The Speed of Life

We always hear about how, in times of high adrenaline or points of peril, time slows.  But what I remember as I ran toward the house, yelling “call 911” is how fast I seemed to make it to the nearest door. Not how long it took me, not how each tick of the clock seemed to hang, or how a moment felt like an hour. It felt like life—or fate—was hitting the fast forward button, impatiently searching to see how the accident was going to end.

"On a large enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” --Chuck Palahniuk

Screeching tires and metallic crash set the clock spinning. The silence of living mass in helmets and leather jackets collapsing to the ground and tumbling to the shoulder; the bodies’ delicateness manifest in the comparative hush the way a trampled flower makes no sound. But alas, the images we carry with us speak loudly.

Survivor stories always seem to include at some point the declaration that the catastrophe survived seemed unreal, dreamlike. But what I remember as I ran back to the accident scene, seeing an open wallet laying on the dusty side of the road, was how this was the stuff one couldn’t make up. Not how unreal it was, but rather how frighteningly real it all seemed. For, staring up at me from behind a thin veil of a translucent plastic sleeve was a school photo of a pretty brunette girl, maybe a freshly minted teenager. A daughter for certain, though.

Moans of agony pierced the silence; motors had died but rider yet lived. The damage had been done and all that remained in its wake was stillness, of vehicles and of bodies. But cries of pain meant life, and the soft rustling of leather on gravel spoke volumes, piercing not only time

and space, but heart. It said with clarity that the young girl staring at the sky from her daddy’s wallet would cry over the road rash and bruises, but not mourn an irreplaceable loss.

The first slurred words of consciousness meant that tragedy would not fill the newspaper: an accident report would be written, not an obituary.

"A daughter may outgrow your lap, but she will never outgrow your heart." --Author Unknow

The wail of sirens in the distance lifted fate’s—or fortune’s—finger from the remote, and life resumed at normal speed.

The Letter You’ll Never Read

“I found a place so safe, not a single tear/ The first time in my life and now it’s so clear/I feel calm, I belong, I’m so happy here.” –Avril Lavigne

I start in my goodbye letter by saying how tragic a loss it is for the ones you left behind: the evidence was clear in the packed funeral home and the street choked with cars parked on either side. A lot of people loved and cared about you, it was easy to see.

I progress to verbalize the sentiment of the lamenting tears cried by so many as you were eulogized at the youthful age of 21; a collective air of untimely loss hung as heavy as water vapor in the humid summer air. But alas, here the divergence between the goodbye letter I wish I could write and the missive that needs to be written emerges.

I wish I could tell people how you overcame obstacles like losing your parents in infancy and fought down the demons of your addictions to make something great of yourself. But instead I’m relegated to the truth: you died because you injected more drugs into your body than it could handle.

Remembering the sweet, shy girl with gorgeous eyes I knew from middle school, it’s my delight to recount the cute quirk of fate or small-town coincidence that would have your Sunday school teacher later become your DARE officer. A story-book ending woulde that his continuing counsel with you turned your life around. In its place, I have to say that in spite of acknowledging how many people cared for you and recognizing how much they wanted to help, you continued do abuse drugs and run ‘til the end.

In earnest I can say that there is a lasting and profound legacy you have left in me. While I would be remiss to omit
the butterflies I remember having when around you and the times I fantasized about us being close, I would be doing a disservice to the truth to exclude the broken heart, shattered self-confidence and cynicism you caused by abruptly picking drugs and crime over me.

No matter how much the disparity between what I desire to say and what my conscience tells me to include, it is perfect truth to say that I will always remember you and cherish the moments I had you in my life. I copiously proclaim the unfairness of the world for taking you too early, but take solace in the fact that your own brand of suffering is over.  Regretfully I append that your death was a penalty for a lifestyle those of us left behind know you didn’t need to live.

"Black star/Forever will you be/A shining star" --Avril Lavigne


In this goodbye letter you’ll never read I nonetheless offer you my heart that was filled with empathy too late, a hug of forgiveness that can never be given, a sigh of lamentation that now serves no purpose, and the wondering that will never cease: I wonder if I could have been the person to save you.

Ascension for Mediocrity’s Sake

"Expectant of greater things, We try climbing - Higher And Higher; An effort that costs us much, Leaving us short of breath To find only The ground below..." -Phillip Pulfrey,

Whilst searching for the fortitude with which I would resign myself to mediocrity, I set foot to the ground and traveled into the wilds so as to gather the courage for acquiescence. Upon the first low sun of my journey, I took shelter and rest beneath a swaying pine.  Before us lay a quagmire offering nothing to replenish a depleted body. Even the glimmering rays of dusk disappeared into its depths; the murky water refusing to give reflection.

Another day’s travel found my neck browned from the sun’s steady glow and my legs caked with the blood coaxed forth by the bushes’ thorns.  By twilight I rested on the bank of a meandering stream.  Sunset danced across the dawdling current, amethyst sky stretching and rolling over polished rocks, orange shafts of refracted light twisting around great boulders and hiding in reedy shallows.  Sleep welcomed the weary spirit, which the body cushioned by soft moss held.

By the journey’s third day mine eyes had set on the summit of a distant mountain, and mind told body the strength of spirit to settle for typicality laid amongst the clouds hiding the terrestrial peak yonder like the small fruits veiled in morning’s thick fog.  The lazy stream that had night prior wet my mouth and lulled me into sleep like a self-soothing newborn received its life force from fresh rime atop the great earthen projection I sought to ascend .

"If you do not raise your eyes you will think that you are the highest point." -Antonio Porchia, Voces

Treachery in way of unsure footing, and assistance from vineage which did behave like the hand of a stranger whose pleasure derives from giving false assurance of strength only to release his grip and gleefully watch a gullible victim fall back from whence thee stumbled made the day one that left my hands marred, knees bruised, and life force depleted.  The anger harbored towards the weakness within and my need to conquer the mountain pushed my legs forward until all light had drained from above.  Celestial radiance was obscured by the protruding branches that mockingly poked at my arms continuously.  Only when I had fallen amongst the ground litter and hadn’t strength to again stand did I fold my tired body up like that of a fetus and surrender myself to sleep.

Shivers wracked the stiffened bones, shook awake the disillusioned eyes and re-bore the vitality that had set in, developed and receded respectively.  The bursting gales carried away the sparkling crystals of water that had sought to warm themselves out of existence by nestling my body.  As I rose from the damp earth and dead leaves below it came to be that I was enwrapped in the current of the sky; clouds swathed my body and kissed my warm skin before obeying the breeze’s tugs and commands of obedience, drifting away.  I was the great boulder that the lazy current twirled around.  The crisp exhalations of the high crag filled my lungs with verve, muscles twitching at the rejuvenation.

Standing at the commencement of my final charge to the apex, my mind greedy to drink in all the resilience the highlands had to offer, smoke began to churn about my head and fill my nostrils.  The whistling of the air and the sharp rocks spoke their own chants, and so a faint, distant greeting of hello did not fall as such on my ears, my mind did believe the winds to be the speaker.  But lo, I looked for the source of the sensory effluence and found a man dressed in skins who lofted his staff high, disrupting the tranquil, milky air that clung to him like peasants to an emperor.

With a booming voice as deep as overhead thunder he did ask of me, “From whence have thee traveled?  I know the distance must be great.”

"Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world." -Arthur Schopenhauer,

“From the village far below, whose peoples dare not cast eye upon this upsurge of rock nor entertain the notio n of traveling upon her.”

“And yet here ye be, standing before me in the mist of daybreak.  Sun is yet doing battle with Night to earn the reward of banishing Morning Dew.”

So that the great man who wore the skin of Bear did not take aggression against my encroachment, I yelled to him over the gales: “It is not for rebellious reasons I have come.  Rather, I have left my village to come here so that I may procure the countenance to spend the rest of my days amongst her people as a nameless hand that bales the sheaves and feeds the stock.  I have come for strength to face mine enslavers, to find the spirit to be bound myself like the sheaves.  They seek the sky in their growth the way I doth by foot, yet each of us are cut down for the sake of what is said to be good by the sages in our midst.”

After bearing my heart to the dweller of the high slopes, he rested his bearded chin upon the tip of his ironwood staff in contemplation.   Raising himself to speak, the man seemed mightier than he was priorly, as if each breath gave power for his shoulders to widen and his spine to lengthen.

“Your story rings true to me, weary traveler, for thou are not amongst the first in the low village to seek clarity on matters within by removing thyself to this elevation.  As I have sought bounty from the ground and that which springs from it, I find where thou heavy feet hath trampled the delicate fruits.  When I am keen for game, thou moans of confliction and questions of self cause them to stir and to flee.  Rebellion is perhaps not in thy mind, but is on thy heart.  Thee wishes to abstain from the death of diversity thou feel thyself condemned to and so hath sought sanctuary here.”

I meditated on what was being spoken to me and the heart inside spoke to me of its fresh enlightenment: that which had been uttered was the cadence of my feet, the pitch of my spirit and the hue of my life force.  Before I could thank him for the clarity yielded me in the haze of the mountain I heard thunder again.

"People who look through keyholes are apt to get the idea that most things are keyhole shaped." -Anonymous

“The villagers, thy people, see only what is before them.  They are like the moles who dwell the earth, making hasty paths that wander aimlessly, all the while proclaiming their work straight and true.  Yet Eagle knows truths not yielded to those below, not from his wisdom but from his vantage.  I watch the injudicious scurrying from my high perch; I know the ‘straight path’s’ windings.  The sheaves harvested are cut to thwart their escape to the sky.  Their stalks grow true, for they know the way to clarity.  Homes are built from the mightiest trees to fit this selfsame motive.

“And so many a man hath come to visit this mountain, his mouth naming the heart’s purpose many things.  All seek the same as thou, and those who dare tread the steep slopes are yet to bear the burdens of life.  For the heavy and bent backs of the aged entrap them at the foothills.  They have learned mediocrity and mediocrity has pervaded the essence, calling itself by many other names.  Not the least of which is “right” or “good.”

"I am chained to the earth to pay for the freedom of my eyes." -Antonio Porchia, Voces

“What am I to do?” I inquired of the man wearing eagle feathers about his hair, talons about his neck. “The village below seems now as muddied as the lightless swamp I settled near two nights prior.”

The man spoke again, holding his arm out to me.

“This skin of Bear which doth scare off chills and drinks in dew was not born to me.  Neither hath I a weapon with which to kill at distance.  No, I settled into this skin the way you must settle into your own: with a clear mind and light feet.  Let not thy thoughts be burdened by nor envious of the height of the crop, thee must harvest just the same.  Trample not the sweet fruits of nature as you contemplate thy lot. Walk lightly within thy own forest and find within thyself that which doth scare off the chills of angst and drinks in dew borne of saddened eyes.  Wrap thyself in skin so even though the tempest doth yet blow, ye may know the wonder of being warm.”

I did then depart from the man of the mountain to meditate on all of his words.  Upon finding the unchanged murky water, which was yet stubborn and did not give reflection, I looked to the left and looked to the right and found succulent water plants.  I looked to my thrashed legs and saw not all of which stained me was bitter blood; for I tasted it and some was the sweet nectar of berries imparted on me as I journeyed.

Upon returning home I was given to believe myself a fool having traversed the land beyond the clouds.  Yet he who dwelleth amongst the earth and wears dirt on his face and hands mocks easily those with wings, which soar majestically and understand trueness from unlying perspective.  So was I mocked though I bore the same filth upon my body at days’ end, for I had seen the low land from Eagle’s vantage; my journey a scar to be bore the entirety of life remaining.

"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight." -Kahlil Gibran

Harold’s Truck

"Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be." -Fanny Brice

In spite, perhaps even in direct defiance of being a child born in the digital age, I harbor a deep love of simpler automobiles that rolled, decades ago, from the factories in Detroit. I’ve grown up connecting with kin while under the hood of Pennsylvania Iron, and it only takes a short drive to see that we are a dying breed. So when I found myself broken down in my 47 Dodge pickup the other night I was relieved to have received help from someone who also had a warm spot for antique iron.

I had been heading back home from a cruise in on the outskirts of town, when a snap, a cacophony of thuds, screeches and finally, silence, landed me on the dusty shoulder. Before the truck even stopped I knew what had happened; since my truck’s just a cab sitting on a boxed thirty-deuce frame I watched the fan belt snap and launch away from the pulleys. After leaning over the radiator to make sure there wasn’t any other damage, I made my way towards the back of my rod and took a seat on the rear cheater slick. With a sigh, I consulted my mental map to determine in what direction the nearest garage or parts store might be. Dusk was coming on fast, so the nine to five joints were quickly struck from the selection.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve regretted living the “old skool” life faithfully. The first had been when my first real girlfriend dumped me because of how unpopular my rolled up blue jeans and white t’s were among her friends. Apparently she thought she could change me. Anyway, being without a cell phone while broken down halfway home from a 50 mile trek through Spartan territory took the cake.

“There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle” -Robert Alden

At first I thought the sound was just the wind blowing across dry, open land; dust devils tended to whir when they got big enough. But then a sound like someone blowing over the lip of an empty beer bottle became louder and changed pitch until I recognized the harmonic hum of exhaust being funneled through a catalytic converter-less system. I looked up and saw two yellow glowing globes of incandescent headlights growing brighter and getting larger.

No sign of him slowing down I thought, as I heard the steady resonance of the motor. I stood up from the tire and took a step and a half closer to the edge of my lane.  Just as I could make out the silhouette of an old, stock pickup, I threw up a hand and starting waving. Still the old motor churned steady. My knees started to quiver with worry until I heard a pop and saw a quick, small plume of orange fire exit one of the side pipes. He’s slowing down!

I could hear the truck downshift into low gear and when it was only a few dozen yards before me the truck’s own headlights illuminated the chipping navy paint job and oxidized F1 hood plaque.

The old drum brakes stopped the truck a short gallop beyond my truck and so I started running after it.  There were cracks in the original red plastic lenses where little slits of white light escaped into the twilight.  Now at the passenger window, I could see an old man behind the wheel. He had a long, curly gray beard and a greasy John Deere ball cap perched atop his hairless head. He made a motion with his arthritic hands for me to open the door, and so I grasped the heavily oxidized chrome door handle and twisted it upward.

“What seems to be th’ problem?” the old man said with a gravely voice.

“Broke a fan belt,” I said.”

What size ya needin’? he asked.

"Failing to plan is planning to fail. " -Anonymous

“I dunno” I answered, and instantly realized how ignorant I sounded in spite of having built the truck from scratch and taught myself how to chop its top.

“Then how’d ya ‘spect to get a new one that fit, son?” he asked, scratching his chin through his beard.

Before I could answer, the old man launched into what must have been an oft-used homily. “Kids these days, mm, mm, mm” he said disapprovingly. “Wasting their time in front ta’ computer screens and not botherin’ ta’ grow themselves no common sense. Why, back in my day those shoe laces woulda’ been unlaced and tied tagether and routed ‘round everything I needed ‘ta drive with tha’ belt so’z I knew what size I’d be needin’.”

I looked down at my dusty Converse and instantly felt myself blush in the presence of such an obvious first step. I told the old man I’d just be a minute and ran back to my 47 to measure.  I pinched the spot where the aglet overlapped the excess lace and walked back to the truck.

“There’s a measure in th’ glove box.”

Now seated on the worn out bench seat that was covered with an old wool blanket, the old man extended a grimy hand and introduced himself as Harold.

“Yessir, they shoulda’ never stopped makin’ ‘em like this” the old man said on the ride, stroking the metal dash. “Back then, a man could fix whatever went wrong.” I nodded along, agreeably. He repeated himself, “shoulda’ never stopped makin’ ‘em like this.” He was right.

Lost in my own thoughts for longer than I realized, I suddenly became aware that we had reached our destination: Harold’s garage. A coincidence? I wondered.

“Here ya are,” the old man said, holding in the clutch and dropping the truck into neutral. “Ask for Tim once ya get inside. He’ll take care of ya.”

I thanked the old man and rushed inside the office part of the garage, anxious not to keep him waiting any longer than necessary. I walked into the one bay garage, bypassing the dark office to look for Tim. I called his name and soon he rolled out from underneath the import parked in the garage’s only bay. I told him what size belt I  needed and followed him back to the store room.

“A ’47 Dodge, huh?” he asked.

“Pickup,” I responded.

Knodding approvingly, Tim said, “Yessir, back then’s when they made cars. Easy to work on, and fun to drive.” I smirked and nodded. “Nowadays there’s cars that park themselves!” Tim showed the same disdain for new technology as everyone I had been in the company of that night; it was refreshing.

Still talking, we walked back to the front of the garage. My eyes searched for the incandescent glow of Harold’s  F-1, but it was nowhere to be seen.

“What’s a matter, son?”

“My….my ride left!”

I walked out into the gravel parking lot and looked in all directions, but the low growl of Harold’s truck was gone. It was pitch dark out now, and just as I turned to walk back towards the garage to impose upon Tim for a ride, the garage’s floodlights came on and caught the faint reflection of the oxidized chrome door handle just right. I craned my neck and saw the flaking blue steel of Harold’s truck shoved up at unnatural angles. The passenger door was hanging open, glass broken. The hood hung crumpled like the lip of a foil pie pan, the box heaved up exposing the frame.

Just then I felt Tim’s large palm fall on my shoulder.

“Yup, that was another good old one. Dad taught me everything ‘bout fixing on that there old truck of his.  Once he landed ‘er in a ditch after having a heart attack I towed it here hoping to do something with it.  I’ve got a lot of good memories in that old truck and besides, I just hate to see old iron go to the crusher. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” I wasn’t sure if the man was talking about the truck still, or if he was talking about Harold. Either way, he was right.

"I think that we honor ourselves by honoring our past." -Tom Brokaw

A week later Tim delivered the twisted remains of his dad’s truck to my parents’ farm. As I unbolted the mashed fenders and crumpled hood to get to the mostly undamaged cab, I remembered watching Harold feather the clutch and let the slack in the steering sway his gnarled hands back and forth. I realized that it didn’t matter if I looked the part of a hot rod rebel or not. The important thing was appreciating old iron because they represent more than just some counter-culture movement or rebellion against the age.  “Old skool” has a deeper meaning; one that harkens back to a bygone era. Living for old cars and loving to work on them is a way of honoring the past, and of keeping the memory of people like Harold alive.

The Lobby

A hand at the end of a fully tattooed arm grasped one of the elevator’s doors to stop it closing. Nasha Stowe had already selected her floor, and now shuffled over to the side railing to make more than enough room for the second rider. Once the doors pinged all the way back open, jingling footfalls marked the man’s entrance. Her eyes fixed on her feet now, Nasha braved only a momentary glance over at the chain-adorned motorcycle boots Tattoos was wearing.

"The whole idea of a stereotype is to simplify. Instead of going through the problem of all this great diversity - that it's this or maybe that - you have just one large statement; it is this." -Chinua Achebe

As the elevator began to take Nasha to her floor, she became aware that she was pressing her hip uncomfortably into the hand rail and backed off just far enough. The ding of arrival set her feet in motion towards the pair of doors, which opened too slowly. Hurriedly making a departure while still keeping close to the side, Nasha tried to pretend that she hadn’t tagged the disappearing elevator door hard with her shoulder and kept walking.

At her apartment door now, Nasha threw a quick look over her shoulder. Her long blonde hair swirled about her face and her fur-lined hood fell part way off her head as she checked to make sure Tattoos hadn’t somehow developed the ability to stalk on cat’s feet before she tried her key in the door. The hall was empty.

Over the next few months, Nasha found herself sharing the elevator with Tattoos a handful more times. Occasionally she had stopped the elevator’s progress with repeated pressings of the hallway button only to find Tattoos riding inside. A few times she had to make a break for the closing doors and found him already inside, too. And, once or twice more, she had quickly shuffled to the extreme side of the elevator when she saw the colorful wrist and forearm slide between the nearly closed doors. She knew from the times that Tattoos had been first in the elevator that he lived two floors above her; a safe buffer she felt, considering the number of other twenty-something year old girls that must live between his level and hers.

The most recent of their unfortunate run-ins came about a week before Christmas. Nasha’s arms were full carrying a large package her parents had sent from back home. Toting the cumbersome brown parcel while her purse from slipping down her arm was enough, but racing for the elevator while trying to figure out a way to see around the giant box made a trifecta of challenges.

“No” she exclaimed when she saw the brown metal doors start to move. And as if she had yelled Open Sesame the doors dinged back open, and, stepping inside, Nasha let out a sigh of relief.

Straining under the weight of the package, Nasha had to boost the slipping box back up with her knee. When the elevator’s bell sounded off she glanced overhead to see what floor they were on and, to her surprise, it was hers. Stepping quickly off Nasha noticed that she was the only one exiting here. Glancing to her side, she caught a glimpse of the person who had held the elevator for her. Dressed in a black pea coat and matching scarf was a guy about her age with the cutest pair of dimples and inviting blue eyes peeking out from long straight brown hair. He was smiling, and so she shyly matched his smile as she padded down the hall. By the time she got to her door, the pleasantry had worn off and she became duly aware of how alone she was for the holidays.

***

Nasha woke up shivering. Pulling her sheet and blankets over her head did nothing to fight the bitter cold that crept deeper and deeper inside her bed. Shivering, she scuffed over to her radiator and found it ice cold. Blinking confusedly, she went to turn on the nearby lamp to inspect the problem, but alas it failed to give any light. Throwing open the heavy curtains from the picture window above the radiator Nasha saw an intense swirling snowstorm. The streets, sidewalks and roofs below her all looked exactly the same: pure white. The snow had obviously killed power and so she intended to walk to the super’s office.  After she got dressed, of course.

Bundled up like an Eskimo in what seemed like half of her wardrobe, Nasha slid on her boots and opened her door. She pressed the elevator’s down button and even though no lights illuminated the face, it took her a moment to put two and two together.

“Stairs” she said, annoyed.

As she opened the door to the ground floor lobby she heard all manner of voices engaged in lively conversation. Stepping onto the stiffly treated carpet Nasha felt a wave of warmth blast her exposed face. Before her there were about a half-dozen other residents gathered around in single layers of clothes talking and laughing, and nodding along to stories. A few of them had coffee cups in their hands; she wondered how they got it.

Walking over to a plump, middle aged woman she had seen around the building, Nasha asked quietly, “What’s going on? I was just going to talk to the super…”

“That’s what we all thought of doing, dear” the woman replied. “And lo and behold we all found out that there’s back up heat down here.”

Nasha found a stack of folding chairs and brought one to a far corner to unfold it. The heat still reached her in the crook of the lobby, but the small talk she found uncomfortable did not. And this is how I’ll spend Christmas she lamented. Alone while everyone else is together and having fun.

The door from the stairwell swung open and a middle aged man in sweats stepped out and exhaled loudly in receipt of the heat. He walked over in his slippers to the largest congregation and dove into the conversations.

A half hour later, the door had opened a half dozen more times. Some of the residents had carried on as usual, quickly exiting the lobby for the snow globe world outside while others mingled and got warm. A few complained, some reveled, but most were accepting of the situation. Nasha felt somewhere in between.

The door swung open again and she half-heartedly peered around to see who it was. Sucking in her bottom lip as she realized it was Pea coat, Nasha felt a tickle in her stomach. He had on thick snow boots with the cuffs of ripped blue jeans pulled over. He took a quick survey around the room and just as he finished his sweep his eyes landed on Nasha. She bit her bottom lip harder and caught herself as she began to divert her gaze and forced it back upward.

He smiled and she matched his smile. There were those dimples, again. Pea coat lightly tapped one of the other residents on the shoulder and asked something about the power. While he nodded along to an answer, Nasha forced herself out of her chair and she walked on newborn fawn’s stumbling legs to just out of arm’s lengths of Pea coat.

“Alright, thanks man” Pea coat said to conclude his conversation. He turned and stopped in surprise at Nasha standing so near to him.

“Hello” he said lightly, his dimples deepening with a lip smile.

“Hi” Nasha replied shyly.

“Having a good holiday?” Pea coat’s hands were thrust deeply into his pockets. Were they still cold?

“Yeah” Nasha answered half heartedly.

“First year away from family?”

A nod.

“Ah. I figured with the size of that box you were carrying a few days ago.”

“Yeah.” Another half-hearted answer tinged with shyness.

Pea coat brought his right hand out of his pocket and extended it to her.

"Stay open and challenge your assumptions." -Lama Surya Das

“I’m James” he answered.

A hand at the end of the woolen coat reached out and Nasha saw the beginnings of extensive tattooing.

Taking his hand and feeling its immense warmth, she glanced into his deep blue eyes.

“Nasha,” she revealed, smiling.


The Body Man’s Elves

This short story was published in the December 2010 issue of Paisano Publication’s magazine Rebel Rodz

Once upon our time there lived an old body man named Joe, who had fallen on hard times. Ever since a bad accident he had some years ago, times had been tough for him because he did not have the strength or stamina to work the way he could before. One day, when he was experiencing a particularly heavy bout of fatigue while patching the cab corners of a 1947 Chevy truck cab, he went home with the job uncompleted and collapsed woefully into bed. Before he left his shop, though, he laid out all of the tools and materials he would need to finish the repair so as to not waste any energy the next day. I’ll button it up tomorrow morning, he thought.

However, the next morning, after flicking on the fluorescent lights, Joe was astonished to see the rusted-out back corners of the cab ground shiny and the patch panels neatly hammer-welded into place. Sometime after lunch, a customer who had dropped the truck off a few days earlier came to check on the progress and was amazed to see the body work completed so perfectly and in such a timely manner. “Now I can get it painted in time to drive to the Nationals!” the happy patron exclaimed. Because of the speed and quality of work, the customer cut Joe a check larger than what he had been quoted and also promised him more business. Staring at his large paycheck, Joe was at a loss, not knowing what had transpired the previous night while he slept.

That night, he laid out the pair of buckets he had spent the whole day making. Previously, this would have taken him no more than a few hours, but with the whole day now gone, he would have to save frenching the ’59 Caddy taillights into a customer’s ’54 Merc for the following day. Next to the buckets he laid the two lenses, as well as the wires, a pair of wire strippers, a soldering gun, and a Phillips screwdriver. Lost in thought, Joe forgot to turn his welder off and walked to the door with his shoulders slumped, turned off the lights, and closed the door behind him.

The following morning, the taillight buckets were no longer on the workbench. After looking around the shop, Joe’s mouth dropped open as he finally found them neatly welded into the rear of the Mercury, with the red lenses securely fastened and gleaming with polish.

Before long, the old body man managed to save up a good bit of money from all the work that was being done. Even though he continued to chip away at the jobs lined up in his shop, the best work and indeed the most work was done after quitting time, once the lights were off. Experiencing renewed success, he soon began throwing money around in a way his friend’s hadn’t seen him do in years. Finally, when he threw a big anniversary party at his shop to celebrate one of his best years a couple of Joes’s friends decided to do some investigating.

Amidst the flowing kegs of beer and with an Elvis impersonator doing his thing, they cornered him. “Listen, man,” one friend, another auto body tech named Chuck, started up. “I still see you just puttering around in your shop,” he said in an accusatory tone. “So where is all this money coming from?”

“Yeah,” another friend who owned Jake’s Upholstery a couple of doors down added, “You were over at my shop crying about being broke just a few weeks ago!”

Jake shook his head and said, “He must be getting the extra cash behind Johnny Law’s back.”

At first Joe tried to convince his friends that he had gotten ahead by simply working more hours. When this failed to convince them, however, he decided to come clean. “All right, all right” Joe sighed. “Someone’s been coming to my shop every night and does my work, but I don’t know who it is.” Drunken laughter escaped from the old man’s two friends. “You’re losing it!” Chuck shouted. This drew confused and inquiring looks from the rest of the party crowd.

“Shut up,” he said to both friends. “I’m not crazy and I’m not doing anything illegal. Hang around after everyone leaves and I’ll prove it to you.” Wanting to salvage his reputation, Joe began collecting materials for a new project as soon as the party was over and only Chuck and Jake remained.

After finding a weld-on filler neck, Joe drilled a hole into the top of one of the emptied kegs. Setting the neck and keg on his workbench, he then wheeled over his TIG welder and plugged it in, hoping to have his secret nightshift workers make him a gas tank. With all of the preparation done, he corralled his two friends into a Model A that had come in for a paint job. The three men kept themselves hidden, looking out the base of the old Ford’s passenger-side windows, eyes peeled.

"Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real." -Jules Verne


Before long, three little creatures came sneaking into the shop through a louvered pipe that helped vent paint fumes. Sporting full tattoo sleeves, torn jeans and dirty wife beaters, the appearance associated with the classical, woodland-type fairies didn’t come close to matching the look of these pint-sized fabricators; instead they looked like elves from Santa’s worst nightmare.

Demonstrating significant upper body strength, they quickly and with ease climbed to the shelf of the workbench and then to the bench’s top. There the three mini metal magicians looked at the raw materials before them and assessed the job to be done. After deciding on a plan of attack, each carried out a specific task. The first shimmied back down the workbench to run the welder’s foot pedal, while the second straddled the top of the argon bottle chained to the welding cart and started the gas flowing. Meanwhile, the third elf slid the welding goggles hanging from his neck up around his eyes and pulled on his holey leather gloves. With the shield gas now flowing, the second elf came over and heaved the third onto the end of the keg and handed him the welding gun so work could begin.

Once their job for the night was completed, the diminutive metal workers traipsed back out of the shop, leaving the stunned friends to contemplate what they had just witnessed. It didn’t take long for them to realize the profit potential for each of them if they all kept the secret and kept these mini marvels feeling industrious.

“Hey, why don’t we do something for them so they keep coming back?” Jake asked.
“Do you think you could make them some jackets and boots?” Joe suggested.
Then Chuck spoke up. “Nah, we should pool our skills and make something really cool, like a chopped and channeled rod, but scaled way down.” So that’s what they did.
The trio spent the rest of the night and the next day fabricating a very cool and tiny rat-rod coupe made from left-over sheet metal and other spare parts they had lying around their respective shops. Complete with a couple of shreds of Mexican blanket spread over the toy bench and back seat and a fully functional miniature motor and complete drive train out of an old Chevy Apache model truck one of them had found years ago at a garage sale, the rod, once finished, was a marvel to behold. The three truly felt they had outdone themselves. Even the tiny shift knob sporting a skull pendant was pin striped, as was much of the otherwise patina’ed sheet metal.
The very night, the three friends hid in the Ford again and eagerly anticipated what surely would be a hell of a surprise for the elves. The ol’-skool elves came in as they had been for the past few weeks to do their thing. Almost as soon as they had entered the shop, they saw the rod sitting right next to the welder. They couldn’t believe their eyes. At first, there was silent amazement. Then the excitement spread. As the three elves ran around the tiny rod and pointed out this and that, the three men in their Ford started grinning from ear to ear, anticipating all the work they hoped to get out of the wee ones.

"Expectation is the root of all heartache. " -William Shakespeare

Soon enough and one by one, the munchkin metal customizers jovially slid into the vehicle. After cruising around the shop a couple of times, one hopped out and used a lever to raise the shop door just enough for the rod to fir through. He ran after it and let the door slam shut behind him with a loud thud. Joe and his friends heard the tiny engine revving as the tires squealed and the elves drove into the night. Much to the dismay of Joe and his friends who sat waiting in the Ford for hours, they never returned.

Google 8Ball

"Computers are useless. They can only give you answers." -Pablo Picasso

After swiping his thumb across his laptop’s integrated fingerprint scanner, Colton pulled up Google. He had a paper to write and needed to look up some autobiographical information about Steve Wozniak, and so he queried the name. Done scanning the various online encyclopedias and finding only dry, linear, regurgitated facts, Colton decided to look for a life summary in Woz’s own words. And so he queried the Videos feature.  A little more interesting, and with Steve talking about Apple’s garage based start in the interview, Colton quickly pulled up the Maps function and found a street level image of it as it stands today.

Now we’re getting somewhere, Colton said to himself. He saved the image. A few more keystrokes and the icon’s current residence was also viewable curbside. What a difference! Now that Colton had found a slant for his paper, “From a Jack to iKing” he took a break to check his email.

Placing his right eye within range of the retinal scanner located just to the side of the digital camera lens above the screen, Colton’s messages loaded. Updates from a half dozen ‘book friends, a forward from Aunt Lucy, blah, blah blah. Checking the spam folder, Colton sat up quickly and leaned in closer to the screen. Finally! The subject read “Your relationship question has been answered” and he quickly double-clicked it open.

After delivering the cold, hard truth on the query, this beta version had the audacity to ask “Was this answer helpful?”

Colton felt his stomach tie into a knot at the automated response. But with extensive psychological evaluations and all applicable medical records consulted by this new feature, there was no reason to doubt the results.  And so, in an effort to minimize unnecessary emotional repercussions from the impending break up, he queried “How to recover from a failed romantic relationship” and placed his eye close to the retinal scanner again.

Part of the inhumanity of the computer is that, once it is competently programmed and working smoothly, it is completely honest. -Isaac Asimov