The first rule of Kodak Moments is that they are most powerful when they are allowed to unfold spontaneously.
When you press the issue, the magic always seems to disappear, even before you break out the Instamatic.
I should have realized this when I tried to concoct a Kodak Moment during the Advent season last month.
The plan was to replicate those sweet, tender scenes we see in TV commercials during the holidays where the adoring husband surprises his loving wife by leading her out to the driveway to find a brand new car complete with a gigantic red bow affixed to the roof.
I probably should have hired a Hollywood screenwriter and a video production company because things didn’t really go as planned when I attempted to catch my wife off guard.
The scenario began several months ago when Wendy started dropping subtle hints she had grown tired of piloting her 2007 Dodge Caravan around town. You know, hushed messages such as, “That van is a death trap!” And, “If we don’t unload that heap, your wife and kids are going to get left on the side of the road and our rotting corpses will get picked over by vultures!” And, “It’s making strange noises and alien space monkeys could fly out from under the hood the next time I crank it up!”
My personal transportation policy dictates that when I buy a new car I keep driving it until the monthly cost of repairing the thing surpasses the amount of a new car note, or until the rims snap off – whichever comes first.
I just about had her convinced that the smart-money thing to do was to hang on to the Dodge, but that’s about the time my beloved’s good financial sense began to be consumed by that most vile, wicked and uncontainable psychological complex: new car fever.
Attempting to formulate some kind of antidote against this insidious bug, I shared favorite family memories of the Caravan, like the way my son used to hustle Clone Warrior-style out of the rear hatch when his mom automatically raised the door and the years of hauling my daughter to dance lessons in her cute little recital costumes.
That held off the viscous virus long enough for us to strike a compromise by agreeing to wait awhile and then make a move some time in 2016.
But the new car fever had other plans. Like any good toxic virus worth its place in the Petri Dish, the fever lurked just beneath the surface, waiting to blow up when the time was right.
The prime time to attack came suddenly and forcefully when I made an innocent fact-finding excursion to a well established car dealership south of Baton Rouge known for taking tens of thousands of your dollars and giving you a new ride and a complimentary pack of “country sausage” in return.
Ordinarily, I’d rather take a beating with a ball peen hammer than darken the showroom floor of a car dealership. I’m still traumatized by the last car-buying experience I had when the salesman made me threaten bodily harm to get my driver’s license back and then disappeared into the ether with my old green Pontiac I was planning to trade in.
After I made the mistake of handing over the keys “just to get it checked out by the used car manager,” I never laid eyes on that Grand Am again. I still had some 8-track tapes and a half-eaten box of jujubes in the glove compartment.
Though this most recent experience wasn’t as heinous as the last one, the outcome was the same. I left there much lighter in the wallet than when I arrived.
Turned out the salesman dispatched to accost me as I entered the lot happened to be a former high school classmate. After giving me an end-of-the-year, good-old-boy, we’re-losing-a-ton-of-money-on-this, don’t-know-how-we-stay-in-business “deal of a lifetime,” he actually volunteered to join in on the plan to deliver my wife’s brand new Nissan Rogue, bow and all, straight to the house that very evening – an early Christmas surprise.
We decided I would drive him to the house in the Rogue, switch out all of the piles of useless junk from her old van to the new car – this could take a while – then he would take the Caravan back to the dealership on trade.
Things were going rather smoothly until I snuck around the driver’s side of the van, pulled on the door handle and set off the alarm that started blaring at several hundred decibels.
Like a shot, Wendy came storming out of the house in full-on mama grizzly mode, fists balled, nostrils flaring, eyes angry, neck veins pulsing, as the plan went up in flames. I was busted. But once she saw me still clinging to the door handle, stunned and wide-eyed like a deer in the headlights, and saw those new wheels in the driveway, she started weeping tears of joy. I even got a big hug out of the deal, which was just a little better than the country sausage.
In any event, as usual I took the opportunity that evening to deliver another in-depth, dance-version lecture to the kids about wise financial management, pointing out that mostly you lead with your head but sometimes you lead with your heart. And I got to hold their mother up as a model of love, patience and kindness, an example of one who sacrifices so much for the sake of her family, who finds happiness within, lives a contented, joyful, grateful life and deserves more than I could ever buy her.
Later that night, after all the excitement abated, I did the thing I remembered doing the last time I bought a new car – tossed and turned all night long. I counted sheep, ran through the lyrics to all the Lynyrd Skynyrd songs I know, recited the preamble to the Constitution set to the Schoolhouse Rock melody, but nothing could keep those dollar signs from sapping my slumber.
Kodak Moments are a special treat, but no one ever said they were free.