You know that high pitched hacker’s cough, vile as a lung-rotten x-ray, cranked up to rip your ears off until you think spongiform bronchial tubes held together by coffin worms are being shucked out through the mouth? That’s what it sounded like.
It comes from the valley, a long narrow valley that looked like an elongated palm, an immense fleshy jungle, serrated and pock-marked with trees, urban swill, commercial mud, trapezoidal farms, bondo shops, composite board shacks that sell massless jelly donuts, insurance agents that cater to the desperate and the uninformed, Korean nail parlors in cinder block bunkers who specialize in hallucinogenic and carcinogenic finger coverings, liquor stores clothed in bullet-proof plastic, and an elegant Japanese restaurant in a Victorian mansion, owned by Koreans and closed on every single Saturday of the year.
A two-lane road split the middle. The track was on one side of the road with hills of trees in the distance, a green resounding chamber, and on the other side of the road a video store in a plywood shack next to a dealer of earth moving equipment — beefy backhoes, mud clogged crawlers and dump trucks, spidery cranes that hinged in half and folded back on themselves in the front yard that faced the road, a bankrupt used car lot with three forlorn cars that could not be sold even in the best of times, a pizza shack, wood and tin, and a farmer’s field that drained towards the road, pooled with water or muddy with the ungodly stink of vegetation gone bad, and behind all that, facing the hills of trees across the road more hills of trees on this side of the road so the sound had proper amplification before it was express-mailed out to the countryside. High up on these hills, as if on tiptoe, and back as far as they could afford to be from the road, were expensive houses whose owners were in a frenzy from the noise and fumes of the track which was, they felt, almost in their front yard, though in fact it was hundreds of yards away. It was a twenty acre kidney shaped sink hole composed of mud and stones or dust and stones depending upon the season, and when it came up for sale the people whose homes were on the hill thought it would be purchased by a commercial developer and stocked with the mirror image of the other side of the road. They thought nothing more of the project, and when the stands were built speculated that some kind of sports arena was in the making. Baseball? Soccer? Football? Then the first stock car, a blown Jimmie with Iskie heads and straight through pipes gave the track its first test run. The phones went off the hook. The F.A.A., the E.P.A., mayors, state legislators, petitions were circulated. A local election was coming up and they ran candidates who would change the zoning, invoke sound ordinances, health hazards, Clean Air and Water Acts, anything they could think of. They had become unhinged at the sounds from the track, more than unhinged, had developed a psychotic froth that turned into chained-dog madness when they heard it every Saturday night.
But that was only the sound of one car, and if they thought that was bad wait until it became fifteen or twenty cars, and that sound multiplied twenty or thirty times. Excruciating, painful, agonizing, distressing that sound, the nastiest of amplified explosions, rippling and raw even to the biologically insensitive. The lawyers and doctors in those expensive houses hear it. Real estate dealers never show houses on Saturday night, not in the valley, not miles from the valley. And it wasn’t just the noise. The thoracic and cardiac specialists, the copyright, estate & tax lawyers, the investment bankers and stock brokers could always smell the track from their mini-chalets clinging to the hills even as they tried to block out the sound.
Nitro-methane: a noose for the lungs; it scrapes the trachea, threatening to close down the entire breathing system and crack the heart. Take a deep whiff.
Oh you bet they can, especially when they sit down to drinks before dinner on a hot, still afternoon, the air too tired to move.
A perfect day to pollute.
First the ear shattering sounds, then a pale pool of blue and gray stink rises from the track. This is money odor, money sound. The owner of the track is a small fat man who loves to make trouble for the rich and powerful. Joe Okra, Greek/Turk, small only when compared to the willowy Buick and Lincoln drivers who live above him, fat only when compared to the lean Chrysler and Cadillac drivers who tower over him on the hill. (“Is this a fucking great country or what?” he says to one of the people on the hill. “Excuse me Mr. Okefenokee, but this is not your country, you and your Mid East kind don’t belong here.”) What does Joe drive? He drives anything he can get his hands on. He is also rich and powerful, but not in the way his uphill neighbors are, certainly not respected the way they are. His people, his audience are the army of men and women who make things you can touch, heating and air conditioning ducts, bar stools and restaurant chairs, they lay linoleum flooring and bond Formica to table tops and bar counters, they put on asphalt roofs and dig holes so the people uphill can have swimming pools, they make the foundations for the tennis courts and lay the clay down, rolling it neatly and smoothly, they carpenter the balloon frame houses, lay the brick and pour the cement for the stone houses that spring up on hill tops at exorbitant prices, spoiling the view for everyone else for miles around, they pump gas, change oil, fix transmissions and replace rusty exhaust systems, smear bondo in dented fenders and sand ‘til smooth, they put in storm sewers and storm windows and thermal pane windows, they do yard maintenance, clean septic tanks, wash windows, vacuum rugs, drive the trash trucks, do the things that the uphill people pay them to do and live in houses or trailer camps down in the valley along the river which floods at least once a year so their homes or trailers are propped up on cinder blocks and anything of value in the house is kept off the floor, but the only thing of real value is out in the garage or on the front lawn under a blue plastic tarp.
What perfume! A silver fog, poisonous and patriotic, hangs over the cars as they begin their churn around the track. The dirt is crisp with re-fried oil, shinning and slick, with slivers of steel that catch the sun and contain several concentrations of heavy metals. Grass staggers to the edge of the track, gray to its vegetative bone. On the edge of the track, in the staging area where the car trailers unload and the engines are fine-tuned and wound out to their limit, are several gray-leafed trees, thin and bent, bark withered by petrol-chemical fumes with branches that curve at arthritic angles. Strange purple and blue weeds pop up near the track, weeds that sprout hair and thorns with tiny little barbs that work their way into flesh like fish hooks, weeds that need little water and not much in the way of good soil. It is unwise to get the oil of these weeds on your skin.
“Hey American peckerheads, this is the garage of the soul!” says Joe. “Racing is being done here.” He grabs the microphone from the gravel-voiced announcer and shouts over the loudspeakers, “Don’t you just love this shit? Ain’t this the goddamdest best shit you ever saw?”
He has forbidden the drivers to wear helmets on the theory that people like to see faces and hair blowing in the wind. He doesn’t like his drivers in crew cuts or brush cuts and he’s not big on safety belts either, a little Sam Browne belt across the middle is good enough for him. Last season he gave his drivers Indian names to spike up attendance: Chief Wampum, Big Horse, Squaw Chaser and mixed them in with No Brake Jake and Charley Fuckin Carburetor. Well, that didn’t work, anymore than the crop duster he hired to spray a mist of cow crap on the roofs of the houses up in the hills with the warped idea it would drive the richoids out of their expensive houses and down to the track. Ha. He got lawsuits for his trouble, but he collects them and papers one side of his plywood office with legal and environmental judgements, all of them ordering him to cease and desist. Cease and desist what?
“It’s Joe Okra here, Joe OK. I’m here to make your day so effen fantastic you’ll feel what’s happening in your pants isn’t legal.”
Joe OK could be called greasy. Lots of people on the hill call him that, mostly people whose skin is pinkish, but some whose skin is brownish, or yellowish, or purplish. They call him that because he has a habit of in-close and fast-talking. He will grab you by the elbows while he explains, looking up at you like a small boy who wants to explain something terribly important to his slightly hard of hearing and dense father, but you are afraid that what he really wants to do is pull himself up on your shoulders, weight you down, shout in your ear, and corral your mind.
But he is especially happy today because he has just installed new amplifiers at his track, ostensibly so the crowd can hear over the sound of the cars, but several of the loudspeakers are aimed at the hills across the road, and he knows he can be heard by the people in those expensive homes.
He laughs a long maniacal laugh, one of those drawn out cackles, like a brace of hen’s beaks raked across a wooden picket fence, amplified through twenty feet of old Woodstock woofers and tweeters.
The sound is so loud it is almost silent, an apocalyptic vibratory disturbance, the all-time rush hour between 20 and 20,000 hertz. It cleanses the system the way septic shock makes the nerves stand to attention.
The stands: wooden planking that sags in the middle, some of it starting to rot where the water has collected, held up at both ends by a questionably rusty iron framework of triangulated X’s. Plenty of beer, gin, Southern Comfort and J & B in paper cups, stirred not shaken, passed from hand to hand, meat on a stick and meat in a bun, hats with long bills to keep off the sun and water soaked bandanas to ward off the petrol-chemicals, pointy-toed snakeskin boots on the men who have legs and for those in wheelchairs black t-shirts with robotic insects printed on the front that claim they can never be killed, low-heeled shoes on their women who wear shoes, most have a straight blade knife or a folding blade knife buckled to their belt, a few handguns (thirty eight caliber the choice, forget nine millimeter Glocks because who is so unpatriotic as to plug someone with a foreign gun?) tucked away in the boot or under the dash of the F-150 along with the baseball bat (you want to see who’s license??!), seat cushions, rusty church-key, buck horns behind the front seat which is behind the 30-06, ads for unrestored Deuce Coupes torn from pennysavers and crammed into the glove compartment next to well-creased and stained centerfolds, squirt cans of WD-40, carburetor Kleaner, and Turtle Wax.
Perfume, the sweet gagging scent of hydrocarbons from the swamp.
Beethoven, Mahler at their best: the trombone sound of a 427 Ford with a Holley carburetor, Iskandarian cams, an Edelbrock manifold and straight through pipes.
Oh my god the cars!!
‘67 Impala SS Fastback, 1967 RS/Z28, 1969 Chevrolet Camaro “RS DOUBLE COPO,” ‘78 Monte Carlo, 1965 Super Sport Chevy Malibu, 1961 Impala bubble top, 1948 Chevy Stylemaster Business Coupe, and those are just the Chevys, we haven’t talked about the Fairlanes, the Mustangs, the R/T Hemis, the Rocket 88s, the Kaiser-Fraziers and Studebakers, we haven’t mentioned the Willys, the disguised Offenhausers, the Kurtis Kars, The Crosley Hotshots with the Chrysler Hemi engine swaps, The King Midget Cars (put them together, in your own garage, in your spare time, for just hundreds of dollars, and if you want to have some real fun, hey, junk that miserable 250 cc four-banger and drop in a 6 liter OHV V-8, Caddy, Ford, Chrys Hemi) or any of the cars built on 32/34 Ford frames, 33 Dodge business coupe frames, cars built on tube frames, TIG or MIG welded.
The cars we haven’t mentioned? Oh my god we don’t have space to mention the cars we haven’t mentioned!
What’s in the cars?
Factory 427-425 HP “9561” COPO Option, also “9737” Yenko option, TCI 400 turbo with trans brake. Reverse shift pattern Ultra-bell Transmission, Chevy 12 bolt rear-end with strong spool, c-clip eliminators, Moser 31 spline axles and Richmond 410 gears Comp engineering ladder link suspension, AVO coil over shocks, full roll cage, five point harness, Esper gauges, Lime Rock B&M pro ratchet shifter 15×10 rear and 15x 4 front centerline wheels with Mickey Thompson 29×11 slicks, four gallon fuel cell, Holley blue fuel pump, fuely heads port&polish, Isky solid Z35,2:73 rear, Rebuilt 350/300hp, 350 Auto with shift kit, Completely New 12 bolt posi 3:73 rear end rated to 500hp, Rebuilt 462 Big Block, Rebuilt 350 Turbo with Shift Kit.
The start of a race?
We all say out loud that we don’t want a crash, just a good race, and then silently hope for a crash; stunning flames crawling skyward like sun-starved kudzu, metal torn off fenders, extravagant creases in hoods, doors ripped off, an apocalyptic run-into with drivers screaming and clawing their way out of fireballed vehicles, the catastrophic made casual, jellied balls of gasoline rolled through flame, cataclysmic compressions of metal, several cars smashed into one block, pieces of auto bounced off the bullet proof plastic at the end of the turns or sprayed into the air and the audience.
First through the turn. A Hudson Hornet (step-down design!), the driver fingering his ever present bow tie, he looks like John Foster Dulles, the bipolar dysfunctional head of the State Department, (based out of DC, in his spare time likes to race stock cars). The Hornet is perfect for Foster, a snappy hat brim sort of car that scootches along as if it was sliding through hot but slippery tar. Look at the dirt he’s throwing up in the curve folks, rear tires scratching for traction, digging into the track and shooting a spume of mud, but now, oh darn (shit), look, he’s going into a spin folks, trying to steer through it, right on the edge, oh no, he’s bumped from behind by someone who looks like that weasel Kissinger in a small block Chevy, no, not bumped, tapped, just enough to send Foster spinning while that Teutonic piece of kraut Kissinger (Gedanken von der wabren Schätzung der Lebendigen Kräte) thunders ahead. Yes, Henry the Horrible, head built for thinking, jaws like piles of peeled turnips causing that famous deep Thuringen sausage accent, is now in the lead. Folks, I wish you could see his toothy grin, that snarl on his ill-exercised lips. Typical German insolence! Beobachtungen über das Gefübl des Schönen und Erhabenen. Who’s going to wipe it off? And what’s he doing in America’s car, a small block Chevy?!!
Where are the Americans? Where’s Carl Yarborough, Bobby LaBonte, Richard Petty?And don’t Kissinger look cute? He can’t even drive right, he’s hunched over the wheel, hugging it to his breast like a primer on American citizenship, not working the high-low groove on the track but staying low, pushing everyone out of the way, a bully driver afraid to run the high end, it’s Teutonic fear that keeps him down low, near the infield, yes folks you can hear the deep squeals of terror coming from his uber alles throat, he loves that fear, Ach der Himmel, or something like that, as if he knows in his soon-to-be-clogged heart that his only salvation is to ride his fear, feed it bodies to run over and fenders to crunch, glass to smash.Wait, did we say Foster Dulles, John Foster Dulles? No, it’s not him. Looks like him but its not him. It’s John Dean, Bing Crosby neat but not really a politician, not elected to anything, but appointed, yes appointed and anointed because of his good looks, pleasant manner, easy charm. That’s the way he drives stock cars, striped shirt, seersucker suit, every mother wants to suckle this little boy, arms outstretched in the three and nine position on the steering wheel, elbows extended, a pipe in his mouth (can you believe that??!) as he is being shoved off the track by Kissinger. Yes, it’s tapioca pudding John Dean, and of course he would be driving a Hudson Hornet, a smooth car festooned with chrome spears that look like the silver bars you run through the collar under tight-knot ties, a spiffy car.
But wait, wait, did we say Kissinger? Not sure if it’s Kissinger, later for him and his South Bavarian accent, his discarded Werner Von Braum jockstrap, it’s either Kissinger or John Mitchell, he’s the one who’s shoved Dean off the track, or tried to, we can’t see in all the dust and smoke, paranoid, dyslexic John Mitchell with his many heads crammed into one, his skull a fully franchised corporation, face, eyes, ears wholly owned subsidiaries, jaws the size of junk bonds, a psychopath who hates Dean for having the same first name (hates everyone in fact which is what makes him such a good Attorney General, driven to it by his wife Martha Mitchell, a loud wide-hipped woman who dog-whipped him dry with her insatiable sexual demands) but really hates John Dean because of his pretty wife and her sweet reasonableness, her willingness to “stand-by-her-man”-ness (Martha is a tugboat running amok in a harbor of Chinese Junks).
What’s he driving? An Impala? A Caprice? No, not a Caprice, nothing family-fat like a Caprice, he’s driving a Monte Carlo, a Camaro, maybe an El Camino or a Silverado disguised as a car, he wants to whack the hell out of Dean and his car, you can see that on his face which is wrapped around his bulldog pipe, he drives like Kissinger, maybe it is Kissinger, he drives clenched fist, circling the track and waiting for his chance to ram into the side of Dean’s Hudson Hornet. Did we say fear here? No fear here. This is pure revenge. He wouldn’t mind killing boyo John Dean, pushing that cool little fart through the windshield, letting the glass rake the sides of that handsome little pecker-head’s pretty face. He’s too cute to be in the cabinet. Troy Donahue, Gig Young instead of Broderick Crawford, Walter Pidgeon. But it’s stock car racing, what the hell, people die here, what can you expect?
[It was an accident, I didn’t really mean to do it he tells John Dean’s pretty wife, I lost it on the downshift, third to second, hit the oil slick, my heart goes out to you and your family (is there a family, did you and Johnny boyo get it on to produce kids?), please accept my sincere aplogies and regrets (or at least insincere), if there’s anything I can do for you, your kids (My God what a beautiful ass you have! Could I have a look-see? ) sorry, just let me know, anything at all, it’s yours (maybe you’d like a little action, maybe you need a little, you know, whambammo), be sure to let me know.]
But hey folks, is that what you really want to see? Is that what you come out to the track to see? Do you want to see a nice young man like John Dean with his pretty as a crocheted-picture wife ground into pudding between pieces of sheet metal, is that what you want?
Clouds of American dust, patriotic smog, oil soaked curves where Dodge Chargers skate merrily sideways across the track, swerving madly to avoid the Fords and Chevys, Plymouths, Hudsons, other Dodges, DeSotos, Mercs, Pontiacs, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, especially the OHV 88s, but rarely Studebakers, never Nashes, never Packards, few Cadillacs, simply not allowed on the track, too refined, too impotent, too obscure, too expensive, the factory people, you folks, who go to these races want to see the popular models smashed.
A great race, damn what a great race! Hey folks, this is America, Fourth of July hamburger, ham n’ eggs and racing slicks, smoke and gasoline fumes, this is what it’s all about, freedom to drive and smash, kill and spill, don’t let anyone tell you different, we’re here to run and gun, we’re a nation of drivers, we love those big ass grabbin’ V-8s.
Fords mauled, Chevys maimed, Dodges demoralized. I wish you folks listening on the radio were here. You’d love it.
Mitchell or Kissinger is circling the track looking for Dean. And behind him is Earlicky and Haldeboy who would like to smash into him, mistaking him for Kissinger, or Kissinger for Mitchell. Earlicky and Haldeboy drive Buick Roadmasters, four porthole models that throw up clouds of dust and wallow like pigs on ice. They like Buicks but have never won a race in them. This is why they are Earlicky and Haldeboy; the idea is not what you can win, but who you can maim. They like the bumpers on Buicks, big, heavy, twin chrome tits, Z cups, famously known as spine collapsers. They race around the track hoping to take someone unawares and then smash them into the wall, cream the heck (hell) out of them, that’s what Buick bumpers do. Tell them this aint no demolition derby, but then they’re in his cabinet and you can’t tell them anything.
(But hey folks, don’t miss next Wednesday night. Cripples Night. If you’ve got a tongue missing, part of a nose off or look ear rumpled, you get half off on admission. And you already know about the drivers that night. One-armed Eddy Anderson and the boys from the Amvet chapter, swell guys, they like nothing better than to take it out on each other at the track. Should be a heck (shit-kicking mayhem) of a show, so comeon, y’all.)
What are we going to do about Mitchell(Kissinger), folks? He’s still in the lead, that short block Chevy running and gunning. Who’s going to take him out? And where’s John Dean, where’s the Hudson Hornet? We don’t care if he’s pecker handsome, he’s our pecker handsome and we love that Hudson, hate to see that step-down design demolished.
Uh-oh, he’s right in front of Mitchell, folks, he sees him coming, he’s pedal to metal gunning the big bore Hornet the heck (hell) out of there. But he’s a young driver, little jittery on the wheel, you can see that because his rear is doing a little tap dance when he needs a fox trot, comeon boyo, straighten your end out, you don’t want to be going into the turn wriggling your rear (ass) because then you’ll be sliding all over the place and it’s a signal for that putz Mitchell to tap you again, wait till you slide, then push you into the wall where he can do the sambo on your side, mess you up good like he did to those protestors (what the hell were they protesting about anyway, did we know, did we care?).
What’s that look on Mitchell’s face? Is that a grin? Does beef smile? What about slabs of the stuff? It’s not a laugh, it’s like a laugh, it’s a kind of glee/grin, the same kind of look he got when he drew up plans for ridding the country of protestors, the Junk Bond King of Law & Order (and how did Kissinger feel about Mitchell? Hoo! Hate is too mild a word for Kissinger’s feelings about Mitchell).
How can he get so much speed out of that small block Chevy? And he’s driving like Richard Petty. Where’d he learn that? The track is his. He lets slower cars draft him and then whips under them in the turns or coming out of turns. Who taught him to drive like that?
He’s closing in. Things look bad for Dean. The Hornet is straining but the Chevy is gaining. About five cars have dropped out now: a Camaro, rear ended, a Torino, busted steering link, 2 Dodge Chargers, flat tire, broken oil line, and an 88, burnt out valve. The Camaro was flipped, the driver ended up in the grandstand holding his foot in an unusual way, he’ll be OK, but I don’t think he’ll be walking much. His foot is bloody, leg, chest too. Hey folks, let’s give him a big hand.
Who did that to him? Earlicky and his big-titted Buick bumper?
Oh wait, this is priceless, at the back of the pack, the absolute back, is a Nash Ambassador, a pig of a car, how did they let that on the track, wallowing back and forth, driver pumping his arms like he’s drawing water, folks, you should see this, the driver looks like Charlie Chaplin wearing a derby, is that a mustache he’s got? Heavy beard, recently shaved but it doesn’t do much good, this nincompoop and his Nash are a positive menace on the track, going side to side, the judges should wave him in, he’s going to get broadsided, he can’t drive, this is awful.
A clown, this guy’s a clown.
He must have been hired by the track for cheap laughs, he wallows around, trades paint with the other drivers, then goes belly-up into total smash, takes out the slower running cars and leaves the track to the leaders.
Mitchell is closing in.
Uh oh, this is trouble.
Mitchell is trying to get around him but, no, this clown we thought was in total smash has uprighted his car and he keeps dancing back and forth across the track, no idea this guy, he’s a screw banging in a can, the waddle on a fat lady, a loose boil on a butt.
Hey, look at him, he’s sticking his head out the window, waving, who’s he waving to? What’s he saying? Can anyone hear what he’s saying?
Two fingers sticking up, is that some kind of sign, some kind of salute? What about it folks, do you know what that means? And what is this putz doing now? He wants … to what? Wants to talk to the folks in the audience? Hey, nincompoop, this is a race this isn’t politics, it might not be Daytona or NASCAR but we’re racing stock cars here buddy, can’t you smell the cancer in the air? We’re not interested in PR, got no time for sharing our feelings, no time for touchy or feely, everyone here in this race from banged up Malibus to Torinos, Chargers to Furies, we’re in this to win buddy, and we don’t go up into the stands to win, we win here by going fastfuckingfaster on the track Mr. Cowcaca, boom-boom, ba-da bing-bing.
Hey, Mr. Cowcaca is back in the race, and it looks like, yes he looks like, it is, Mister (vee for velocity) Richard Nixon.