The Unified Camry Theory
Ricky Ginsburg

The Toyota Camry in front of them, brake lights still glowing after the traffic light changed to green, finally crept forward into the intersection. Jackson, counting silently to himself, felt the bile rising in his throat with each mentally ticked digit. He'd make it to three, all right, but only because Clovelia was in the car. Slamming his fist on the horn, hissing the word "asshole", he called into damnation all the powers he could muster from the front seat of his Chevy.

Clovelia let him rant for a few seconds before she touched her husband's wrist with the tips of her fingers. "Enough, you're giving me a headache."

"Goddamn Japanese cars." Jackson spun his head to the right, not trusting the mirrors, and swerved into the curb lane, cutting off a Post Office truck. Swinging quickly back to the left, he spat out the open window, "Deliver the mail on your own time, asshole!" and cranked it closed. The Camry veered toward the center median before coming back on course, its right turn signal now blinking as Jackson's Chevy pulled in front.

"What the hell's gotten into you this morning?" Ducking lower in the seat to avoid what she was sure was a piercing stare from the driver behind them now, Clovelia shook her head slowly and rolled up her window. "That was my side, you know."

Jackson pursed his lips and blew her a kiss. "Sorry." Reaching over, he tapped the glovebox button and dropped the door open. "Hand me that notebook, willya?"

Clovelia pulled a small black memo pad from the depths of the compartment and handed it to her husband. "What's this?"

"My independent study of South Florida traffic problems." He laid the book on his knee and flipped it open, searching through several dog-eared pages until stopping at one with the word "LIGHTS" in capital letters at the top. Jackson took a ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket and made a tick mark in the leftmost of three columns on the page. "Camrys are the first column, all other Jap cars in the middle, and everything else on the right."

"Why Camrys?"

"Look at the marks in the first column. Nobody is worse when it comes to 'Sleepers'..."

"Sleepers?"

"Asleep at the wheel, ass-draggers, morons, idiots, call them whatever you like. Drivers who don't watch the light to see it turn green. People who shouldn't be on the road, at least while I'm on it. Anyhow, ten to one against the other Japanese cars and at least a hundred to one against all the other cars on the road." Jackson closed the notebook and tossed it back into the glove compartment, lifting the door and slamming hard with the side of his fist. "That means, if you're sitting behind a car and the light turns green and the shithead driving doesn't move until you honk the horn, it's almost a certainty that the offending car is a Toyota Camry."

"And you've been keeping a record of this?" Clovelia whistled. "Your bookkeeper's gene still kicking around in your skull?"

Jackson smiled and then nodded, his face taking on a more serious tone. "Since the first of the month, just out of curiosity. And mind you, it's not just traffic lights."

"Oh?"

"Almost any time you see a car plodding along in the left lane, screwing up traffic, it's a Camry. See a car make a left turn from the right lane or a right from the left lane and eight out of ten times it's a Camry." He coughed several times, cranking the window back down again to spit before continuing. "The worst part is that it's not always senior citizens driving them. Nope. Young kids, moms with babies in car seats, executives too busy talking on their cellphones to be driving like normal people, for some reason they turn into idiots the minute they get behind the wheel of a Camry."

"So your theory is that it's the car and not the driver?"

"Bingo."

Clovelia laughed and slid up in the seat, checking behind her to see the Post Office truck turn right. "Your Uncle Dishka drives a Camry and he..."

"...drove the damn thing into a Volvo in a parking lot and then ran over the cop's foot who was writing the accident report." Jackson shrugged. "How's that for proof? He drove his Ford station wagon for twenty-one years before the engine gave out and the only body damage on that car was from rust. Put his shaky old ass in a Camry and he thinks he's in a fighter jet."

Ahead of them, a blue sedan with its license plate hanging by a single screw, was riding with its passenger side wheels in the right lane and the rest of the car in the left. Jackson cut around it, using the bicycle lane for clearance. "See that?" He cocked his head toward the other car.

Clovelia groaned as she spied the Toyota emblem on the front grill. "You want the book?"

"Nah, we're coming up to the Turnpike ramp, I'll add it later."

Traffic, for a Thursday morning, was heavier than normal and of course, the lane he'd settled into seemed to be the slowest of the four. As they inched up to the toll plaza, Clovelia pointed to the Honda in front of them and asked, "So now we're stuck behind a Honda, where's that in your book?"

"Middle column on each page. The balance of Satan's spawn." He slid two quarters from the coin holder built into the Chevy's center console. "What you fail to realize, my dear, is the deal the Japs made with the devil."

"The devil?"

"Uh, huh." Tossing the toll into the basket, Jackson rolled up the window and accelerated to just over eighty-five miles an hour.

Clovelia said nothing for a moment, but did tighten her seatbelt and close her window halfway. "The entire Japanese nation made a deal with the devil?"

"January 20, 1969, over forty years ago." He turned and said calmly, "The inauguration of the thirty-seventh president of the United States."

"Nixon?"

"Richard Milhous himself."

Now, she closed the window completely and leaned against the door, the anger building as she pursed her lips and asked, "Are you drinking again?"

Jackson set the cruise control and tilted his seat back one notch. "Christ, no. Come on Clovy, a promise is a promise." He blew out a long breath. "It took me a while to see this whole matrix of evils come together in my head, but with the data I've gathered so far this month, the proof is now obvious."

"Obviously, obvious to you."

"Look. Think back to when you were a teenager. What did the phrase 'Made In Japan' mean to you? Substandard, right? Something that wasn't made very well and would probably break just when you were really getting to enjoy it." Brushing several strands of gray hair back from his eyes, Jackson glanced over at her. "Remember your first VCR? It wasn't a Panasonic or a Sony, it was an RCA made right here in the goddamn USA. Did anyone ride a motorcycle other than a Harley? Other than Cubans and Canadians, who else but Americans played Major League Baseball?"

Clovelia's face broke into a crooked grin, her eyebrows lifting to match the expression on her lips. "Okay, but now the connotation is quality. So what?"

"How did that happen? How did the country of rice, raw fish, and Godzilla turn into the most powerful automobile manufacturing nation on the face of the Earth?" Jackson opened the center console, took out a piece of bubblegum, and popped it into his mouth, slurring his speech, "An-shwer me dat."

"For the love of God, did you really expect them to stay a third world nation forever?" She shook her head several times. "That's what we civilized folk call 'progress'. Everyone gets up off their knuckles eventually, Jackson. And anyhow, what does Nixon have to do with it?"

It took him another minute to soften the gum to where he could speak, but Jackson held a finger pointed in his wife's direction until he could. "That pointy nose, the weird hair, that devilish smile..."

"Richard Nixon was the devil?" Clovelia shuddered and crossed her arms over her chest. "You voted for him!"

Jackson nodded. "Twice. Bastard fooled all of us. But look what happened: January 20th, old eagle beak is sworn in. Ten days later the Beatles play their last concert together, forever, and during his term, Elvis visits the White House not once, but three times!"

"So Nixon liked Elvis better than the Beatles." She frowned. "You're not saying he was the cause of their breakup, are you?"

"Along with Yoko Ono who was..."

"Japanese." Clovelia pinched the bridge of her nose, slowing shaking her head from side to side, and moaned, "Oh, come on!"

"But that's not the worst of it." Clicking off the cruise control, Jackson pulled into the passing lane to get around a slow-moving Lexus. As they flew past the car, he nodded. "Think about the names of the Japanese cars for Christ's sake. Lexus, for example, begins with an 'L' just like Lucifer. Honda and Hyundai with an 'H', as in Hell."

"Hyundais are made in Korea."

"What's the difference?" Catching up to a red Toyota Corolla, he pointed to the silver trunk emblem. "And just look at the Toyota insignia. If that isn't a head with horns, I'm a Republican."

Clovelia leaned over and put the back of her hand against her husband's forehead. "You do feel a little warm."

Jackson slid the fan control over to high and turned on the air conditioner. "Nah, that's just from sittin' so close to you." He turned and winked at her. Even with her seventieth birthday less than a month away, her face was as soft and radiant as it had been on her fortieth. Jackson blew her a kiss.

They drove in silence for few minutes, both facing straight ahead, still in the fast lane of the Turnpike. With his foot rather than his conscious mind in charge of acceleration, they'd crossed over ninety and were heading to ninety-five when she cleared her throat and looked at him.

"You in that much of a hurry?"

He relaxed the muscles in his pedal foot and let the Chevy slip under ninety. "You don't believe me?" he asked.

"I'm not so sure you believe yourself." Tapping the glovebox, Clovelia's tone slipped into her now-I'm-serious voice, "Do you really think these numbers mean anything other than the fact that there are more Camrys on the road in South Florida than any other car?"

"That's my point!" Jackson slapped the dashboard. "The damn Jap cars have taken over!"

"Fine, I'll grant you that much. But Nixon?"

"Ah, there's the crick in the old man's knee. November 21st, 1969, ten months almost to the day he takes office, Nixon gives Okinawa back to the Japanese."

"So?"

With a satisfied smile creasing his face, Jackson nodded knowingly. "Uncle Dishka was there. He saw it happen."

"I'm all ears." She blinked at him and folded her hands in her lap. "Pray, continue."

"Thirty-five thousand Jeeps, crated, never driven, sitting in Quonset huts all those years protected from the elements. The finest American automotive technology ever developed. Nixon gave them the keys, the pink slip, and a full tank of gas for each one." His voice took on an angry tone and with it, the speedometer again began a slow climb. "Sixty days later, only two lousy months, Datsun introduces the 240Z, a car that can blow the racing stripes off a Corvette. A goddamn Jap car that was faster than the finest American sports car ever to suck a gallon of fuel. The fastest thing the Japs had before the deal was a rickshaw going downhill in a rainstorm."

"And you think they built it out of World War II Jeeps?"

Jackson ignored her question, again slamming his hand on the dusty, gray dashboard. "Look at the number they used! Two, four, zero. Add 'em up and what do you get? Six. Three digits, so six, three times. Goddamn six-six-six, the sign of devil. You think that's just a coincidence?"

"That's..."

"And in the dashboard of every one of those Jeeps was a radio, made in America, made with American technology." He pointed to the dash-mounted Toshiba in front of them. "Where the hell do you think that came from? Christ, Clovy, a Japanese transistor radio back in the day didn't last a whole summer, even with a box of fresh, American made nine-volt batteries."

Jackson's face reddened, the thick veins along his temples now engorged to the point of having shadows. The Chevy, closing in on one hundred miles an hour, straddled both northbound lanes, eating up the empty road ahead as though it owned it. In the passenger seat, Clovelia hunkered with one hand on the dash and the other wrapped securely in the handle over the door.

"We gave them the tools, the blueprints, and enough working models of our technological advances to jumpstart their economy in only sixty goddamn days. If it wasn't for goddamn Nixon, everyone would be driving Chevys, Fords, and Chryslers, and the emblem on that radio would say GE or RCA, for Christ's sake."

Rolling the window down, Jackson spit his gum into the slipstream and watched it in the mirror as it blasted backward, away from them. "If that wasn't a deal with the freaking devil, you can have my goddamn voter's registration. I mean, look around the house. We've got Japanese hifi, Scandinavian furniture, French appliances in the kitchen, and Italian tile everywhere you walk. And my Black and Decker drill, my goddamn Black and Decker drill, is made in..." He paused to catch his breath before screaming the words at his wife. "Goddamn Japan!"

His tortured lungs now failing him, Jackson sputtered and slapped the center console, and for a few seconds Clovelia thought he was going to vapor-lock right there behind the wheel.

"Jackson! Stop the car!" She reached for the ignition but he brushed her away. "Jackson, pull over and get out. I'll drive!"

"It's...it's...it's not right, Clovy." His chest heaved and with the exertion to breathe, he leaned even harder on the gas pedal; they were now at one hundred and five.

The blue and red lights of the Florida State Trooper coming up fast behind them shocked Jackson out of his tirade and he instantly lifted his foot off the gas. But it was too late this time; they'd gone past a radar gun thirty-two miles an hour over the posted speed limit. The Trooper slid in, one car-length to their rear and pointed towards the shoulder.

As he brought the Chevy to a halt and threw it calmly into Park, Jackson turned to his wife and took a deep breath, holding it for a few moments before blowing it out. "It might all sound a bit crazy to you, hearing it for the first time." He glanced at the Trooper coming toward them in the rearview mirror. "But what if I'm right?"

Before she could answer, Jackson Wilson pulled his driver's license and registration from the rubberband on the visor and turned toward the brimmed hat now visible in the corner of his vision. A friendly smile replaced the anguished look he'd thrown at his wife in the brief moment it took him to make the turn. "Good morning officer..."

Jackson froze. His voice suddenly locked down tighter than the lug nuts on his tires. He tried twice, but couldn't bring himself to say the man's name, embossed on his uniform, the word choking in his throat. Clovelia, wide-eyed and still blanched, grasped her husband's arm in a mix of fear and disbelief. Her voice only a whispered breath as she finished the sentence for him, "...Hiroshimura."

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