There were a lot of crashes, into people, places, things, whatever was around. That's just how it was then. I was twenty three years-old, vividly out of my skull, squatting in an abandoned house on the lagoons, working off-the books for myself as a stone mason. My fingers were all nearly broken, my muscles sore, I wasn't furthering myself in any way.
I drove a heavy duty Ford F-250 pickup truck. 1990. Blue. 92,000 hard miles. Loose ineffective brakes.
I'd bought it cheap, at the Shell gas station in Bayville, NJ after my 88 Pontiac Sunfire went up in flames on the Garden State parkway coming back from Atlantic City, 3:17 am: full moon, bad wiring, fire blooming from under the hood like a death orchid, melting everything.
There were small apocalyptic explosions as I cringed in the weeds and wild sage on the dirt shoulder, hopping the twisted guardrail, flinching with each doomed pop.
Drunk and high, I escaped into the dark pine trees along the parkway—running and ducking under sharp sniper-style juniper limbs. I couldn't do anything. I watched the fire from some distance, sweaty and wild panicked, as the fire department arrived; and in a flurry of flashing red and white lights extinguished the blaze. Grey smoke, a hissing, sizzling, that competed against the insects of the night and almost won. The vehicle burnt beyond all recognition. I was lucky it hadn't spread and started a forest fire.
Those were dry months, man.
I walked the five miles home to the Lagoon house in fear and desperation, looking over my shoulder the whole time.
I never heard a word about the Sunfire from any authorities, still haven't to this day.
The F-250 was better anyway. It was a dangerous p.o.s. but I liked it. It was lifted/jacked, when you drove you were way up high over the road, looking down. It was four wheel drive, over-sized swamp tires, that couldn't get stuck anywhere. Rusted out holes in the sheet metal, like Gremlins were eating i t in the night. No heat/no AC. Cassette deck. Doomsday.
The only change I made to the truck were cosmetic. The hick who owned it before me had plastered the rear bumper with rebel flag stickers. I took pride in scraping them off with razor-blades, put a row of Radiohead stickers that'd come with Kid A, red cartoon demons with massive sharp teeth. My buddy Seth gave me, worked at a record store, they were promo things.
Work. I used the truck for work, mostly. Usually, the bed of the truck was full of stone and dirt and too awkward to control and so I hit everything with it. Whenever I got distracted and stopped concentrating on the road it was—bang. The back of somebody's car crumbling in, dirt and shovels and concrete jumping up in the bed of my F-250.
So I drove nervously.
I'd hit a woman on route 9, the previous winter right in front of the 7-11. White mini van, personalized plates CATLUVR. Black ice, brakes applied, sliding, skidding—ka-POW!
When I jumped out of my truck to see if Catluvr was OK, the lady rolled down her window, smashed me in the chest with a large Styrofoam cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. Burning me. Steaming. Boiling. Staining my white thermal shirt brown. Post-attack, she just rolled up her window, took out her over-sized cellphone, called the cops.
I didn't have a cellphone, not for two more years.
I put my hands in my dirty jean pockets and walked back to my truck, climbed inside, soaked, teeth chattering.
When the cops got there, one little officer with a funny mustache came to my truck and asked me, "Why you all wet?"
"Coffee," I said pointing at the minivan, and the Styrofoam cup on the black ice.
The cop scratched his face, "checks out," he said authoritatively.
An ambulance arrived, the lady climbed inside, clutching onto a calico cat. Without saying peep to the cops, she was driven away. We all thought that was pretty rude. The mustached cop felt especially slighted.
"Whiplash," her insurance company stated in a certified letter delivered to me at the Lagoon house.
I was being sued. Damage to the mini-van, to the driver, a vet bill for the calico cat.
Sued? Really? What did I have anyway; a guitar, an amp, some effect pedal stomp boxes, a drawer full of Fruit of the Loom black pocket t-shirts, a wheel barrow, some shovels, a couple boxes of random cassette tapes, Joy Division, Daft Punk, stacks of paperback books everywhere. Nothing. I didn't even have a job.
None of that mattered.
Ancient history. It was spring, almost summer 2004. I was on my way to the ocean. I'd just finished a job building a set of concrete steps at the studio where my band was recording. A barter job: masonry work for some studio time.
The bed of the F-250 had some dirt and sand, a few bags of left over cement, my wheelbarrow and shovels, but also: it had my 50 watt tube amp, my guitar, my music gear, chords, cables, power plugs. I was on my way play a show. One of my bands was playing at the Spider bar: always a great time.
I turned off route 37 and went down 70 towards Princeton Ave. I was listening to Led Zeppelin on the cassette deck, 'Over the Hills and Far Away'. I had the windows down, the nectar of the world was thick and heavy, butterflies everywhere, slapping against the glass, I almost had to put the windshield wipers on to clear them.
Apocalypticly, the cassette deck began to eat the tape, I desperately tried to eject it. Robert Plant, Jimi Page and the rest of the gang were being mauled by the gears. The magnetic spools of tape shredding diabolically.
Forward I propelled, screwing with the tape, when I looked back at the road, it was too late to stop. A line of cars waited ahead at a red light that was usually blinking perpetual yellow. I stomped on the brakes. The F-250 skidded, fish-tailed, rubber melting on the asphalt.
The rear end of a powder-blue Lincoln Continental caved in horribly. Rocks and sand rained down from the bed of my truck. Frame twisted. Tail pipe pushed up beneath the under carriage. Fluids leaking out.
I felt sick.
The drawbridge was up!?? In all my life, living in that area, I'd never seen the drawbridge up on Princeton Ave. Well, there it was, and there I was—another accident.
A line of cars pulled behind, blocking me in, as I considered escape.
The door of the Continental opened, unevenly. An old man, a true geezer, stepped out, scratched his baked potato-shaped head. He was wearing sky blue polyester pants, Velcro shoes, a white striped polo that accentuated his man boobs and turkey neck. This man hunched over, studied the demolished back of his crushed Continental.
Remembering the coffee cup incident, I stayed in my truck.
The damage was severe. B-b-b-bad. Crinkled. Creased. Folded horribly. Muy mal. No bueno. Call the wrecker. Alert the body shop. Ready the grinders, welders, painter. I'm sorry, Sir, your car may never walk again.
I held my breath in utter dread as the old man surveyed the automotive massacre.
This was it for me. I was already broke. I was already getting sued by a whip-lashed lady with a paralyzed calico cat. They had me.
People waiting for the drawbridge got out of their vehicles too. They wanted to get a look for themselves at the show.
They stretched and paced around and glanced over at us. We were high entertainment.
Then, the old man with the baked potato head, spun around, looked at me with soft eyes. I waved sickly, mouthed, "I'm sorry."
He smiled, waved back, offhandedly gave me a thumbs up, remarked: "Forget about, it s'nothing."
He got back into his Lincoln, closed the door. The bumper fell down, attached ever so slightly just on one side. Nothing was done.
Here was the worst part: we sat there for ten more minutes like that, the drawbridge hanging up in the air, unseen boats possibly passing underneath, no one knew.
I was sweating like a madman.
The other people, the spectators, were all out of their vehicles, gawking and pointing. I had to sit there like a pariah basking in my careless shame.
The shame was manifested so clearly, my ineptitude. I could see it right before my eyes. The rear bumper of the Lincoln hung on by a thread.
A guy walked up to my window, he was chewing gum and stunk like cologne.
"You really whacked that guy," he said.
"He said, it s'nothing," I informed the concerned citizen.
He furrowed is brow, "S'nothing? I don't think so! You gotta call the cops."
"Zero good ever came outta calling the cops," I said, glaring at him until he backed away and spit his gum out into the grass. He got into his bright yellow Geo Tracker, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles.
All of us had white knuckles as we sat another five eternal minutes. Then, the drawbridge descended down. The light turned green.
Tom Petty came on the radio, "Even the losers, get lucky sometime ..."
We all began to move again.
Bud Smith is a writer from Washington Heights, NYC who sits next to an open window and listens to the moon scrape across the tips of adjacent buildings—and on a good night, his own. His writing has appeared in The Bicycle Review, Red Fez, Full of Crow, Citizens for Decent Literature... Recently, the collection of his short stories Or Something Like That was released. Check out www.BudSmithWrites.com.