My menfolk's hard-core addiction to answering "for sale" ad took a sinister turn right from the start. The start was when Andy, then 9 1/2 , saw a classified ad in the paper: "Lg heavyduty glass fish or reptile tank w/ light & heater, perf. cond., $10." He bought it with two weeks' allowance and furnished it with earth, pine needles, rocks, moss and a big gnarled twig.
A terrarium, I thought in an innocence left over from the late '60s. Then I began noticing that our home's periodical room (some might call it the bathroom) was filling up with crumpled classified pages revealing ballpoint-circled ads for "Monitor Lizard, 2 yrs old, good disposition" and "Python, halfgrown, 11" diam, must sell." I wadded them into the trash as fast as they appeared.
Shortly thereafter, ads for 10-speed bikes became noticeable in the periodical room. At first I thought Andy was hinting that he planned to run away from his cruel parent who refused to play Mama to a monitor lizard. (Hey! it was a monitor lizard that ate the McLaughlins' poodle!) However, it turned out Andy was just experiencing the typical 10-year-old American child's hormonal awakening to the need for fast-moving vehicles.
Andy traded the aquarium and his baby bike, the Huffy that Santa brought many years before, for a gaunt yet somehow elegant Gitane. Later moped ads cropped up in the bathroom from time to time -- probably to keep Mom's worry level up to the pitch of silent hysteria appropriate to the parents of Andy's age group.
Frankly, even non-motorized bikes frighten me -- more than one of my childhood friends had died on bikes. I felt relief was on its way when I began noticing copies of Maryland Musician around the house, bent open to the back pages: "Complete Tama Drum Set, must sacrifice" and "Ludwig Toms w/cases, cheap."
But the hormones raged on. As Andy's 16th birthday neared, ballpoint balloons floated around ads for all sorts of motorized, four-wheeled vehicles that seemed to meet Andy's very specific specifications. The vehicle had to be (1) huge: capable of holding an entire rock band consisting of five large young men, several girlfriends ("managers"), dozens of drums and cymbals, guitars, and amps that were themselves larger than small cars; (2) insurable: retired UPS trucks and old school buses were out; (3) inspected, or capable of passing inspection within this century; (4) cheap as dirt.
The intensive ad-reading paid off. Two days after he got his driver's license Andy was driving a former Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. work van -- complete with "pwr brakes & 3 on the tree." Since its manufacturer's slightly chipped model name, Vandura, still clung to its rear door, we christened the vehicle Van Duran for obvious rock-and-roll reasons. Only 6 years old, Van Duran looked 100 and had 100,000 miles on it. Before selling it, BG&E hadspray-painted it, tires and all, a uniform, matte-finish gas blue.
My daughter and I loved to borrow it -- it was so ugly as to be cute and so tall we could look down on every other driver except truckers. We got respect when we drove to the dump. We thought Van Duran had joined our family for the long haul. But one dreary day Andy's band returned from a gig at the University of Pennsylvania that had taken them to Penn State by mistake, during which 300-mile detour the transmission had developed some kind of seizure. That very day, classified pages began turning up with ballpoint circles around "74 Econoline, runs good, some rust" and "Ford pickup, reblt eng."
Van Duran drove into the sunset to join the Disabled Veterans, and Van Tan (really more of a puce color) took its place. Its rust was somewhat offset by the fact that it boasted bunk space for four in a sort of apartment mounted atop the van's roof. The vehicle loomed on the street for several months, dwarfing the trees and dwellings nearby. Not surprisingly, classified pages now littering the house showed highlighted ads for the smallest vehicles on four wheels: Bugs, Spiders, Sunbeams and little old Jeeps.
Van Tan was eventually replaced by one of those Jeeps. Through an ad, Andy found it in a cow pasture in Cecil County. He kept it long enough to find out it was an almost-impossible-to-insure CJ model, paint it a spiffy metallic bronze and place a classified ad: "79 Jeep, looks great, just inspected."
Naturally, hardheaded realist that I am, I paid no attention to the ad he'd clipped and magnetized to the fridge: "67 Porsche, exc. cond." Dream on, Andy.
A week after the Jeep and Porsche ads ran in the paper on the same page, a sunshine yellow Porsche w/blk lthr interior, almost perf., gleamed against the backdrop of our macadamdrive. The reason the Porsche cost no more than Andy got for his Jeep was twofold: Its tigerish 911 body contained an elderly pussycat of a VW engine; and it had no floor.