A novel by EJ Spode.
Chapter 17: The Pelorum Avenue Street Racers
As I drove towards Sioux Falls from the Rocket Sisters’ place I became increasingly concerned about my dad’s Jeep. I had to keep the steering wheel at 30 degrees off center just to keep the car on the road. Fucking Daddy Larson and his Massey Fergusson had yanked the shit out of the car. I was concerned the frame might be bent. At a minimum it was significantly out of alignment. There was no way I could leave the car like that for my dad. He would tear me a new one of he found his car in that state when he got back from Arizona. I figured there was only one thing for me to do. I would have to stop and visit the Pelorum Avenue Street Racers. Once again, I needed their help.
The boys kept a garage on the edge of town where they hung out and worked on their cars. It was part clubhouse and part garage and part evil scientist laboratory. I pulled up to the aluminum garage door and jumped out of the Jeep and into the polar afternoon air. My first thought was that they weren’t home, but when I put my ear to the garage door I could hear a persistent roar of something or other and a fair bit of banging on metal. I pounded on the door and waited.
After a few seconds the garage door rose about a third of the way. Tom peered out from under the door and greeted me with a fist bump from his bent over position. His facial expression was somewhere between pleasantly surprised and relieved to have someone new to talk to.
“EJ, what’s up? Come on in! We gotta close this fucking door to keep the cold out.”
I ducked under the door and Tom rolled it shut as soon as I cleared the plane of the entrance. The first thing I noticed after righting myself was the source of the roaring sound. In the back of the shop the boys had built what looked like a small jet engine that they were using to heat the place. It was mounted on a platform that swiveled back and forth, blasting the far corners of the shop with toasty dry heat. They had fashioned a ventilating hood above the jet engine, but it was clearly not adequate to evacuate the fumes – the place smelled like an airport tarmac.
I had not visited their shop for a while, and while it still had the same basic features – polished concrete floor, corrugated steel walls, lots of skylights, there were new projects scattered around everywhere.
Tom (real name Tuam) is half Laotian (on his dad’s side) and half Swedish (on his mom’s side). He’s like the duck-rabbit illusion in that sometimes you look at him and he looks like a pale Laotian, and sometimes you look at him and he looks like a surprisingly tan Scandinavian. It makes my head spin. So does his clothing. He has an affinity for bright ethnic patterns (both Swedish and Laotian) and he routinely throws them together – for example, a Nordic sweater and stocking hat with a Laotian scarf. If you can imagine bright neon geometric patterns matched with subtly colored patterns of snowflakes and flowers and animals you have some idea. It’s not like mixing checks and plaids, but it takes some getting used to.
Tom offered to take me on a tour of the garage. On the south end of the building, Bruce was busy welding together a frame with metal tubes. Tom explained what was going on. “It’s a gondola for high altitude balloons – I could tell you about it, but then I would have to kill you.”
“Wait, what? You guys doing top secret shit now?”
“Like I said EJ.” And then he drew his finger across his throat in a slit-your-throat motion. I had no idea if he was serious.
Bruce shut down his torch, pulled off his welding mask and shook my hand. “Yo EJ, what’s the haps?”
Bruce is not nearly as colorful or as striking as Tom. He has a roundish waspy face and an uncanny ability to blend into a group of people and stay unnoticed for however long he pleases. This ability is facilitated by his choice of clothing, which I would describe as J. Crew Earth Tone Dull. Even his hair is Earth Tone Dull. Still, when he decides he has something to say he gets all intense and expressive and he can command the attention of a group of people at will – it’s like he materializes into a conversation and takes over. When he wants.
He joined our little tour and followed us to a station where Drake was monitoring four 3D printers.
All of the boys are in great shape and I’m sure they are considered handsome dudes in their circles, but Drake is definitely the stud of the outfit. He is tall and has long blonde hair — a full-on Scandinavian-American, but without the expected blue eyes. His are bright silver. When he wears a metallic jacket or silver earrings (he was doing both that day) his eyes take on this supernatural aura. He looks like a male model wizard. He shook my hand with an impossibly firm grip and explained what he was up to. I avoided looking at his eyes.
“Hey EJ. We’re printing engine parts in these here 3D printers. We make our own parts, but we also sell the fuckers online. It’s like printing money.”
“The fuck you say. How do you print engine parts?”
Simple, dude. We print straight from the design specs. If we don’t have the specs we can scan a part over there on that laser scanner, and then print it either on these two plastic printers, or if we want – like if it’s an engine part – we can print the part in steel or aluminum or anything we want with these two machines on the right.”
All four machines were humming away. The plastic printers were laying down a thin filament, layer upon layer as they built the part. I had no idea how the metal printers worked, but they looked mad diabolical – big steel boxes with enough lights and meters to induce science fiction fantasies about time travel, teleporters, and evil robots.
“Dude, the metal printers…”
“Right, the way the metal one works is the machine lays a thin layer of metallic powder and then a laser fuses the powder to the underlying layer. It’s called laser sintering.”
It was cool as fuck – Isaac Newton level alchemy. I looked through a window in the machine, and there were little flames where the laser hit the powder. Even though the process was enclosed, an acrid smoke managed to escape, completely overpowering the jet exhaust – at least at close range.
“Fuck, can you make anything?”
“Fuck yeah, we could print a whole car if we had a big enough printer. We made parts for that jet engine.”
“The fuck you say. Can you print me a new axel?”
“What’s wrong with your axel dude?”
While I explained how Daddy Larson fucked up my car, Drake pulled out a bottle of Jack Daniels and some paper cups and poured each of us a good three fingers of Jack. I asked if they had any Coke to put in it but Drake was not going to let that happen.
“Jack and Coke? Are you kidding me? That’s raping perfectly good Jack!”
“Yeah…I hadn’t thought of it that way…”
Tom gathered four green folding lawn chairs and set them up a circle, and we sat and sipped Jack neat from paper cups and bullshitted to the roar of a mini jet engine and the humming of four 3D printers.
I have to say that while I don’t mind the gayness of my friends, it does make me uncomfortable to get too tight with them these days. I’m not saying there is anything at all wrong with gay people or even people that dabble in same-gender sex. What I’m saying is that I don’t want to end up involved in buttsex with these guys or even brojobs. And I know, yeah, they aren’t always about that, but seriously, take my female friends. There are some that I don’t fuck, but you never know, some day one of them might say “EJ I really need to get laid tonight can you help me out?” and probably if I were drunk enough or feeling virtuous enough I would do it. As a favor. Now we both know that’s just something that opposite sex friends do for each other in a jam. It doesn’t mean anything; it’s like helping someone move to a new apartment in exchange for free beer. But what happens when a close gay friend needs to get laid and you are the only thing available? And what if I was drunk enough and virtuous enough to do it? I don’t know what the aftermath of that would be like so I’ve made a vow to myself that no matter how drunk or wasted I get, there will be no gay buttsex. Or brojobs either. Ever.
“So, gentlemen, when is the next race?” I knew the question would bring the otherwise taciturn Bruce into the convo. I hate to leave people sitting there on the fringe of a convo; it makes me nervous. Are they, you know, judging?
Bruce materialized into the conversation and took it over. “Sunday noon, if there is no snow drifting. We are gonna do it during the Vikings game so all the cops will be home watching their team fail some more.”
“Yah cool, who you guys gonna race?”
The boys are fundamentally a racing team. I mean, they will race each other now and then, but when money is on the line in these Sunday races they all put everything into one car.
“Some guys are coming up from Sioux City, and some gang from Rapid City, and … who the fuck is the other car?”
“Those Hmong dudes from Minneapolis,” added Tom, “they are supposed to be good; very good with Nissan engines.”
“What the fuck are Mung?” – In spite of my Ivy League education I had never heard of the Hmong before, and I was thinking it was spelled Mung.
Tom looked at me like I was an idiot.
“Dude, I’m Hmong.”
“What? I thought you were Laotian.”
“My dad is from Laos, but he’s Hmong.”
I had this idea that asking him what Hmong were again was only going to piss him off, so I just nodded and said “I see…”, even though I didn’t see.
Bruce got us back on subject: “Whatever they are, the story is that these fuckers know street racing. It’s being set up by Old Man Fergusson. Two thousand dollar first prize.”
“Jesus, where does Fergie get that kind of money.”
“He’s a rich fucking farmer. Some of these cats are so rich they don’t know what to do with it.”
Tom added, “yeah he’s a fucking land baron south of town.”
“Damn straight.” Bruce was getting more intense now. “Fucker just sits at home and collects rent checks. That’s all those rich ass farmers have to do.”
“The fuck.” This was news to me. I had no idea there was a class of rich ass land baron farmers –like so rich they were putting up prizes for illegal street races. It goes to show that you learn something new every day. Like for example, who knew that 21st Century gearheads make jet engines and high altitude balloon gondolas and use 3D printers to make car parts?
Bruce got back to the subject of the race. “We are gonna race my Mazda. We got it tuned really well. It fucking jumps outa the blocks.”
“It’s gonna smoke those cars from Sioux City and Rapid City,” Tom added “but we don’t know enough about that Hmong car.”
“Well, good luck dudes.”
“Thanks EJ, you should come to the race.”
“Naw dude, I gotta head back to school in two days… Which brings me back to my car…”
Bruce brought my Jeep into the shop and put it up on a lift. After messing around under the chassis for a bit, he came back with a diagnosis.
“Axel is fine; there is some uneven caster, side-to-side. Looks like that farmer bent the fuck out of your left strut.”
“Yeah I don’t know what any of that means, but can you fix it?”
“Sure thing bro, we can print you a new strut tonight and replace your bent-ass part tomorrow.”
I didn’t want to jet out right after they offered to do me this solid, so I told them about my plans for the prosetry slam. Drake took an interest.
“The Stockman? You are probably going to run into Tyrone there. He’ll definitely want to be in that contest.”
“Ah, he’s a brother.” (Translation, he’s gay.)
“But here’s the thing. You know how The Stockman sits by the railroad tracks?”
“And you know how trains only go by once a day or so and no one knows when?”
“Well, Tyrone claims that ten minutes before one goes by he knows it is going to go by.”
“That’s messed up. How does he know that?”
“Well he says his butt clenches up.”
I glanced at the other two guys to see if they were fucking with me, but they were just sitting there nodding.
“OK, you know Drake…I…” I had no idea where to go.
“It’s some serious psychic shit.”
“Are you trying to tell me his ass is psychic?”
All three nodded and said “yeah” and “definitely” and I kept wondering if they were fucking with me.
But there was more to his story, as I learned when Drake continued.
“The dude is obsessed with chocolate donuts.”
“Chocolate donuts, man.”
Tom and Bruce were nodding again.
“I dunno, it’s pretty much all he wants to talk about.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s all he wants to talk about.”
Tom: Chocolate donuts
Drake: ….Chocolate donuts
Bruce: ……..Chocolate donuts. It’s true.
“You mean like chocolate covered? Or chocolate cake donuts.”
Tom: Chocolate covered
Bruce:…………….Chocolate … both probably
I had no idea how to process this, and decided I didn’t actually need to try. I also decided I had stayed long enough, and excused myself with the actually quite true explanation that I was going to go and reconnoiter the Stockman.
As they packed me into their loaner car, all I could think was that those dudes were fucking lifesavers. Not only had they loaned me a gray Subaru WRX to drive for the night, they had done some of their mad scientist magic on it because it had supernatural acceleration. As I headed towards the Stockman I felt like the car was skipping down the road. That was kind of how I felt, too – like I was skipping down the road.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Image: Jana Astanov.
Chapter 1: Giants in the Earth:
Chapter 2: The Welcome Inn:
Chapter 3: Dimebag Bob’s:
Chapter 4: The Trojan Horse:
Chapter 5: The Turtle Diaries:
Chapter 6: The Cartagena Diaries
Chapter 7: Penny
Chapter 8: San Pedro
Chapter 9: Triggered
Chapter 10: Letters and Dreams
Chapter 11: Helena and Steady Eddie
Chapter 12: Circe
Chapter 13: Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Chapter 14: The Sleepover
Chapter 15: The Bittermilk Road
Chapter 16: The Rocket Sisters
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, February 19th, 2017.