CHAPTER 19:
 
 
GATOR BITES
 
 
 
     With the sun now angled about thirty-six degrees above the eastern horizon, Harold decided to continue with his habitual ritual a little further as he drove through Swayzee, Indiana…
 
HONK!
 
Leisure, Indiana…HONK! HONK!...He wanted to make sure that this place got the ‘double-whammy’, since those lazy lugheads named a town after their complete disregard for the rest of the working populace. Sticking his mouth up to the window opening on the driver’s side, Harold screamed forth, “RISE an’ SHINE, YOU BUTT-PICKIN’ MO’RONS!” In the distance Harold could’ve sworn he heard a raven squawk, “Nevermore…” He turned and stared through the squalid windshield, blinking his eyes a couple of times before resuming his nondescript ‘tootnanny’:
 
Elwood, Indiana…HONK!
 
     By the time Harold had reached Strawtown, the hypnotic nightmares of the past started creeping back into his daydreams while driving along this cheerless pococurantismistic country highway. The memories were starting to get kind of hazy, as was Harold’s vision. Hunger pangs were starting to eat away at his abdominal cavity, plus his mental capacities were laggardly summoned by the constant background cacophony of the blistered Fisks against the grainy asphalt, wisps of wind forced in through the open skewed window, the continuous pinging of the eroded pistons encountering the economically lubricated rings of his uncle’s rebuilt engine and the static-filled reception of the radio stations coming out of the broken, dilapidated speaker grille. Transfixed by some emerging clouds that recently formed in the atmosphere, his mind began to sink into the abyss of inescapable floundering, driven to the brink of unconsciousness by the intoxicating repetition of fence posts, barbed wire, bullet-riddled roadside mailboxes, foraging farm animals and insects striking the viscera-coated windshield. All of those depressing encounters lingered within his neurological synapse, inevitably waiting for the chance to resurface at the most inappropriate time and place, clasping onto his slighted attention span. Everything just became a blur…
     The noise was soon drowned out by the blaring horn of a pick-up truck passing the old Chevy, which was moving at a fifteen-mile-per-hour crawl down the grassy shoulder on the wrong side of the provincial road.
 
 
(I’ll give you nine bonus points on your next pop quiz if you can tell me how many times Harold’s car has crossed completely over the road and into some grassy median patches, causing the drivers of oncoming traffic to call their insurance companies to report another automobile casualty to bumpkin idleheaded ineptitude.)
 
 
                             Harold again snapped to attention and blinked his eyes a couple of times once he realized his predicament. He thought to himself, ‘How did I get here? How did I drive for miles and miles without remembering any details of my recent peregrination? Did I subconsciously navigate this vessel this far? Is that my bugger stuck on the front windshield or the remains from an errant tumblebug?’ Like a rotten, smelly drunk with a blood alcohol level of .38, he couldn’t contemplate anything substantial for the past twenty- ?  miles. ‘Did anyone get hurt?’ He stopped the car, pried open the door, hawked up some phlegm that had collected in his throat while he was scatterbrained and in mortification about his transient friend Rudy and spat onto the tall grass. Taking this opportunity to survey his situation, Harold was impressed to note that he had passed into much more opulent surroundings: the two-lane highway had become four lanes with a grassy divide! He rubbed off the sticky gravel pebbles that collected on the bottom of his shoes back at the billboard sign advertising the tractor pull, then yanked the ‘57’s door closed with a cavernous clang and looked around to see if it was safe to cross the northbound lanes and the median and return to his own directional placement of the road. Two cars passed by before he punched the accelerator. The tired oil-soaked engine coughed up an altocumulus cloud of rusty smoke and lurched dead, intersecting a white stripe in the middle of the oncoming lanes.
     “Piddle,” Harold whimpered as he pumped the gas pedal a few times and watched nervously for the approaching traffic coming from the South. That damned song that he heard up in his dad’s bedroom before he left early that morning kept rattling around in his brain. “Fiddle-dee-diddle,” he peeped as he turned the ignition. The Chevrolet Bel Air coughed and belched some more before heaving another eighteen inches on the tarmac. Harold peered through the grime-covered windshield. There, on the horizon, was a large truck…and we’re not talking about a half-ton pick-up here, folks. This was a cross-country hauler that was built twelve feet high, eight feet wide, with twenty-six wheels and a gross weight of 56,280 pounds and known in the ‘trucker’s clan’ as “a road peeler”. The driver, Ray Gene Hardon, who had not slept since Arizona, was keeping himself awake by playing at full volume an 8-track tape of the homosexual tag team of ‘Turner Round and Ben Dover…the Comedians Having Wide-Open Issues’:
 
     “Two condoms are walking down the street and they happen to pass this gay bar,” Turner was telling as Ben was jibing, “when one of them looks at the other and says, ‘Hey! Why don’t we go in there, go through a couple of rounds and get shit-faced!’” (That anecdote was quickly followed by a double drum roll, then a cymbal whip with a recorded crowd laughing and clapping in unison in the background).
 
     Harold, of course, was in no position to appreciate any of this as he continued to stomp the gas pedal frantically and turn the key, listening to the motor grind and rivet as it oscillated lamely on its bolts. He began perspiring in earnest, whispering “I’m not gonna end up like you, Uncle Froogle…no I’m nuh-nuh-nuh-nuhdt-ugh-NOT!” At about this time, he started hearing rumblings from the approaching diesel engine. The droplets collected on his prominent forehead and trickled slowly down to cling in his one long eyebrow before resuming their journey down the bridge of his nose.
     “C’mon, baby,” Harold pleaded, “c’mon Rosebud…” Shaking like a bird dog passing peach pits, he moved a little closer to the steering wheel. He could barely school his fumbling fingers to the task of turning the ignition key. He continued punching and grinding, but to no avail. When he gazed back up again, his eyes widened like twin silver dollars as he noticed the image of his own car reflected in the chrome grille of the rapidly approaching rig, “Haught damn,” he whispered as he lifted his legs, placed his head firmly between his knees and bid his ass a fond farewell, “see ya later, ol’ Butty…”
     When the truck was about twenty yards from the stranded Chevy, Ray Gene Hardon finally noticed that his path was not quite clear. Cursing the insurance policies that made it necessary for him to miss this moron, he twirled the leather-wrapped steering wheel gingerly to the left, shooting the massive rig halfway onto the median. The unique aerodynamics of its passage funneled all of the dust and debris within a quarter-mile radius into the skewed open window of Harold’s automobile, buffeting the cantankerous ’57 violently in its wake. As the hauler seemed to have passed by without further incident, it swerved back onto the freeway, catching just the merest edge of its bumper on that of the Bel Air’s. In an instant, Harold and his car were spinning like the Tilt-A-Whirl for one, two, three and a quarter times around, flinging chrome, paint chips, rust, dust, smoke, nuts, bolts, a loosened muffler, gravel and insect parts out in perfect concentric circles around the revolving vehicle. Ray Gene blew a final blast on his air horn, and as everything settled down to a dead silence, Harold peeked out from under a clump of clothes that had buried him. Through the grasshopper gut-covered windshield, he could see a beige expanse of grass and brush. Sitting up slowly, he tossed the undershirts, pullovers and pants back onto the rear seat, then removed the emergency mucky-catchers that had wrapped around his scalp, shook the grit out of his hair, tapped the gas pedal ever so slightly and turned the key. The ’57 started right up. “Hmmmm…” he mused as he put the transmission into gear, “must’ve been flooded.”
      A thought entered his mind concerning a time when he was eleven years old and scaled a tree at his church one early October after Sunday school. His white dress shoe had slipped off while he was clinging to a small branch and couldn’t quite fathom how to get back down to the ground without ripping his nice sock and clothes to pieces. For half-a-minute that Harold was paying attention and actually listening to the sermon that pastor Pugh was delivering, he recalled the verse from Psalms, ‘The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord, he is their stronghold in time of trouble.’ Harold blew a breath of air out before departing, looked up at the dust-covered rooftop and winked, “I owe you one more, Big Guy!”
     As he crossed over the center section and headed south again, Harold reached down and fiddled with the radio knob until he heard some music…
 
 
We fired our guns and the British kept a coming
There wasn’t as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico[1]
 
 
     Humming to the tune, which he remembered well, Harold felt a little more invigorated to the “Battle of New Orleans” military drum cadence being executed (not literally). He had owned this particular artists’ 45 r.p.m. single once, and used to play it on his mother’s phonograph. Oddly enough, the part that he remembered most vividly was a large scratch about two-thirds of the way through the record. When the needle finally reached this massive gouge in the vinyl, the arm would be thrown over a half-inch into the air above the spinning disc, falling ten grooves further along in the song. Little Harold would watch with rapt attention as the record went around and around, scratches and pops emerging from the mono speaker system as the warped disc spun and the tone arm tracked nearer and nearer to ‘The Big One’. He was suddenly shocked out of his reverie when the radio’s version of the battle song failed to produce the expected skip. Harold leaned closer to the ramshackle speaker grille, listening intently to the contents of the ten grooves that had remained for so many years a mystery:
 
 
(drum cadence rolling)
…we fired our cannon ‘til the barrel melted down
So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round
We filled his head with cannonballs and powdered his behind
And when we touched the powder off, the gator lost his mind…
 
 
     “What in tarnation?!? An alligator?!?” he sputtered in disbelief. “That was the great secret? A gator with gunpowder shoved up his butt? They lit his ass and blew his head off! Really?!? Pffffffft…how cartoonish!” When the song was over, he leaned over and twisted the tape-wrapped shaft that used to hold the volume knob. He felt the click, and the old tube radio slowly fizzed away into silence. He had always loved those Johnny Horton songs with their war propaganda subliminal messages; but lately, those exact same songs had just left an acrid sour taste in his mouth. “Sorry, Hortie,” he sighed wistfully as he settled back into the plastic seat cover, “but, it’s only rock ‘n roll…and I like it!”
     Another hour-and-a-half had passed without anything of consequence happening as Harold continued on his journey towards Twilight. Passing by the miniature metropolis’ of Noblesville, Fishers, Castleton and Indianapolis, he started to feel more comfortable about the events that transpired in his recent past. ‘There is a reason for all good things and all the bad things that really stink’ quoted his mother as she used to tuck her little Harry into bed at night, trying to help him make some sort of sense out of this maniacal world. She would scratch his scalp for a couple of minutes to calm his worries, then he’d finish it off with a concise little prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray to the Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I hope He bakes me a great big cinnamon-frosted globe grape cake…without the seeds, please! Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t forget my soul to take! D’phoosh!” He smiled at the thought, then stopped the car at a red light, waiting to turn onto state highway 135-South. (Besides the traffic congestion, nothing particularly came to mind when passing through Indianapolis, except during Memorial Day weekend. Like the billboard stated a half-mile back: ‘The Annual Deflowering Ball’, located at the newly constructed Pound Cake Pavilion, sponsored by the Jenna Jameson Glee Club.) Harold started pumping the accelerator so he could lay a couple of yards of tattered rubber on the asphalt as soon as the light changed to green, “And…theeeeee…Eeeeeeeeendy Five Hundert!!!” Cocking his head back, like a hurricane force wind was blowing against his face, he pretended that he was about to cross the finish line of ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’. A couple of painted-hair tattooed 17-year-old punks in a souped-up hot rod pulled up alongside of Harold, whose automobile was already fumigating a four block area in the neighborhood.
     “What’cha got in that crap-wagon, stink’aholic?”
     “I’ve got lots of stuff,” Harold retorted out of the top of his broken window.
     The driver revved the fuel-injected turbo-powered Hemi a couple of times, then the guy with a mullet
that rode in the passenger seat countered, “Not the load of bullshit sittin’ in your cube, stupid ass! What’cha got under the hood?”
     “I’ve got a mountain of hurt bubblin’ under there…”
     “Yeah?!? Well, it smells more like your backed-up toilet, big guy! You think you gonna win this race?”
     “I’ve got a chance…” Harold surmised as the light turned green. Before the pedal had a chance to meet the floorboard of the ’57, the Dodge Challenger the motorheads drove was already two blocks down the highway. “Damn,” Harold grimaced, “one of these days, Rosebud. One of these days…” He imagined what it would be like to serve a keg of pity on those two hooligans. Smearing their asses in a straight fight with his ’57 Chevy holding a jet-propelled engine soldered onto its bolts. The feeling of being raped by an overzealous wildebeest would permanently be planted on their quivering faces. (In actuality, if this had actually happened to Harold’s car in the present state that it was in, it would’ve taken the Indianapolis Forensic Department two full months to find and sift through all of the debris fragments and body parts scattered over a square mile of Hoosier countryside after he had hit an unmarked roadside culvert in his misaligned missile.)
     Daydreaming of his daredevil feats, he continued on…
 
Stones Crossing, Indiana…HONK!
 
Bargersville, Indiana…HONK!
 
Trafalgar, Indiana…HONK! Most of the town folk meandering through the dowdy business districts in these rural corn-fed cosmopolitan communities thought that this insolent hornblower was probably another nonagenarian driver that use to work for a New York City taxi service company during World War I, but remained indifferent because they reasoned this scatterbrained fool would soon be blaring his eardrum molester at the apostle Peter waiting by the pearly gates. (You get the picture.)
 
 
 

 
[1] Johnny Horton, “The Battle of New Orleans” (arr. J. Driftwood, Anonymous)
Song: Ch. 19-1