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We arrived at my mother's house and were greeted with the news that my old friend Bill was having a cocktail party and we were definitely expected. We went, and my old friend Bill held out a drink for me. I accepted it in the wiper hand, curling my stiff fingers around the glass. Immediately and automatically the hand rotated gently to the left and dumped the drink down my old friend Bill's shirt.
In the course of such trips I became superstitious about the car, convinced that it was inhabited by some druidlike spirit. Once I took it out while a bit tipsy. The motor gradually died and the Bug refused to budge. I attributed this to a kind of self-preservation instinct on the part of the car. The next day it ran perfectly. On one of those hypnotic hauls up the New Jersey Turnpike the sound of the motor seemed to rise and fall rhythmically. It alarmed me. I couldn't understand it. I popped my ears. The rhythm persisted. I finally concluded that the car had undertaken to keep the driver awake.
Approaching New York at dawn I glanced in the rearview mirror. An enormous cloud of white smoke was billowing out behind the Bugatti. "My God!" I thought. "The Red Baron has shot us down!" I pulled off the road and lifted the hood. Nothing. I started up again. Nothing. No smoke, no nothing. We finished the trip, wide awake but quite without incident.
This mixture of awe and superstition, fantasy, fright and rationalization presents a reasonably accurate sketch of the classic fool's paradise. Somewhere in the back of my mind was developing a terrible, unformulated thought, "I really don't know a blinking thing about this automobile." My ego bubble was about to burst. One "pop" and all that élan would vanish. It was time for me to be graduated from the Lower Level to the Second Stage. I was quite unaware of this, thinking somewhat foolishly that I had already arrived.
Graduation exercises took place on a trip to Richmond with a film producer friend named Larry Madison. I picked up Larry at his house, handed him a stick of gum and asked if he would mind chewing some. "We have an oil leak," I explained as we headed south. (Charlie had told me that gum was a good leak sealer in a pinch.) We made Richmond with only a few stops for gum and water for the radiator and headed back the next afternoon. In the middle of nowhere, the bad news came in the form of a loud rapping sound in the engine. "Sounds like a connecting rod," said Larry. We limped into a little one-horse town and up to a garage. A mechanic came out.
"My friend is sick," I said.
"Mebbe I can hep ya."
"No, sir, I don't think you can."
The mechanic seemed insulted. He lifted the hood, took one look at the supercharged Bugatti engine and slammed the hood down again.
"No, suh, I don't think I can eitheh."