August 23, 1968

Izzy and Speedy come across a repeat butt-flicker in a 1955 Desoto Fireflite.

Later, Izzy tries to make things right with Juliana.

After supper that night, I called Juliana’s house, but her mother said she was still working at the diner. She asked me how I was in a way that was more than just something people say to one another. I told her I was doing all right, and there was a pause before she said Juliana would be home around 10. It sounded like a suggestion.

I decided to walk over to her house, which was a couple of miles away. I spent a lot of time walking that summer, behind lawnmowers, lugging golf bags around those 18 flags. As I was thus walking, uttering no sound, except to hail the men aloft, sometimes insight would emerge from the tossing or rolling of one foot in front of another.

Her house was mostly dark when I got there and the Fairlane was dozing in the driveway. I didn’t know where her bedroom was or much about the layout of the house. It was a split level built over a basement that opened out onto the back yard, which was lower than the front. Lights burned in separate corners of the house.

I scouted around the back and I was not surprised to find the black-and-white glow of the portable television casting creepy shadows on her father’s face. He was staring into the screen, out there in the August night, with a beer can in hand.

Her dad was only a little startled when I stepped out of the night into his cathode-ray campfire. Maybe this happened to him all the time. “We are getting killed by the fucking Braves,” he said, as though we all took communion in the misery of the Phillies, with just one National League trophy to show for all those years of trying.

I came around and looked over his shoulder. Little men in gray were scratching themselves and spitting while they waited for something to happen in the timeless ballet of inspirational geometry that is modern American baseball.

“Is Juliana home?” I asked.

“I dunno. Did you see the Ford?” Then something bad happened again in the television and he groaned. But he was unable to tear himself away from the suffering.

“Yup, it’s in the drive.”

“Then she’s prob’ly in her room.” He couldn’t tear himself away from the unfolding Phillies disaster.

I circled around to the front of the house. A picture window was lit up, but I guessed that it was her mother sitting in the living room. The other light was in a back corner, and on my way there I came across a ladder stored along the side of the house. All of a sudden, it seemed like a good idea to hoist the ladder and peep into the lighted corner window.

Gentle reader, please note that this is usually not a good idea.

However, insurrection was a thing in those days. I raised one track of the ladder to the appropriate length and managed to lean it with little fanfare against the house, right below the beckoning window.

At that point in my life, I was a lot more familiar with work on the surface of the earth. So climbing the wobbly ladder was enlightening. Each rung brought me closer to the Beach Boys, spinning around on Juliana’s record player. Though the middle rungs were wobbly, the climb became more stable at the top and even seemed the right place to be. She was lying face-down on her bed, her foot keeping beat.

Happy times together we could be spending, I hummed along.

I waited until the song was over, and then tapped on the window frame just loud enough to be heard.

Again, it was hard to surprise these people. She looked up, but couldn’t tell what was going on out in the dark on the other side of the screen. Like it was an everyday thing, she got up and came over to raise the screen.

“Look at you,” she said, leaning forward to be kissed. There are some tactics that work nearly every time. Our lips lingered there, remembering.

“I’m sorry I left you at Martine’s. I should have stayed.”

“I got home all right,” she said. I could see in her face that it had upset her. “But I couldn’t figure out why you left.”

“I don’t know myself.” I wondered at that point what I was doing on a ladder at her window.

“Then you told me you love me,” she said, her eyes brimming, “and you left before I could even turn around.”

“I’m sorry about that, too.”

“Sorry that you love me, or sorry that you left so quickly?”

“I am okay with how I feel about you, but I maybe should have waited till I knew what I was talking about.”

She thought that over. “Until you knew what the fuck you were talking about?”

“Yes, that.” We smiled at each other.

“Just because we’re in love doesn’t mean we have to always agree, you know,” Juliana said.

That plural pronoun was one of the most wonderful things anyone had ever said to me.

“Do you know what our highlight has been, so far, for me?” she asked.

I was sifting through possibilities, glad that there was a “so far” in there.

“Skinny-dipping in the creek.”

“Before or after the criminals tried to steal our clothes?”

“I mean all of it. As we were walking back to the car I kept thinking to myself, ‘Where’s he going to take me next, the black hole of Calcutta?’”

“Sheesh, I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

Having climbed as high as I could on that ladder, I lingered there with her, the two of us like a pair of idiots, making out through her open bedroom window. And yet when I climbed back down the ladder, I wondered if we had gotten as high as we would get. from the suffering.

August 21, 1968

Hitchhiking home from work, Izzy gets a ride with a man who is upset about the political developments in Czechoslovakia, where the Russians have just put down an independence movement.

Summer was changing. The heat was drying out, the sunlight softening.

I was hitching home from work. A 1959 Lincoln Premiere, one of the biggest cars ever built in America, was heading my way. It was the hard top, a dull bronze body and white roof, quad headlights, a pair stacked on top of each other with a huge, low-slung massif of chrome anchoring the front of the car to the road. The Premiere rolled halfway off the paved road onto the gravel shoulder where I was standing, a luxury yacht from a lost harborage of car design. You could not look away from its wings, which took off from the back wheels, jutting from the frame of the car like epaulettes on a Rushmorian military costume.

I opened the door to a spacious interior in brown and white leather, a steering wheel that looked a yard wide in diameter, a dashboard without borders. The driver, a man in his early 30s, was smoking a cigarette. He was also crying.

Not sobbing; tears were tracking down his cheeks and his eyes were red. He was not trying to regain his composure.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

And at the end of the ride, a revolutionary cigarette flick.

He sighed. “I was 22 and trained as metalworker. My father told me to leave, find a new life in a free country because Hungary would only be prison. He said I should send for him when I am settled. I left home with a suitcase and walked to the Austrian border. In refugee camp, I was put in a group going to America because I said I had uncle here. I didn’t, but nobody checked. So I was put on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s navy ship and sent to New York City.”

“Did you get your father?”

He spoke as if he had lived that pain so many times that there was only numbness there. “No, he died a few years after I leave. Momma is still there, but she don’t want to go anywhere now. It’s a shame because Hungarians are good socialists, just not very good Russian slaves.”

He sucked again on the cigarette and turned back to the steering wheel, a little more at peace.

“What are the sinews and souls of Russian serfs and Republican slaves but fast-fish, whereof possession is the whole of the law,” I mused. The driver looked at me and shrugged.

“Can I ask you one more question?”

“Sure.” He had pulled the transmission lever back into drive and was sliding into a space in the traffic, the cigarette clenched in his lips.

“Why do you throw your cigarettes in the street?”

He looked at me and smiled. “Hey, motherfucker, I’m a little anarchist, too.”

This is how anarchism made it into the study, already overrun by atheism.

August 17, 1968

At the country club, Izzy starts to put two and two together. Then, on the way home with his mother, they come across two girls smoking cigarettes in a 1963 Austin Healey Mark III.

Two teenage girls wearing bathing suits were smoking in the front seats; the top was tucked under the convertible cover. They were poster children for the good life.

The Austin-Healy had an un-American trunk, a half clamshell curving down to the bumper. The brake lights and running lights were mounted on top of each other, where the fin would have been had it been born in the U.S. instead of an Italian design studio. The trunk was well-fitted, with matching chrome hinges at the top and a svelte lock at the bottom. The car was signed in raised chrome script at the lower right corner of the trunk, like a painting. It was the last model in the Austin-Healy line; the Healy part of the hyphenation left the partnership in 1968.

The girls held their cigarettes on well-tanned arms out at a distance from the car. There was little doubt what would happen when they became bored with smoking. At the next stop, one after the other, they dropped the cigarettes from their hands, laughed at some joke, and zipped away when the signal changed.

“What are we going to do about that?” my mother asked.

We caught them at the next light, the last one before the road left town. I was feeling something, and got out of our car and trotted up to the passenger side. They were girls from my school, wealthy, popular girls. They were wearing bikinis, looked fantastic, and knew it. All I had going for me was that I was clearly deranged or, at best, interplanetary.

“Hey,” I said. They stared at me. I could feel the light changing. “Why did you drop your cigarettes in the road?”

The girls looked at each other and laughed, two princesses tucked in soft brown leather. “Where else could we put them?” the driver said, looking down at one another’s bikini tops. “We didn’t want to get ashes all over.” And they were gone. I waited for my mom to roll ahead and pick me up.

“They are wearing bikinis. I guess that means you can do whatever you want.”

My mother smiled. “You know, the bikini was invented by a French engineer right after the war. It was named for an atoll in the Pacific.”

I was picturing a Frenchman with a slide rule trying to figure out how to cover and support key female features with as little fabric as possible.

“We started testing nuclear bombs on Bikini right when the swimsuit was invented. We set off 23 bombs; the last one was just 10 years ago.” My mother pulled a cigarette out of her purse and lit it. “The U.S. government this week said it is now okay for the people who lived there to go back.” She inhaled and blew smoke out the window on her side and then looked at me.

“Promise me you will never go anywhere that’s been used for testing nuclear bombs, no matter what the government says,” she said.

“I won’t, Mom.”

“I can tell you one thing,” she said, tapping ashes into the ashtray.

“What’s that?”

“LBJ did not ask Lady Bird if it was all right to let people back on Bikini, and you can bet he won’t send his kids or grandkids there.”

August 11, 1968

After seeing the North American premiere of Magical Mystery Tour in New York, Speedy sees a smoker in a 1966 Plymouth Barracuda.

At that point, a fire-engine red 1966 Plymouth Barracuda rolled down the street with a smoker behind the wheel. He seemed to flick the butt almost directly at us, although it was an off-speed pitch that landed away in the middle of the street. “Hey,” my father yelled, and then the light turned red in front of the Barracuda. My mother and I watched in amusement as Speedy loped off to do more research.

He went right up to the driver’s window, put his hands on the top of the door, and started a conversation we couldn’t hear. The Barracuda driver did not seem particularly annoyed. For all I know, there may be special rules in effect at a certain hour of the night, especially in highly concentrated urban spaces.

The 1966 Barracuda was a spaceship car, a sweeping fastback window pitched over angled lines and squared-off heirloom fins. Light on the chrome, it featured a bold, forward lean toward a boxy front end that plowed shark-like through the road ahead. It actually looked a little like a barracuda.

The light turned green and the Plymouth swam away, leaving my father still standing in the street. He danced past traffic coming from behind him and rejoined us, breathless, happy.

When I was young, I never needed a puppy.

“He said he throws his cigarettes in the street because the bums want to smoke too,” Speedy said, smiling broadly. “You don’t hear that one in Doylestown.”

August 10, 1968

Not easy to find a picture of a 1965 Toyota Crown Coupe Utility. This one was not for U.S. consumption. Interesting story behind it …

On the road, we came up behind a smoker putting along in a 1965 Toyota utility coupe, one of those oddball concoctions that started off in the front like a normal coupe and changed course behind the front doors to become a pickup truck. It was one of the first Toyotas exported to the U.S., from the second generation of Toyota Crowns that were, ironically, intended to evoke the majesty of the Chrysler Imperial with a grand, wannabe front grill that looked particularly odd on the front end of what was basically a runt-size pickup truck. It landed on our shores just when we were bickering with France and Germany over tariffs they had placed on the import of American chickens. In retaliation, we imposed the so-called chicken tax on imports of brandy, potato starch and light trucks.

Which may explain why real Americans don’t drink Courvoisier.

The specimen before us was loaded with two surfboards. The driver, a shirtless fellow with long blond hair and golden tan, held a cigarette in his right hand. He was tapping the top of the seatback along with the music and then, when it became irresistible, drumming with both hands on the steering wheel.

The cigarette flew out into the wind from an overhand right-hand flick. We caught him at a red light a little ways down the road. I was closest to him.

“Hey man, why did you throw your cigarette in the road?” I shouted over the Jefferson Airplane roaring from the coupe end of his Toyota.

“Her rattlin’ cough never shuts off,” he sang, tuned into the music. Then, in good timing, the signal turned and he putted away from us.

“It’s hard to carry a cigarette when you’re surfing,” my father said.

August 9, 1968

A lot goes on in this chapter. But at the end, Izzy and Speedy follow a 1952 Chevy Deluxe into one of Bucks County’s covered bridges.

We were behind a two-tone 1952 Chevy Deluxe, by then a fuddy-duddy in the social order of the road, round and from the glory years of the Baroque period, finned, and imagining itself to be aircraft. The view from behind was a solid chrome bumper that seemed too close to the road and an oversized bubble trunk that rose with self-importance and big enough to hold a small pony, with smooth wings on each side that bowed in deference to the mighty trunk. The rear wings finished off wheel covers that were completely separate from the raised panel that started at the back door and grew into a massive sidewall, capped with the front headlight. The hood over the engine was its own time-worn Appalachian hilltop, presiding over an overdone constellation of chrome. The windshield was in two pieces, with a chrome bar joining them together.

An older, dark-skinned man with a felt hat was driving, calmly smoking an unfiltered cigarette in his left hand. He was an ash tapper, hence, a possible buttflicker. We stalked him from a polite distance, but close enough that no other traffic could get in the way. Soon, we were off the bearing for home.

The Chevy approached a covered wooden bridge and edged to the shoulder of the road to wait for an oncoming car to come through. Just as he was entering the bridge, his right hand came up, waving as though he was trying to shoo a bug, and then his left hand got involved and he must have dropped the cigarette because he bolted up in his seat and the next thing we knew he was pitching the cigarette butt out the window like it was a grenade. He pulled onto the one-lane bridge and we slid up the entry to wait until he cleared to the other side.

The bridge spanned a narrow creek. As the Chevy Deluxe crawled forward into the sunlight, we eased into the wooden tunnel, sun splintering through the cracks between the boards of the bridge, glimpsing the summer-dry creek below, and then we too rolled out into the sun.

We followed him up a narrow road that climbed a steep hill and through a gap in the ridge. He turned onto an even smaller road that seemed almost abandoned, and I wondered whether my father would follow him down the rabbit hole. I had covered most of the country roads I could get to by bike or foot, but I didn’t recognize this one. That’s about all it took for me to stop feeling sorry for myself about Juliana.

My father stayed a nine iron behind the Chevy. At first there didn’t seem to be any reason for this road to be, no farm fields or driveways or buildings at all, but of course there is always a purpose and, some believe, a reason. On my side, there were unruly trees posted with no trespassing signs and contained by a half-hearted barbwire fence. My father’s side of the road was fenced as well, but there was more open space, and as we turned a corner in the road the Chevy was waiting for us, pointed back in our direction.

There was just enough room for us to squeeze by and he was studying us as my father rolled to a stop, driver to driver, so close that neither of them could have opened his door.

“Evening,” my father said, nodding. The Chevy driver was unmoved.

“I noticed you tossed a cigarette out of your car back there at the bridge.”

The Chevy driver’s eyes narrowed. “Are you following me or something? This is private property back up here, and you don’t look like you know the territory.”

“Well, yes, we did follow you here, for science. We’re studying people. We don’t care much about property.”

This wasn’t scoring any points with the Chevy driver, who showed no intention of pulling forward. An uncomfortable, anxious moment.

“Do you remember throwing the cigarette in the road back there by the bridge?”

“Maybe, but I don’t see it’s any business of yours.”

“It looked like maybe you were swatting at a bee.”

“I don’t like to smoke in them bridges. I can handle the flies all right.”

“But why throw it out in the road?”

“Listen, mister, that’s just the way it went down. I told you, I don’t like to smoke in them bridges. That’s all old timber been soaking up oil and fumes for a long, long time.” He was warming up a little.

“I appreciate your time,” my father said. “You’ve been very helpful. I’ve got something for you for helping us out.” He reached around to the back seat and picked up his roll of masking tape and thick black marker. “It’s for your car,” he said, tearing off a piece of tape and writing I FLICK BUTTS on it and handing it across the short distance between us.

The Chevy driver studied the strip of masking tape for a minute and handed it back. “I don’t think so,” he said, glaring at us. “Now if you’re done wasting my time, I gotta be somewheres.”

The problem with this arrangement is that we were both pointed in the wrong direction, with only inches to spare between our gunwales. We inched ahead—Speedy was studying his outside mirror closely—and then around the curve in the road we saw a driveway. Beyond that, the road twisted on farther into the woods. We turned ourselves around in the drive and started back out.

The Chevy was backing up toward us and, again, we edged past each other carefully; now I was face-to-face with him and I nodded, wishing we had left him alone. After we squeezed past each other, I looked in my outside mirror and saw him pull into the driveway. I noticed my father was watching him as well.

In the research journal I wrote “Historic preservation” as the reason for his cigarette toss. Then I added: “May have been bee-induced.”

August 4, 1968

Going through a rocky spell with Juliana. Izzy goes to New Hope and tracks down Quentin. They go to a café on a quiet side street, where old-timers tell them about life on the canal.

We traipsed along through the gathering crowd of tourists, who gawked a-plenty at his display of carved heads, but apparently he wasn’t ready to start merchandising, because we brushed past them and then turned down a narrow alley that I hadn’t noticed before. We pivoted on a corner into a leafy lane that ran parallel to the river, close enough to smell the moving water. I followed him to a hole-in-the-wall with a sign over the door that said “1931 Café.”

Inside, there was a very small counter, three booths against the wall and a handful of round tables in the middle of the room.

The café was empty except for four old folks gathered around the table nearest the window at the front. A puddle of sunlight gathered there, exhausted from caroming through the glass from outside. Quentin leaned his array of coconut heads against the wall near the door and then steered straight for an empty chair at the table.

There was one more chair, which I took. The four old codgers looked at me over their coffee cups.

“Dis Boy Scout want to learn about old days on the canal,” Quentin said. Pointing at me.

Slowly one of them, a slight and withered gent with white hair and a scraggly beard, cleared his throat and began remembering aloud. He told a story about having to captain his family’s barge when he was young because his father took ill. When he got to Bristol to get weighed—the boatmen’s profits were based on how much higher the barge floated after unloading—he was paid in a crowd of older men, some them rough-looking, and scared that he was being cheated. The agent was impatient, but he fought for his ground and insisted on going over the books a second time. He had to been to school some, and his father had shown him how to do the plusses and minus, but his brain was froze up. He stammered and wanted to cry but just kept saying over and over that he was getting shorted. Finally, the agent gave him a few dollars more and he ran all the way back to the barge and hid the money under a floorboard near the potty.

Hitchhiking home, Izzy gets a ride with a man driving a 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix. He’s smoking a cigarette and listening to the Phillies on the radio. After a strikeout ruins a budding rally, the driver throws the cigarette out the window in disgust.

August 2, 1968

On their way to visit Martine at his house, Izzy and Juliana come across a 1959 Ford F100 pickup. A woman is driving, with two small kids beside her. She is having a smoke, holding the cigarette outside the cab, and when she finishes she tries to flick it back in the bed of the pickup truck.

Later, at Martine’s, a party that Izzy would regret.

When I came out of the cabana, Juliana was hanging on the edge of the pool, talking to Martine, who sat smoking at the table with a clever look in his face. I dove into the deep end. I ranked third among swimmers in my family, but I had merit badges to prove I knew my way around a pool.

Juliana swam to me. For 10 minutes or so we were, at least in my mind, back in the creek, almost unaware of Martine, the sun crouching to squeeze through tree limbs, the subtle stench of rich-guy pool chemicals and wealth and slate surrounding us. Not so unlike the natural rub of creek scum, only a different flavor.

Martine never came into the pool, but I felt his presence more and more. It began to feel like Juliana and I were swimming for an audience, dance partners in an aquatic audition of some kind, or primitive life forms jerking about on a microscope slide.

The water was going sour and I pulled myself out, not knowing whether she would follow. I hadn’t the forethought to bring a towel with me from the cabana, as Juliana had, so I took my seat with Vic Martine and the Victor Electrowriter and simply air dried.

The houseman showed up. Martine asked if we wanted something to drink. Juliana piped up from the pool, her face beaming, asking for a whiskey sour.

Again, who was she?

I said I would have one too.

“Truth serum for all!” Martine said.

It occurred to me that he might already be drunk. I never saw it coming at the race track.

In landlessness alone resides the highest truth,” I said, “so it is better to perish in that howling infinite than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety.

Martine looked like he didn’t get it. They usually don’t. Then the fellow came with a tray of drinks and Juliana arose glistening from the pool, a freshly washed peach goddess. She wrapped herself in the thick towel she had brought from the cabana.

It went downhill from there.

July 30, 1968

Ah, the Chevy Corvair, spotted in the parking lot of a strip shopping center.

We pulled out of the strip mall lot and fell in behind a bright green 1964 Chevrolet Corvair, a car-of-the-year pick when it was introduced as the first American-made rear-engine car in 1960. Although it would later incur the wrath of Ralph Nader, the Corvair influenced car design by ending once and for all the obsession with wings, and introducing the flow-line design using convex surfaces. At the time, it was an oddity, flat, low and wide with air vents in the hood over the engine in the back. The back of the car wore a lid.

The trunk was in the front!

The 1964 was the last model year Chevy offered the Corvair with a gasoline-powered heater. It looked more American than the VW Beetle, against which it was competing, but there were few in the school parking lot. It was the flying saucer your weird uncle—the one who was a ham radio operator—drove and bragged about.

This one had a bumper sticker that read: Waiter! What Is This Nitwit Doing in My Soup?

The Corvair lurched a little bit at the start, the sign of a manual transmission. I was thinking about my father before I noticed that Mr. Corvair was also working on a cigarette. We were following him out of a red light recently turned green when he quickly threw the cigarette out into the street with his left hand, and then grabbed the steering wheel.

“He had to litter because he was shifting gears,” I said.


July 26, 1968, part 2

July 26 was one of the rare days in the AutoFlick story with two cigarette-flicking sightings. The second takes place on the way home from the race track, late at night. Martine is passed out drunk in the tiny back seat of the Maserati. Izzy is driving.

The journey home seemed timeless, and then it wasn’t.

A few miles from Martine’s house, along the curving and dipping River Road, we cruised up behind a 1966 Mustang coupe just as the driver flicked a cigarette onto the road, where it exploded in a tiny fireworks display. We purred ahead like a confident Italian weightlifter, operas of horsepower in reserve, riding on his left taillight, waiting for the road ahead to give us a passing lane. When it did, we lifted off like a rocket, passing the Mustang, and Juliana leaned toward the open window.

“You dropped something back there,” she yelled as we accelerated into the open road, and then the empty night. “Everybody’s making love or else expecting rain,” she sang to the wind.

When we got back to Martine’s house, I stopped the Maserati outside the garage and turned off the ignition.

I left the wad of money on the passenger seat after Juliana and Martine got out. If I could throw new bell-bottom pants in a trash can, I could leave a few weeks’ pay in a rich guy’s car.

Driving home in my father’s car was a letdown, though I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t.