Yes, that’s what he named his new (’07) Mustang GT – Ninety Nine. Okay, 99. Of all the names possible for a favorite car, why 99??
“Well sir,” he said quietly, slowly settling into his chair and looking off into the distance. “I had just found the car of my younger dreams, and was sitting in the dealership office, having just test-driven it and had fallen in love. While waiting to sign the papers and get on up the road with my new baby, I heard a song playing on the overhead in the nearly empty dealership… a song I knew and had always liked, a song done by a great group, Toto. The song? 99!”
(The song & video on youtube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhw-XlTMB5I)
I guess I can see that, but shouldn’t there be a deeper, more meaningful explanation for naming a car you’ve wanted for so long?
“Oh, absolutely,” he smiled. “And I was just getting to that. You see, naming her “99’ wasn’t just because of the song. No, it’s a bit more than that. When I was a young man, back in the ’60’s and early ’70’s, a TV show called “Get Smart” was on every week. It was a tongue-in-cheek detective story, the lead being a corny, overly-serious caricature of a detective named Maxwell Smart. He was a silly, present-day exaggeration of Inspector Clouseau and perhaps even Sherlock Holmes. As you might recall, Sherlock Holmes had a friend, a sort of assistant, Doctor Watson. Well now, Maxwell Smart had an assistant, too, only in his case his assistant was a fine-looking woman – whose professional detective name was ’99!’ Kind of reminds you of ’007,’ doesn’t it? Might that have been on purpose? God only knows, it was a goofy show.”
He looked out the window, then thoughtfully over at me. “You know, back then I thought Maxwell Smart was really a dumb shit. What was ironic about that was simply that all the time I thought Maxwell was a dumb shit, I always thought of myself as a fairly smart guy, when In fact I was way more like Maxwell than I could have known… I was the dumb shit, and I didn’t even have an assistant! I often exaggerated, made far more out of simple things than they warranted, and constantly magnified every little life drama, along with my perceived ability to overcome all obstacles. My god, I was so much like Maxwell Smart it was scary!”
He laughed out loud at the memory of it, and his eyes twinkled. “I don’t know, there is probably something ironic going on all the time, things we don’t even notice. But what I do know is that back then irony was all over me like flies on cow shit. And I never knew it.” A long sigh. “Never knew it.”
I waited a moment, then asked him about 99, if there might be yet another, deeper reason for the name.
“Oh, I don’t know about that. Don’t think so, though. Perhaps it had to do with Maxwell Smart’s 99. After all, she was his sidekick, and she was beautiful. I think maybe accidentally, or yeah, probably subconsciously I thought of that little Mustang as my beautiful sidekick. I mean after all, she is beautiful, and she must be my sidekick, right? She’s willing to take me anywhere I want to go, always ready.”
(A quick explanation here, what the internet says about naming ships, cars, etc for females – “It probably started with the ships. The oceans and seas are dangerous places. You won’t survive just treading water miles from shore. If the sharks don’t get you, the exposure to the sun, waves, storms, etc., will. But if you’re in a ship, you’ll have food, dry clothing, shelter, etc. A ship takes good care of you. JUST LIKE YOUR MOTHER. Extrapolate this to other vessels and vehicles that enable us to move about the planet in safety and security and you have the reason they’re referred to in the feminine.”)
And here’s a poem, written by a man, of course, on why we call them “she.”
“We always call a ship a ‘she’ and not with out a reason,
For she displays a well shaped stern regardless of the season,
She scorns the man whose heart is faint and does not give him pity,
And like a girl she needs the paint to keep her looking pretty.
For love she’ll brace the ocean vast, be she a tramp ship or liner,
But if you fail to tie her fast you sure that you will lose her,
Be firm with her and she’ll behave, when clouds are dark above you,
And let her take the water wave, praise her and she’ll love you.
For she will take the roughest seas, and angry waves that crowd her,
And in a brand new coat of paint, no girl looks any prouder,
The ship is like a girl at that, she’s feminine and swanky,
You’ll find the one that’s broad and fat, is never mean and cranky.
On ships and girls we pin our hopes, we fondle and love them,
And every man must know his ropes or else he cannot handle them,
Yes, ships are lady like indeed, for take them all together,
The ones that show a lot of speed, can’t stand the roughest weather.”
(Please, don’t hold me to the flame for that one… I share it only for one shallow male;s perspective, not because I believe any of it…)
I said something about men personalizing inanimate objects, and that I didn’t understand it. And I thought this “she” thing was kind of ‘out there.’
He frowned. “Let me tell you a little story about her.” He got up, walked over to his little bar and grabbed a brandy bottle. “Here, pass me that glass, will you?” He poured a healthy one for himself, then one for me. Sitting back down, he got settled in and took a long drink.
“The day I bought her, a funny thing happened. I never told this to Betty, she already knows I’m weird.” He smiled. “When we left the dealership, Betty, driving her car and me in my new Mustang, it was raining to beat hell. Thank god the wipers worked well. And to make matters worse, everything in my new car was different… the steering, the power, the 5-speed stick shift, the whole feel of the thing. I was following Betty up to her son’s house, a 40-mile drive in heavy afternoon traffic. I was nervous, overly careful, trying to feel the car out while keeping us safe in the traffic and not losing sight of Betty in the driving rain. She was the only one who knew how to get where we were going.”
He took a sip of brandy. “Yes, I guess I was a little tight, a little tense. We were about halfway home when it happened. The traffic was moving at right around 50 miles per hour, and all my senses were on high alert. I remember hoping that we could just get this new ride home safely, without screwing up somehow, or worse, being sideswiped by some dipwad. It was still raining hard enough to make my vision a little spotty, when something happened that I still can’t understand. The smooth purr of the engine, the quick response of the steering, the quiet dash lights telling me all the engine functions were cool… I don’t know. But it’s like I heard the car silently say to me, ‘Relax. It’s all right. I’ve got you. You’re safe with me.’”
He looked out the window. “Who knows why those things happen, whether they’re even real or not? Hell, I sure don’t, but I know this – I felt my body relax back into the seat, and felt it almost hug me. I’m not lying. It felt like it was holding me so comfortably, so safely… I could even feel my breath even out and relax. It was an amazing moment. I remember I reached down and turned on the radio, and damned if it wasn’t programmed to a jazz station! That was it, right there. She was my car, she was my 99!”
He took another drink, then grinned over at me. “I guess that all sounds pretty goofy, huh? Don’t worry, it does to me, too. I know a car is an inanimate object…” then he chuckled. “At least I used to. Now I don’t know anymore. My god, I don’t know about hardly anything anymore, you know? The more I think I know about life, the more it keeps showing me that I don’t. But I guess that’s just the way of the world after all, eh? A guy thinks he’s got something figured out, then the truth of it jumps up and bites him in the butt. And you know, it’s funny. I was always a Chevy guy, always. But this damn Ford has won me over. I love to drive her, love to go anywhere with her. It’s only been six months, and already it’s the best, most interesting car I’ve ever owned.”
He smiled again. “We’re a weird lot, aren’t we? We Americans make so goddamned much of our cars, we give them names. Heh. And before cars, it was horses. And what before that? Well, probably ships. We used to name trains, and the engines. Hm. Guess I’m starting to see a pattern of transportation, and how important it is to us.”
He thought a moment. “We have always named many of our ships for women. Hell, bomber pilots and crewmen used to name the bombers they flew in WWII. Just about always women’s names, too. Honey Bunny, Memphis Belle, Picadillly Lilly, Sweet LaRhonda, Anxious Angel, Strawberry Bitch, Pretty Polly. Guess my favorite of all those B-17 names, though, was Flak Bait. That name says so much about the crew, and their use of humor in those incredibly dangerous times. Maybe, just maybe, we men name anything that can get us where we want to go, for women. Huh. Never really thought about it like that before.”
He sipped his brandy, then chuckled. “Makes a man wonder if he can do anything at all, go anywhere at all, without women. Perhaps, subconsciously, we don’t think we can. But consciously, oh christ, of course we think we can… go anywhere, do anything, accomplish anything, on our own. But in my mind that’s just the male ego talking, the testosterone running rampant. It’s not totally a bad thing, now… could be that man’s plastic belief in himself and his overreaching abilities is largely responsible for us all being here at all.”
He paused again. “Most days I can tell you honestly that I truly feel that women run the world.” He laughed. “And if you don’t believe me, ask Clarence Thomas!” Heh heh heh. “Now I’m not saying we’re nothing without women.. well, wait. Maybe I am! And why not? It’s what I believe at this point in my life. Humph. Funny, it took me all these years to finally understand how interconnected men and women are, how we need each other for everything, for the most important things, for the littlest of things… how we are little to nothing without the other. My god, I never quite thought of it like that until now!” He finished his brandy, got up and poured us another. Sitting back down, he drank again and smiled over at me. “Shit,” he laughed, “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if women all over the world were laughing their asses off at us men, how goofy and clueless we can be. I know if I were a woman, I would either be laughing at us, or extremely pissed.” He looked down at his glass. “Jesus, this is really good brandy!”
He looked out the window. “How in hell did I get started on all that? Didn’t you ask me something?”
I thought a moment, then told him I’d asked him something about why he named his new ride “99.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. Good god, I sure got sideways on that one, didn’t I? You know, I used to laugh at all the old guys driving around town in their shiny little sports cars and new trucks. Always thought they were trying to pretend to be young again, recapture their youth, something like that. Used to wonder why so many of them did that, why they bothered. Ha. And now I’m one of them, and I know why. It’s so damned simple. Oh, I guess it’s kind of fun to feel young again, for a little while. But you know, maybe the real reason is that, as younger men, we spent our money on our families instead of the toys we wanted. Now that the family’s grown and gone, we can finally afford our younger dreams of cool cars, boats, the more expensive toys. That, coupled with the realization of our mortality and the fact that we’ve now lived most of our lives, I’d say that buying the car of your dreams is a damn good way to keep the old man out.”
I had to ask – But doesn’t the child within us help keep the old man out?
He thought a moment. “Oh sure, yes. But not all of us held on to the child within us. From my point of view, maturity is a tough jump for anyone who has a strong childish streak in them, which I did. Oh, I made the jump, finally, and was pretty much a mature adult for 18 years, but it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t much fun. I know guys who got mature just about effortlessly, but they lost their inner child in the process. Hell, I almost did…”
“Well, it finally came back… slowly at first. But it felt great, and I recovered it all. You know, when you’ve been more child than adult for 42 years, it’s probably pretty well locked in. Shit,” he chuckled again, “In my case, my inner child was so strong I was nearly incapable of ever being mature. Only fatherhood shook me out of it. It’s funny though, life can beat the little boy out of us, or wear it out, or something… I don’t know. All I know is, I was lucky. Somehow that little turd hung on inside me until I was finally able to shake free of the heavy responsibilities that almost killed him.”
Must have felt good to get your little boy back…
“Oh god yes! Felt great, still does. And why not, right? After all, it’s who I was for a good part of my life. And it worked… being that half-child, half-man person really worked for me. Why change? Especially if it feels good!”
I guess your Mustang helped you, too…
“Actually, I got my little boy back years ago, when I moved back to Montana. But sure, it feels great to finally get to tool down the road in a ride we might have wanted 40 years ago. It’s one of those things that is better late than never. But you’re right, the Mustang takes 30-40 years off me by the time I get out of the driveway. By the way, son, what do you drive?”
I told him I drive a Mazda.
“Have you named it?”
No. It’s just a car.