You know the sound that air brakes make on a big truck? They kind of go ‘chit-chisss’ when the truck stops. That don’t relate to much, unless you’re a truck driver and the sound brings a sentimental tear to your eye. But there was this guy I knew once who took a liking to the sound of air brakes.
You see, I knew this guy called Stewy Mendelssohn back in 1955. He was a genuine bughouse nut job. I catch him one day out front of the Balmoral Hotel where he has a room, and he’s dipping cotton swabs into rubbing alcohol and sticking them up his nose. Says he’s trying to purge himself of malevolent spirits. He got one of those cotton balls caught so far up his nose that he spent a week trying to blow it out. Swear to God.
Another time there’s this pile of lumber shows up over night out front of the hotel, and quality stuff too. It’s all this real thin plywood and two by twos and one by ones without any knots. It’s in the loading zone and the hotel management gets all bent out of shape. They say, “Hey, what chump left the lumber out front?” And it turns out to be Stewy. He’s got plans from the Popular Mechanics for an airplane. The engine and the propeller were coming on order from somewhere in Ontario. He bought the whole shebang on credit, which he didn’t really have. So, the lumber got picked up next day and the engine and prop never arrived. Stewy wore a football helmet steady for a couple of months, all the same. He said it was what he would’ve worn flying had he been able to realise his dream of owning his airplane.
Anyway, so Stewy Mendelssohn inherits this money when his mother dies of skin cancer. Man, was she a wreck by the time she checked out. And now crazy Stewy Mendelssohn’s got all this cash. Not much, but enough for us to get real drunk for about a week. After that, I kind of saw what would happen to the rest if Stewy didn’t invest it in something longer lasting than a tavern table full of beer.
So I say, “Hey Stewy, what’s a thing you always wanted but couldn’t buy until now?”
“An airplane,” he says.
“No no,” I say. “Think practical for once. Something you can use and enjoy everyday.”
“A Cadillac,” he tells me.
“Well,” says I. “A car might be a good idea, but a Cady’s out. You only got X amount. So be realistic. If you want a car, there’re cheaper models. How about a Ford or a Chevy?”
“I really just want an airplane,” he says. And that was it. He got all quiet for a month, like a kid having a fit. He even started wearing his football helmet again and walked all over town with it on.
Then one day in the late spring, he buys this brand new red 1955 Messerschmitt KR200. Swear to God, it’s a plastic bubble on three wheels powered by lawnmower engine. A woman’s car I told him. No self respecting guy would be seen driving it.
“But it’s a Messerschmitt,” says Stewy sitting in the driver’s seat with his football helmet on. “They made fighter planes. They made jet fighters.”
“For the Nazis,” I remind him. “And they lost the war.”
“Not ‘cause of Messerschmitt, they didn’t.”
I had to admit, Stewy got some real enjoyment out of driving that car. Besides that, it was cheap on gas and it fit into parking spaces bigger cars couldn’t.
But before you know it, he’s asking me to go for a ride. He’s like, oh let’s go for a ride. Let’s show off my brand new red 1955 Messerschmitt KR200. And I just say no. I mean, Stewy can hardly shoehorn himself into it. But he keeps it up. Oh come on. You’re my only friend – which was true. Who else can I take for a ride? So I relent and consent. And we go for a ride.
It was a beautiful June day in 1955. Not a cloud in the sky, maybe 70 degrees. We wedge ourselves into the car and Stewy, still wearing his football helmet, announces that we’re going to drive around Stanley Park. That’s good, I think, because I don’t know no one in that part of town. So, no one’s gonna see me in this creepy little quail car. That’s why I arrange that he should pick me up from under the Birk’s clock. Guaranteed, I don’t know no one round there.
Anyway, we’re driving along and the first red light we come to Stewy puts on the brakes real calm and gentle like. We come to a nice stop. But when we do Stewy makes this little noise with his tongue – “chit-chisss,” he goes. Then he says, “Airbrakes.” He didn’t miss a beat. What a card, I think. I laugh a little ‘cause it’s funny. A 1955 Messerschmitt KR200 with airbrakes. It’s ironical. It’s like an Ernie Kovacs bit. The light changes, and we go.
Then there’s another red, and we stop. Stewy does it again – chit-chisss, airbrakes. This time I smile. Okay, I say. I get it, I get it. You can quit now. But as we drive through downtown towards the park, every red light or stop sign we come to, Stewy goes chit-chisss, airbrakes. And it’s starting to wear on me. Give it up, I say. It was funny once. Now it’s starting to piss me off.
But you think he stops? No. All the way into the park, all around the park, all the way home. He keeps doin’ it. At every stop – chit-chisss, airbrakes. I’m stuck in the backseat and can’t get out. I’m beginning to clench my fists, and I’m gritting my teeth. How did I ever get into the backseat of a 1955 Messerschmitt KR200 with bughouse Stewy Mendelssohn at the wheel?
Finally we make it back to his place, and Stewy parks in front of the Balmoral. When he lifts the canopy so we can get out, he makes this buzzzzz sound and says, “Spaceship.” That’s when I lose it. I stand up and step out of the car. I say, “Stewy, you’re not only crazy, but you’re also the most fucking annoying son of a bitch I know.” I point at the car and say, “It ain’t a spaceship and it ain’t got no airbrakes. It’s nothing but a shitty little 1955 Messerschmitt KR200. Why didn’t you buy a Ford or a Chevy like a regular guy?”
I felt bad after that because he looked real hurt. I mean, his lower lip quivered and there were tears in his eyes. And he says, “I guess I never thought of buying a Ford or a Chevy. You see, they don’t got no ejector seat.” Then he throws this switch on the dash and says, “Woooosh, ejector seat.”
Nothing happens, of course. I just roll my eyes and hope no one’s watching. Hang on, he tells me and fiddles with the switch. But still nothing happens. He sighs. And then he lightens up and says, “Oh yeah, I forgot about the redundancy switch.” So, he reaches under the dash and says, “Click, redundancy switch.”
“Oh man,” I say.
But then there’s this rumbling sound under Stewy’s seat, and he just blasts off. I mean, right up into the stratosphere. There really was an ejection seat. Who knew? He rocketed skyward at the speed of sound out of that 1955 Messerschmitt KR200. And he just kept goin’ until I couldn’t see him no more. And no one else ever did, either.
Next day, Stewy’s 1955 Messerschmitt KR200 got towed for lack of plates.