by Silverback J Holden
[SB J (Mendocino Bobobos) has favored us with a cornucopia of stories straight from the annals of life. We will publish them on successive Fridays as long as the supply holds up. He would greatly appreciate receiving comments, critiques, or fawning praise. SB SM]
Now, let’s get this straight right off. Slim Tim was fond of spirits. Not the religious kind, for which he had no use and plenty of attitude, having many times suffered the ear-boxing punishment of supposedly God-fearing nuns in Catholic school. Spare the rod, and all that rot.
No, I’m talking about them liquid spirits, in all their various forms, the “martuni” being Tim’s preferred poison after he outgrew beer. Come to think of it, I once actually heard him spiritually referred to as The God of Alcohol. He had a favorite piece of oration by Lord Buckley called “God’s Own Drunk” along the same lines. Never did a day in jail or a hospital from it as far as I recall. And never hurt anyone but possibly himself from it (by the grace of the Spirit God). Hell, Tim wouldn’t hurt a fly, unless it messed with him.
Now, the other thing about Slim Tim — the carpenter man and charter member of the Hardly Able Construction Company whose motto was “We’re slow, BUT, we’re expensive” – the other thing about him is that he was a moondog. A full moon fired up his soul, sped hot blood coursing through his veins, releasing an occasional werewolf howl when the moonshine and the moonlight combined in the right proportions, elevating him into a fearless man. A moonshine moondog he was. A demolition derby driver wearing a tuxedo. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Tim once rolled his 50’s GMC truck into a backroad ditch, right after spending a year’s savings to get it professionally painted, wouldn’t you know. Happened when he was coming home from the Brewery late one summer afternoon. Hid in the bushes until after the police left. But that’s another story. You get the picture.
Me and Tim first ran across each other many moons ago, at about 10 or 11 years old, at Salter’s Drug Store in Toledo, Ohio. Each of us was there to steal comic books. Eyed each other suspiciously, nodded slightly and went our separate ways. Didn’t say a word. It’d be another 5 or 6 years before we’d run into each other again, when I got pubic hair and my first wheels.
Now me and Tim been best friends ever since. And in all them decades, I don’t recall that either of us had ever refused a dare by the other. A testament to our perpetually impaired judgment, I suppose. Somebody once said good judgment comes from experience, which comes from bad judgment. It was like that with us.
Yep, there wasn’t no turning down a dare. Like one summer day I recall, this meant pulling our motorcycles to the side of a country road, stripping our clothes off, strapping them to the seatbacks, and riding buck-naked 15 winding miles up and over the Hopland Grade. His idea. His dare. But no way I was going to let him get one up on me, so I followed suit so to speak. Swear to God, or Whatever.
Anyway, who the hell knows where ideas come from, but one day out of the blue I thought up this demolition derby idea. We must have been in our 30’s at the time. A dangerous age, as were our prior and following decades. The derby idea came to me — maybe not totally out of the blue after all – sometime after seeing the underground cult film “Steelyard Blues”, written by Terry Southern of “Easy Rider” fame, and featuring Donald Sutherland as a clueless demolition derby driver, Jane Fonda as the prostitute who can’t help loving him anyway, and their comrade Peter Boyle as an escapee from a lunatic asylum.
Yessir, demolition derby driving sure looks and sounds like fun – wheeling full speed in reverse and smashing into other cars — legally no less! — until there’s only one wreck left that’s still limping around. One of those rare deals in life where the last one to finish wins.
Hell yes, this was gonna be Great, I figured. I supposed. Never did it before, it’s true. But what could possibly go wrong?
So one late summer afternoon I’m sitting in an old lawn chair outside his rundown two-story shack north of town. Slim Tim is sitting in the chair next to me with a two-bit beer in one hand and a Lucky Strike cigarette in the other, when I casually broaches the subject with him.
“Oh hell, here we go. Now what?”
“Alright Holden, what is it this time?”
I hold the moment for moment, savoring it.
“Why, drive in the demolition derby of course”. And before he can tell me what a stupid idea that is I follow up on my advantage. “Next week. Down at the county fairgrounds. I already got a car for us. Station wagon. Beat up Old Dodge Monaco with a bad transmission, headed for the junk yard. Got it for nothing.”
Now I know full well there’s no way he can say no to this novel proposition. Just to clinch it I add, “I’ll do the mechanic work, you do the driving”. As I expect, he just sits there at first, shaking his head and petting Giles.
“Sir Giles Thundermug” that is. Tim’s sweet, slobbering little English bulldog with one brown eye and one steel-blue eye on an over-ripe melon-head as big as the rest of his squat little body. “Giles”. Couldn’t swagger 20 feet without running out of breath. So ugly that he was handsome, you might say. A definite chick magnet, not that Tim needed it. He was always good with the ladies. Very friendly, very appreciative, and very fun. And kind. A gentleman rascal if ever there was one.
At the time of this derby business Tim was with Carolyn, an absolute vixen, blonde and lean and full of piss and vinegar. Piss and gin would be more like it. Hard-bodied, hard-drinking, ladies-arm-wresting champ, and something of a daredevil herself. Slim Tim was a decent looking guy too, with a mustache and with most all of his long hair back then. And with that perfectly horizontal scar linking his eyebrows, from going through a windshield when he was a kid. Sort of a sign of things to come.
Well, Tim didn’t outright object to the derby idea. Didn’t agree to it either; right way at least. Shook his head and sat there a couple minutes pulling on his beer, petting Giles, and staring at the sky, trying to think, or maybe trying not to. Seeing if he could wrap his mind around this demolition derby concept. Then I dropped the bomb on him: “Gonna be a full moon”.
I see a hint of a smile curl his lips and his head shake just a little, and I know I got him. Hell yes, we’re gonna do this!!
It took a piece of work and some donated time and money from curious friends to pull it off. Got a local non-profit service agency to give the Monaco owner a donation receipt for his old station wagon – solid steel, built like a tank, with worn out tires and faded paint.
I stopped by the fairgrounds on my way to Tim’s and picked up the rules for the derby. Pulled the rattling old Monaco up his dirt driveway and we start to work after a couple beers, silently wondering if this was just another one of our hair-brained ideas that wasn’t going to pan out so well.
Word is getting out, even in those days before cell phones or telephone answering machines, if you can imagine that, and a few pals start showing up to behold and participate in the spectacle. It’s going to take a lot of work to get Monaco and ourselves ready. Have to strap a 3-gallon gas can and the battery to the backseat floorboards, for instance, cuzz the rules wisely don’t let the gas and the battery be located where they could get smashed into. Fire and all. Not that it mattered to me and Tim: “safety second” was our motto.
I get the honor of busting the front windshield out with a sledgehammer, because the rules say the vehicle can’t have any glass. Another one of those safety things. “Momism”, as Tim calls it. Not to be left out, Tim grabs the sledge and takes out the side windows and headlights. I think Carolyn got the rear windshield.
Mind you, this derby business all happened years before this cavalier coyote met and fell for Eileen. “Mylean” as he liked to call her. Quite a looker herself, who loved him as truly as true can be, in spite of herself, and himself. I got to officiate them getting hitched for life out at Sam and Laurie’s rented old ranch house outside Hopland. Had himself a classic Buick convertible white as snow that he described as his “buickful” car, before him and Eileen got more or less settled down in a hillside house overlooking the valley.
But the derby was years before all that. Before we got old. Before Sir Giles passed away. Before Tim passed away, damn it. Massive heart attack from smoking and drinking and whatnot. Lived himself to death, he did.
Anyway, like I said, word got out about our novel enterprise, and friends start showing up at Tim’s shack, gawking in wonder and offering helping hands and more beers to fuel the fiasco. The gals are painting various words and designs all over Monaco with a few stiff brushes and some cans of leftover green and red housepaint. The guys are tinkering with the mechanical stuff. Must have been a dozen or so of us altogether, making it up as we went along and not having the slightest idea what we are really doing. Nevertheless everything is working out great, except for a slow leak of power steering fluid, but who gives a damn since this is going to be Monaco’s last stand. More on that leak later.
Now, you have to understand that neither of us has ever seen a live demolition derby, let alone participated in one, although we did have some experience with demolishing things. Like the time they were going to bulldoze the little old cottages at the motor court in town and replace them all with a shiny new bank building. That’s when we more or less got permission to scavenge whatever building materials we wanted from the cottages, before the dozer showed up to crush it all down to the ground and haul it off in dump trucks to the county landfill.
I guess Tim and me always had a thing about breaking glass. Even back to throwing rocks at streetlights when we were kids. First thing we did at that motor court was to get hammers and iron pipes and break every damn tv set in every cottage. Loved the sound of them vacuum picture-tubes exploding! Then we went after all the mirrors and windows in the cottages, except for a few we saved for the illegal shacks we were going to build out in the hills, using the wood we salvaged from them cottages.
So you see, we weren’t complete strangers to this demolition idea, just not with actual motor vehicles.
Back to Tim’s and Monaco. She is starting to take shape, this refugee from a scrap yard, thanks to Michael’s welding torch and a few more sledgehammerings by Nearly Normal Norman. Peterson is snapping photos, I remember Arteaga doing a handstand on Monaco’s roof, Rick is keeping everyone supplied in beer, Vega is keeping Giles away from the welding equipment, George is scratching his head, probably from the couple joints that get passed around, and everyone is having a right good time. But I could see Tim getting a tad nervous, thinking about how he’s soon going to be putting his actual health and safety on the line, doing something dangerous that he has zero experience with. Not for the first time.
Well, the sun is heading down in the sky, Monaco is set to go out for her last dance, and Tim emerges at the top of the outside stairs of the two-story shack, strapped in a black Viking helmet with long horns and dressed in a pressed black tuxedo. God only knows where he got either one of them. Carolyn steps out sporting cowgirl boots, blue denim short-shorts – oh boy! — and a red cowgirl shirt with white fringe. It is apparent from their cheeky attitude that the alchemy of alcohol and adrenaline has combined to produce the desired effect of mentally preparing them for this insanity.
Me, the mechanic, I’m just staying in my grease-stained jeans and sleeveless t-shirt. Why change? It’s going to get dirty out there.
Off we go to the county fairgrounds. The whole entourage. The staff at the derby has never seen anything quite like it: never seen a station wagon entered before, never seen such a collection of crazed hippies, and damn sure has never seen a demolition derby driver in a tuxedo and Viking helmet.
Now I got to pause just a second here and explain that our sort of hippie was the original sort. The good sort. A little short on ambition and boundaries, it’s true, but long on adventure and even willing to shower and work for a living when necessary. All loaded up with long hair and faded bluejeans, peace and love, pot and partying.
Anyway, the grandstand at the fairgrounds is packed with an excited crowd awaiting the collision-fest. The couple dozen other cars and drivers in the pits seem to actually know what they’re doing, which should have bothered us if we’d been in anywhere near a rational state of mind.
It’s late afternoon when over the loudspeaker the announcer says it’s time for the parade lap. Our whole gang crams ourselves into Monaco, beers in hand, and we get in line with the other contestants and idle once around the asphalt track, rolling by the grandstands with Tim blowing the ah-oooga horn he’d installed on the roof and with us other crazies hanging out of the empty window frames, waving to the cheering crowd.
We park Monaco in the pits, and Tim and Carolyn stand on her hood for the star-spangled banner, and before you know it, it’s time to begin the first round of eliminations.
What they do is they lay phone poles in a 100-foot square around the dirt infield. About a dozen competitors nose up to the poles around the square, revving their engines with flames shooting out the exhaust pipes. The roar is deafening. The air reeks of burning motor oil. Giles is slobbering like crazy. We’re all jumping up and down in the pits and yelling our fool heads off. Tim’s got the bull goose looney look in his eye, the starting gun shoots and off they go, pedal to the metal in reverse, crashing into each other, forward and reverse, forward and reverse, fenders flying, tires popping, radiators steaming, the crowd going nuts with each crash, until there’s only Tim and one other guy left. Tim throws it in reverse, takes a bead on him and floors it, neglecting to see the crushed trunk of a dead vehicle to one side, which he runs up over the back of, leaving the whole left side of Monaco dangling up in the air with the drive wheel spinning helplessly as the full moon slowly rises over the distant hills.
Elimination heat #1 is over. The tow truck hauls the losers out of the square. Monaco is still in running condition once she gets hauled off the trunk of the car that Tim got her hung up on. But she is still alive. She forgives him.
Second place gets us qualified for the Main Event, along with the first and second place survivors of all four qualifying rounds. It’s night now and our crew is straightening out Monaco’s fenders as best they can under the floodlights, when a charged-up Tim comes over to me, beer in one hand and Lucky Strike in the other and says, “Holden, you got to drive in the Main Event. It’s fantastic!”. I protest that he is supposed to be the only driver, till he says, “Holden, it’s like getting to punch the high school principal in the face.”
So, I strap myself in and point bashed-up Monaco to the dirt square, littered now with broken pieces of earlier contestants.
The Main Event. Monaco’s Last Hurrah. The starting gun bangs and off we go, full speed in reverse, to protect our vulnerable radiators you see.
This is serious fun, that’s for sure. Bumper cars times a hundred. I get a few licks in when I lock bumpers with some guy and we’re pushing and pulling, trying to get loose of each other, while the rest of the cars keep smashing into each other. The air is filled with blue and white smoke and the smell of burning rubber. By the time I get loose there’s only three of us left. I line Monaco up and take aim on one of them who is hobbling around on two flat tires. And I’m looking back and getting ready to floor it in reverse when there’s a guy in a referee shirt who runs up waving a red flag and yelling at me to turn my motor off. I look ahead and damned if that little power steering leak hadn’t sprung and caught fire and there’s flames shooting up from under the hood. I turn the motor off, but it won’t quit. The motor’s so damn hot the cylinders are firing by themselves even with the key off. I give the umpire a pleading look like I want to keep going, but he’s having none of it. Guys run up and shoot me and Monaco with fire extinguishers. I sit in a cloud of steam and smoke while the last two drivers finish the spectacle. I get $50 for third place.
Well, me and Tim and the entire gang are ecstatic about surviving the whole thing, bathed in floodlight and moonglow. People are streaming down from the stands to partake in our joyous celebration. Sir Giles Thundermug is running in circles with excitement, Tim and me are jumping up and down on Monaco’s roof and hood, and the crowd around us – hippies and rednecks alike — is laughing and cheering; sounds which will echo in my memory till my dying breath …
Yes sir, yes ma’am, that was a glorious moment all right, that summer night of the full moon, those many years ago.
The next day our gallant hero told me that he’d finally crashed in bed about 2am. Then about 4am he gets up to piss and he crawls over Carolyn and Giles and staggers naked through the screen door to the landing at the top of the outside stairs. And he aims his dick over the ledge and squints up at that glowing full moon, and he starts remembering what we’d just done, and he starts howling and laughing so hard he pisses all over himself.
True story. Swear to God, or Whatever.