Ghosts in the Machine: ex-girlfriends' cars

by phil on Thursday Feb 10, 2005 2:06 PM

In archaeology theory, there is a discussion of the uncanny. Over in Computer Science we refer to it as "ghosts in the machine." I thought I'd mention this ghost in the machine that I've been picking up on, and it relates to materiality and how we extend ourselves through objects.

Ex-girlfriends' cars. I had a girlfriend in High School that had a beat-up egg-yellow VW Bug. Her arrival would always be preceded by this yellowish blur in my window combined with the clunkity-clunk of her car. She's taller than me, so she'd hunch at the wheel, looking like an over-sized drawing in a kid's book. Often, she would wear yellow, and she dyed her hair blond.

She'd park her car, alight from it, then stroll by my same window, and knock on my sliding door. She and I would do our thing, have our golden moments, and off she'd ship herself in her yellow bug. clankity clank, off she'd go. While I was dating this girl, in a way I was dating this car. The opening and closing of my memories with her don't involve her so much as they do her car, this second skin of a vehicle. And openings and closings are very important. Her arrival in the car became the image of anticipation. Her exit in the car became the image of longing.

Normally, you get over a girlfriend, and you stop seeing her. But with this yellow bug, it now exists for me everywhere. I see a yellow bug at least once every couple months, and all the memories of youthful idyll come flooding back. I even lean bit and peer inside the car, with the faint hope that maybe she's there.

The next girl I was with had a modern pearl-colored VW. Same deal. The girl after that: cobalt blue Honda civic. Same deal. The girls and the cars are always connected together, driving down my memory lanes. All three of them have a special, unique communion with their car. And their femme-car roles fit into the poetic narratives that live and replay in my mind.

But because the cars are mass-produced, there are millions of models in circulation. I'm frequently reminded of my past in just day-to-day driving. The second skins of these girls float all around me, giving me a ghostly shiver. It's spooky, but I love it.


Linda said on April 22, 2005 1:35 PM:


I'm writing from the states to tell you about a dream I had about a yellow VW bug last night, specifically, one belonging to my roommate in law school. We met when we attended law school in New Orleans, Louisiana. I drove a Honda Accord & she drove a yellow bug. I had a dream last night that my car had some front end damage so I took it to a shop where the damage was to be hammered out & the car repainted. When I got it back, it was a yellow bug, & I was delighted!

She lives in the state of Massachsetts now, while I live in the state of Washington, but we still travel to see each other, often back in New Orleans, a city we both love & to which we hope to return permanently someday. I e-mailed her this morning about my dream, which had the effect of transporting me back to New Orleans, & I included the photo of the yellow bug, along with your musings about "ghosts in machines." She wrote me back, & seeing her bug again (she's since sold it) had the same effect on her.

Serendipity, perhaps...but I thought you'd appreciate the story and the continuation of a theme.

By the way, we both studied abroad at Trinity College & loved it, too. I was very intrigued by the theory of "ghosts in the machine" as applied to archaeology, one of my (non-professional) interests. The world is a web of invisible intersections & connections on all sorts of levels, isn't it? Surprising how often we find, when we bother to ask, how many of those intersections and connections we really share, most ofen in hindsight. Also by the way, I was born in London on a now-defunct American Air Force base.

Good day to you! You've brightened the day for two people half a world away by the simple act of posting a photo of a yellow VW bug along with thoughts about "ghosts."

Linda Acosta
Seattle, Washington

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