I wasn’t sure it was a good idea at the time, and I couldn’t have been more than six. Uncle Vince, a family friend who wasn’t my real uncle at all, once held my brother and I by our ankles over the roof of a K-Mart while it was still under construction (the place, like most other crumbling box stores, happens to be a Home Depot now). Now here I sat in his lap while he drove us around Sand City. Luckily, traffic in the late 1970s wasn’t so bad, not like it is now. There was no Costco then, no Target and no grocery store with its annual name changes – just a ton of sand.
“You wanna drive?” Uncle Vince asked.
He held a can of Budweiser in his right hand and had a rolled cigarette stuffed in his dark Italian beard. I was perfectly content to sit there and pretend to drive. Really doing it kind of terrified me. His breath smelled of hops and yeast and tobacco. Uncle Vince favored my brother. Josh wanted to work on cars when he grew up, Volkswagen bugs in particular, just like Vince did. Who knew I’d be listening to Agent Orange a decade later, dreaming of cheap thrills, fast cars, losing control and losing my mind? I was smarter at six.
“Can I do it again if Pat doesn’t want to?” my brother asked from the back seat.
Before Uncle Vince could answer, or get mad like he often did, I reached out and grabbed the ribbed steering wheel with my small, pale, and nervous fingers. I knew it wasn’t a good idea, but I seemed to be the only one in the car with an ounce of common sense. The sun shined overhead, and Mom’s bug zoomed lonely and loudly over the sand drifts blowing across the road. The interior of the car reeked of Budweiser.
I held the steering wheel harder than I needed to, but I wasn’t about to let go.
My brother cried out in joy. “Good job, Pat!”
“That-a-boy,” Uncle Vince said.
I couldn’t care less what they thought. I’d been forced me into it.