I paid the exact same amount for a bass fiddle and a 1946 Dodge when I was in high school: $96. The bass fiddle was in good shape, but I painted it black and white and put sparklers on it so it would look cool in the Hi Fis, our dance band. The Dodge, however, was in bad shape. I should have known that the clanking and slow acceleration were signs something was not right when I test drove it. But I liked the looks of it—like a giant dung beetle. It was maroon and it looked as if someone had painted it that color with a brush.
The guys in the Hi Fis loved that car. It was a four-door and we could all fit into it, five of us, even with the bass fiddle looming in the middle, with the neck almost hitting the front windshield and the pike against the back one. We could get the drum set in what we used to call the turtle-hull and the other instruments graced the floorboard. My musician friends looked like sardines in a tin as we took off to our gigs around Union County and Lincoln Parish.
One of my favorite events we entertained for was a big birthday bash for some executives of an oil company in my town. The daddy of our trumpet player was the big honcho, so we got the gig. There was a huge buffet involved, so we growing boys got plenty of caloric in-take that evening as we took musical requests. The trumpeter could play anything by ear and he would call out the key to the others in the band. We would find it, sort of, and join in. One good thing about the bass fiddle was that I could fake it if I got lost. I would just deaden the vibrations with my left hand instead of actually playing notes. Thus, I became part of the percussion section at those moments and no one seemed to notice, even my Hi Fi colleagues.
But, as to that Dodge, it threw a rod on one of our outings and we towed it to a vacant lot near my house. My admired adult mentors thought it would be good for me to fix the car, so I set to work. When I dropped the oil pan, lo, pieces of the cam shaft and cylinder wall floated in a shallow pool of black. I told my big brother, an adult I assumed had good sense, and he advised me to save up some money and order a rebuilt engine from a catalog he loaned me. I did so, paying considerably more for the motor than I had paid for the car itself. A taciturn friend named Lamar, who was a natural mechanic, helped me drop the engine in there. I drove it two weeks before the rear-end fell out and then all my mentors, including my big brother, said, “You ought to sell that hunk of junk.” That advice would have been more apropos before I bought the dumb engine. Anyway, I was able to recoup some money, but overall, it was a bad deal.