(A/N: continuation of this, written mostly all at once and needs some revising)
Jay hadn’t really cleaned out his car in about three years…which was about as long as he’d had it. The years of accumulated crap only made it a more daunting task each time he attempted it. He usually just ended up taking it to the car wash, where he skipped his chance at lemony freshness for fear of clogging the place’s vacuums.
He stood staring at his much beloved car, wondering just how to tackle this mess. It was worse than every June at the academy, when he and Leo had to empty out their room without losing the class work they’d need the next September. His car, affectionately dubbed “Wilson” by Leo, was a much-abused dark green Honda Accord that housed a not-so-tidy collection of his favorite away from school memories. Somewhere in there were the discarded sketches from his first internship portfolio, the coffee cup that he and Leo had spilled in the backseat (they claimed joint blame when they couldn’t decide who exactly had done it), notes from girlfriends, some choice summer readings, and very possibly his favorite dress shirt that had disappeared months and months ago.
Well, he’d cleared the entire driveway for this excursion, and he couldn’t exactly bring all this to his new apartment in Berkeley. He yawned and stretched, and finally approached Wilson with a sense of purpose. Gingerly, he opened the rear driver’s side door (imagining Leo declaring, “LEFT NUT,” at the top of his lungs). The precarious pile of papers gave way and slid out at his feet, a smooth cascade of personal history, previously arranged somewhat chronologically but now in a jumbled pile of recyclables on the ground. He sat down in the middle of it and sorted.
After half an hour, he switched to the other side of the backseat, which made a similar performance of paper waterfall. Bit by bit, he was slowly digging his way through the pens and pencils and pamphlets and movie ticket stubs and old boarding passes and gum wrappers and catalogs and plastic utensils. For the most part, he stacked them in a general trash pile, but a few things he kept. To his right, he’d accumulated a decent collection of books, including two years’ worth of Roosevelt Academy summer reading that, needless to say, was never read. Jay resolved to make another attempt at these books, since the discussions he’d winged in the fall were plenty interesting. He’d also found some not entirely G-rated magazines, presents from Leo, which he slipped under the books for safekeeping. No sense wasting good presents, outdated or not.
Some of this junk had to be worth something, he thought as he tossed aside a fourth Skymall magazine. He wondered vaguely how much a collection of them would fetch on Ebay—but given that two of them were stuck together with what looked like a combination of gum and soda and the cover of another was completely ripped off, the auctioning would probably top out around 25 cents. As for the Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, and White Castle bags that formed a three-year timeline of fast food promotional designs… it would deal his Ebay credibility a serious blow to even post those up for auction.
Not all of it was junk, necessarily. He’d found a good number of CDs—mostly unlabeled and mislabeled mixes he’d never bothered to catalog. The stack included the Jason Mraz album that Erica had wanted back last summer; the CD labeled HAVE FUN COMMUTING SUCKER in Cassie’s handwriting; a playlist better known as the “Barney Stinson Get Psyched Mix” that had shaped every party he, Derek, and Leo had thrown junior year of high school; and a mysterious CD labeled “for a good time call 834-2819” (with no area code) on the wrong side. Some were unsalvageably sticky, but he found a clean one that simply said “For the Trio” and popped it into Wilson’s CD player. An old song by the Darkness started blasting from Wilson’s feeble speakers as Jay turned back to cleaning.
The backseat at this point had drooled out most of the papers, save the truly entrenched bits from Jay’s early time with Wilson. He reached in to clear out the assemblage of clothing perched atop the remaining mess in the back—a motley collection of socks, Under Armour, soccer jerseys, capoeira pants, and a wine red dress shirt (not his favorite one, but a welcome find anyway). It took him considerable effort to reach under the driver’s seat to retrieve the deflated basketball he could just barely see, but when his hand came up, he found himself holding not the leathery exterior of a basketball, but of his first ever internship portfolio.
He actually whistled out loud at this find. If he remembered correctly (and when it came to his portfolio work, he did), this contained his redesign of the academy’s main atrium—a project that had kept him amused during his long internship hours at the graphic design company where he’d worked the summer after sophomore year. He leaned against the car and slid down to the ground as he opened it. Everything else in the leather-bound folder had been scanned or otherwise digitized for his web portfolio, and none of this had seen the light of day since he left it in the car at the end of the summer. Dazed, he flipped through logos and mastheads he’d designed (back before he’d branched out to fonts besides his standard Century Gothic, sans-serif and classy), sketches of Manhattan buildings outside his office, and last but certainly not least the mockups of the atrium. He’d known at the time that reconstructing the atrium to follow his design would require an impossible amount of resources that the academy simply didn’t have, but impossibility never stopped him from dreaming. He still remembered sitting at a bench on the third level with Derek, pointing out the revisions he’d planned on these sheets in his lost portfolio.
“So you’re planning on removing the staff residences over there to let more light in?” Derek had asked. “Just what do you think the tenured staff will say when you move them into freshman doubles?”
Jay waved him off as he laid out his plan for an asymmetric design across the far wall by constructing irregular balconies. After a while, Derek just sat there with a huge grin on his face. “I think you’ve found your calling,” he said.
And Derek was right. Two years of graphic design had grown to bore him, and his mild fascination with buildings soon erupted into full-blown enthusiasm for architectural design. He liked the challenge set forth in designing a building—the challenges in balancing functionality with aesthetics. Carefully he set aside the portfolio next to his stack of books and turned to Wilson’s backseat with a new sense of contemplation. What other entrenched mementos from his past were trapped amid the junk?
Most of the papers and trash in the backseat were easy to sort now: old maps, receipts, take-out menus, Spanish homework… but halfway through tossing out the maps he paused. Normally he kept his maps in the glove compartment (the one sanctuary of cleanliness in Wilson’s entire interior) so why weren’t these in there? He laid them out by geographical location on the driveway—NYC/New Jersey, Philadelphia and surrounding cities, Annapolis, D.C., D.C. Museums, Virginia/West Virginia/North Carolina… These were left over from his tour of the East Coast with Leo right before their senior year of high school. Their combined efforts led to the infamous joint coffee spill and the collection of sunflower seeds trapped in the floor mats, not to mention the stack of museum brochures accumulating next to the CD pile. Jay’s non-portfolio sketches from that summer had been scattered in the backseat, and Leo had riffled through them admiringly before accidentally sitting on all of it during one hurried escape from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Smiling, Jay gathered up the maps and tossed them in the trash pile. He wouldn’t need these in California.
The backseat continued coughing up bits of nostalgia while the upholstery gradually came unmasked. He found two paper report cards (this was before the academy emailed grades home) including his first and only C+, a result of his and Leo’s second-year Spanish final video project on the Cuban Missile Crisis in telenovela form. He also found the DVD of the project that he’d apparently saved for posterity. Wedged under his Humanities reader, he finally found his favorite dress shirt, although it could only have gotten there if someone (like Blair, his now ex-girlfriend) had hidden it there. The missing poker chips from Derek’s set turned up under a crushed 132-color set of Prismacolor pencils.
It was late afternoon by the time Jay lugged the vacuum cleaner out to the driveway. The car wash would be closed by the time he got there, and he didn’t mind vacuuming Wilson himself. It caught the receipts and post-its in the front seat, leaving Jay to throw out the empty milkshake cups by hand. Even over the droning of the vacuum, it sounded like gravel was coming up out of the carpeted floor mats and spastically bouncing up the hose to the bag. He didn’t want to think about how long the food crumbs had been there as he sucked them out of the backseat.
When he was done, the car was clean for the first time in years. There was still a weird stain from the coffee on one of the floor mats, and a piece of gum that wouldn’t part with the back of the passenger seat left a neon blue splash of color on the tan upholstery, but all in all the car was clean.
Jay made his way down the driveway, each hand laden with a trash bag full of junk that hours before had filled the backseat of his car to capacity. He couldn’t help thinking, as he looked back at his forlorn car sitting in the driveway in the last of the daylight that it wasn’t quite Wilson anymore. Soon this unfamiliar car would be shipped off to California, where his college friends would judge him for its Honda Accord-ness and nothing else.
He pulled out his phone.
“Leo, it’s me. Call Derek and tell him to book a flight—we’re taking a road trip to California.”