My car is never too clean.
Occasionally I get out the bucket and fill it with hot, soapy water. I hose down my car and lather it in soap and scrub before taking the vacuum cleaner to its innards. The vacuum sucks up dirt, leaves, sand and parts of plastic toys. It sucks up crumbs and months-old French fries. A plastic bag is filled with books, flip-flops, notebooks, pencils, pens, pine cones, teddy bears, toys, shoes, seashells, sweaters and underwear. Yes, underwear. Another bag is filled with trash too big for the vacuum’s nozzle. In go candy wrappers, cookies, empty apple juice boxes, pamphlets and, yes, a half-eaten McDonald’s cheeseburger.
The reason? I have three young children and we are parents too tired to keep up with everything that comes with parenting. That’s why. Not that it’s ever really mattered. Other things are more important. The trips to the sea. The trips to the country. The trips to the mountains. Our faithful car keeps chugging and the crumbs get brushed to the floor to make room for fellow travelers. The experience of life outweighs the need for a clean car. Well, that’s what I always thought until today when an unwanted traveler got on board. A very unwelcome traveler.
How did it get in? I have no idea. But there I was driving through the backstreets of Colegiales, the Buenos Aires neighborhood where we live, when it appeared – a mammoth-ass cockroach. It crawled along the inside of the front window and dropped into my lap. Motherfucker! I swerved. I looked down at the beast. Its antennae twitched. I looked up and swerved to avoid hitting a parked car. Keep the car straight. The roach crawled up my belly. Good god! Pull over, pull over. I checked the rearview mirror – cars were behind. The cockroach reached my chest. I slowed. I swerved. Cars got closer. No place to pull over. A green light. Through I went, followed by a line of cars. The beast reached my chin! So I flicked it as quickly as possible while doing 20 and turning onto another and even narrower street. The beast landed on the passenger seat where my wife sat only minutes earlier. I looked for a weapon. My wife’s book, an old paper cup? No, no. A beach towel? Yes. I grabbed it off the backseat and pounded it down on the mammoth roach and came to a stop at the train tracks as the barriers came down. Thank god!
The train raced by. I caught my breath and my nerves, rolled down the window, looked for a tissue. Out with the roach. I picked up the towel to fling the carcass.
And it charged me. The thing lived. It raced at me. Motherfucker! I pounded the towel down once and then again. I missed and missed again. It ran across the gearshift and onto my lap. I pounded the towel down again. Once, twice and a third time until I got it. I pushed down hard and harder until I could hear it crack. Die, bitch, die. I breathed out with relief and slowly lifted the towel. There lay the carcass in a pool of black ooze on my shorts.
I rolled down the window and tossed out the remains. The train passed, the barriers rose and cars honked behind. I put the car into first and drove forward like a man tired from the victory of battle – and a man on a mission to get to the car wash.