i want to eat my car

It’s been a week of strange nostalgia. My mom sent my brother a giant box of videotapes encompassing a rather lengthy swath of our histories, beginning when I was around twelve years old and terminating rather abruptly the second I graduated from high school. Like, the SECOND. In fact, the tape labeled “Dan’s High School Graduation, 1994” features my graduation and is then immediately followed by an HBO showing of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, as if a sports announcer had run onto the auditorium floor at my graduation, stuck a microphone in my mom’s face, and barked, “Mrs. Blau, You’ve just successfully gotten three kids off to college after caring for them as a single parent for the last twelve years! What are you going to do now?” To which I can picture my mom just kind of shrugging her shoulders, looking around slightly bemused by it all, and answering, “Don’t know. Probably watch Groundhog Day, I guess.”

But when that video camera was at its peak, there was no rite of passage it didn’t capture. As a recent episode of This American Life observed, home movies mean the most to those in them, so we’ve recently stopped exposing our friends to me and Adam starring together in Fiddler on the Roof and Bye Bye Birdie and enjoying them ourselves.

Among the recently viewed classics:

*Adam’s seventeenth birthday party: Adam and I — and our respective girlfriends at the time SHUT UP — were planning surprise parties for one another at the same time. Mine went off without a hitch, and so did Adam’s, or SO I THOUGHT. Adam apparently knew about his a few days beforehand, a horrible fact I JUST learned. The video of my party is unremarkable: about forty kids in the house, eating six-foot subs my mom ordered from the deli, dancing to R.E.M. in the den, and standing around the piano singing German choir music in the living room (just like all the wild teen parties). But what’s so great about Adam’s is — well, really it’s two things. The first is watching him pretend to be surprised (our ruse for getting him out the of the house was so elaborate it necessitated him entering the party wearing a tuxedo, which adds quite a dashing element to the non-surprise). The second — and this is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in a home movie — is that there are shots of people giving my brother presents, the presents piled up on a table in the den, my brother about to open his presents, and then…random shots of kids playing basketball OUTSIDE in the DARK, then a bit of parents cleaning up around the kitchen, then a lengthy time cut, and then a pan past dozens of open boxes and not a present to be found. No presents opened on camera. My mom found a basic story structure for the party and then totally forgot to shoot the climax.

*Our respective Bar Mitzvahs, in which the parties exist in this alternate universe of clichés about gaudy Bar Mitzvahs that looked like last week’s episode of Entourage but much, much less expensive: fifty kids in suits dancing to “Shout” in a catering hall. My drunken relatives slurring into the camera, “Dzaniel, dzarling, you make such a good Bar Mitzvah boy. Tazel Mov! I mean…oh, never mind.” My Italian Catholic grandfather stumbling through the blessing over the challah while I stood in the background, all seventy pounds of me, kicking into puberty as the camera mercilessly rolled.

*Our chamber choir singing songs I could still remember every note of. I was all self-satisfied with the insane complexity of the work — Thomas Morley’s “Fyre Fyre.” An Irish traditional called “I Love My Love.” Seven very fast madigals in Italian — until the full chorus came out and sang a medley of songs from Les Miserables that was so awful I seriously had to talk about it for ten minutes after we watched it.

*My sister and then future brother-in-law (he’s now been my actual brother-in-law for eleven years) giving a tour of their first apartment together. Two rooms. Forty-five minute tour. Yes. We know the cat likes to hide in the laundry basket. Now seriously you guys? Did camcorder batteries even last that long eleven years ago?

Like with all nostalgia, there’s always a bittersweet quality that, for me, comes across as a bit more bitter than sweet. Because I am the spawn of many, many neurotic Jews, there isn’t a roll of film or a videotape that is free from a mom-led chorus of “Well, he’s dead. Oh, so is she. Divorced. Divorced. He died because he never got divorced. She KILLED him.” He had a stroke. He went crazy. My grandfather died less than a month after the Bar Mitzvah video that showcased him so prominently. But even more than that, watching old versions of myself reminds me how raw and scary childhood can be. Every nerve is exposed. You’re a mess all the time. You remember that there is a backstory to every public event. That the antiseptic shots of ten couples getting ready for the prom kicked off a night of such high school-ish debauchery that I was still practically drunk two days later at graduation, having spent the night with my girlfriend, having gone straight to another party, having gotten wasted on Goldschlager stashed in Evian bottles, having passed out, having gotten dragged into a car by my friend Frank, having gotten a ride home, and having laid on the floor of the bathroom where I spent the entire night trying not to vomit, all the while thinking that things weren’t going to work out between me and my girlfriend for some strange reason. Constant, violent, sickening adolescent drama. How come none of THAT got caught on tape?

Which is why the best brand of nostalgia I’ve experienced this week comes from a much more recent occasion. It came after I stopped wallowing in the past, after I fixed my gaze firmly forward, and after I had already become the emotionally distant bastard I am today. It was just over two years ago, when I was still working at Please Kill Me I Hate My Life PR. One of our director clients was what we politely referred to as a “maverick.” A commercial director who…eh, fuck it, he directed American History X, okay? There’s your clue. Anyway, this Crazy Person Of Note had teamed up with legendary Hollywood lunatic Marlon Brando to teach an acting class in New York. But they didn’t want any old wannabe thespians showing up to audition for the class. They wanted real people instead. A real dad. A real taxi driver. A real waiter. No actors. Real, real, real, real, real. So you know what this director did once? He brought in to audition the most real thing the human race had to offer, in his estimation: a homeless guy. You know what else he did once? He showed up to class dressed as Osama Bin Laden for no apparent reason, in November of 2001. And every single person who auditioned for the class he made sing an improvised song for which he would only supply the title. And the title he gave? “I Want To Eat My Car.”

It was this final detail of the story that I found most captivating. One night at work after 9PM, I was IMing Adam bits of this story. In my I’ve-been-at-work-for-fourteen-hours delirium, I began IMing him couplets for the song, including a verse that went, simply, “Yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum / Want to eat my car / Yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum / Want to eat my car.” It had the standard perfect pop song format: verses, chorus, verses, chorus, bridge, instrumental solo, chorus, end. I went home and forgot all about it, until I arrived back at work the following morning to find an MP3 in my inbox that contained the finished version of the song. Adam had literally written it overnight. I finally put it on my iPod yesterday (I hadn’t heard it since I turned on NPR one Saturday morning and randomly heard it playing during a station break on Car Talk), and it made me feel a nostalgia that was purely good and not at all creepy: it’s a remnant of a time in my life I’m really glad is over, and only the genius of this perfect song lives on. I don’t remember any of the private jokes behind the bridge, but I’m certain they were a riot.

Here’s what I can write in five minutes:

I Want To Eat My Car

Well, I’m hungry for metal and a carburetor
Tastier than meat and a mashed potato
Gonna chew up some road and swallow later
Oh, I want to eat my car

I’m driven wild by my appetite
Traffic only makes me say, “Man, that bites”
On a chewy-looking interior I set my sights
Oh, I want to eat my car

CHORUS:
Car car c-car car c-c-car
I want to eat my car
Car car c-car car c-c-car
I want to eat my car

Yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum
Want to eat my car
Yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum
Want to eat my car

Well there’s room in my belly for just a fender
I wish I could put the whole thing in a blender
Cushiony seats well they taste so tender
Oh, I want to eat my car

CHORUS:
Car car c-car car c-c-car
I want to eat my car
Car car c-car car c-c-car
I want to eat my car

BRIDGE:
People in Quilderberry eat their cars for high tea
With strawberries and onions left over from elevensies

CHORUS:
Car car c-car car c-c-car
I want to eat my car
Car car c-car car c-c-car
I want to eat my car

END