"I'm a leg man," Paul would say.
"I'm a breast man," Fred would reply.
My best friend Cathy and I were rounding the corner of puberty, and this was privileged information. Eavesdropping on her older brothers governed our growing awareness of the opposite sex. Cathy decided she was a behind woman. I thought I might be a chest girl but still wasn't sure. In locker and ladies rooms, we'd chat with other girls about certain boy's faces and fronts, their butts, their backs and how they made us feel. It took me a few years to realize that I was a car woman.
In my teen years, watching a guy gun his black Mustang down Main Street, downshifting his stick into third for my benefit, then peeling off in first gear gave me gooseflesh. A guy turning a corner in his T-bird on two wheels took my breath away. Plus, a man's maintenance of his vehicle gave evidence of how he felt about his own body, and how he'd maybe treat mine.
When I moved to New York City with its mass transit and cabs, this turn-on was lost to me. I could never get serious with men in Manhattan. How could I commit without knowing what kind of car a guy he drove or how he drove it? This last gasp of shallowness also haunted my frivolous flirtations with Maserati and Mercedes men when I first moved to Los Angeles.
Then, eight years ago, I had a first date with a lovely man I met through the miracle of cyberspace. Amid nonstop smiling and seamless sharing, a next meeting was planned. He walked me to my sexless, practical, PC Prius, and left me hypocritically wondering and worrying what his car might be like, despite already liking his character. Next time we got together, he walked a mile on foot to meet me at a restaurant not far from his home. He liked long walks and long talks, and wore blue sweaters that matched his eyes. Successful and highly educated, this man was neither materialistic nor judgmental. And the more I found out about his life, work and love for his children, the more enchanted I became. What the hell else could his car tell me about him? I thought. Still, I was dying to know.
Next, we double-dated with his dearest friends, a cool couple in a silver Lexus I absolutely adored. I was impressed both by their wit and their immaculate automobile. Perched in their small, uncomfortable, impractical backseat, I fantasized about this foursome's future together, on long drives in my date's roomy, spiffy, sexy … something or other. Without asking about who would drive or what, I committed to another get-together. And, then came the moment of truth: They dropped us at his car, or shall I say, his "Carcass"—a somewhat silver Honda that had seen better days, several decades ago.
I couldn't tell its dents from its doors until he opened a creaky, squeaky panel and cleared books and papers to reveal a torn seat, which nipped at my legs as I sat. He closed my door and, by the time he reached his own, I was suffocating in a scent of dust, metal and who knows what. My heart was sinking.
The Carcass whined and coughed into first gear. I had no idea we were actually on the road, as his windshield was a place where flies go to die and birds go to relieve themselves. My dreams of forever love tanked as I noted his gas gauge was on empty.
"Excuse me, can you turn on the windshield wipers?" I asked. "I like to see the road," hoping that my plaintive tone and a spray of liquid might make everything OK. But he had forgotten to refill the wiper fluid. So, the smidge of evening dew on the aging blades further smeared my viewpoint in oily streaks.
He somehow intuited the way to my address, as his GPS had shorted out some years ago, along with his radio, the AC and power locks. His left turn signal ticked frantically, as a bulb had burned out, along with my hopes and dreams. He finally creaked to a halt in front of my house.
And then he kissed me.
This was a man genetically predisposed to prioritize the inner world over the physical universe, and that kiss completely reprioritized mine. Although he might be a bit oblivious about vanity things, I'm pleased to announce, what still mattered most to me was heart. I was a heart woman and, inside his personal chassis, he had a beautiful heart.
Soon, he hired a cleaning crew from NASA to sanitize the Carcass and an auto body sculptor who knocked out some dents, and a year later, he moved his surprisingly tidy belongings in with mine. I must admit, the Carcass has its advantages. He can buy and move dirty things in it, and despite a spate of break-ins on our street, his car and our home have never been burgled. It's far cheaper than any alarm system—a strong selling point—but, sorry, it's not for sale. He's very sentimental about this car. I think both his kids were born in the back seat.
On the magical day that Mr. Heart Man married the reformed Car Woman, the Carcass's new wipers easily brushed away the rice his kids and family threw at us, which they found in a forgotten bag that had lived in his trunk for years.