Copyright is held by the author.
IT WASN’T my job, for God’s sake. It was my wife Cheryl’s car so why she was making me take it to the Department of Motor Vehicles? Well, because she taught a pilates class and then had a real estate client to meet. So I grabbed the keys to her Polski Fiat 125.
I know you’re saying What the heck? The Polski Fiat was something she’d accepted to make good on the fee a home buyer couldn’t pay. It was a basic version of the Fiat 125 made under license by a Polish car maker in the late 1960s. It got about 12 miles to the gallon and managed a satisfactory 50 miles an hour, but only going downhill.
Fortunately, Motor Vehicles was empty and I was first in line at 8:00 a.m.
“What’s that?” The inspector was a scowly looking man.
“Polski Fiat. A classic.”
“Never heard of it. Looks like a shoebox on training wheels.”
I got out leaving the motor running and ran my hand over the fender. “Be nice. It may not be pretty but it gets my wife from point A to point B.”
At that moment, the car lurched forward, ran over some rubber cones and shot through the window into the DMV office.
“What’ve you done?” the inspector screamed. “I think you may’ve killed my cat.”
“There’s no cat.”
“Well, not now. It was sitting in the window and your shoebox ran over it. I’m calling the cops!”
“I thought you were the cops.”
“Don’t be funny. We just issue tickets when your car doesn’t have a horn that honks or it’s polluting the citizens.”
Twenty minutes later a cop came and was not amused. It took all three of us to pull the Polski Fiat out of the office.”
“I’ll have to impound that car,” the cop said. “It’s a murder weapon and will be charged with catricide.”
“Unauthorized killing of felines. Maybe some lawyer has a fancy word for it. The prosecutor is a Princeton boy.”
Guess you know things just haven’t been the same since Donald Trump was elected president. All the laws seem to have changed. Several weeks passed, my wife was totally upset, and then we were given the date of the trial. Not mine. The car. Seems our state government resurrected an old law.
Our lawyer, who’s also my wife’s brother Harold, said, “Your car is being charged as a deodand.” He saw our expressions and held up his hand. “Law goes back to 1336 when a drunken English sailor climbed a rope on a ship, fell and died. The jury ruled that the rope was the cause of death and that it should be forfeited to the Crown. The rope was the inanimate casualty of an already ancient principle called deodand.”
“You can’t put a car in jail, Harold!” my wife shouted.
“Strictly speaking, a deodand is something that’s been forfeited to God, from Latin de? dandum.”
Two months later when the judge convened the trial, I was subpoenaed as a witness. The prosecutor was quick. “This is your car? You got out of the car at the DMV and it lurched — of its own accord — through the office, killing the cat?” And then his money question: “This is an immigrant vehicle?” I told you things had gotten weird in our state.
“No, it came from a guy who owed my wife her real estate fee.”
But the prosecutor was on a roll, screaming at the top of his lungs, “Do we know how many immigrant vehicles have crossed our borders? Were the tariffs paid? Do these car makers have any allegiance to our culture?”
He ended up making us pay for the building’s damages plus a fine of $47 since the cat was getting on in years, and jail time for the Polski Fiat. The judge gave the Fiat six months locked up in the police garage.
Cheryl shrugged. “I don’t mind too much. I think the car was probably worth less than $500 and I’m looking at a replacement.”
She brightened, “Yes, Craigslist has a 1995 Yugo GV built by the Russians in Yugoslavia. The seller said it’ll be worth a fortune in a few years! A classic. But first, I need you to take it to DMV to be inspected. Oh, and keep your foot on the brake this time.”