VII The Chariot [an excerpt from Dr. Furey’s Laboratory] – Hester L. Furey

Hester L. Furey

They say this was Napoleon’s card.

After WWII the Eisenhower-led liberal conservatives came home and set about installing some of Hitler’s improvements, starting with the interstate highway system. That transportation artery is known in Chicago as “the Stevenson” and “the Eisenhower.” Here in Georgia, we call it I-75, the highway that runs roughly through the vertical middle of the state from Tennessee to Florida. The part that intersects 16th Avenue in Cordele was completed the year I was born. My parents’ favorite thing to do as a couple was to throw a six-pack of beer in a cooler and drive around on a Sunday afternoon. One of my earliest memories is riding in the back of the car over the old wooden bridges that crossed the Flint River heading to Albany. Those have long since been replaced. They were a little scary, set down low over the water. One could feel the bridge moving beneath the car as it ba-bumped along.

Back then my favorite song was “Ramblin Man” by the Allman Brothers. I lived for a while just off Highway 41. I didn’t have a running away account like Jessica Mitford, but I was endlessly, I suppose inevitably, planning to leave. American power and freedom, to me, have been manifest in having the wherewithal to get in a car and drive somewhere, or drive away from somewhere. Very early on I came to associate riding in cars with a sort of amorality, an ability to disconnect from the consequences of behavior, a giddying freedom.

I haven’t kept a car since 2003. My kids graduated from high school and started college. I bought a house. In the middle of all that, the LeSabre died, and I decided not to replace it. I’ve done weird stuff about transportation before – gone through years in the college and grad school periods using only bicycles or public transit. But this is weirder because I live in Atlanta, which has a long way to go to reach its dreams of being a world class city. Still, I argue that if a city is worth its salt, it ought to support such a choice with sufficient public transit.

My first car was a gift from my Uncle Alvin, but I didn’t have it long as he could not afford to keep up payments. For the duration of high school then he did penance by allowing me to use his orange Plymouth Horizon frequently. The first car I bought was a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle with a rebuilt engine for which I paid $1500, more than it had been worth brand new. I had to buy it because I was pregnant with twins and supposed to go to bed 98 percent of the time, which I couldn’t do, because I was supporting myself and the man I now call the sperm donor in our last year of college. Obviously continuing to ride my bicycle was not going to be sustainable. In grad school after the VW died I bought a used, no-frills Dodge Omni that the kids and I called the “shitbox from hell.” In summer we drove around with the windows down (no ac) blasting music from the portable radio I kept inside it. My nicest car was the last, a Buick LeSabre.

All this to say that objects that seem important to others haven’t been as compelling to me. Most of my lifetime earnings have gone to pay for rent, books, children, and my motley collection of man problems. In general it is a polite understatement to say that I haven’t benefited financially from my associations with men. Spermy tried to punish me for leaving him, stiffing us for 6 years’ child support. Others have been outright mooches (looking at you, Chick Naris). Tiny had a high salary but also high debt and profligate habits. He promised to be a money man but didn’t come through, ripping me off for my labor while claiming to be a leftist.

I didn’t want Meyer Lansky to be my money man. He was the craziest of all my men and the one I loved the most. Can’t get away from being my parents’ daughter, much as I try. He didn’t give a shit about my love. The man drove me to vodou. Who knew there was so much lying and fuckery in the universe?

But Meyer, whatever he put me through, had two benefits: the sexual chemistry was crazy hot, and he was very generous with money. His wife had conditioned him to understand that to keep things going with her, he had to make tons of trouble, then buy a lot of expensive things. Early in our relationship he stalked me to the grocery store and left enough money in our cart to pay for our food. This was a novelty of courtship for me, I must say.

Just as there is a literature on how to objectify, manipulate, and fool women, a corresponding technology provides advice for wrangling men. I don’t agree with all of the tips offered in such books as the Sweet Potato Queen series, but I will say this: giving up the idea that I could or should practice a kind of monotheism expressed in marital life allowed me to enjoy a high quality of daily lived experience, such as few women can hope for. The lady who wrote that series wisely and compassionately tells women that at any given time they should have recourse to the company of no less than five important men, each of whom serves a different need. The idea must originate in oral tradition. Toni Cade Bambara riffs on it in her wonderful story “The Johnson Girls” (in Gorilla, My Love, 1972).

Meyer was a financial wizard, the worst kind, a terribly sexy compulsive liar and thief who gifted me with the understanding that I only like crazy dudes. Before the Meyer relationship I kept thinking that somehow love affairs had gone awry or that an accident had happened to derail my love life. Afterward I saw, with scientific objectivity, that I was doing it on purpose. I mean, no man even gets onto my radar unless he is deeply disturbed. That’s how I like them. I didn’t know what, if anything, to do about that yet, but the insight felt like progress, like something had been boiled down to essence. It felt satisfying to see this perverse residue in my test tubes: an empirical result, a hypothesis tested and borne out through repeated experiments.

Not to say I deliberately did all this as experiments, mind you. I’m only using that framework as a post-hoc justification. Nor do I agree with the Sweet Potato Queen about manipulating men by promising sex and never delivering. I’ve seen that in action, and it isn’t pretty. Plus, I have no interest in being regarded as a prostitute.

That last point never quite got through to Meyer. He quoted Woody Allen on a number of occasions, saying he didn’t want to belong to any club that would have him as a member. His seductiveness lay in his unpredictability, though, his novelty, and eventually I had to deal with the fact that this trait that I found so irresistibly attractive grew directly from the part of him I found completely unacceptable. Almost certainly he was using me to stir up shit with his wife/ex-wife (her status was always somewhat hazy). And I loved his jokes, but a lot of the time he was just lying, seemingly at random. I had to face some difficult truths about myself before I could break it off with him. It was really hard because of the sex. Oh my Lord, the man could get down in bed. But he was literally crazy, and I’m a fool, not a masochist.

We had some great laughs. Once I told him that he gave only money because he didn’t have anything else to give. “Where do you get these things?” he asked. “Feminism?” “Catholicism,” I said sadly. Then I told him my favorite of Buncombe’s terribly politically incorrect jokes, which starts out looking anti-semitic but takes a left turn into anti-Catholicism. I would see his Woody Allen and raise him a pinup calendar, “Hot Priests of the Vatican.”

The thing I loved about Meyer was the thing I hated: I never knew what to expect. He told lies about the most mundane of subjects for no apparent reason. I began to be able to recognize them. His response was “goddamn it, how did you know?!” His utter lack of conscience provoked me to examine my own. I wasn’t happy with what I found. When he swore on his son’s life to some random bullshit, I thought I was done. But I wasn’t really done until he left my door unlocked one time. He had gotten mad that I wouldn’t wear this gob of diamonds necklace he’d given me, so he stole it back. I wasn’t mad about that. Whatever, I had refused to wear it anyway and had summarily chunked it under the bathroom sink as soon as he gave it to me. I’m more of a hippie jewelry person. I left him there to go pick up the kids from a school event, came back, and he was gone. The unlocked door told me clearly, unavoidably, that he did not give a skipping damn whether I lived or died. He could never figure out what changed my mind.

When we broke up he gave me $5000 for a new car. Becky and I did some research and went to buy the LeSabre. He had given us our first ever new tv. I was certain he was stealing from our employer. He was a terrible husband, and I’m glad he wasn’t mine, but he was a good money man.

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