** Bring me your tired, derivative, overwrought dead manuscripts, yearning to be erased from memory… This is the fourth in an ongoing series where authors get to share a piece of a novel/writing project that died long before it ever could have proven its worth to its parent, its master: the author. Instead of letting the maybe-horrible, maybe-unbearable Word doc remain untouched in some far off and forgotten file folder, why not let the readers at ENCLAVE have a look? Think of it as closure. They won’t laugh, I swear.
This time we have Bud Smith, author of F-250 and Tollbooth sharing an excerpt from a dead novel entitled, “I Wonder What My Skull Will Look Like.”
If you are interested in having an excerpt featured in the “From the Grave” series, be sure to email me at michael @ coping mechanisms dot net. **
I lived in the junkyard for about a year. It wasn’t my kind of job. I did it because I was able to stay there for free inside the tire pile, as long as I remained undetected.
In the quiet of the evening, when the work of the day was done, and the workers went away, I locked the gate from the inside, and hid. Then it was just me and the junkyard dog.
The tire pile was more beautiful than it sounds. I can imagine just what you are picturing.
I found a cave in there that I could enter from a crevice around the back. From the outside, it appeared as any other typical junkyard tire pile, but if you crawled inside, you’d see I had the place furnished rather nicely.
My tire pile was better than a lot of the real homes that people call home. But, I guess, a person with enough determination can call anywhere home.
One time, I heard about someone living in the rafters of a bridge. He liked it there, was comfortable, even ran a power cord. But one day, the bridge started to lift up. Before he knew what was going on, he was vertical. His bed pointed at the sky. Luckily he was wedged in and couldn’t fall. He’d never considered that the bridge might be a drawbridge. Every house has its downside.
My tire pile had a living room with a TV. A fridge, a couch and even a bookcase with some discarded library books and magazines from the dentist across the highway. The receptionist in there liked me. She gave me all the magazines when they were going to throw them away.
The tire pile was good for me. It didn’t bother me to not have a lawn or a telephone or a mailbox. I didn’t mind not having to shovel the driveway when it snowed or paint the shed when it needed painting. Actually, the roof I had constructed for myself within my mole hole was known to leak when the tires above shifted around from a fresh dumping of new tires, or removal of some old tires from the top of the tire pile—so I got my handyman fix just fine by managing that battle with caulk and spray foam insulation.
The only real downside to living there, was that it was hard to bring girls home. They never seemed too impressed when they saw my place. They complained about the overbearing odor of the rubber. About the occasional insect. About the sound of the trucks dumping the tires on the tires above us.
I’d stretch an arm around my date and would say, “Just pretend this is the bottom of the ocean and that sound is the waves.”
“I’m pretty sure that the roof is gonna collapse on us!”
“Nobody ever got buried alive in a tire pile, take it easy.”
Sure enough, the girl would always get up off of my couch at this point and walk out what you would call my door except it wasn’t much of a door. More like an escape hatch. Just a sliding glass patio door that I had installed vertically because the track always get debris wedged in it when I originally had it horizontal. I kept vowing I was gonna put in a real door, but I never got around to it.
I had a real thing for the girl who worked in the dentist’s office. She was really beautiful. She seemed to be into me. She had great teeth (of course). I couldn’t bring myself to invite her over to my place, even though she seemed very receptive to the idea. I couldn’t tell if it was just because she was a receptionist or not. The best part about her was that she drove a shitty car. That always kills me.
That’s my thing. I like a girl with a receptionist job who drives a total piece of shit car. Some people only care about looks or personality, don’t get me wrong, I like all of those things, but mostly I want a girl who I can talk to, who can type 1000 words a minute and drives a car that may or may not catch on fire.
I have things to offer, I’m patient, thoughtful and I am an excellent forklifter.
My friend, Randy, got me the job at the junk yard because he knew I was as an ace forklift driver. The junkyard needed somebody to load cars into the car crushing robot. It was a marriage made in heaven.
Truth be told, driving a forklift used to be one of my major talents. A lot of us Americans used to be quite good at it. Now we don’t really have much to load or unload. It’s just how things go.
Regardless, I took a lot of pride in my fork lift driving abilities. I used to be known as “the man who could move any pallet”. That was a big deal where I grew up. It was a factory town, (our main export—elastic rubber bands for undergarments) but as all good things come to pass, the factory closed its doors and became just another empty haunted place. Pakistan has cornered the new under garment elastic band territory. So be it.
My co-workers didn’t seem to enjoy the assembly line anyway. They all seemed to have other dreams beyond the rubber plant assembly line. They all wished to pursue something beyond their immediate grasp.
One guy wanted to professionally fish. Another wanted to open his own hot dog cart except he was gonna have pulled pork sandwiches and not hot dogs. One woman wanted to go to school to become a realtor. Another guy wanted to sail around the world in a stainless steel submarine that he planned to build himself (he’d been picking up scrap for a decade off the side of the road and kept asking me, “are you sure you don’t know how to weld? I could really use some help with my pet project … I had the prints professionally engineered …”).
I was probably the only one that was happy at the rubber band factory, and that was only because I was challenged, I was using my talents. If there was one thing that a factory town needs, it’s an ace forklift operator.
When the factory shut down, the bouncing ball of despair bounced all over town, the other small factories shut down too, soon there was not only nothing to lift in town, but nothing to fork. I became just another face in the crowd hanging out at the unemployment office where Roy the janitor says for the thousandth time, “You think I wanted to mop up elastic band residue for the rest of my god damn life? No … No I didn’t.”
“What do you want to do then?” I asked, particularly because I didn’t know what I wanted to do either, and I was looking for ideas.
“I want my cable TV back. My neighbor lost his factory job too. I had a wire running from his house to mine. They shut his cable off and now inadvertently, I don’t have it any longer either. It’s a bunch of bullshit.”
Maybe that’s why I liked the tire pile, it reminded me of my time at the factory. Both of those places smelled the same. Stunk of rubber. Funny how you can grow to miss anything. Even rubber.
My biggest problem with the junkyard was the junkyard dog. She hated me. Whenever I drove by, she attacked the forklift and snarled, foam spraying everywhere. She bit the wheels and the forks. She tried desperately to get inside to the cab to rip me apart. This was bothersome.
The previous fork lift operator had wrapped the cab in chicken wire and fabricated makeshift doors out of the hoods from Carter-era Dodge Omnis: one red, one brown.
These defenses were primitive at best, but worked well enough. I was safe as long as I kept my hands and feet in the vehicle at all times.
It was utter hell las the dog smashed against ‘the armor’ while I cruised slow through the junkyard towards the car crusher, broken vehicle on my forks.
The only solace I had then was talking to Randy who was living in a motel across from a bar that was condemned. The power was out in the bar but we drank in it anyway.
Some girls he knew, always brought beer with them. They said so little though, that I never even got their names even though we hung out almost daily over the course of that spring. They were losers. So was Randy. We all were.
One nameless girl said, “Did you know that dogs can smell weakness? Maybe you should get some cologne …”
I ignored the suggestion.
“I smell fine.”
My friend Randy, used to have a nice cushy job and a house on Maple Ave. behind the park, but he lost his job. The park is still there. So is Maple Street. A lot of the people from Maple Street live in the park.
“That place is depressing.” I said about the junkyard.
“At least you’ve got a job,” Randy said. He was making a living by returning stray shopping carts at the local Food Universe for the quarters left in the locking mechanisms.
He was also going to thrift stores and checking pockets of jeans and coats for leftover money. Mostly he found pens and gas station receipts, stray grocery shopping lists, to-do lists from twenty five years ago, unfulfilled.
“Driving a forklift isn’t that tough,” I admitted. “The problem is the junkyard dog.”
“I’ll get rid of it.” He said, drunk. Randy was one of those heroic drunks.
“Sure you will. Feels like time to skip town. I might just move on up the road,” I said. “Just forget the dog, okay? If it wasn’t the dog it would just be something else.”
“Forget it,” he said. So I forgot all about it.
I remember that night, that we were all playing pool and taking turns dancing with the nameless girls who always brought beer. The jukebox didn’t work, so we had to sing our own songs.
It’s easy to dance with the nameless girls in the dark and it helps distract. It didn’t matter that we had nothing of value to say or do or relay to each other. The power was out. We played gin rummy by candle light. The world was most definitely ending.
I’ve never had a real home. Never.
The next day I was up front getting a soda out of the boss’ fridge. The boss forbid us from drinking his sodas. When he wasn’t around, I pounded them, even though I despise soda. He never seemed to be around.
Janice, was sitting at her desk staring at the wall. It was a slow day. She wasn’t my type. She drove a brand new car. It had power windows, power steering. It only had 32,000 miles on it. The brakes worked. I wasn’t her type either.
“How you doin?” I said anyway.
“Doin’,” she said. She thought she was hot shit because I talked to her. The truth was, that I talked to her because there was nobody else to talk to. It was either talk to her or talk to myself in the mirror of the men’s room. The mirror of the men’s room was broken. I was forced to talk to Janice, who thought she was hot shit but wasn’t at all.
It was noon. The cuckoo clock started to go off. It went off for an eternity. Janice scratched her face, slow.
Outside we could hear the junkyard dog smashing something to pieces. Kicking up dust and snorting. Ripping apart metal, muscles contracting, jaw clenched down. It howled just like the Devil. You know all about that.
“That dog is nuts,” I said.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said sorrowfully.
“What, the dog?”
She didn’t say anything. She got up from her chair and walked into the bathroom. I sat at her desk drinking my boss’ soda, listening to her cry and then I opened up her top desk drawer. There was a package of Mint Oreos. I took a handful and then I went back outside.
Later on that day, after work, I went across the street to see the secretary at the dentist’s office. Her name was Reena. She seemed happy to see me. It was the only unrequited love I had those days. The love between me and Reena.
I said, “I was just curious if you had any old magazines that you wanted to get rid of.”
She motioned to the trash can.
I went in the trash can and took out Popular Science. I left the Newsweek and the People in there.
“You like those magazines,” she asked.
“I do,” I said.
“I also came over here because I wanted to ask you something.”
“Have you ever seen a car crushed in a car crushing robot?”
“Would you like to?”
She said, “That’s the strangest thing that anybody has ever asked me.”
“That? That was the weirdest thing?”
“You free tonight?”
“No,” she said, “but any other night.”
“Let me take you out tomorrow after work. I’ll pick you up here, quitting time.”
“Okay. I’d like that.”
Only back then, I didn’t have a car. I was building my own car. It’s hard to get a girl without a car. You could do it, but the quality of the date was greatly diminished. Like that old saying, couldn’t get a job because I didn’t have a car couldn’t get the car because I didn’t have a job. Only now it went like this, I didn’t need a car because I didn’t have a girl, if I had a girl, I would get a car. If I had a car I would surely leave this shit hole town.
If this town could have been any one shade, it would have been beige.
If I had kept track of how many yawns that town made me do, I would have close to a hundred pages of a notebook filled just in yawn tallies.
It was always like that. When I really thought about the things that were keeping you somewhere, they were petty little things. I had a job at a junkyard. I had Randy and we drank in an abandoned bar. I was in love with a dental secretary. I had a nice tire pile where I lived.
The days were like electro shock. But the nights, were filled with pure promise. When the junk yard closed for the day and when the junk yard dog slept soundlessly in its bed of gravel and fleas—dreaming of sinking its horrible teeth into my soft white neck, I sometimes slipped into the after-hours garage to work on my car, welding it together haphazardly. I’d decided to do what I always eventually do. Leave.