A TRUE STORY BY LEON CHASE
The girl’s name was Tina. She was twelve, I was thirteen, and though she was my girlfriend in title only, I spent every weekend at her house, four blocks away, in our trashy little Detroit suburb. We would sit on an old couch in her dingy, half-finished basement, discussing the merits of Blizzard of Oz versus Bark at the Moon, listening to her older brother, Larry attempt to play AC/DC on the guitar (he lived down there in the basement, of course), and—very occasionally—making some secretive, terrified attempt to hold hands, touch arms, or otherwise establish physical contact in a lame effort to live up to our official romantic status.
Her dad—a bearded, round man with a certain loud, big-hearted, Italian-redneck quality that I’ve yet to find outside of southeast Michigan and maybe parts of Long Island—was apparently a huge fan of our “relationship”. He was always encouraging us to “snuggle up”, even going so far as to try and get her to kiss me in the middle of the living room, with the whole family sitting around. (She didn’t, to our mutual relief.) I’m sure he saw instantly how harmless I was, and seemed to delight in embarrassing the hell out of me for it. As part of his apparent agenda, he would take us for frequent cruises in his custom van.
The van wasn’t particularly tricked out, as far as custom work goes. The paint job was plain shit brown with a couple heavy gold pinstripes down the sides—less than appetizing, even in 1986. The interior was fairly simple—two tan captain’s chairs, a side bench seat with removable dinette table, and, spanning the back, one large plaid-upholstered bed. This was not the stuff of photo shoots or rally trophies. No, the real appeal of his van—as Tina’s dad would tell you—was the that he had built it all himself. In fact, Tina’s dad would tell you that every time you rode in, mentioned, or looked too long at the damn thing.
“A lot of people,” he would start off, “they just go and pay a lot of money for the ready-made factory conversion vans. Hell, I figured I’d rather just start out with the plain ol’ empty cargo van and fix it all up myself.” This speech, more often than not, was delivered from the driver’s seat into the rearview mirror as Tina and I rode, a careful distance apart, on the bed in back. This was the usual seating arrangement. In fact, the man insisted on it. “Nah, don’t be shy,” he’d bellow, piling us in for an impromptu run for pizza, beer, gas, or, on special occasions, all three. “Ride in the back there, with Tina.”
I’ll never know whether he was truly clueless to the scandalous implications heaped onto two barely-adolescents by such an arrangement. Maybe he was somehow, creepily intent on having his daughter’s first tender moments take place in a controlled, supervised, rolling environment. Or maybe — as I really want to believe — he just felt that his van wasn’t seeing the attention (or action) that it deserved, and we were a convenient sounding board, serving both as captive audience to his do-it-yourself testimonials and as a sly litmus test of his prized wagon’s more libidinous potential.
Whatever his intent, we enjoyed the ride. For all the awkwardness we felt at the time, and as sick as we claimed to be of his same old hot-rod-Horatio-Alger rant, we seemed to have a pretty good time. And though it hardly counts as sexual experience, the power of riding with a cute girl on that rolling bed, with the back wheels vibrating on either side of us and the exhaust rumbling faintly in time with four-speaker classic rock radio, was not lost on me.
I hope you’re getting it on now, Tina, wherever you are. And I hope your dad’s still working on his van.