Friday, August 20, 2010

Cars aren't human, but ...

I know it's a bad habit to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, but I have always done so with my cars. It's my version of placating the gods, I suppose. If I'm in the car I have to get someplace on time (I seldom drive recreationally), so like my ancestors of millennia ago I want to smooth out any potential obstacles. Said ancestors probably sacrificed animals; I pat my car lovingly on the dash and murmur words of encouragement.

(Strictly speaking, treating the car like a pet is not "anthropomorphizing" it, but I don't know enough Greek or English to be able to figure out what the word is for attributing bestial characteristics to inanimate objects. I haven't been curious enough to see if English possesses a Greek-derived root analogous to "anthropo-," only denoting "animal" instead of "human." But I digress.)

Now my brain is more than usually agitated because I'm in the unusual position of having two cars, the one I've been driving forever and a new one intended to replace it. Suddenly "anthropomorphism" is the correct term for my feelings: the old car is now an elderly relative -- oh, let's not beat around the bush: it has become Mom -- and the other car is my newborn baby. Since there's only room in the garage for one of them, everyone with a normal brain assumes that leaving the old car outside is a no-brainer (ahem). But if you think of the old car as Mom, that means you're shoving your mother out the door to brave the elements.

You can argue that your mother is far better able to take care of herself than your baby is, but that's where the analogy starts to fall apart. The new car, after all, has not faced the corrosive impact of years of weather. Its paint is unscratched, its hoses still flexible, its metals not yet oxidized: in short, its armor is whole and strong. As such, the new car is less like a baby and more like a sturdy young man. In that light, it behooves Sonny to brave the elements rather than Mom: she should enjoy the time she has left protected from Nature's wrath.

At this point the analogy collapses entirely, for who would not only consign Mom to the wind and rain, but also send her away for good as a trade-in or a donation? Mom's making some funny noises and the actuarial tables say she's lucky to have lasted this long, so it's time to kiss her goodbye while she can still leave the house under her own power -- you're not going to win the "Child of the Year" trophy that way.

In short, it's a dumb analogy.

And yet ... I'm still anthropomorphizing the cars.

If it makes you feel any better as dew collects on your every exposed surface, Mom, the guilt is eating me alive.

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