Excerpt from Foreign Exchange
Well, I could also say it was cold. The wind that blew the rain in nearly sideways gusts was a typical moist Mid-Atlantic howler, the kind that makes you feel like your parka is a colander, and your thermal underwear might as well be cheesecloth. But I couldn’t really feel the chill, squashed as I was in the back seat of Dad’s hatchback with my little brother, Jimmy, my big brother, Matt, and Rolf, the German exchange student. Our breath was steaming up the windows, and the air was stale with sweat. Didn’t Rolf ever use deodorant? Most of the guys in my sixth grade class smelled better than he did.
I could also say it was Christmas Eve, but that would give you the wrong impression entirely. There were no snowflakes, no sleigh bells, and there was precious little goodwill in the back seat of that car.
“Paul’s on my side,” Jimmy whined, shoving me toward Rolf. I pushed back, but there wasn’t room for any of us to budge.
Dad sighed. “Can’t we all be on the same side?”
Usually, when we all went out together, we took Mom’s Oldsmobile. Jimmy sat in the middle of the bench seat in front, and I was stuck straddling the hump in back. We had clambered into the Olds that evening, laden with plates of cookies that we weren’t supposed to eat, and dutifully buckled up.
“Is everyone buckled?” Dad called, then turned the key.
“Oh, no.” Dad tried again.
“Do we need to jump-start it, dear?” Mom asked.
“No, it’s the starter. This car is not going anywhere tonight.”
Matt started to look hopeful.
“Then we’ll have to take your car,” Mom decided.
Jimmy couldn’t sit on the gearshift, of course, so he squeezed into the narrow confines of the back of the Honda with the rest of us. It was sort of a relief whenever the car stopped and we spilled out into the night, sloshing up to someone’s front door to give them our goodies. I would have been just as happy to not stand there singing in the rain, before we handed them over. That was our tradition, though. Rolf loved it, and sang loud enough to cover for a couple of us, so Matt kept his cracking voice down. I was just lazy and mumbled along.