You never know when someone's Great Idea is gonna rear back and hit you . . . as, inevitably, it will. The other day, on the barren concrete parking area of a Connecticut shopping center. was my turn. I was in a hurry as I hopped behind the wheel of a borrowed new Datsun station wagon. My companion, a smoldering female of mercurial temperament, slid into the passenger seat For better or worse, it is a world-wide characteristic of males. when behind a steering wheel and accompanied by a nubile female, to strive for maximum dash and elan. I have seen this phenomenon all over the world, so I have to conclude it is a universal characteristic of the Male of the species, like baldness or the tendency to enjoy striking small balls with sticks.
I settled down behind the wheel of the Datsun, put the key in the ignition and immediately that goddamn buzzer began to whine naggingly, informing me that I had not yet buckled the seat belts. The screech began right in the middle of one of my most telling epigrams, one which I enjoy tossing off when the right women are around. It grabbed me in mid-phrase.
"Ah ... what's that? That buzzing?" the girl asked with a slight lilt in her voice vaguely reminiscent of Daisy Buchanan.
"Oh, nothing, I'll just snap up these seat belts and we'll be on our way. Heh, heh."
I slammed the door as stylishly as I could, all the while fishing around with my left hand for the seat belt. The warning buzzer seemed to be getting distinctly louder. For the first time I noticed that it sounded curiously like the whine of the Zero fighters which fill the murky celluloid skies of countless late-movie Banzai epics starring William Bendix and John Payne.
"Can't you please turn that off? It's giving me a headache," Daisy sighed mysteriously and fluttered her eyelashes.
"Fer Chrissake," I muttered under my breath as I groped around with my left hand trying to find the damn seat belt hook. Ah, found it. I whipped it up over my lap, or at least tried to. The strap stopped abruptly just short of my belt buckle.
Nyyyyaaaaaaaa! sneered the miserable Zero buzzer. I peered down into the gloom between the seat cushion and the door and saw that the belt had a self-winding reel. Okay. I had fought those bastards before, so I carefully eased it back into the reel and tried again. This time my left hand zipped upward toward my ear. Here was another self-winding reel for the shoulder strap and the two reels seemed to be attacking me out of the sun in concert. As one gave out black webbing, the other reeled it in even quicker. My hand was going up and down like a yo-yo. Every time I'd try to advance them and whip the hook over my midsection, they'd both slam on the brakes.
"You better fasten your seat belt," I barked cheerfully, attempting to cover up the fact I was having a humiliating time with those damn reels. "That's what's making that buzz"' go."
"Mine's fastened," she said coolly, casually lighting a Gauloise. I glanced out of the corner of my eye. It was true, her seat belt, including the shoulder strap, was neatly clipped in place and here I was screwing around like an arthritic aunt trying to fold up a camp chair in a high wind. Once again my hand whipped up to the ceiling in the direction of the shoulder strap reel.
"Isn't there something you can do about that buzzer? It's really very tiresome." She was sounding more like Daisy every minute. In desperation, I opened the door and hopped out, figuring that if I started all over again I might catch the damn thing unaware. I eased back into the seat and, with studied nonchalance, grasped the shiny silver clip firmly. With a sudden whipping motion, I caught both reels off guard. The clip-and my hand, of course-zipped all the way across my lap and I experienced that sudden thrill that comes only with success. For one brief instant I actually thought I had won. Frantically, my right hand groped between the seats for the slot where I was supposed to put the hook. I couldn't find the son of a bitch! I groped again.
"Please!" Daisy crossed her legs primly. The chrome metal clip zipped out of my sweaty left hand. Whang . . . thunk . . . Zap - it whistled past my nose, nicked my left ear as it whapped up into the shoulder belt reel with a thud.
"That isn't funny," Daisy hissed, "I really wish you'd stop playing around." She flicked the ashes of her Gauloise onto the shift lever. By now I didn't care what the hell she thought No goddamn car is gonna beat me! I had fought the worst cars in the world in my time, and won.
Screeeeeeeee. The warning buzzer showed no signs of running down I carefully removed 'the key from the switch. The buzzer stopped. We sat in silence.
"That's certainly a relief. Why didn't you do that sooner?"
Daisy was distinctly hostile now. I furiously jammed the key back in the lock. Screeeeee! the buzzer yelled. I turned the key clockwise as far as it would go. Nothing. The full enormity of my predicament hit me. The accursed Nader Effect! Since this was a 1974 Datsun, the ignition was totally deactivated until those sons of bitching seat belts had you clamped in like an astronaut on blast-off.
In other cars, I had said "the hell with the buzzer" and driven around free as a bird with my seat belts off and the radio turned up to drown out that squawker, but this little beauty was not about to stand still for any hanky-panky like that.
"Would you mind awfully if I took a cab home? My headache is really getting terribly bad and I simply don't enjoy sitting here in this stupid shopping center while you play your little games."
It was getting dark out now and a slight rain had begun to fall. We were the only car left on the lot. The relationship between Man and Woman is always tenuous at best. And in truth, I have had any number of totally unexpected things louse up what had promised to be a great evening with a girl. But to be brought down crashing by a cheapjack seat belt is too much.
"Do you mind if we call a cab? I'm really getting very bored."
F. Scott Fitzgerald would have appreciated that play. She was about to take a cab "back home." That meant from Connecticut to the East Side of Manhattan. I didn't think they made taxi meters that run that high.
Listlessly, automatically, my hand again grasped the chrome seat belt clip as it had a hundred times before. I gave it a pull while struggling to get my brain collected for a suitably crushing remark when-Zip, Zap, Clunk - Good God, it worked! I was belted in and trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey.
I flicked the ignition switch. The Datsun purred nicely into life and we were off with nary a sign of a shrieking buzzer. Seat belts are mysterious. You never know when they're going to work. They'll attack without warning after being house pets for years. "My headache is really much worse. I'll have to skip dinner and the show. Just take me home, please," Daisy's perfume mingled with the Gauloise smoke and I knew there was no hope. Banzai!