He’s right on my ass. I can’t even see his front plate. I think, “I need to get out of his way.” So I turn right and there is an appalling scraping sound from the passenger side of the car. The Wife cringes visibly.

I pull over and step out to survey the damage. Yep. It’s a dink alright. First dink on this car. Now I’m pissed. Why is it always parking lots that I can’t find my way around in? The Wife says “you need to learn to stop letting other people pressure you into doing things” and promptly motions for me to move back out into traffic. The Wife can be an iron sometimes.

This takes me all the way back. Back to the driver’s education instructor who forced me to drive at highway speeds by putting his foot on the accelerator and pressing it until we were weaving all over the road at 60 miles an hour. All he had to say was “keep it between the lines.” That was my first moment of sheer driving terror.

Then there was my first auto accident. I had my learner’s permit. I drove Mom up to Village foods and parked badly next to a nice tan Oldsmobile. Mom said “I’ll leave you here but don’t move the car without me. I’ll be right back.”

No sooner had Mom gone into the store than the woman who owned the Olds came out and surveyed my parking job. “You have to move so I can leave” she tells me.

I repeat what Mom said “I can’t move till my Mom comes back.” When she insists I have to move or she can’t leave I further explain “I only have a learner’s permit. I can’t drive without an adult in the car.” She becomes outraged at that point. Red in the face, hollerin’ and screamin’ like I had insulted her cat or something.

“You will move that car right now young man!”

So I put the car in gear, turned the wheel and promptly gouged a crease in her Olds that probably looked a lot like the one that sank the Titanic. Then she started crying and ran into the store to call the police. Mom came out at about that point and gaped at me.

“I told you not to move! I said I would be right back, and here I am! Why did you move?” and she started crying. Then I started crying. I never could stand to watch her cry.

That was the first and last time I drove on my parent’s insurance. From that point forward I paid the usurious insurance fees that the Texas State legislature allows auto insurers to charged young men under the age of 25, and I paid that rate until I turned 25.

As I’m sitting here thinking about what insurance has cost me over the subsequent forty years, I start thinking about the dollar figure attached to my driving record in the form of the number of incidents that I’ve had over the same number of years. Doing some comparative arithmetic, I’m not sure if it is the insurance companies or the accidents that are winning.

I mean, there was that first one with the Oldsmobile. The next one was in the 1970 Challenger that Dad bought for me in 1979. Me and a guy played footsie at a green light, me going straight and him turning left, neither of us sure who was going to go until we smacked into each other. My brother did a somersault in the backseat. The Challenger never had seat belts. If it did have seat belts when it came off the assembly line, the previous owner took them out when he put in the purple and white shag carpeting on the floor.

She was a beauty that Challenger. Slant six. Metallic purple paint with a white fake leather roof. White leather interior. That scoop-shaped front end that looks like it has severed heads written all over its future. She didn’t look too good after I rolled her a few months later, though. I should have got those brakes fixed before taking her on those Kansas dirt roads. Turn here, oops, into the ditch and onto her roof. I think she ended life as parts for other cars. I just know Dad was as pissed as I had ever seen him, and I had to buy the next car myself. From him.

She was also a beauty. Burnt orange 1972 Chevelle. Black leather interior. She was hot. I mean, really hot in those 110° Texas summer. You rolled the windows down before you got in the car. Someone sideswiped her and ran off a few days after I bought her. A few scratches was all that incident left. Never even told the insurance company about that one.

Then there was that time a girl smoked her tires off in reverse and smashed the back of her Mom’s station wagon into the front of that Chevelle. The front bumper on the Chevelle was pointed, and it rode up into the back of her car like the prow of a ship slicing through water. I was never able to put a front plate on that car again because of that accident. The plate holder was the only thing damaged on my car. The station wagon’s back gate was trashed. Nothing a few thousand dollar wouldn’t fix.

The girl cried and cried when we pulled over. I told her not to worry. “Just go home and explain it to your Mom. It’ll be okay.” I was probably lying. She thanked me for not calling the cops. It was the first time someone begged me not to call the cops, but it wasn’t the last.

The Chevelle ended her time on the road on Halloween night, 1981. I should have snuck into the theater with my cruising buddies that night but I hate horror films and so refused to go with them. Instead I went out and skirted past an orange light about two blocks away from the theater. On the other side of the light was a guy tooling around with six people in his pickup truck, and he had just gotten plastered with water balloons, a time-honored Halloween tradition. He decided right then, as I was coming at him through the light, that he would pull a U-turn and chase the offenders back across town. He never made it.

I tried to swerve, but I was going to fast. He never saw me. Luckily there was only one injury, not counting the knees that I punched through my dashboard and never reported. Should have reported. Some girl in the passenger seat of the truck hit her head on the glovebox handle and got a concussion. They blamed the wreck on me and not the guy making an illegal U-turn because he claimed he was only going to pull into the parking loot across the street. The parking lot didn’t happen to have an opening where he was turning though. The judge ignored that fact when he made his decision.

The Chevelle was totaled and sat on the driveway of our rental house until the day we moved out. I bought a junker off of someone in the neighborhood, I think it was one of the regulars at Mom’s bar. I really can’t remember. 1970 Pontiac Executive. A four-door behemoth we called the Tank. It just needed to be painted green instead of gold and have stars painted on the side and it would have looked just like a tank.

It came to us pre-dinked, and it’s the only car up to that point that I owned that I didn’t wreck. Instead I beat the dents it already had back out with a hammer and I salvaged parts out of the junk yard next door to make the headlights point the right direction. I drove it for years before I handed it off to my sisters.

I bought a 1974 Vega next, the last car I bought from my father. It was not hot, but it was fun to drive. Fun to drive until the engine crapped out. I was on a roll. Two cars, no wrecks! Then I bought the Pinto. 1974 lime green Pinto. I got stoned one night and spray-painted it camouflage. When I mentioned this fact to strangers they’d always remember seeing that car. I guess the camouflage didn’t work. I stripped out all the interior except for the seats and then drove it that way for years. I was rear-ended twice in that Pinto. It never exploded, thank the lucky stars. It died because the U-joint in the drive train was compressed by the last rear-ender, and that caused the joint to fail.

I had met the Wife by that point. We sold that Pinto for fifty bucks to a salvage yard, and we promptly went out and ate fifty dollars worth of Chinese food. The best Pinto we ever ate.

It was at about that time that I bought my first new car. 1987 Cavalier. Gold, just like the Executive. I didn’t hold that against it. I financed that car for 5k and considered it a steal at that, even though it didn’t have air conditioning. That car ate a tree stump on the driver’s side front fender. I backed into a bollard in a convenience store parking lot once or twice. Who’s counting? I hauled the sailboat around with that poor little four-cylindered car for years. Luckily it was a pretty dinky sailboat. Fast in the water, though.

We were rear-ended by a truck when we first moved to Austin. That guy also begged us not to go to the police, and then he crawfished on paying us. We ran across his truck in a parking lot a few months later and we took pictures of the paint from our car that was all over his bumper. When we confronted him with the photos, he paid us the money right on the spot. That’s about the only time justice has been done in my presence, automotive-wise.

We got our first Saturn wagon not too long after that. Another gold car. We needed air conditioning in Austin. The first time we were caught in traffic with a baby in the backseat squalling in 100° temperatures, we knew we needed air conditioning. My father-in-law paid cash for the car. I’d never seen that before. That car didn’t live very long, either.

There was a couple from Denver who were touring the sites off of route 29 in the Hill Country. They were stopped at a stop sign. The husband, who had his hands on the wheel, wanted to turn left. So he started to turn left. His wife, side-seat driving, insisted he go right. So they stopped in front of oncoming traffic to argue about which direction they should go. They never got to finish that argument.

It is a handy rule of thumb to remember that the car goes where the person with the wheel in their hand steers it. It doesn’t go where the passenger wants it to go, and it doesn’t go where those in the peanut gallery behind the driver want it to go. It goes where the driver tells it to go. Maybe agree on a route before you start driving? There’s a thought.

When he stopped in front of me, I couldn’t believe it. There was an eighteen wheeler beside me on the inside lane and cars behind me. There was no way any of us were going to miss that guy’s car. I remember his eyes as he saw us coming. Whites all around. I couldn’t miss him, but I could try not to kill him, so I swerved towards the back of his car and impacted on the rear axle and not center-punch his door at sixty-five miles an hour. Small mercies.

He spun around from the force of the impact on the rear of his car, and the other vehicles managed to avoid him. We hit the center median of the side road he left, and then flew over the lanes he should have been in if he wanted to argue safely, impacting and bouncing over the three foot embankment on the far side of the crossroad. That’s where we left the front bumper of our car. Planted on that dirt embankment. At some point between the first impact and the last, the Wife asks in a plaintive voice “can we please stop hitting things?” I was too busy to answer.

When we were finally able to move, after the powdery fog from the expanded air bags had finally started to settle, we both managed to get out of the car to survey the wreckage. Much more than a dink, this accident. The two plastic front fenders were sticking out a ridiculous distance past what was now the front of the car. Our poor new Saturn wouldn’t be going anywhere aside from the wrecking yard after that.

The Wife got out her laptop that she had carefully packaged against just such an eventuality as the one we had just gone through, and started taking down insurance information from the people whose lives we had just spared. She turned to me after a few minutes and asked me “should I be able to feel my fingers right now?” We put her in the ambulance a few minutes later.

The one time you will ever be happy to see a cop will be the time he shows up to pick up the pieces of a wreck like this one. I could have hugged the guy when I saw him. He drove me to the regional hospital where they had taken the Wife, and we hitched a ride back to town with friends from our fan group who lived out that way.

That was the worst wreck I’d been in up to that point, and it was pretty much the last one, too. I gave up driving as the bad idea I had always thought it was, and I let the Mario Andretti wannabe that I married drive instead. She’s better at it anyway. She’s only wrecked one car, and that one was entirely not her fault. It’s also another story. She can tell it if she likes some other time.

I gave up driving until this summer. Nearly twenty years accident-free, and now I’m back to driving. I’m back to driving because the doctor’s won’t let you drive if you’ve recently had open-heart surgery. The Andretti-ette has been dragged from the car against her will because her chest might collapse in the event of an accident. I think she’d be safer if she was driving. Now I’ve got to go find some rubbing compound and some touch-up paint and see if I can make the new dink in our car appear to go away.

I hate driving. It’s taken me years to realize this fact. I’ve always hated driving. I love cars but I hate driving. The cars have always been worth ten times what I would be comfortable risking on any given day, and risk is what every single outing in a car is all about. Every single long-distance trip in a car was a test of nerve, a right of passage, a moment of transition. Before each trip, I would lovingly bath the car inside and out and anoint it with oils so that the gods of the roadway would bless the venture out into unknown danger. Nearly every long distance trip has gone by without a hitch. Every one except that one with our first Saturn.

It’s the little stuff that gets you. Parking lots. Entering and exiting your own driveway. You know them too well, you aren’t on your guard; and whack, another dink to polish out. It’s the way the car crumples, I guess.

Young Lust Is Not Enough

It’s hot. It’s summer in South Texas. I’m sitting on the hood of a 1974 Thunderbird (Might have been a 1969) that we’ve nicknamed the Thunderchicken. This piece of crap of a vehicle that I’m stuck with has been driven millions of miles since it rolled off the assembly line in Detroit more than a decade ago, and it’s not even the oldest vehicle in the tire test fleet. That honor went to Bronco Billy, an off-white Gran Torino sedan that wished it could have been the sexier coupe, but instead was the four-door sedan that nobody wanted. That car was waiting at the shop, probably destined to take the Thunderchicken’s place, even though the floorboard on the driver’s side had been patched with plywood so that the driver wouldn’t mistakenly put their feet down while traveling and lose a leg in the process. This is the life of a test car driver, if the tests you are doing are tire tests.

The Thunderchicken, in typical Murphy fashion, has picked the farthest point from home to break down. We’d just made the turn-around outside of Comstock and were heading back towards San Angelo, the shop, and home. That description cuts the story short a bit. We’d drive the North loop up towards Robert Lee first and then to the shop. A hop, skip and a jump away from home compared to being able to see the US-Mexico border from your car window.

The car just stopped in the middle of the road. I don’t mean the motor stopped running, I mean one of the front wheels stopped turning as if it had never turned before in it’s life and wasn’t about to turn again no matter how much gas you ran through the engine. So I gunned the thing to the side of the road leaving a skid mark and a crease in the asphalt the whole way, and then radioed ahead to the rest of the convoy who promptly turned around to see if the breakdown was something we could fix.

Tire tests were run in convoys of four vehicles, back in the 1980’s when I was working as a test driver. The lead driver was generally in charge of the crew and would make decisions for the convoy as a whole. I was not the lead driver. I drove tail when I was lucky. I was driving tail that day, which is how you can have a catastrophic vehicle failure and yet have no one from your crew notice it.

A brief inspection ensued when Burt, who was driving lead that day, came back to check on me. I’d met him at trade school a few years previously. When my architectural drafting job in Abilene fell through, I called on him to see if he had someplace I could sleep. I wanted to see if a change of scenery might make for better job prospects and I’d heard good things about San Angelo while living in Abilene. I knew there was no future for me back in Sweetwater with my family, just more dead-end work to kill time until time killed me. So I wasn’t going back home to mom.

He said “sure, come on down” and so I moved to San Angelo where my friend worked on the Gandy’s milk loading line, loading trucks. Night stocking for Piggly-Wiggly started out my working life there, but it wasn’t too long before I was drafting for a land developer part-time. That really didn’t pay enough, so I started looking for other work that might suit my interests. That was when we stumbled across the business of tire testing, a business peculiar to San Angelo, Texas at the time.

Every tire sold in America is certified by a tire test that travels the route out of San Angelo South to Sonora, Then down along the border to just outside Comstock, where they turn around and head back towards San Angelo. Then they go past San Angelo and head North and West towards Tom Green, then come around on another loop to just outside San Angelo where they do stop and goes at a series of stop signs before going back to the shop. Every manufacturer in the world was required to have this test performed on these roads by a testing company certified to do the job. We worked for one of these companies and the tires I was testing that day had fallen prey to mechanical malfunction. Their time as test tires was over.

Turned out, it wasn’t something we could fix. The lower a-frame on the driver’s side front wheel had come loose from the ball joint and jammed itself into the rim of the wheel. Had the a-frame missed the rim, I wouldn’t have been able to move the vehicle at all since the frame would have dug into the asphalt, tearing itself loose in the process and rendering steering useless. At least this way I wasn’t in the middle of the road, but I was still stuck; and after the relay call came back the rest of convoy was ordered on to finish the test. I was told to wait with the vehicle for the wrecker.

My friend wished me luck and headed back out on the road with the two other drivers in tow. As I watched them vanish over the farthest hill, I gripped the tire iron that was my only weapon just that much more desperately and prayed that the wrecker would show up before dark.

It did, but just barely.

Burt had been working for McDonald’s and he was sick of it. He had injured himself throwing milk for Gandy’s dairy in San Angelo and decided that the fast food job offered more interesting work than loading milk trucks, but had soon discovered the grind that I already knew fast food work to be. I had lost my job at the Piggly Wiggly night stocking and as I said previously, the drafting work was simply not paying enough. Winter was just around the corner, and we needed work if we were going to keep a roof over our heads while the snow was falling. If it fell.

This was central Texas after all, so snow might not fall at all. It wouldn’t be the first warm Winter on record for San Angelo. It’s hard to say what the weather will be like in Texas, from season to season, sometimes from minute to minute. “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes” as the old timers will tell you.

It was all fine and good to Margaritaville our way through the summer in San Angelo, spending time down on the lakeshore getting stoned with the college students who flocked there over the summer. Summer was over now, the students were all back in school, learning to do jobs that paid better than the shit work we could find with our technical degrees from TSTI.

Burt had gotten a lead on a different kind of job than what we had both done before. It just required a driver’s license, which we both had, and a clean driving record. Our driving records were clean, even if we weren’t. We decided that we would go see if we could get a job at the same place and thereby share the commute to and from work.

We started out at Texas Test Fleet. They hired us pretty much on the spot, but we went ahead and went across the street to Smithers and put in an application there as well. Word was that Smithers paid better and their cars were of better quality. We didn’t really care, we just needed jobs that paid real money to pay the real rent that was going to be due soon.

We came back to work our shifts that night. Just two idiots who had no idea what we were doing other than that we would have to drive for eight hours at a stretch. I had driven that far on my many trips to see family in Kansas over the years. I could handle eight hours of driving that would see me back home at the end of the day. At least, that is what I told myself.

Five miles from the shop, the passenger side rear tire came off of Burt’s car. “I looked up and the tire was passing me in the ditch. I was wondering whose tire that was when the horrible grinding noise started, and that is when I realized it was my tire.” So the lead driver called in the tow truck for the now permanently disabled vehicle, and the three remaining drivers, myself included, continued on down the road to Sonora and the Devil’s River, leaving my best friend and my ride back home in the ditch waiting for a tow truck. The rest of that night’s work was largely uneventful, which was good. I don’t think I would have wanted to go back to work testing tires if we had lost another driver that first night.

We were offered jobs at Smithers the next day, which we gladly took. Their cars certainly did look nicer, the shop was cleaner and they did pay better than TTF did. Within a week the lead driver we had been following flaked out and left, and Burt was promoted to lead in his place. This meant that he and I were entrusted with the lives of two other people and the value of four automobiles each and every day that we drove test cars. I don’t think they understood who we really were, but we were happy for the work.

We usually drove day shift five days a week. There were weekend crews that worked part time, and there were frequent vacancies for anyone who wanted to work a sixth day during the busy driving week. We were subbing for some missing drivers one night not too long after we had started our new jobs. This was the second time I had been down on the river at night. It gets a little freaky at night down along the border. It is a hundred miles in any direction to civilization on that stretch of the river. The only light that is visible comes from your headlights. The sky is pitch black, with piercing white holes of light for every visible star. It reminded me of my bygone boyhood camping days, but there were no adults on this trip to protect us from our own stupidity.

It’s called the Devil’s River. The name gave it the ominous tone that we drivers assigned to it. In addition to being remote it was also out of radio range for the CB radios we had. We called it the hole. We were functionally alone through that stretch of road and as I said, it was dark that night, no moon in sight. In the light coming from our headlights we saw a jeep on the opposite side of the road, off in the ditch.

This thing looked like it had been on the losing end of a three-way bear fight. Blood, bullet holes, no windows, dented, etcetera. We didn’t dare stop. Not without functional radios to call for help with. We did call it in as soon as we got back up out of the hole, but that wreck was gone before we drove that way again a few days later. I never did find out what the story behind the jeep was.

On another night we came across yet another wreck, this one in the clearing stages. A car had run head-on into a tanker truck. Everyone in both vehicles was dead, as far as I could tell. I found out later that a baby had survived in the back seat of the car, because the backward facing child seat had saved it from being crushed. As I’m sitting next to the wreck waiting to be allowed to go on down my hellish road that night, a highway patrolman wanders over and casually kicks a shoe, a shoe with the foot still in it, back over towards the wreck. I had to look twice to make sure I saw what I thought I saw. At least they had a tarp over the car by the time we got to the wreck. I did not want to see what was inside of it. I’ve never had a stomach for blood. To this day I curse at the looky-loos who stop to gawk at roadside accidents. Stop looking and drive unless you want to be a statistic too.

The tow truck driver laughed when he saw the damage the car had left on the asphalt, all the way to the edge of the road. “Damn! It’s a good thing you got it to the side. Otherwise you’d have been stuck out here waving people around the car all day.” I explained to him that he was the one and only person who had been down that lonely road since I had my accident with the steering, and that I was really, really glad to see him. I could finally stop gripping that tire iron in fear because I at least had someone to talk to, even if all I had to do was ride shotgun all the way back to the shop, a full three hours away.

It was well past the end of shift when I finally got back, the tow-truck ride having been uneventful. I hitched a ride from a woman that I would later hook up with, and I was soaking in the tub with a doobie in one hand and a beer in the other before the hour was up. But my experience left me wondering. “Do I need to carry a weapon with me?”

When I asked Burt this question he admitted that he already had a pistol. I think he got it from his dad. He’d never shot it. We promptly took it out to Twin Buttes and fired a few dozen rounds trying to get a feel for it, but I really didn’t want a firearm. They are hard to conceal and are more often used against the people who carry them than they are used in self defense. What I wanted was a knife, even if I was squeamish about blood. A knife could be used for many things aside from threatening hostile human antagonists.

As it happened, the next time I was at my drafting job there was a vendor that stopped by the office looking to sell knick-knacks like knives and brass knuckles and whatever. I took a liking to a chrome-plated butterfly knife that he had displayed, and my boss offered to buy it for me since I was so clearly without a nickel to my name. I handled it gingerly and yet still managed to cut myself the first few times I tried flipping the knife in the style you see done in movies. I told them I’d get the hang of it eventually, but really I just wanted it to keep the anxiety at bay.

“Just smoke a joint to get rid of the anxiety” quipped Burt, but I refused. I had driven drunk and stoned enough times when I was fresh out of high school to know that I didn’t want to be doing that on the job with someone else’s property. In the case of an accident like the one with the Thunderchicken, the inquiry would have revealed my drug use on the job and I would not only have been fired but I probably would have been jailed, knowing my luck.

No, I was going to white-knuckle my way through the anxiety and come out the other side. I was convinced of this.

Months passed. Winter came on strong that year. The pasteboard tenants house that we were renting was no match for the weather we were having. It rained, then it snowed, then it rained again. I caught pneumonia. Ashley, a cashier from my old job at Piggly Wiggly took pity on Burt and I; and she told us we could move in with her while I was recovering from the pneumonia. I will be eternally grateful to her for that. I would probably have died without her intervention. After the Winter had passed and it was rolling on towards Summer again, it became clear that, while Burt was welcome to stay in her house and in her bed for as long as he wanted, I was probably going to be better off if I found somewhere else to live.

This was about the time that I discovered the notion of friends with benefits on a first-hand basis. Jessica, another checker from the same store was a buddy of mine. A female buddy of mine. We had goofed around, gotten drunk and stoned together for months and never thought about the fact that we were both sexually frustrated and had compatible physical parts we could make use of if we wanted to. If it was possible to do that and not grow emotionally attached to each other.

My former roommate had a new roommate. One he couldn’t shake no matter how hard we tried to shake her off. Ashley was attached to him; more than physically attached, which she also was most of the time. All the women wanted Burt. A good percentage of the men did too. But she WANTED him, not just wanted him. He was going to be hers and no one was going to stand in her way or distract her from her goal of keeping him, like a trophy on a shelf.

Meanwhile Jessica, my now fuck-buddy, stoner buddy and I were on our own most of the time and we spent a good deal of that time working off that sexual frustration we had been carrying around with us for years, at least. The experiment seemed mutually beneficial, for most of its runtime. She’d come visit me when she was horny, I’d go visit her when I was. But there was still that nagging problem of sleeping in a borrowed spot in someone else’s house, and my welcome was quickly wearing out.

So I found an apartment across town near the mall, my favorite strolling spot, if not my favorite shopping spot. The Barrington, it was called. The drafting work dried up again and I was forced to go back to working at clubs between layoffs. I worked testing tires for a few weeks at a time, but my stomach had started to give me trouble by that point. Sitting in the car stewing all the time, never able to do anything except drive. It was burning me out on driving where driving had been my escape vehicle for most of my teenage life.

When I was in high school that was all we did. Drive to and from the Sonic and the courthouse in Sweetwater. Back and forth. For hours at a time. We thought of it as fun then. A real adventure was picking up some girls and driving all the way around the lake with them listening to music. Mostly I just drove by myself, though. Being forced to stay in the car driving when you would rather be doing something, anything, else though? That was completely different and it was killing the native love of automobiles that lives within the breast of every red-blooded American. What were we if we weren’t car lovers? I was afraid that I was going to find out, soon.

The one-bedroom apartment got old after awhile. Alone in the car all day when I was driving, alone at night because I wasn’t a pick-up artist and I didn’t have a girlfriend who would stay with me, I decided to take an apartment with a roommate again. An apartment, not a pasteboard shack this time. I had discovered there were shelters that were good enough, and then there was real living. I wanted real living, thank you. Mickey, one of my best friends from high school had moved out on his own, finally. He had moved to San Angelo after Sweetwater (his dad was retired military there) and so we decided to take an apartment together. He was a pick-up artist. I hadn’t known this about him. How could I have? Until that point in his life he would have to have conducted his trysts in his car because he certainly wasn’t taking them home to Mom’s house. I’d heard of a few of those encounters, some on the hood of his car, but I had no idea how many there were until we shared that apartment.

Instead of helping my loneliness, that made it worse. The only time he was in the place was when the Cowboys were playing (I hate football) and when he was bringing home his date of the week. One of his dates of the week because there was frequently more than one. Some woman whose name I was told but never bothered to remember because it would be a different one the next week or even the next day.

I tried MDMA/ecstasy once, just to see if I could do what Mickey did. Dropped it right before going into one of the clubs I occasionally worked at. Walked straight up to a chick that I thought looked like she wanted to dance. Total stranger. Never done that before or after the MDMA. We danced for an hour at least and then we went home to her place where we got stoned, had the most intense sex I’d ever had and then feel asleep. With a total stranger. In their apartment. Where I woke up the next morning. Totally not me, at all. I don’t know who she is, but we’ve been intimate in ways that I’ve never experienced with anyone before. It was supposed to be the start of my one-night stand adventure. My mimicry of Mickey’s seemingly infinite chain of women. I couldn’t do it. I saw her again, several times. We had absolutely nothing in common. Jessica and I had more in common, I knew that because we had talked for hours stoned together long before we even thought to have sex with each other. I didn’t love either of them even though we had been intimate in exactly the same ways that Ashley and Burt had been, IN MY PRESENCE. MORE THAN ONCE. What the hell was wrong with me?

It was too much. Once again I took to driving a lot just to get away. That was when Patrick started hanging out with me. I don’t even remember where we met. The comic book shop? I have no idea. He had seen I was lonely. He was lonely too. He was lonely for his next conquest and he thought it would be me, apparently. Every weekend we’d go out driving, and he’d tell me of some place he wanted to visit. We’d get there, and it would be a gay bar. A gay bar, every time. He would be mystified. “I had no idea this was a gay bar. Come on, let’s get out of here.” Not once. Not twice. At least three times this happened. I never clued in on it, not until much, much later. He thought I was gay. It was understandable. I was always the third man out in any coupling that Burt or Mickey had set up. I either sat and talked with the girlfriend of the intended conquest who had no real interest in me, or I was wandering around alone outside waiting for the tryst to finish so I could come back and get some sleep. Unfortunately for him I wasn’t gay. I was just clueless and in need of direction.

I was sitting around toking it up with Burt one night somewhere in the middle of this mess of a life. I had a fuck-buddy that wandered by whenever it suited her. I had a gay man trying to turn me gay by taking me to gay bars one weekend after another. I had tried MDMA with Burt a few weeks previously the last time we had managed to shake off Ashley. Mickey had not been impressed. Neither had Ashley. Not impressed at all with each other as sexual mirrors I guess. I had probably been regaling him with the tale of the serial gay bars and my mystification at what the hell was going on when he said “Hey, man. I met this chick the other day at work. She has a knife just like yours. She said she’d teach you how to use it the next time you drive with me.” I said “cool” and we went on with whatever it was we were doing that night.

Probably playing mumbly-peg with an axe. We did that a lot when we got stoned out on the lakeshore. We had driven out there that first spring after the big freeze and set up a bunch of bonfire sites with wood that we had scavenged off the lakeshore, along with some other wood we had dumped out there from some yard work we had been shanghaied into doing.

Ashely’s house needed some serious yard work done. Her parents had been gone overseas for the last year and they trusted her to keep the place up. The back yard fence, the view from her dad’s old shop, the place where I had decided to sleep, sleeping as far from the rest of them as I could get and still be in the house; the back fence had a stand of overgrown tree-hedges that needed trimming. About three to six truckloads of trimming, as we measured it.

So we loaded up Burt’s old ’70 Chevy truck with as much wood as we could coax it to carry, and we hauled it out onto a patch of lakebed that had been recently uncovered. We would dump that load of wood and then proceed to clear a swath around the dumpsite. The entire area was covered in four to six foot tall stands of dead mesquite, saplings that had grown up the last time the lake had been down for awhile, and then drowned when the water level rose again.

We were being cautious. We didn’t want the fire to spread and cause a wildfire. This had happened before at another regional reservoir, O.C. Fisher. It had gotten a fickle finger of fate award from Laugh-In because it was the only lake to have caught fire up to that point. Since the deadwood was pretty dense at Twin Buttes as well, we just tossed it all in the back of the truck and hauled it back to the pile to be stacked up. We did this for every truckload of wood we hauled out there, for a total of about six bonfires that we intended to use over the summer.

Use them, we did. I lit one for a tryst with Jessica. Rolling around next to the fire, trying to repeat the MDMA experience without the MDMA this time. Mouths to places we didn’t usually put our mouths, just to see if it was the MDMA or the novelty that had made it such an interesting evening. It was the MDMA, I concluded. We were definitely not having as much fun as I and my one night stand turned into a week of uncomfortable silence in each other’s presence sexual companion had had. Or maybe it was the partner? Surely not. Jessica was cool. She was into most of the stuff I was into. Why wasn’t I into her? I mean, other than physically. Which I was at the time. She probably wanted more from me too, just like Patrick did. How could I be lonely with a fuck-buddy on call?

This is why I wasn’t a pick-up artist. Sex wasn’t enough of a motivator for me. Not with my anxiety. I wanted more than a reduction of the sex drive that lasted mere moments. I could perform that act myself if I needed to. No. What I wanted was long-term companionship, the kind of thing you won’t find at bars because that isn’t what people go there for. Not really. They go there for the reasons the other driver who gave me a lift when I needed it went there for when I met her and we had our little encounter. Her husband was sleeping around on her, she wanted to sleep around on him. She didn’t care about the acts involved or whether they were enjoyable or not. She just wanted to be able to walk around the house she shared with her husband, freshly fucked just like her husband had been. So I did her that favor. She tried to return the favor but, as I said, it wasn’t what she was there for.

I had made mistakes many times in the past when it came to falling in love. Clearly I wasn’t even batting a thousand when it came to choosing casual sex partners. It was almost as if I couldn’t really figure out what was going on around me, and I had no idea what I was missing. What was I missing? It was one of the reasons why I hated the destruction of my one avenue of solace, driving for pleasure. The only time I had to think was when I was driving, and driving eight hours a day every day was killing me with over-thinking. Too much time for thought, not enough to think about without worrying.

This was where I was mentally on that fateful day when Burt introduced me to the person that I would come to affectionately refer to as the Wife. Strung out on too much caffeine, like all drivers are. Mentally frazzled from eight hours of self-flagellation at all the mistakes I had made in life up to that point, including the screw-ups in timing and spacing that I was supposed to keep track of as tail over the last eight hours. Bored with my music. Bored with my life, anxious to go home, smoke a joint, mellow out.

I hear “Hey, Tony, this is that girl I wanted you to meet.” I turn around. I notice her grin first. This was a setup. I should have known. “I hear you want to meet my baby.” she purrs. It’s scary how sexual the reference feels when she says it. “This is my baby.” She draws out a blade that is a good two inches longer than my puny little letter opener, and casually flips it back and forth without even checking to see that she is holding it right.

I don’t know if I’m going to see blood, or some other kind of demonstration next. Then I notice her eyes. They were grey-green. I’d never seen anything like them before. Not anywhere. Those witches eyes, framed by strawberry-blonde hair, and that impish grin on her pixie face. I was in love and terrified all at the same time, in that very first instant. The way she just casually flipped the knife around, in exactly the kind of way that I don’t do unless I want to be bandaging a cut next. That was freaking me out the most.

I think I said “Oh, is that how it works.” Then I showed her my tiny blade, which she laughed at. Then she showed me which end of the handle to hold, how to stealth drop one side so that you could gut someone in a single motion from draw to finishing stroke. A finishing stroke that ended a fraction of an inch from my tightening stomach. Yep. I was terrified. She was my dream and my nightmare all in one woman. I had to leave or I was going to faint, so I made my excuses and fled home to my apartment, fled home to listen to Mickey and his date of the week rhythmically banging on the wall of my bedroom.

Just like normal. At least I could look forward to meeting Patrick again. He had another club for me to check out, hopefully this one wasn’t going to be a gay bar. He wanted to know if I would buy a box of comic books that he was trying to get rid of. Could I float him some cash for it? Oh, and there was always that next bonfire with Burt. I wanted to know more about that crazy knife woman and what he thought she would do to me if I saw her again? With any luck Burt and I could get stoned and toss the axe back and forth at each other’s feet. That never got old.


There’s so much more to this time period. I’ve masqued the names and now I want to add more stuff to it. Maybe it’s a novel in the works? I have no idea. It started out as just a retelling of how I met the Wife and now it’s morphed into something that I didn’t intend it to be but might actually be better. Or worse. I have no idea.

There’s the times I said things and people said “you can’t say that.” In various ways. Slapping. Punching. Saying “you can’t say that” and then never speaking to me again. Which hurts. Because I’m pretty sure I formed those syllables quite well and the way I intended.

I may not have understood the impact, like telling a boyhood friend’s mom “There’s a pickle on the floor. My Mom would never leave food on the floor.” She kicked me out and never let me play with her children again. If she had just said “That is gross. Why don’t you pick it up and throw it away?” I would have done that and never thought anything of it. The various times people explained their beliefs to me and then I would explain why their beliefs were fantasies. Then I would have to go to church with them and confess my sins or whatever.

The waitress who came home to sleep with me, but when she got to know me decided that I wasn’t the guy she wanted to have sex with that night. As we’re going back out to the car I get annoyed and point out all the other guys at the bar that I know she’d slept with because I’d seen her going home with them and “geez what’s wrong with me, why don’t we just go back upstairs…” and then she slapped me straight across the face. I opened her door and took her home. Never spoke to her again.

The guy in the corner apartment at the Barrington whose kids I woke up at two in the morning walking past their door to get to the laundry room. I’m tired, I’m doing laundry because the machines are open finally, he comes in behind me in his bathrobe and jeans (Just like Billy in my nightmares) and starts harassing me for doing my laundry at two in the morning. I ask him “what are you going to do about it?” and the next thing I know I’m on the floor with a really painful jaw. Okay. Punching me in the face was doing something about it, but I really hadn’t expected that to be the thing the asshole would do. Not sure why, though.

After the cops were called they discovered he had a warrant out for wife-beating or something in another state, but he had disappeared by then. Packed up the wife and kids and disappeared. Burt and I were planning on bashing him on the head with a baseball bat, according to the Wife. He got what was coming to him. He had to run away. I got the lesson I needed. I still try to be more quiet when other people are sleeping. It would have been nice to not have to learn it by use of the fist, but that’s sometimes the form that shakubuku takes.

The Pinto. The 1974 exploding version of the Pinto that I drove for years because a secretary at First Paragon, a devout and charitable christian who was making a point about her charity and devotion by her act, sold me this rolling death trap of a car really cheap. 482 bucks for a twelve year old car. I accepted the offer because Mom wanted her Sunbird back, which I had borrowed after my Vega died a horrible death of steel piston sleeves coming loose inside it’s aluminum motor (I still miss that car. That and the burnt orange Chevelle) My brother promptly wrecked it after I gave it back to her, but I had my not-exploded gasoline bomb to drive around in so I really didn’t care.

I got stoned with Burt one Sunday afternoon and we stripped every bit of chrome off the exterior of the vehicle, just on a whim. Then we tore out all of the interior except for the dash and seats. Then, noticing the paint was coming off the exterior in a few places, we proceeded to paint the entire exterior of the car in camouflage colors. Where once it had been a baby crap green, now you couldn’t see it. You couldn’t see it because it was camouflage. Get it?

I know no one could see it because I was rear-ended in it about two days after I did all that work. The car didn’t explode but the death was initiated that day. The drive train was compressed and the u-joints in the drive shaft eventually gave out because of it. But it was my party car until the day the u-joints went out. It was the last car of mine to have the Concord stereo and expensive speakers mounted in it. I was eventually planning on doing a custom interior and exterior for it, but that money never came to me. That was a dream just like the dreams that other people have about their imaginary gods and what their gods wanted of them. That car wanted to be a candy-apple yellow party car with a built-in cooler where the back seats used to be. It told me, that day while I was stripping it down and making it invisible with camouflage colors. You hear the voices of gods? I hear the voices of cars. Who are you to call me crazy?

The Camaro at work talked to me too. That is probably where the fictional story should take place. What happened when my KITT car (yeah, I know Firebird not Camaro. This is my story, fuck off) told me it wanted to run off to Florida and pick up girls? And then we did what it wanted. What then? Could be an interesting story.