn’t. I’d need to pack, and by the time I got to the airport, it’d be 8:45.

He hung up on me.

The second time he tried to fly me out was over a weekend when I had to work. He told me he’d pay me $1500 and that would take care of the “work.” I explained that it wouldn’t take care of the work because I’d destroy my credibility with the company, and I’d be fired.

The third time he tried to fly me out, everything was working great up until the actual day I was supposed to fly.

He called me that morning, whispering into the phone that he was in the psych hospital, that it was his schizophrenia, which I didn’t believe he had because the only people I knew who had schizophrenia were Michael Meyers from Halloween and maybe Jason’s mother from Friday the Thirteenth. (Odd, how I forgot that Uncle Lanny had schizophrenia. I guess we remember what we choose.)

Oh, and I knew those people from movies like Awakenings or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, who shuffled around the ward, slack-jawed, and drooling, and I’d seen Jonathan on Skype, and I knew he was nothing like that.

So that morning when he called me to tell me he was in the psych ward because of his schizophrenia, I thought he was lying. Not about the psych ward, but about the schizophrenia. I thought he just didn’t want to meet me and that being in the psych ward was somehow preferable. And I thought he told me had schizophrenia because that would be (probably is) the worst diagnosis you can have if you’re mentally ill.

Kind of like the Rolls Royce of cars.

But, just in case, he was telling the truth and just in case he needed someone out there, I offered to still fly out, visit with him at the hospital. He turned me down, said he didn’t want me to see him like that. He wasn’t even in clean clothes.

So, okay. We’d delay our meeting.

He got out of the psych ward a few days later, called me, got me another ticket. The plan was to fly out early in the morning and fly back home that evening. That would work fine. We were getting along online and on the phone, but who knew how it would be in person? A day was probably all either of us could take.

We were in agreement about how long I’d stay.

But then he told me he’d send a driver to pick me up.

“No,” I told him. “I’m not flying out to meet a ‘driver.’”

“His name is Alan,” Jonathan told me. “He’s nice. He knows all about you.”

“I don’t want to meet Alan,” I said.

“I could send Guillermo,” Jonathan said.

“I don’t want to meet him either.”

“I don’t drive,” Jonathan said.

How could anyone in Southern California not drive? Jonathan explained that his Tourette’s made it hard for him to drive.

“Well, I still can’t have somebody I don’t know pick me up. This is already too scary for me.”

Finally, Jonathan agreed to get me. He told me to look for a silver 328IS BMW. Meant nothing to me.

I said, sure, is that like a big car, a small car, a what?

Small, he said.

“Like a sports car?” I asked.

“Two-door. M package.”

Still meant nothing to me. Figured BMW was like a Lexus or maybe a Ferrari. Expensive, I figured. And probably fast.

Night before I was to fly in, I went to Wal Mart, bought a pair of open-toed, high-heeled sandals. Jonathan had told me he liked feet, figured I’d get something pretty to wear.

I should have gotten something comfortable because there are no direct flights from Albuquerque to Long Beach. You have to fly out of Sky Harbor in Phoenix, and Sky Harbor is a very large airport, which means you have to walk really far to catch a connecting flight, which I could not do in those open-toed, high-heeled sandals. I had to walk barefoot, carry the shoes.

But still I made the flight, my heart pounding. Before I’d left, I’d confided in my friend Bridget, told her how terrified I was. She said, “What’s the worst that can happen? He doesn’t show and you’re devastated.”

Thank you, Bridget.

The plane from Phoenix to Long Beach landed. I put on the shoes I couldn’t walk in, got off the plane, and checked my phone: Jonathan had texted he’d be late.

I knew it I knew I knew it. He wasn’t coming. It was all a big joke, get me believing him, and then just leave me at the airport. I started to tear up.

He sent me another text: About 5 minutes out. Look for a silver BMW. 328IS.

Like I knew what that was.

I went to the front of the airport, stood around feeling self conscious, feeling sick to my stomach. He was lying to me. I knew it. I just knew it. He wasn’t coming.

And then the 328 pulled up. A silver hatchback. Looked like a Mazda or Subaru to me. Besides, what difference could it possibly make what kind of car he drove? As long as it ran.

He got out of the car dressed in a white t-shirt,  striped pajama bottoms, a navy blue sport jacket, and a turquoise, stove-pipe hat. He looked exactly as he had on Skype – eccentric and endearing. He took the suitcase out of my hand, wrapped his arms around me, and whispered: “See, this isn’t weird.”

No. It wasn’t weird at all.

Until I came out two weeks later, and he decided that since he had to go to the hospital to get his Lithium levels checked, and he didn’t want to take a taxi that should drive the 328, and although, to me, the car may have looked like a Mazda, I was aware that it was a trifle more expensive than one, and driving it didn’t sound like that much fun to me.

What if I did something to it?

For example, what if I bottomed out when pulling out of the garage? What then?

“Uh,” Jonathan said, when I did exactly that, “this car’s got a pretty low under carriage.”

“Okay,” I said, then turned onto Cherry, which had a great big street sign, screaming: DIP.

Bottomed out again.

“Shit,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he said.

“I think you should drive,” I told him. “I’m ruining your car.”

“No, you’re doing fine.”

He was being polite. I wasn’t doing fine at all. I didn’t know where I was going, and I was terrified I’d run into something. At least, I knew how to shift. At least, I wasn’t stalling out in first or grinding the gears. At least, I had that going for me.

But still getting to St. Mary’s was no fun. I had no idea where I was going, which meant I was driving really slow, and the people behind me began honking. Plus, there were one-ways, and although I could see the hospital, I couldn’t figure out how to get there.

Eventually we did. We pulled into the parking garage. Keeping it in first, I climbed floor by floor to the top where we finally found a parking space. I pulled in, felt a slight lift to the car, thought nothing of it.

We found the lab where Jonathan needed his Lithium levels checked, came back out, got in the car, put it in reverse, and backed up.

There was a horrible sound of ripping metal.

“What was that?” I practically screamed.

“You tore the grille off,” Jonathan told me and began texting his old girlfriend (or rather friend with benefits, as he referred to her.)

“I did not tear the grille off,” I told him.

“Yeah, you did,” he said. “I’ve done it before. I know the noise.”

Still, I didn’t believe him. I got out of the car and checked. He was right. I’d somehow managed to park on top of the cement barrier (that was the slight lift I’d felt), and when I backed up, that cement barrier had torn off the grille.

I’d done exactly what he said I’d done.

I climbed back into the car; he was still texting that friend with benefits. I laid my head on the steering wheel. How in the hell could I afford to fix a BMW?

I hated the car. It was cursed. I was cursed. I thought back to all the uncles. No wonder they drank.


They were nothing but a gigantic pain in the ass.

<a class="StrictlyAutoTagAnchor" href="; title="View all articles about Crazy People here” >Crazy People by Maureen Cooke here” >Maureen Cooke:

Jonathan Harnisch




About Jonathan Harnisch

Author | Mental Health Advocate | Schizophrenia | Artist | Blogger | Podcast Host | Patent Holder | Hedge Fund Manager | Film & TV Producer | Musician
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