(Illustration by Eric Shansby)

I have always been a fiercely competitive person, in matters both large (success! awards!) and minuscule (Parcheesi!). In some ways this has strengthened me. In some ways, it has poisoned me.

Every time I read of the death of someone famous who is younger than me, the sadness is at least slightly tempered by a little competitive frisson. I won.

Yes, you are looking at a withered soul.

I have favorite baseball and football teams that employ favorite players whom I root for with passion. I love them. But if one of those guys is traded to another team, he is instantly dead to me. I root for his career to nosedive, because that would mean that MY team made the right decision.

And that brings me directly to my cars, and the notion of cosmic payback.

Twice in my life I have privately sold a car. The more recent time was in 2009, when I auctioned off my 18-year-old Mazda 323, a car with the surface topography of an asteroid. I’d bought it new for under $7,000. It had no airbags. The driver’s seat was upholstered with a T-shirt. It had old party vomit baked onto one fender. The title of the eBay ad was “Crappy Car.” It ran great.

I loved that car and wanted to keep it, but the proceeds were going to a charity I cared about. Also, um, how many more years could it possibly have?

At one point during the auction, a woman named Kate Rothwell bid $2,100. She is an unapologetic writer of steamy romance novels; I once interviewed her for a column. She’s a hoot. She didn’t really want the car; she was just trying to do me a favor by pushing the price up. But no one bid higher. She was stuck. I felt terrible.

I’ve heard from Kate regularly over the years. When she told me the crap car was still going in 2010, and again in 2011, I felt much better. Then my competitive demon showed up. I was feeling progressively less happy when the crap car lasted into 2014, and 2015, and then hit the quarter-century mark in 2016. The family had put 80,000 miles on it over seven years before donating it to charity, still running just peachy. Kate won, big-time, and I … lost.

My first sale was a red 1994 Isuzu Trooper. I bought it new and sold it three years later, under ethically questionable circumstances. I’d had to replace the clutch at 30,000 miles, waay too early, so I suspected the car would turn out to be a lemon, and wanted nothing more of it. This created a moral dilemma that I solved by telling the buyer about the new clutch, but not about my suspicions, which were, after all, only suspicions. When he asked for the worst things about the car, I told him that the seats were positioned so high and the doors opened so oddly that a woman in a short skirt exiting the car inevitably becomes pornography to passersby. He bought it anyway.

The nice guy part of me was a bit troubled, but the competitive jerk part was amped. I’d unloaded a potential problem at a nice price.

A few days ago I got an email from Washington lawyer Mac Norton, a name I didn’t immediately recognize. The subject line was “It was 20 years ago today.” It turns out Mac was the guy to whom I’d sold the Trooper exactly 20 years ago. He’s still got it. He even included a photo. It gleams — looks exactly like it did in 1997. It’s still got that same replacement clutch. He was thanking me for doing him such a solid. His email ended: “Should the important question of 1960 ever be asked of you, the answer is, ‘Yes, yes, I most certainly would buy a used car from this man.’ ”

How nice. Hooray. Sigh.

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