Gratuitous

The morning’s peaceful start was shattered by the unmistakable sound of metal on curb. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach. A minor miscalculation in distance. I closed my eyes and squeezed the steering wheel, teeth clenched.

This is me breathing . . . this is me breathing . . . 

I limped the car into an open spot in the middle of a parking lot. I only moved a few hundred yards, but I could hear it . . . the sound of something that moved rubbing something that didn’t. I threw the car in park and killed the engine.

My trunk was still full of pieces of my car. Dirty rags and tools and methanol. I pulled my travel tool case out and opened it on the ground. I popped the hood. The pulley/fan positioned directly behind my new intercooler was mashed into the fins on the back side. I shut my eyes and twisted my face in anger, squeezing the edge of the engine bay with both hands. I could feel heat weeping off the headers.

This is me fucking furious!

I took a calming breath and was about to crawl under the car when a vehicle pulled up beside me. A middle age’d man climbed out of his commuter appliance with a huge grin on his face.

“Hey, is that one of them hopped up vee-sixes!?”

My face slackened into a dumbfounded expression. I compartmentalized the self-immolating rage over my stupid mistake and leaned on the edge of the engine bag as the man peered under the hood.

“Yeah . . . you could say that . . . “

“Wow . . . she’s clean! Is that the original mileage!?”

“On the chassis . . . motor only has a few thousand on it since the rebuild.”

He walked around with a childlike expression of awe. He didn’t see any of the warts. The stone chips, the slight lean in the driver’s seat where the bracket had failed. He echoed the same refrain I had heard a hundred times: Where did you find a Grand National!?

I gave him a quick tour under the hood. Talked him through some of the curious looking bits. The imposing looking compressor. The odd braided steel line feeding into the intake. He shook my hand and thanked me for showing him and waved as he drove off.

My phone began to vibrate. It was the Craigslist seller I was meeting. I needed to solve my “traction” issue. I scored a set of drag wheels for peanuts-and-beer money and plopped them into the passenger side.

I rang Moody and told him what I’d done.

We had spent the better part of a day fitting the new component into the engine bay, modifying and banging on parts as necessary to make it fit.

I was certain I could fix it, but he jumped in the Cadillac and headed north anyway. I crawled under the car with a wrench and loosed the mounts. I pulled and pried and muscled the component until I’d wrestled it back into its original position, with a hair’s worth of clearance on the fan blades.

People walked past, admiring the car. They ignored me as I wiped the sweat off my forehead with a greasy hand. The problem was solved by the time Moody came to my rescue. I was buttoning up my tool case.

“Hey, brother . . . “

He hopped out of the Caddy with a cigarello clenched between his teeth and peered into the engine bay. He winced when he saw the cheese-gratering on the fan blades.

“God damn, dude . . . “

He tagged along on an errand before splitting off to the shop to do body-work on the Caddy. I ran all over town on errands to sort the car out. I landed back at my apartment, spent on motivation, and fell onto the couch. A set of gently used slicks leaned against a bookcase.

The new-to-me wheels set beside them. I cracked a tall-boy and looked at the wear holes in the tires. They were practically brand new, and technically DOT legal . . .

For anyone who doesn’t mind explaining to a cop why they’ve got Outlaw-style bias-ply slicks under the ass end of their car.

Explaining addiction to a pedestrian is like asking a cat for directions. They stare at you, but the words don’t go through. There is no drug like adrenaline.

The teenage’d hooligan vaulting fences with a cop wheezing in pursuit. The bouncer making ten bucks an hour to fight three-on-one odds on the exhausted back end of midnight. The luntic boiling the hides at sixty miles an hour just because he can.

They’re all on it. . . . And you will never get them off. No sex in the world is ever as good as the I’m about to die! orgasm at Spinal Tap volume . . .

With a heart attack grin. And every time I want more. I want to go closer. Be harder. And when the throbbing stops the 5-G splash down leaves me cold and shaking and depressed. I limp home with my hands shaking on the wheel, hunkered down in the center lane.

Five miles under the limit, unable to tell you my own name . . .