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The SLAM Syndrome

Opening the car door for your date is a nice little courtesy that I've always tried to observe. There's no doubt that it demonstrates chivalry, but I believe the practice developed in response to more pragmatic needs. Let me explain.

It was towards the middle of December two years ago and Melissa's company was having its annual Christmas party. I had been going out with Melissa for something like three months and, although I hadn't realized it, in all that time she had never opened her own car door while I was with her.

I picked her up after work and we went to get supplies for the party. It would seem logical to me that any store that carries root beer extract should carry dry ice, but that's not the case. By the time we had discovered this little-known but handy fact, then had driven halfway home and remembered to go back for the sugar, we were running a little late. We both still had to change clothes, so as I pulled up to Melissa's apartment she told me not to bother to come around and let her out of the car. We kissed goodbye (quickly) and she jumped out of the car. At that moment I realized why men open car doors for their dates. It's not to save the young lady the exertion of opening the door, but to save the car the strain of her closing it.

Kerblam! The impact of the door's closing changed the station on my radio.

The Senseless Auto Mangling (SLAM) Syndrome isn't limited to just girlfriends. Studies have shown that ninety-three percent of the population of the United States believes that a force of something less than the takeoff thrust of a Boeing 747 is sufficient to safely latch a car door. And the other seven percent? I have reason to believe that they ride with me when we go out for milk shakes after softball practice.

I'm like most people in that I believe that car door slamming is the root of most evils in the nation today. I don't have any statistics to quote, but I would bet that an in-depth study into the backgrounds of violent criminals, repeat offenders and general slime balls would reveal that they come from a SLAM syndrome background. Anyone who would slam a car door would put things on top of a car while they unlock the door. Anyone who would set things on their car would open their door into the car parked next to them. It doesn't take a degree in Boolean Algebra to see what that could lead to.

I went home and changed clothes and hurried back to pick up Melissa. She was already waiting for me out on the sidewalk and looking absolutely stunning--which may have contributed to my slow reaction to what followed.

Before I could get the engine shut off and get around to open the door, she was already in.

Barely too late I remembered. "Don't slam the door please."

Kerblam! The glass on my door bulged visibly and the needle on the tach bounced up to three thousand and back.

She settled into her seat and turned toward me. "Pardon me?"

"The door. Please don't slam it."


The party was nice enough, but in retrospect, I should have realized that something was wrong. There was enough going on that I didn't really notice that she didn't say a word directly to me all evening or that she introduced me by the wrong name three times. But you would think I'd have gotten suspicious when she accidentally spilled hot coffee in my lap, and no one at our table was even drinking coffee.

On the way home, I finally noticed the arctic silence. I immediately realized the sensitivity of the situation and chose my words carefully to avoid any unnecessary unpleasantness in the relationship.

"All right, who turpentined your toilet paper?"

No response.

"I'm sorry, Honey. What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Melissa continued her careful study of a spot on the windshield.

"Come on. What's bothering you?"

"Nothing's wrong."

Several silent stoplights later she blurted out "How come you don't love me anymore?"

"Say what?"

"You love your car more than you love me."

"What are you talking about?"

"I didn't hurt your damn door."

Now we finally get to the root of the problem.

"Well, Baby Doll, I know. It's just that my car's not an AMC Javelin, you know."

"Now what are you talking about?"

"It's just that my car isn't a piece of junk. It doesn't look like a wreck, it's in good mechanical condition. There's no need to slam the door to make it close."

"I just don't see what the big deal is. It's not like I hurt your car."

There are times in every man's life when the most marvelous analogies occur to him at the most unfortunate times.

"Well, maybe you didn't. But I think the issue here is something bigger. Let's say I got really upset with you and backhanded you and made your nose bleed. Are you saying that it doesn't matter because once your nose heals up there isn't any damage done?"

As usual, we were on exactly on the same wavelength.

"So you're going to backhand me for slamming your door, is that what you're saying?"

"What>? No! I was merely making the point that the physical damage that may occur isn't the issue but the fact that the action indicates an attitude that's harmful."

"Now you're comparing apples and horses. A car's not a living thing."

I carefully calculated my next move like an IROC driver skillfully choosing the line for his next corner. She was glaring at me, which meant that she was still on the Mother Warned Me About You parkway and had probably already passed the exit to I'm Going To Cry Until You Apologize. If I moved quickly and cautiously there was still a chance I could sideline her before the Don't Touch Me, Slime Bait city limits. Or she could just take the commuter express to that great dreaded grand daddy of debating parking lots: Well, Whatever.

"Well, now, think about it a minute," I reasoned. "A car is a lot like a living thing. Here you have two tons of crafted steel in your driveway, and when you turn a key it all comes to life. It breathes, it moves, it reacts to input, it even gets energy from chemical reactions, just like a living thing."

"But it doesn't have feelings."

I had come too far to give in. For a brief moment I did consider apologizing and forgetting the whole thing. Then I happened to glance at the vacuum gauge and was sure I detected a pulse. It was as though my helpless car was pleading that I protect her frail frame from door slammers and the like.

"Well, now, there's no way to really tell that for sure. It gives feedback like it has feelings. It tells me when I'm revving the engine too high or taking a turn too hard or working it too hard in a particular gear. It lets me know when it needs fuel or gets hot. And it does have a personality. Anyone who has ever seen a car scream its defiance down the backstretch or limp into the pits or playfully turn doughnuts or rumble its cocky idle at a stoplight can vouch for that."

I was getting so wound up that I hadn't noticed that the spot on the windshield had once again captured Melissa's attention. "As a matter of fact, it's the composite of literally thousands of personalities. It's the product of the personalities of the designers and the engineers and the assembly workers and the decision-making auto executives. And let's not forget the American car-buying public who over the years have constituted the market and thereby determined its characteristics." I thought I could hear America the Beautiful being hummed softly in the background. "It's the product of the dreams of many men and the sweat of many more."

I thought I was waxing absolutely eloquent. She obviously agreed. "Yeah, well, whatever."


Four months later I received Melissa's wedding announcement in the mail. I think it was sent more in spite than anything, but I went to the wedding. I even helped decorate the car.

It was an AMC Javelin.

Frank Leany

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