Hot wheels, hot mess

Hot wheels, hot mess


SITTING in a corporate presentation recently we were told that our brains are a bit like houses. I lost track of the metaphor about half-way through, but it was something to do with our brains having different “rooms”, representing different personality or character traits, and how those rooms can be tidy or cluttered; and that some houses might be dishevelled on the outside but pristine inside while others are immaculate outside but look like bomb sites internally.

I was still thinking through what all this meant, and why the “values” aspect of our personalities had been superimposed on a floor plan where the toilet was (it’s debatable whether it’s better to have your values in the toilet than to have your hopes and dreams there), as I opened the door of a girlfriend’s car and a shower of food wrappers and an old sneaker fell out.

I hadn’t noticed this before, but the inside of her car is a tip. It’s landfill on wheels; a mobile garbage dump. On the outside it’s gorgeous, always clean – sparkling, even – with no hint of the chaos within. Open the door and it’s like stepping into the “before” scene in a documentary about hoarders. When the zombie apocalypse comes I think she could survive off some of the stuff in there for days, easily.

Outwardly my friend is like the outside of her car: immaculately groomed, serene, poised, polished, and looks spectacular. But I’ve known her for a long time and I know what’s going on. Her life is a bit of a disaster, but not in any majorly threatening or self-destructive way. It’s just that she’s always got a million things happening at once: she has started but not finished umpteen online university courses; has lived in five houses in the past eight years; has had three “he’s-the-one” partners since her divorce; and recently narrowly dodged jail for unpaid speeding fines followed by a close call with a contempt of court charge for a comment about the magistrate’s hair colour.

So as I say, nothing actually life-threatening, just deeply entropic and frequently exhausting to be near. Yet, she is brilliant company and I love her dearly and couldn’t possibly be without her.

Picking up the rubbish from the ground in the carpark made me wonder what the inside of my car says about me. When she dropped me off, I rushed to the garage to check – the car I drive daily, not the others. There was nothing inside it at all. Not a single thing, save for the cord from a phone charger plugged into the 12v power outlet, and the electric garage-door opener in the side pocket. I checked the boot: there was a luggage net, and a small bottle of engine oil stashed in one of the compartments, otherwise it was empty.

Does that say as much about me and my life as my friend’s car says about her and hers, or is the suggestion of any connection at all simply ridiculous? I’ve read that the state of the inside of our car is as significant a pointer to psychological wellbeing as the state of our wardrobe(s) and bathroom.

‘If she ever has a major accident, emergency services are going to turn up to what will look like an explosion in a recycling facility.’

But there’s a practical element to it as well. When she stops quickly those tennis rackets and the rollerblade boot are going to keep going, and could end up in the front with her – and if she’s lucky they won’t smack her unconscious on their way there. When she stops really quickly the old iron is going to make a foray towards the windscreen, unless she’s lucky and it’s stopped when its cord gets snagged on the fishing tackle box. If she ever has a major accident, emergency services are going to turn up to what will look like an explosion in a recycling facility.

I don’t know if a dirty or a messy car betrays a messed-up personal life, but I do know it can be uncomfortable for passengers, and potentially dangerous and embarrassing. Those are as good reasons as any for her to clean up her act. 

I’ll have a quiet word with her next time she’s driving me somewhere, and just hope there is nothing she can improvise as a weapon anywhere close to hand.