Executing the ‘J.D. Slam’

A simple act of closing a car door inspired this column. Even I find it hard to have so many memories conjured up from this basic action. Let me explain:

Cars built this century generally have door-closing mechanisms that require only the slightest bit of energy to assure a tight seal. Cars built last century ­ ­— and that covers a wide span — often failed to close completely on the first try.

Well, in my family, the first car we owned was built in the first half of the past century, but it behaved as if Ben Hur himself had been on the assembly line and in the driver’s seat. In the ‘50s, neither men nor women needed gym memberships, as the effort expended in closing a car door helped develop bulging biceps and bigger triceps.

Let’s be more specific: My sister-in-law, Gina, came up with the term “The J.D. Slam,” in honor of my dad, who owned those initials, and who almost never shut a car door quietly or gently. The ‘49 DeSoto we owned routinely sprung back open each time I tried to close it; it was as if there were nothing to make it latch on to the car body. Nothing.

On the fifth try, I imagined the car had said, “OK. I give up,” and let me close it for the duration of the ride. I once received an overtime parking ticket in the days when the town was metered.

As I was driving away from a spot on the Plaza, a patrolman on foot, ticket in hand, badge flashing, grin across his face and a spring in his step, opened the driver’s side door to present me with a love token he’d hurriedly written, and when he tried to close the door, it bounced back open — several times.

I got out to try my expertise, and I suspect he construed my movement as a threat. So I stopped and let him have a half dozen attempts until he won.

But back to the J.D. Slam. Whether my father was the driver or a passenger, I swear he used all his might to guarantee the doors were sealed. I sensed that even if I or some other occupant offered to close the door for him, he’d still be convinced he had the better way.

After a successful door closing, Dad would usually say “there!” to imply that he’d solved the door issue for all eternity.

The rest of us were too polite (or terrified) to second-guess Dad, so we let him continue in his usual way. I still wonder whether Dad was accustomed to slamming more agrarian equipment, such as farm stuff. I vaguely recall getting into early-model vehicles that had a single latch that sometimes held the door closed.

When my sons came along, they’d rush to Dad’s door and close it for him. Gently.
Another action that Gina failed to name was the “Tio Juan Slam,” which made my dad’s effort look like mere kids’ play.

Dad’s brother, Uncle Juan seldom rode in cars — never learned to drive — but when he did ride and reached the door handle before we did, we’d usually need to check all four tires to make sure they were still aligned and that the four remained on the ground.

Door slamming, as opposed to mere door closing, can mean several things. If a person is exiting the car, the words sometimes accompany, “I never want to see you again.”

Or, if the door is slammed really hard from the outside, it comes with “How dare you? I’m not that kind of girl.”

Alternatively, a hard slam upon exiting the car, addressed directly to the car, follows, “So you refuse to start? I’ll show you. Tomorrow I trade you in on a used Chevette.”

We drive a late-model car, one which ostensibly doesn’t need the strength of Schwarzenegger to close it. But, as luck would have it, just this morning one of the passengers I drive to school emulated both J.D. and Tio Juan.

The passenger who slams my car door with such vigor has caused the return of myriad memories of my childhood. But worse, a few more J.D. Slams, perhaps linked with an occasional “Tio Juan Slam” is starting to make my newish car look and act like cars we tooled around town in sometime last century.

Alas! When will I ever learn that sarcasm and irony sometimes just don’t work?

I should never have said to my passenger, after the last Tio Juan Slam, “Maybe you’ll need to slam it harder next time.”

My passenger took my words at face value.

Looks like it’s going to be a long school year.

• • •

Margaret Johnson, the daughter of the late Thomas Oliver Mallory, who was my major English professor at Highlands, submitted a letter in praise of Dr. Bob Amai.

Because of Amai’s erudition, professionalism and ability to reach and teach students at all levels, I am publishing Ms Johnson’s letter in its entirely.

“Thank you for your column on Bob Amai. You hit all the right notes. The front page article also did an outstanding job.

“Dr. Amai was able to teach chemistry to those of us who considered ourselves hopeless on the subject ­— I had to wait until my junior year to take the survey class because of scheduling conflicts, but I was not going to take it under anyone else. His name/face skill was remarkable beyond belief. He set a high standard of teaching skills for those of us aspiring to become teachers; I never came close.

“I last visited with Bob and Pat at Wal-Mart (where else?) shortly after my mother passed. Pat said she didn’t consider Mom gone — just going around just out of view.

“I hope she feels the same about Bob — his was a permeating spirit of caring that brought out the best in us.

“But it still hurts.”

• • •

Margaret Johnson earned degrees in English and French from Highlands University and Texas State University. She taught English, French and history for a number of years at West Las Vegas High School.

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