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Exquisite Corpse

by Mark Spitzer

    (excerpts from the novel Vanity of Impulse previously published in the chapbook Motorhead, 1998 by Musclehead Press, Russell NY)

I hang up. I call my dad. He invites me out for dinner.

* * *

We smoke pot and go to Tracy's. On Mondays you can get three hamburgers for a dollar at Tracy's. He's buying.

"Well Impulse," he says, taking a swig of beer, "if you're thinking about going back to Colorado... then you'll need a trusty car..."

Oh Shit, I think.

Everytime I deal in car biz with my dad it's a disaster. I figure he wants to sell me back the Impala--which his wife, the Skull, accused me of selling to him knowing things were wrong with it (as if any car twenty years old is gonna be in perfect shape). But it's always the same old story.

"I'll need a car that can get up the mountain," I tell my father, "that Impala's too boggy to get up the mountain."

"That's not the car I was thinking about," he says.

I think about his other cars. They're all up north at Harvey's. Harvey is his father-in-law. My dad has a junkyard in Harvey's backyard. There's the '77 goldvan up there which I sold to Applehead, and Applehead gave to my dad after it fell apart--and then the Skull accused me of dumping it on Applehead cuz I knew it had a bad engine. Which is bullshit!

"What car?" I ask.

"The lima bean..." my dad says, smirking.

Oh Shit! I think (even more wary than before).

The lima bean is a piece-of-shit! An avocado-green 1978 Chevy Malibu with the shittiest vinyl top you ever did see. I have two memories about it. Here they are:

1) when my dad and I went out to Edina to pick up the Impala, he was trying to spin a shitty in a parking lot, and even though the lot was icy, the Malibu refused to slide sideways. But my dad kept on the gas anyhow, clenching his cig in his jaw. He was going to force the lima bean to turn sideways--when it wasn't gonna happen. But did he lay off the gas when the snowbank came closer? No! He stayed on it--knowing full well the laws of shitty-physics: We were gonna get lodged in the dirt-gray snow, and I was gonna have to push us out. And that's what happened. Of course.

and 2) get this: We were getting high in order to put some new front brake parts on that car (of which the back brakes had been permanently shut off by crimping the lines with vise-grips duct-taped to the axle), and then we were under the car and I was suggesting stuff to him. But everytime I mentioned a creative way to handle a problem, he immediately vetoed it. It was like he couldn't accept my car-knowledge, or something. It was like every time I thought of something, he had to resist it because I said it. And his reaction was always immediate. And it pissed me off--but still I stayed to help him out. And we did the job his way.

So then it was time to test the brakes out. So I took my backpack off the car (which had my computer and my camera and my tape-recorder in it) and I placed it in a place where it would be safe. On top of a pile of tools and logs and jacks and stuff. Where he could see it. And not hit it.

Okay. He backs up. He puts it in drive. He aims it right for the pile. But there's no way he would actually drive in that direction. I mean, no one could be so oblivious. He floors it. "NOOO!" I yell, "STOP!" But his jaw is clenched and he's sucking his cig just like when he hit the snowbank in Edina. "STOP!!!" I yell again. He hears me. He stays on the gas. He hits the pile, I yell again. But he won't listen. He won't fucking listen. And he stays on it, and climbs the pile, even though the car doesn't want to. And he knows he's climbing the pile--though he doesn't know that the pile is a pile. It could be a metaphor for all he cares. It could be a baglady. It could be anything--he doesn't care. All he knows is that something is resisting him and he's not gonna lay off the gas until that resistance is conquered. Whatever it is!

So he crunches his tools, he smashes the jacks, and he crushes my backpack--and makes it to the top, triumphant. And I am devastated. He has crushed my hard-drive to death. He has destroyed my writing. He has destroyed my reason for being!

"AAAAAARRGGHHH!" I scream, "I Can't Believe You Did What You Did!! I Can't Believe You Wouldn't Listen!! YOU WOULDN'T LISTEN!!! "

Well, anyway, he couldn't provide an answer for this--accept to say that he thought it was genetic, because once this happened with his dad. They were driving along and he told his father to take the next exit, but his father refused, or something like that. But it's no consolation.

He feels horrible, I feel destroyed. I am dumbfounded. My work has been destroyed. Years and years of toil! Translations, novels, poetry, everything! Gone! All gone! Wiped out! Annihilated! AAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!

He writes me a check for my computer. He gives me a new tape recorder, buys another camera. But still I am crushed. Almost crushed to death.

And now--at Tracy's--seven months later--he wants me to buy that stinking lima bean!?

"Yes," he says, "for $150... which is what I put into the brakes. That's all I want out of that car."

And I don't like that smirk on his face. It's a smirk I know, a smirk that's sneaky, a smirk that will pass a problem on to me, and then I'll know what he's had to deal with. And then I'll understand him better, because the lima bean will be something we have in common.

"I don't know," I tell my dad.

But he does have a point. The car is cheap, it'd make it up the mountain, and it'd probably do good gas. And I know I can't find a cheaper beater.

So I make him out a check for 150 bucks, right then and there--because this also gives me the opportunity to tell him that his wife is A Bitch! Something I've been wanting to tell him for a long long time. Something that has been bugging me for a long long time, and haunting me. So I tell him. And as he takes the check from me, there's nothing he can do but nod his head--in agreement.

It's the ethics of exchange. I give him something, so he has to give me something. He wants $150 for brake parts, I want to tell him his wife is A Bitch. And that's all I want out of that 150 bucks.

* * *

But first I gotta get that stinking lima bean--so then when I come back I can fix it up so I can split. So I rent a towbar and drive up to Harvey's. It takes four hours. And there it is... beached on his lawn.

And what a Godawful sight it is! The Skull's subnormal schizophrenic sister--after escaping from the Anoka State Mental Hospital--has been living in it. And not only is it full of 24,000 cigarette butts (smelling like the Marlboro Man's asshole), but it's also full of rotten meat and bibles and even an egg with a hole drilled in it and half the goo sucked through. The thing is a fucking pit! I HATE it!

But what can I do? I bought it. And it'll get me to the Rockies after I clean it.

So I haul out all the shit (of which, I'm convinced, there is actual shit in it) and throw it in the trash. I throw her stinking bibles away, I throw her stinking egg away. I throw her purse and her blankets and her clothes in the trash. I throw her 24,000 cigarette butts in the trash. And the thing gives me an actual headache. I don't know if it's from the smell or the LOATHING or the fact that I gotta get this heap back to the farm and then the towbar back to U-RENT-It by 5 o'clock or I have to pay for another day--but it gives me a fucking headache.

So then I hook the towbar up, then hook the towbar up to Warren's truck. And I haul the damned thing out of its ruts. And take off with it.

I figure if I head east then I'll be able to pick up I-35, and then I'll be able to make some time. So I set out searching for the interstate--looking at that damn Malibu in the rear-view mirror.

UGH! I DESPISE it--and don't know why I have it! It's history haunts me, its future terrifies me. Maybe the stupid thing won't even run. And really, it's not as cheap as I thought it would be. The towbar cost 40 bucks--and by the time I get it back to Minnie it'll cost me 70 dollars in gas. And then there will be the repairs, the registration, the insurance, etc.

Oh well. I keep on heading east. I go way out of my way. And I never see the interstate. But I can't go back--so I keep on going. I've gotta hit it soon. I mean, the interstate goes north and south. It's vertical. There's no way I could miss it. Jesus Christ, I think, I don't know if I'm in Mozambique or Duluth...

And then I see the sign: "Duluth, 12 miles."

Duluth! I don't know whether to laugh or curse. I drove to fucking Duluth! I drove to the end of the world! I'm in fucking Duluth!

Where I finally hit I-35 and put the hammer down. 85 miles per hour, towing a car that's bigger than the truck towing it. I pass everyone. Totally illegal, totally dangerous! But I gotta get the towbar back!

Fuck! I drive for three hours like a madman, clenching my jaw so hard my fillings weld together, maneuvering and swerving in and out of traffic, watching for the cops, trying to get back--and HATING the reason why I'm doing it: the Goddamn Cocksucking Motherfucking lima bean NIGHTMARE I HATE!

But eventually I get to the farm, unhook it down by the pottery, throw the towbar in the back--and tear into town during rush-hour traffic sliding and skidding through gridlock like a lunatic--and make it to the U-RENT-IT right at 5 o'clock.

I drop the thing off and head back for a beer to settle my nerves.

* * *

In the morning I drive to some coffee--and get one of those fancy French vanillas that comes from a machine. It only costs 76 cents. Ha! You can't even get French vanilla in France, and if you could, it would cost six bucks. Only on the American highway can you get French vanilla! It's the same story as French fries, I guess.

Anyway, I drive and do not translate. I am sick of translating. I want fiction, or nonfiction! And when I get to Colorado, that's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna write my sensitive Nature novel--write about fish, the mountains, the sky--I'll be like Thoreau walking in the woods, or Gruff Dave with his tape recorder marveling the flowers. But I'll do it in my style, Nature at 150 miles per hour! If it can be done.

And I'll do my junkyard too. Extreme doesn't know this though: that I plan on making his mountain hide-away (which he calls "Chez Whitey") into a graveyard for Mopars. Cuz Chrysler's where it's at: Dodges and Plymouths, 1969 to 1974. They were simple back then, and all you need is a Mopar manual--if you can't figure it out.

But I'll probably end up with GMs, I figure. GMs are a dime a dozen. Chevies, Pontiacs, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, like that. I prefer Mopars though, cuz they have a sense of humor. They're just funny looking (cartoony, dinosaurish), and they don't take themselves so seriously--like say... a Ford does. I never liked Ford.

It was probably that '76 Mustang I once had. It was supposed to be a Shelby, but all it was was a Pinto with stripes. Goddamn turd!

So I think about cars, and then I jerk off. I've gotten pretty good at driving and jacking at the same time. The first time, I remember, I wondered if I was gonna crash or not. It was along this exact same stretch, and it was in a VW van. But I didn't. I just got more confident. Now I can even watch for trucks coming up behind, and I can stay on the gas and stay ahead of em. It's a lot of work for little pay--but if you don't do it it'll build in your nuts. And then they'll explode. Scientific fact.

So then I'm hungry. Christ, it's lunch time anyway. So I pull into a Wendy's. A drive-thru. And I order a #2 combo, so I don't have to think. "Do you want a biggie with that?" the lady asks. "Sure," I say, "gimme a biggie." I don't know what the hell a biggie is, but I'm feeling like a biggie anyway. Whatever it is. I pull up to the little window.

A hand comes out and gives me a bag of food. Then the hand comes out again, and gives me a bucket of pop fit for a fatfuck. No shit! It's half a gallon or something. I wonder if I should take it. If I take it, I figure, then I'll have bad karma. Nobody needs that much pop.

But the cup says BIGGIE on it, and I ordered it--so I take it. And hit the road. Turn on the radio. Grub and drive at the same time, drink my pop.

The radio informs me about hurricane damage in America. It's up 86 percent. There have been more hurricanes this decade than any other decade this century. And the damage is staggering: it's up like 264 billion dollars. Who cares? I drive into Colorado, Color red. And it is.

And then it happens: the exhaust falls off. I hear it scraping and sparking and dragging beneath me. So I pull to the shoulder--and see that if I navigate a 30 foot strip of red-dirt and cacti, I can make it to a frontage road, where there's an incline on the other side. If I park on that incline, I figure, then I can get underneath the car real easy and fix it up.

So I wind my way over there, and drive up on the earth. But it's not earth (I find out), it's sand. And the stinking lima bean sinks right in. All the way to the floorboards. I get out and look at it, with Lumpenkraft on top. This motherfucker is beached. Definitely beached. I yam beached.

Serves me right, I figure, and suck on my biggie.

I'm not too enthusiastic about getting a move on on this chore. It's gonna take me all afternoon. But I gotta, so I do. It's a pitiful scene: me jacking and propping and digging with a paddle in the blazing dry sun.

I gotta dig a tunnel under the car, and then, basically, clear out all the sand beneath it so I can work on the exhaust. And of course, there are fire ants in the sand. And they keep on biting me--but what can I do? I keep on digging and jacking and swearing at the piece-of-shit.

And an hour and a half later I've got the exhaust wired back on. Coat hangers and tin cans, random clamps, nails through the rust. Exhaust work is the worst work on old cars. You always get rust in your eyes, and you always get cut up. And it never works out right. I curse the lima bean to death and crawl out.

Then try to back it out. It takes a whole nuther hour. I gotta dig and jack and prop and knock (the car in different directions) (so it'll falls on top of the paddles--which I bust when I drive on top of them), but eventually I get it out. And get back on the road. Exhaust dangling half-assedly below, sometimes scraping--in need of one central clamp. Carbon monoxide, no doubt, leaking up and fucking me up.

Fort Morgan: I drive through stinking Fort Morgan. The most noxious place in America. A slaughter town which burns up animal waste. Putrid flesh and rotten guts are singed into stench, then pumped into the air in the form of big black meatclouds rising from behemoth smoke stacks. This place turns my gut whenever I cruise through it... and it takes a lot to turn my gut. How these people stand this smell (which is really more than just a smell--cuz it's more like a heavy miasma) I'll never know. It's one of those smells that drains the brain, depriving it of oxygen. A headache always follows.

And I don't see a coyote--which is strange. Cuz I always see a coyote on this stretch. At least one.

Anyway, I turn off to Longmont, catch the Diagonal down to Boulder, and am not happy to see the Flat Irons at all. I pull into town, buy a clamp for 95 cents, install it in a parking lot, then continue on. Up the canyon, toward the outskirts of Rollinsville, my new home. Soon to be a junkyard, unbeknownst to Extreme. Who ain't gonna like my idea.

And there's his car. He hears me screech to a stop out front, and comes out to see me.

"Impulse, you asshole!" he greets me, and we hug.

* * *

Then in the morning I wake up in my car smelling gas--so get up, go around, look under, and yep: there's a leak in the stinking tank of the stinking lima bean and it's dripping in the dirt. So then the I'm under there with a tub of stove-pipe adhesive good up to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit (which I used on the exhaust of my '72 Fury and all it did was give me a headache) which I figure will harden enough to slow the flow and get me back to Rollinsville.

And the stuff is gooey and gross. I'm under there and gas is dripping in my eye and there's crud all over my hands and I'm swearing and punching the rust and hating my car while a host of hung-over frisbee athletes (with names like Captain, Grrr, Zeke, Crowd-Pleaser, Renzo, Guido, Orly, God, Moons, etcetera) stand around and sip their morning coffee, looking at pitiful me and being glad they ain't.

"You should get yourself a new car," Sweet Marina tells me.

"Yeah," Gruff Dave puts in, "you don't even like this one."

Then some Vietnam vet who's been living in a schoolbus comes over and starts making comments. He assumes I'm one hell of a guy because I have fishing equipment in the back seat. Anyway, he fires off a bunch of clichés, offers me advice on how to handle my problem, and my anger starts to boil. I crawl out from under there covered with black goop and the twisting visage of a serial killer. The vet backs off.

"I gotta get this thing back to Extreme's before it runs out of gas," I tell them--then hop in, start it up, and take off across some ruts which make my exhaust fall off. Who cares though? I get on the highway with blackened hands and a dragging muffler kicking up sparks in the dripping gas.

Which, of course, is a stupid thing to do. So I was vowing as I drove: "Come on motherfucker! You better not explode! Just make it this one last time and I'll never drive you again! I promise! Come on motherfucker!"

And I make it (teeth clenched, jaw locked) to Nederland, where I stop at the B & F and check out a station wagon that's for sale. It's a big green boat, an Oldsmobile (Delta 88 Custom Suburban), and solid as hell. A gas-hog no doubt--and kinda fancy for a junker-jockey like me, but I figure it'll be dependable--the engine seems to run pretty good. And hell, they only want $450. So I buy it on the spot (against all my motorhead ethics of car-buying, mainly: drive it till it drops).

But the Malibu still hasn't dropped. And I, for some distorted reason, still have faith in it. It could still go fifteen miles, or maybe 150--and if I figure out the gas-tank, maybe 1500. But still, I'd have to fix it everyday, three times a day, and the brakes ain't safe.

So I drive it back to the cabin (I'll pick up the station wagon later) trying to convince myself that it's okay to spend money on another car... which is A Luxury! Which is something I should feel guilty about!

So there's only one alternative: deny guilt; and change it into something else: like nonsense, which makes sense. So the moment I arrive back, Extreme breaks out his metal saw and we cut the top off the lima bean, and make it into convertible.

(Which is something every carguy want to do, but doesn't do, cuz what if it rains? This question, however, doesn't matter to me)

What does matter is going through with my junkyard plan. Cuz after this Malibu-hell, I'll be damned if I start a junkyard. Hah! What a farce! I hate piece-of-shit cars and I know it! So I'll be damned if I jump into a situation where my whole livelihood depends on them--for then I will surely kill something. If not my spirit or myself, then probably somebody else.

So I wipe that junkyard thought right out of my mind--and it feels good to know that I'm not gonna go and sabotage myself, just for the sake of experiencing something I think I wanna do--but I don't.

"Piece of Shit!" Extreme exclaims, referring to the lima bean.

"Piece of Beauty!" I reply.


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