I used to drive a 1964 Dodge. It looked a lot like the one pictured here, with a few key differences: 1) It was black with a white stripe along the side; 2) It wasn’t this exact model, but this was as close as I could find; 3) It was not in anything like the kind of condition you see in this picture – it had racked up a ton of miles before I ever laid eyes on it. But other than that, it was a dead ringer.
My Dodge was referred to in certain circles as E.P. Let me give you that part of the story right away, because everything else I’m writing about today starts with that. Before the Dodge came along, I drove an old, rusty, oil-guzzling 1961 Plymouth Valiant, which my buddies dubbed The Green Ghost, so when the Dodge came along, I was asked repeatedly what its nickname was. I came up with the following story: “When we give our cars nicknames like Greased Lightning or The Streak, we’re dealing in euphemisms, and I think we all know what these terms are euphemisms for. So in the spirit of avoiding euphemisms, I’m just going to come right out and refer to my car as The Erect Penis.”
Well, even my cooler-than-thou buddies couldn’t quite warm up to using that phrase in day-to-day conversation, so we compromised and referred to it as E.P. Hey, we were all 18 and 19 years old. I’ve graduated to far more refined nicknames since then. I should also point out that this was a few years before the movie “ET” came out, so I should really be suing Spielberg for a cut, IMHO.
I drove that car for several years before trading up to a 1972 Plymouth Valiant (my whole family always drove old Chrysler products because my dad is, well, an old Chrysler product himself and had a garage full of Chrysler parts). The one lasting legacy that E.P. has left for us is its starring role in the movie “E.P.” which is what I want to devote the remainder of this post to describing.
One of the buddies I referred to earlier was Ed, who went on to become my brother-in-law and is now my ex-brother-in-law, though our families are still in regular contact. Ed was fond of making films with his super 8mm silent camera, and he and I collaborated on several such efforts. The script for “E.P.” was written by me, starred me, and was directed and shot by Ed. It was inspired in no small part by the car’s nickname. In it, I play a man who is in love with his car and who, in fact, has an affair with his car. It starts out innocently enough, with one scene, shot at a Speedway station on 8 Mile Road, showing me pumping gas and getting into it just a little more than one might consider prudent or tasteful. This progresses to a scene in which I dive into the car, caressing the steering wheel and seat covers and, as my passion heightens, I pull a little square piece of foil from my pocket, unwrap a condom, and place it over the cigarette lighter. Because you can’t be too safe.
The most ambitious scene is the legendary bedroom scene: I enter the house and look around, making sure no one is home. Satisfied that I am alone, I reach into the cupboard in the hallway and take out a jar of Vaseline, which the camera zooms in on. I saunter into the bedroom and close the door. The camera follows after a moment and opens the door, showing me sitting on the edge of the bed. I reach into the Vaseline jar and pull out a generous glob of the stuff. I reach down to the floor next to the bed with my other hand and pull up a rusty tire iron, which I proceed to grease up with the Vaseline. The camera then pans slightly to show that I have a bumper jack in front of me. I insert the tire iron into the jack and proceed to, well, jack it up. When it reaches the very top, I flick the release lever and the jack bobs quickly back down to the floor. I then lean back, somewhat sated, reach down next to the bed and pull up a quart can of Quaker State 10W30 motor oil, which I proceed to drink in one long swig, rubbing the oil into my beard for good measure. I should mention that the “oil” was in fact maple syrup, and I am happy to report that we did that whole scene in one shot and in one take, because believe me, drinking a quart of maple syrup is only marginally preferable to drinking a quart of motor oil!
But continuing with the plot – the next time I go outside, E.P. has disappeared! I begin a frantic search of the city, and we used this as an excuse to work in shots of me running around some of our favorite Detroit locations, from the Attic Theater to the Detroit Repertory Theater to the Renaissance Center. We also have a touching scene of me standing on the bank of the Detroit River, kissing my car keys goodbye, and casting them into the river. In the end, E.P. and I are reunited, and that’s that. I state that abruptly because the film ends just that abruptly. I think we were out of time, energy, and ideas at that point.
I haven’t seen “E.P.” in many years now. I’m told that Ed has gotten it transferred to video, so it presumably still exists in some form, and I suppose I should get a copy of it one day. Or maybe I should go the other way and make sure I destroy every copy; I vacillate on that point. Even though it is a motion picture, I think of it as a snapshot of a moment in our lives – two creative, energetic, but terribly nerdy guys in their late teens-early 20s trying to have a bit of fun. Looking back, it becomes clear to me that half my motivation in writing it the way I did was seeing if I could shock Ed. Fortunately for both of us, that was tempered by the fact that we both wanted to make something we could show to our friends and families. In the end, it stands as something that could only have come from that moment in our lives, and I hope this chronicle offers my readers a little insight into where (and who) I’ve been.