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My car. Picture-story
Claudio Morici | 25-11-2007 | ENG
(Translated by Antonino J. Scoppettuolo)

From the pen of a young writer specialising in other-dimensional places of the psyche and the physical world come the adventures of a motionless traveller. Photograph by Paolo Lecca.

"Projective identification" is a complex psychoanalytical concept. It essentially involves projecting parts of the self onto outer objects which, thus, in turn acquire a special relational valence. This happens for two reasons:
1) people may feel the need to outwardly project a part of the self which they consider to be "bad" and which they fear may undermine them from the inside;
2) people may feel the need to outwardly project a part of the self which they consider to be "good" in order to protect it from the bad side of the self which they keep inside.
foto La mia macchina My entitlement to this description and my understanding of it comes with having graduated with Honours in psychology aged 23, being a chartered psychologist, having worked three years with the mentally ill and having finally made sense of it all.
I have understood many things. For instance, I have come to understand that someone spitting on your brand new trousers is likely to piss you off. If anything, it's because of projective identification.

As for today, I can safely say that my car has been my biggest teacher. My fantastic '96 Ford Fiesta, with its metallic grey, roof hatch (when working). By way of experimenting in it I have learned much. It's been going on for years. The experiments have shed light on me and the world. Like the ash ball experiment.

So, my car has two fan lever switches; they are backlit by two stripes, one blue, one read. Above the red stripe, somewhere halfway, lies a small ash ball. It probably got there by falling off a cigarette, either mine or the passenger's. I realised it was there in June. It's been months and the ash ball is still there. At any rate, it was there last time I took the car. I'll check again today. This afternoon.

Plenty of people have come in and out the car in six months. Nobody has taken any notice of the ash ball. Yet still it lies there. You just have to blow on it. Flick it off with your finger. Yet nothing. It could have been struck by other objects, a gust could have blown in through the open doorÂ… nothing. It's still there. I can swear by it. Still, I'll check later. Tucked between hot and cold air. Nobody has taken any notice of it. Yet it was there. It is.

It's a niggling thing, I know. But I am attempting a study on emotional response to the recovery of significant objects. This is how it works: all sorts of things get left in the car and I don't really bother taking them back home with me, regardless of whether I might need them or fear that they might be stolen or that they could trod on. The result: my car is a cross between a wardrobe, a chest and a large rubbish bin.

The cleaning gets done every two to three months.
It might happen anywhere. I might stop the car roadside by a garbage can, I whip out a plastic bag and start tiding things up. These moments come with the following thoughts: "I am depressed and unsuccessful. I can't get my act together and I'm falling to pieces, just like my car". I start going over discussions, years back, with psychoanalyst. The point he made is that if someone takes care of the way they dress it is an outward sign of care for the self. I would flatly object "no". And he would come back with "if someone takes care of the way they dress it clearly is an outward sign of care for the self". Yet still I said "no, that's not necessarily the case". He's say "yes". I'd say "no". We were stuck. But when I stop the car roadside, whip out my plastic bag and start the tiding up, I start to think my former analyst was right. I sense that I am chronically depressed and falling to bits. That I can't get my act together. That this petrol powered trash can is a fitting representation of my mental space. Sure, this only happens occasionally and my psychoanalyst was an asshole.

I always start with the bits of paper. I spot them, they are strewn everywhere. A brief look, crumple and tuck away. Just two weeks ago I came across a months-old paper slip; I recognised immediately, I had forgotten my diary and had jotted down all my day's to-dos: bills, e-mail Giovanni, Luca, Nazione Indiana, Daniele Brolli; finish off writing for Semafintek; send CV to Kpr; 3 pm - meet Paolo Lecca; buy Linus; Bibli.
It was written 3 months ago. I read up and remember that I eventually met with Paolo Lecca and that three months on he and I are friends and are working on the picture stories idea. Daniele Brolli answered. The people at Nazione Indiana didn't. I go over details which I was unaware of at the time. I remember reading Linus and thinking about how I was curious as to who could be the translator for Doonesbury; then next edition of Linus was entirely dedicated to Enzo Baldoni. I went over what's down in the diary for the day. I dwelled on what I ought to know but didn't. Over that which as yet I didn't know. Time. All in all, quite a lot of stuff.

Then I realised that I had left at least two or three jumpers lying on the backseat; the very jumpers I couldn't find. I picked them up, had a sniff; they had a distinct car smell. There's a backpack in the boot which has been there for almost two years. I came across a cinema ticket. A short story given to me by a young bloke. A 20-euro camera left there by Filippo's sister. It happened the first time we met: she was a sweet, crazy girl. Her brother would take her out and about; he'd lose his temper with anyone making fun of her - as she snapped away and drove people nuts with the glare of her flash -, with the guys who made fun of her hairstyle. We said our goodbyes at the night bus stop. They seemed quite chuffed, but I felt guilty as the distance between me and them grew; leaving her and her absurd hairstyle; both waving farewell. The camera forgotten inside the glove box. So there you have it: I didn't give it back. I did phone Filippo, I told him about it, but eventually we both forgot about it. I didn't even have the film developed; I just kept it there, inside the glove box, with its blackened film, because she - the sister - took some great pictures - she and her rock-hard curls, she and her bubbly mind -, beautiful pictures - beautiful, so what's the point of taking them in to have them developed -, it's quite enough to have her camera in my car - here it is, here are world's most beautiful pictures - no, I'm not going to have them developed I'm not crazy you know, I can't just get up, get into my car and behave like a savage to my ash ball.

The bag's full. I bung in a Metaverso flyer. There's a pack of Rizlas. A March copy of Leggo. A brochure for my book Derrumbe. Daniele's wedding confetti bag. There's a Dress - a clothing store - brochure. The receipt for the printer. A picture of Lucia. A train ticket for Florence. A discount voucher for the aquatic circus in Cava dei Selci. A box of batteries. An empty pack of Menthos. Three old tapes by Levia Gravia - and still I cannot bring myself to get rid of them. So, maybe next time.

Then there's the reminiscing about time spent in the car. That's another one of my exercises. Driving changes the mind's tenure. A 40-50 minute drive is like twenty minutes in front of the telly. The exercise consists of going over what my thoughts were - during morning, yesterday afternoon or even just minutes ago - as I drove. So it goes: this morning I took the Appia, then the tangenziale. I was pissed off because of the traffic, I certainly went over last night's dinner with at Mario's. I was a fairly pleasant night but he had a bunch of asshole friends. That had more or less kept my mind busy for about 5-10 minutes. What then? The trip lasted more than forty minutes, what had I done with the rest of my time? What was going on inside? I am never quite capable of piecing it back together again. There's always a void, a discontinuity. A parallel couch life on which you've spent the last century blithering.

The funniest experiment however is the dare to run dry on petrol experiment. There's something to do with mystery about it. I do it on a weekly basis, and it engages a separate part of my brain. I am both the subject and the object of the experiment, as well as the petrol station attendant. I have my theories on the petrol gauge indicator. There's no way of telling which is the point of no return. I contrive an image of the gauge indicator at approximately on millimetre below the red line. It's there, suspended, hanging on to nothing, in informal space. In a space where - so you're told - you shouldn't be able to drive anymore, yet you do. Even with the indicator wagging. Nobody dares mention that; it would be dangerous. They would rather feel that the end of the world is nigh, such you do the fretting and forget what lies in-between. Instead there you are, still moving on, without a care in the world, no money, no need for anyone to shove a petrol pump in your car. How much longer? How long? And what happens in the minutes or seconds ahead of everything grinding to a halt? Something important. That I know. I've been doing this drive in reserve thing for years. I do it during my holidays too. On the motorway, clueless as to when the next petrol station is coming up. I just close my eyes and see the petrol indicator at limit point, thinking that perhaps it can be pushed a few more millimetres. I see it well. I go over it time and time again. It just comes to me: click, there's the indicator.

To this day, I have only been left stranded once. It happened last year, in San Lorenzo, right by the Department of Psychology. What a coincidence. I just left the car there. I pushed it along to an empty parking space. It was Saturday morning. August. There weren't many people about. The closest petrol station was about half a kilometre away. I hadn't made it this time. The car choked a couple of times, came to a halt, but the indicator was nowhere near as low as it had been on other occasions. So that's when I got it: there's a point beyond which the indicator just can't go. You're sucking away at what's left of the petrol, but the indicator wouldn't be able to tell you. It made sense, but the thought had never crossed my mind. I had driven in no-man's-land for several kilometres. Then, click, the car stopped. I got out of the car with still no bearings as to where I was. I was to walk all the way to the petrol station. But before I even knew it I found myself standing in front of my former university department. Not many people around on a Saturday morning. I sat on the railing thinking I might catch up with someone I knew. I was preparing my answer to the question "what's up?". I was going to say something along the lines of: "I'm working on strategy writing".

There was nothing that required doing that morning. It was Saturday. I was out on a trip to nick something off the shelves at Feltrinelli. The entrance to the department was deserted. There I was, with this image in my head, this petrol gauge indicator. I was going over the exact moment at which the car started chugging, eventually coming to a complete stop. I hadn't initially thought it could be the petrol, instead, click, the car stopped. I waited a few seconds and then tried the ignition again but still nothing. It made a funny noise. Nothing I'd ever heard before.

I was sitting there in front of the psychology department, yet I was exactly in the time and place where the gauge won't show anything anymore. Only after a while - who knows how long - that turned up. I didn't recognise her straight off. Initially I thought: "What's wrong with her?". She was one arm short. I could see that her armless joint still bore signs of scar, red, with stitches on it. Her entire body was out of kilter. She realised I was looking at her, she smiled and pirouetted. What a nightmare. "Where is the police?" I thought. Who know why. She stares me straight in the eyes: "Look! Go on, look!". I think I managed to keep a straight face, gripped - as I was - between self-hatred and the fear of showing fear.

That's when I recognised her. It was a woman whom I had attended lectures with; I don't remember which year it was; the Carli lectures, that's who I did my final year thesis with. That would have been 5 or 6 years earlier. I remember: she used to go around with her arm bandaged and I had wondered what was wrong. When she walked trough a crowd she would always looked pissed off at people not paying any attention to her arm. And now it had taken off.

She fixed her gaze on the department's entrance hall and her mouth spewed extreme, dramatic - probably illegal - insults the way of the doctors. She was angry with the doctors and the psychiatrists. She said they were criminals. That they had killed her. Yet what she said was so distant from what my conscious mind understood that I didn't even listen; in a sense that spared me having rid my mind of such thoughts. Eventually she walked off, the same way that she had turned up. From a distance. I did some more waiting and then set off towards the petrol station. As walked along I looked into every car for a glimpse of what lay inside. A lucky charm, an exercise book, a jumper, sometimes nothing. That was even more telling.

I work, I stroll along, I pause, I get into the car, I eat, make love, muck about, fight, feel sick, feel good, light up a cigarette, I think I'll go to the movies one of these days, I meet people, I turn around when called by name, I have a couple of ideas for the future, watch telly, open the door. And then, suddenly, click. I'm out of petrol.
Note
Currently gone missing somewhere in Latin America, Claudio Morici is a well-known novelist and writer on other-dimensional places of the psyche and of the physical world. His works include: Matti slegati ("Madmen Cut Loose") (Stampa Alternativa, 2003), Derrumbe, il fungo ha mangiato me ("Derrumbe, The Mushroom Had Me") (Valter Casini, 2004), Teoria e tecnica dell'artista di merda ("Theory and Techniques of a Shitty Artist") (Valter Casini, 2004), Actarus. La vera storia di un pilota di robot ("Actarus the True Life Story of Robot Pilot") (Meridiano Zero, 2007).

The present short story is one of five picture stories in search of a publisher. Each short story has been published separately by online and print magazines. La mia macchina was also featured by FaM. This version is an edited version of that publication.