Track 17 – Automatic Man - Bad Religion

The men’s room of Harry’s EZ-Stop was not the pinnacle of modern civilization.

Rather, it was the shit-cave of some ancient tribe of nomads, truckers, and transients. The walls were brown to yellowish-brown. The floor was concrete, stained white under the soap dispenser and in front of the urinals. Cleanliness and piss had the same effect.

We got here in about eight hours. Here is about half an hour outside Albuquerque, if that’s how it’s spelled. I’ve done this trip once before, but I don’t remember how long it takes to do certain stretches. Eight hours feels right, and I remember this bathroom pretty well.

Jake chose a stall, shut the door, and locked it. Knob and lock were both rusted. The paint was peeling off the metal walls and door. Looking up, Jake could see the ceiling tiles were covered in water spots. He only hoped the liquid on the floor was from the ceiling, too. There was no toilet paper dispenser, but there were holes that suggested that yes, something was missing. The roll was sitting on the toilet tank. Jake took a deep breath, dropped his pants, and sat down.

The walls were covered in the markings of those just passing through. Who brings a writing utensil to shit? It was almost peaceful. While he did his business, he did the only thing there was to do: He caught up on local culture.

In days of old when knights were bold
And condoms weren’t invented
You rolled a sock upon your cock
And babies were prevented

Shit or get off the pot.

We are here on earth to fart around.
Don’t let anybody tell you any different

Call Jenny. She sucks good cock. 555-288-9121
So does your mom!

San Dimas High School Football Rules

You’re a fag!
Why are you reading this?

I didn’t write any of this. It’s all out there, somewhere. Someone else’s idea, someone else’s words. But I compiled them here like a mix tape and now Jake was reading it and for him I did write all of it. Anthropologists will find bathroom walls in a thousand years and puzzle out our language and it will all be so profound and mystical. They will marvel at Jenny’s ability to suck cock and wonder what the words mean, but right now it’s just more bullshit. He read it all a dozen times and memorized the phone number. He didn’t have a pen, so he couldn’t add anything. When he flushed it would be like he had never even been there.

. . .

There's something aboriginal about gas stations, little spots on the landscape reminding us every few miles of who we are with a yellow clamshell and ever-increasing numbers on the sign. It's one of the only American scenes left, the gas station, and people make small talk over the pumps because their mutual commitment to squeezing the land is connection enough. Here's the cross-cultural community we were promised—the dream of equality is found in the shared motion of unscrewing the cap. And when we run out, we'll just invent bacteria that's been engineered to make more, faster, rather than slowing down. We stay in motion, baby, stopping only for the biggest drinks and the shiniest pornographic magazines and for gas. There are roads yet to be seen, vast expanses to cover. At every stop the air is filled with fumes and bumblebees and discontent.

This was what I had for Jake as he walked out of the crisp, laboratory cold air of the gas station, which was in stark contrast to the bathroom he hadn’t ever been in, and into the ugly afternoon heat. The car was parked in the first spot by the door, and Scooter had the tailgate of the wagon open and was sitting on it, drinking a can soda with gas station sandwiches and chips beside him. They both sat drinking their sodas and eating lunch when an old four-door sedan that was all straight lines and jagged edges pulled into one of the spaces. A middle-aged slob emerged with wild hair blowing in the hot wind, a man whose eyes were just bits of glass sunken between his shag brows and unshaven face. His clothes weren’t washed, ironed, or starched. They were the wrinkled elbows and wrinkled shirts of the Invisible Workers of America. His arm hair was slick with sweat, and he had his name embroidered onto his shirt. This man was the end result.

He went inside for a few minutes and then emerged with candy bars and cigarettes. He exchanged mumbled hellos with Scooter and Jake, the kind of unpronounced civilities that placate and deny further words. He got back into his car and went back in the direction he came from, trailing the fading sound of worn tires on asphalt behind him. He’ll be dead by the end of this song.

. . .

The scenery has changed but the scene has not. Jake and Scooter are on the tailgate of their car drinking can sodas and eating chips by the side of some side road that led to a lone office park and a new housing development. The hood of their car was open, and from the opening came the gurgling sounds of a car that’s overheated.

Anyone passing by would have seen a baby blue station wagon steaming with two people on the tail, looking dejected as if a promise had been broken. But nobody passed by. This place doesn’t really exist, and there’s no reason for them to have come so far down this road before pulling over, but they did.



“Your car overheat a lot?”

“First time.”

“Are we going to sit here?”

“Give me an alternative.”

“Walk back to that gas station.”

“Too hot. Too far.”

Off in the distance, Jake and Scooter could see a speck of a semi truck shimmering in the hazy heat. It turned on to their road and started getting bigger.

Other than that there weren’t really any signs of human life. It was mid-afternoon, that dead time of day when real people are at their jobs or in their homes, not driving cross-country to a life worth living.

Still it was getting bigger, the truck. Now they could make out a big silver grill, all teeth, a windshield, a bumper. Jake was suddenly reminded of a shitty movie from a stupid short story, Maximum Overdrive, where trucks came to life and terrorized a gas station. It’s the kind of thing you only watch late at night in a friend’s basement. Too bad he wasn’t Emilio Estevez.

Bigger. Bigger. Exhaust pipes. Flatbed. Tires. Tiny face inside. Side mirrors. Little oval. Says Peterbilt. Hauling a flatbed of construction odds and ends.

As the truck came closer, a chain that wasn’t secured to anything at all on one end rolled off the back of the truck and then bounced along gleefully behind the truck making sparks here and there. It was supposed to be holding down cinder blocks, but it wasn’t, so they were bristling with potential energy. The laws of physics were about to have some fun. There was a pothole in the road about fifty feet from Jake and Scooter and their little blue station wagon that couldn’t.

Jake saw the chain come loose and whip around the back of the truck, out of sight. He saw it dragging the road as the truck went by. He saw the cinder blocks wiggle over the bumps, and he saw the truck’s front wheel dip in and out of the pothole like a toe checking bathtub water.

One after another, half a dozen cinder blocks tilted ass-end off of the truck. They were in the air, briefly, and then landed in the road, strewn about haphazardly like God would have done. It was obviously a deus ex machina, I made it happen for a reason, but nobody knew it yet.

The chain continued to whip around behind the truck. The driver wouldn’t notice until he got to where he was going.

Scooter just said, “Huh.” Jake said nothing. A few minutes passed.

The cinder blocks were spread out along the road ahead of them at odd angles, menacing in their own inert way. A few had broken along their intersecting lines, creating unimpressive bits of rubble in the road.

Jake and Scooter noticed another car coming. It was a beat up old sedan, the one from before that had wandered into my story. The man who was a janitor and who subsisted on gas station lunches, he had to get back to the office building so people could look down on him. He was late. He wasn’t paying attention. He was thinking about calling his daughter when he got home. He was changing the tape in the tape deck. He was spilling a soda in his lap. He was asleep for three or four seconds before jerking awake. He was scratching his ass. He was checking the speedometer to see that he wouldn’t get pulled over on the other side of the bridge. He had a million excuses for what was about to happen, but really I was going to kill him and that was that.

He looked up in time to act, I guess. He cranked the wheel hard to the left, and then hard back right. The car’s wheels locked up, didn’t respond quickly enough.

The car and the guardrail met like drunk lovers, hungry for their first kiss. The man was not invited. He went through the windshield, a violent spray of diamonds or glass coming with him, and came to land face down in the road. He was leaking. The car had come to a stop, smoking, smiling. It had done its job.

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