When Julia Child Bought A Car From Groucho Marx

by Maureen Mancini Amaturo

“I keep leaving, but I never go anywhere.” Groucho’s car wouldn’t start again, so he phoned one of his brothers to drive him to work. “And come straight here. No monkey business. This ain’t a day at the races, you know. I’ve gotta get to work.” When he heard several quick beeps twenty minutes later, he knew Harpo was outside. He grabbed his cigar, ran to the car, and jumped over the door of the convertible instead of opening it. “Just as soon as I have a pretty penny, or a homely penny for that matter, I’m investing in a nice, used, four-cylinder Kia.”

Harpo whistled then beeped twice.

“Need you ask? Of course, with my employee discount. Now step on it. I heard there’s a rich lady coming in to look at a car today, and I need the sale.” Harpo beeped three times and sped away. Groucho’s hat flew off somewhere on the highway. “I was gonna trade that hat for dinner tonight. Now, all I’ll have is a night cap.”

When they pulled up to the lot, Groucho jumped out, and Harpo drove on beeping all the way. Mr. Flywheel, the dealership’s manager, approached Groucho. “Who’s making all that infernal noise?”

Groucho removed his cigar. “What noise? Where’s the coffee?” Groucho, in his crouched gait, hurried to the employee lounge.

He relaxed there with his feet on the table, glancing across the showroom with his eye on the entrance until he saw a tall, matronly woman walk through the double glass doors. “My meal ticket!” He grabbed a pound cake that was beside the coffee urn and ran from the lounge, darting through the showroom cars, in and out of other customers and staff as if running for the thirty-yard line. “Groucho J. Marx at your service. Actually, I don’t have a middle name, but I knew a guy named Jay once, and he did all right for himself. Who are you? How much money you got? Answer the second question first.”

“Hello, I’m Julia Child,” the woman said.

“Did you say something or did someone just yodel?” Groucho walked a fast lap around her.

“I said my name is Julia.”

“How much is that in American dollars?” Groucho’s eyebrows shot up. “So, you’re the J. I knew there wasn’t a J in my name. Julia does start with J, doesn’t it? Well, it used to. Everyone’s so fickle these days. If you’re the fickle type, we can always change your name to Minnie. Or we can change your name to mine.” Groucho squeezed the pound cake against his chest and made circles on the floor with the toe of his shoe. “Of course, you’d have to change your driver’s license, but what’s a little inconvenience when love is on the line. And down the road, when we have five or six children of our own, we can rotate their names…or not name them at all. Why should we have all the fun? But what’s in a name? East will always be east, and west will always be west, and I’ll always love you until something better comes along.” He rested his head against her shoulder.

Julia pushed him away. “Are you my salesman?”

“I’ll be anything you want me to be, Toots.” Groucho dropped to one knee. “Can’t you see what I’m trying to tell you? I love you.” He handed her the pound cake.

“That’s rather a clever sales approach, I must say.”

“Say? Say? You’re all talk. Talk will get you nowhere. I’m a man of action. How much can I get you to spend? Will you be driving long distances or only on Sundays? Can you parallel park? Do you have a garage? How do you feel about the color blue? Do you need a big trunk?” Groucho scooted around the woman and looked at her behind. “Should have checked here first. Never mind the trunk.” He came around the other side of her until they were face to face. “Hey, can you pipe down and let me get a word in edgewise?”

“My good man–”

Groucho removed his cigar from his mouth. “I am not your good man. Although I could be if you play your cards right. Do you play cards? I’m a Pinochle whiz myself. Used to play Steal the Old Man’s Bundle, but there was nothing in it worth having, just a couple of rags and a broken comb so I went back to Pinochle.” He pointed to a car across the showroom. “Say, there’s a nice little number you might like.” He rested his head on her arm. “You’re a nice little number yourself.” Groucho rolled his eyes and raised his brows up and down. He led her to one of the new models. “Like you, this car can be had relatively cheap.” He tried to put his arm around her shoulders. Because of her height, he couldn’t reach.

Julia said, “Being tall is an advantage, especially in business. People will always remember you. And if you’re in a crowd, you’ll always have some clean air to breathe.”

“With that bit of useless information out of the way, let’s focus on the car, shall we? This fine little sedan has an automatic transmission, rides smooth as sour cream, Electronic Stability Control, as upright as a seven-layer cake. And six air bags–with you inside make that seven–101 Cubic Feet of Passenger Room, enough to fit a roast pig, three roast pigs, if you’re hungry enough. And the engine? A 2.0L 4-Cylinder Engine with 147 horsepower–with you inside, make that 148.”

“You’ve got me in a stew. Sour cream, a layer cake, roast pig–I don’t know what to make of it.”

“Make me an offer.”

“Well, I do like the car.” Julia opened the door. “May I sit in it to see how it feels?”

“You can sit on it if you want. I’ll get you a ladder or would you rather just hop up.” Groucho took the pound cake back. “Try your luck.”

Julia lowered herself into the driver’s seat. She trilled in delight. “Why I feel as if I’m sitting in a cassoulet.” She examined all the buttons and controls, ran her hand along the dashboard, looked over her shoulder to evaluate the visibility. “Why this is absolutely peachy. May we take a test drive?”

“You’re already testing my patience. Might as well test the car.” Groucho called to an associate to have the car brought outside. They buckled in and hit the road.

Groucho clamped tightly on his cigar. “You didn’t happen to notice any speed limit signs, did you? You’re really cookin’.”

Julia trilled again.

“Did you swallow a piccolo by any chance?” Grouch pressed one hand on the center console and his other against the dashboard.

“Cooking,” Julia said, “is one of my passions, you know. And I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes, I even put it in the food.”

Groucho did a double take. “I see your game. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Well that won’t work with me. I lost my heart thirty years ago to a tattooed hula dancer with four-way hips and a mole on her left elbow. So, if you’re trying to butter me up for a better price, it won’t work. Unless you throw in the wine.”

Julia laughed.

Groucho cringed. “Your mother wasn’t a church organ, was she?”

“You’re a strange egg.” Julia made a quick right turn, and Groucho nearly dropped his cigar. She said, “I was thirty-two when I started cooking. Up until then, I just ate. Do you like to eat?”

“When I can afford it. And if I don’t sell you this car, I may never eat again.”

She headed back toward the dealership. “People who love to eat are always the best people.”

“You got me there, Sister. Now, get me back to the car lot in one piece, and there’ll be a bonus in it for you.”

Julia and Groucho arrived safely and went to his office. She said, “I’ll take it.”

“You won’t be sorry. I can see it now. You standing in your driveway in front of your new car…but I can’t see the car.”

Grabbing her purse, Julia said, “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. I’m going to ignore you.”

“Most people ignore me. Frankly, I’ve been wondering when you were going to get around to it.”

They went over details and price. She looked over the brochure and selected her color. “I’d like the salmon.”

“Somehow, I knew you were going to say that.” Groucho drew up the papers, and they sealed the deal.

“My bonus. You said if I got you back here safely, there would be a bonus in it for me. I’m beginning to think you are full of beans.”

“That couldn’t be further from the truth.” Groucho rested the back of his hand against his forehead. “I haven’t eaten in three days.” He put his cigar in his mouth and walked one lap around her chair. “From the looks of things, you’re not counting calories. Five dollars says you’re not dieting. Here.” Groucho handed her the pound cake. “Your bonus. Wear it in good health.”

Julia trilled again. “Diet? I should say not. The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”

“If you would only have that harmonica removed from your gullet, I could really go for a dame like you.” He raised his brows up and down.

Gathering her purse and paperwork, Julia asked, “When will the car be ready? What day should I come back? You didn’t say.”

“No, I didn’t say. And I’m not going to say. Why should I tell you? That’s the problem with society today. No one can keep a secret.”

“I hardly think this is a secret. I just wrote you a check, a rather large one,” Julia said.

“You’re a rather large one yourself.” Groucho ran around the desk, sat on her lap, and threw his legs over the side of her chair. He leaned back and puffed on his cigar. “If the check don’t bounce, you can come back 10am on Thursday. If it does bounce, it’ll be a ground rule double, and I will have gotten to second base, which is more than I can say I’ve accomplished here.”

Julia pushed him away and stood. “Mr. Marx, I–”

“Please, call me Groucho. We’ve been through so much together. And everyone else calls me Groucho. Remember, I was too poor to have a middle name. We established that earlier, didn’t we? In either case, why let a perfectly good name go to waste?” Groucho put his hands on Julia’s shoulders and guided her to sit down. He jumped on her lap again. “I’d like to name our first son after your father, if you think that will make him like me better.”

Julia pushed Groucho away again and stood. “Mr. Marx, I mean Groucho, this certainly has been quite a meeting. It’s been more than that, really. It’s been quite…something. I must be going, and I’ll see you on Thursday.”

“And after all I’ve done for you.” Groucho grabbed the pound cake and held it with both arms. “Going beyond the call of duty. Trying to be more than the average salesman.”

“You certainly are not the average car salesman. You’re right, my good man.”

“There you go again. I am not your good man. But I could be with little encouragement and another check.”

“I meant you’ve certainly taken this meeting to a new level. It was more than a meeting. It was an event, you know,” Julia said.

“I didn’t know. An event? Like a party? Was I there? I must have had one too many because I don’t remember how I got home. Did I make it home? Whatever became of me?” Groucho put the pound cake on the desk.

“You can call it a party, if you wish.” Julia took the pound cake. “I always say a party without a cake is just a meeting. But since we had a cake…you see what I mean.”

Groucho took his glasses off and wiped the lenses before putting them back on. He leaned in just inches from Julia’s face. “I still don’t see.” He dropped to one knee. “Before you go, there’s just one thing, whaddya say we go halfsies on the pound cake?”

“Keep it. I have a delicious pound cake recipe, and I can whip one up any time. “See you Thursday at ten. Good-bye.”

“Not good-bye, adieu. And ahh do hope you’ll bring one of your pound cakes with you next time. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to run down the highway to look for my hat.” Groucho put his cigar in his mouth and ran from the room.

Julia shook her head. “Thursday should be a whole buffet of the unexpected.” She walked to her wine-colored 2004 Chevy in the customer lot excited that she would soon be rid of it. On the way home, Julia thought the poor man. I should have told him I am married.

She was not anxious to return home and couldn’t stop thinking about Groucho. Such an amusing man, quite interesting. He’s so…different. Driving in silence for miles, biting her lip, Julia mulled over an idea. In a moment of spontaneity, she left a message for her husband, Paul. “I won’t be home for dinner. I’ve decided to explore the new market that opened in Spring Hill. I may not be back to Cambridge until this evening.” She needed time to think. While driving, she compared Groucho to Paul. They were the same height, neither of them close to her 6′ 2″ stature, but the similarity ended there. “Paul is quiet. Groucho, I must say, is a…a stew, a bubbling stew, so many different elements coming together in a delicious mix. Never a dull moment around that fellow, I think. Makes me feel giddy, like une jeune fille again.” Julia giggled. “And he seemed quite taken with me.”

She tried to turn on her radio, but the knob fell off and rolled under her seat. “Well, lucky for me a new car is on the menu.” Julia drove along, her mind on things other than the road. Perhaps I’ll stop in before Thursday to see how Groucho is, just to check on him. She squeezed the steering wheel tighter. She smiled. Could I possibly? Could he and I…? The thought of an affair had her sizzling. Mais oui, especially since the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I do have an advantage. Julia tingled at the thought of seeing Groucho again. I could tell Paul I have a meeting about something or other with a local TV station. Julia’s fantasies stirred until the delight of an affair absolutely set her to a boil. With anticipation simmering, she cooked up a plan to surprise Groucho with a visit the next night. I can refrigerate leftovers for Paul. She smiled just thinking about Groucho. Yes, leftovers for Paul. Paul won’t suspect a thing. “Sounds as if Groucho hasn’t had a good meal in a while. I’ll make him a hearty duck soup. And a nice Boeuf Bourguignon…and a pound cake. L’amour, l’amour. ”

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