You’re in Creative Writing I at a moderately priced State College Degree-Mill. You’re a Computer Science major who is required to take an English class so the college can extrude more money from you or your parents or the GI Bill. Whatever. It’s an easy A as long as you echo your professor’s opinions back to him in your papers.
But your 41-year-old, VW Jetta-driving, weak-handshaking, sarcasm-slinging professor, Dr. Recuahc, just made it hard. Can you believe this? Here’s your assignment:
“You are to examine an artifact from your childhood and explore its transformative properties which influenced your growth as an individual and cultural critic in a post 9/11 world.”
Translation: Write about something you liked when you were 10.
You want to write about your dad’s 1975 Camaro. You know enough about that machine to fill three pages double-spaced in less time than it takes to microwave popcorn and set off the dorm’s fire alarm. There’s a problem with your topic. Dr. Recuahc doesn’t like it.
Your professor says “That subject doesn’t fit the parameters of the assignment rubric.”
You counter and say “But it played a big part in my life.”
“That’s immaterial, you need a subject that morphs though the events of 2001 and has new meaning for you,” says Dr. Recuahc.
“My dad still drives it.”
“Good for him, bad for the environment. All V8’s should be banned. Find a new topic,” snaps Dr. Recuahc. He looks away when he says this, remembering something from his youth that you unknowingly touched.
I’m pausing this story right here and we’re going to examine Dr. Recuahc and the 1975 Camaro and discover the reason why your creative writing professor hates V8’s.
Dr. Recuahc is 41 years old. This year is 2015. He was born in 1974, one year before our subject Camaro. From his perspective, V8’s were not engines, they were paternal symbols against which he, and most of his generation, rebelled with good reason.
Dr. Recuahc was born into the low-point of American performance and the beginnings of horsepower re-classification from Gross-Horsepower to Net-Horsepower. The difference between Gross and Net Horsepower is the same as the difference between Gross-Pay and Net-Pay. Gross horsepower is how much an engine makes with all the power-taxing accessories removed; alternator, air conditioning, muffler, emissions equipment, etc. I’m serious, in the 1960’s manufacturers put engines on the test-stand with open-headers, no air cleaner, and they even advanced the ignition and aggressively jetted the carburetor to get the biggest HP number possible to slap on the super-glossy brochures.
In the early 1970’s, manufacturers began de-tuning engines to prepare for looming unleaded gasoline and reporting Net-Horsepower, which is real-world horsepower when the engine is reeled in with emissions controls, air-conditioning, strangled carburetors and those fart-hoses pumping crankcase fumes back into the intake to be burned for every last geriatric combustible molecule.
This one-two punch of mechanical and litigious restriction meant that the 1975 Camaro could only advertise 145 horsepower from the LG5 350ci (5.7L) with a two-barrel carburetor, or 155 horsepower from the LM1 350ci (5.7L) with a four-barrel carburetor.
Now let’s look at the world of Dr. Recuahc’s childhood. He is one year old in 1975. The idealistic 1960’s that his parents enjoyed is dead. They watched two Kennedys murdered. They watched a criminal president get bailed out by a meathead ringer. They read about The Edmund Fitzgerald sinking in Lake Superior. They watched their own country lose a war. America lost?! That doesn’t happen!
Even on the roads, Recuahc’s parents were humiliated by the first wave of import cars: The VW Golf, Mk1 Honda Civic, Datsun B210, Toyota Corolla. Every red white and blue truism was being proven wrong. It hurt. They were angry. Little Recuahc felt those bad vibes at an early age but lacked the language to interpret his parents’ feelings of betrayal.
All Recuahc’s parents could do was blast Molly Hatchet and bury the pedal in their 1975 Camaro for ten years, hoping that with enough revs and noise, the world that they once knew, would return. After all, the 396ci (6.4L) engine was gone. The Z/28 was gone. The SS was gone. The only consolation for 1975 was a wrap-around rear window for looking back to the past. But looking back to the past only sews denial seeds in the present and dread of the future. With clenched teeth and bushy mustaches, parents death gripped their hands on Camaro steering wheels chanting “Fifteen miles a gallon is good! Fifteen miles a gallon is good! V8s are for winners! V8s are for winners! We’re winners! We win! We fight them there so we don’t fight them here! I am driving down the road and I’m flirting with disaster! There’s no replacement for displacement! No replacement for displacement! Fifteen miles a gallon is good! Fifteen miles a gallon is good!”
Young Recuahc turned 16-years old in 1990. He wanted to rebel. That 1975 Camaro was still around and still running thanks to Mr. Recuahc’s spendthrift approach to preservation. But this paternal American lighthouse was dim in 1990, compared to all the cars Young Recuahc saw as he held his new drivers license. The Toyota Celica All-Trac Turbo made 200hp. The Mk2 Jetta had a fantastic 2.0L DOHC. Even Chrysler was running turbocharged Mitsubishi engines. What do all these powerplants have in common? They were four-cylinders! They were just as fast or faster, with better fuel economy, than Pappa’s preaching Camaro from the age of Orange and Brown.
Off Young Recuahc goes with a VW GTI, confident that his parents’ world is dead and that his newly tempered modern-man image is secure. Recuahc felt solace until cognitive dissonance set in decades later.
We return to you, the student, and Recuahc, the professor, in 2015. You stirred up something from his past that he doesn’t like. The V8 — the symbol of his parents, the symbol of waste, the symbol of an American God — never went away. How horrible it is for Recuahc to know that the logistics of his world, academic or otherwise, is still dependent on the GM 350ci V8. Recuahc uncomfortably knows that the antediluvian and primitive 350ci V8 moves his world. It transported the lumber for his new back deck from which he scoffs at townies. It moves the University’s grounds crew about, making the campus look presentable and worldly. It brings fresh produce to the Farmers Market for him to handle and sniff. The 350ci V8 powers the University’s shuttle bus which gathers visiting authors and dignitaries and brings them to the campus auditorium for a four-hour imperious discussion on William Carlos Williams (American poet from the 1920’s who liked wheelbarrows but hated punctuation) as read from a Post-Structuralist viewpoint. The 350ci V8 delivers reams of paper to the computer lab where Dr. Recuahc abuses his free printing privileges.
The 1975 Camaro is the reason your creative writing professor hates V8s because it is simultaneously the symbol of his parents and an entire previous generation against which he is still unsuccessfully rebelling. The Camaro was slow, inefficient and wasteful but it wouldn’t die; its engine still influences him with modern incarnations. The same artifact of middle America, the V8, which Dr. Recuahc scoffs and rebukes, is the same artifact which provides the means for him to scoff! And…because the V8 is a symbol of his parents, it means that his parents still are influencing him even if their worldly form is no longer present.
Dr. Recuahc hates V8’s because he is not ready to admit his parents were right about a few things.
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