Auto-Biographical Fiction

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Age 20: The Origins of Lil ‘J

By Cal Evans

Dad grew up in a garage. My grandfather owned a gas station in the town he grew up in and he worked there for his formative years. This gave my father 2 things 1) A love for cars, engines and tinkering and 2) an endless line of stories of how hard his childhood was to regale us with should we ever bemoan our position in life. For as long as I can remember, Dad loved working on cars. Sometimes, I’m sure it was just that we needed the car fixed and couldn’t afford to pay someone to do it. Other times, I know it was just because he wanted to tinker. From our Datsun ‘AlmostWagon’ (a term that is now forever in the Evans Family Lexicon) to the ‘Tan Van’ and all in between, Dad left his mark on every vehicle we owned.

But my favorite vehicle of all was one called “Lil ‘J”. What purported to be a refurbished 1920-something T-Bucket, was actually a candy-apple red fiberglass body on a custom built and re-worked frame. Sporting an obscenely large engine, chrome pipes and a convertible top, it was a sight to behold and a coffin on wheels. (I suspect the only original part on it was the radiator cap.) But for a time, it was Dad’s pride and joy. This story is not about her but this story is because of her.

At some point in his life Dad deiced that he needed a hobby that was not related to work. He decided to return to his childhood love of cars and build a hot rod. So the great search began. He searched papers and magazines far and wide for a suitable base vehicle. Soon, an ad caught his eye. He called, negotiated the sale and it was done. Only one problem, the vehicle was in Atlanta, GA and we were in Mobile, AL. And so it was that I found myself on a road-trip. Pressing me and my brother into service, the Evans Pit Crew was off to Atlanta for a rollicking time and boy’s weekend. At least that was how it was billed to us. The truth was a little grimmer.

The journey to Atlanta was:

  • 5 hours journeying to a hotel room so I can make a 5 hour journey back.
  • 5 hours locked in a car with a man who did not speak BASIC and my brother who -would talk just to hear his voice.
  • 5 hours of staring at the front seat headrest from my perch in the backseat wondering how I got talked into this.
  • 5 HOURS of answering questions so inane that it was not until my son learned to talk that I heard them again.

Oh yea, this was a trip to remember. But somehow, I credit the grace of God; I survived and breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled into the hotel.

Dad chose well, we stayed at a very nice hotel near the airport. The kind where everything was indoors and the ice machines didn’t smell funny. At least I suspect it was a nice hotel, at 10 at night everything is closed. No hot-tub or pool or even a sundry shop to wander through. Nope, after 5 hours of ‘male bonding,’ the only thing to do was hit the hay…and this is where things get interesting.

There were two problems that kept me from sleeping, my father and my brother. I feel the need to reiterate the fact that I love them both deeply, but sleeping with them is like…Remember the old Samsonite commercials where the gorilla beat on the suitcase and slung it around? Well, it would have been easier to sleep inside that suitcase than in that hotel room.

My childhood memories are sprinkled with scenes of walking into the den only to find that Dad was sprawled out on the couch, seemingly asleep while the TV blared either the news or a current sporting event. It was very early in my childhood when I learned that the sound of a channel changing was enough to awaken the beast on the couch where it would loudly proclaim that it was watching that and would I please change it back. At some point in my early teens I learned that it was a very bad idea to push the issue by asking ‘If you were watching it, what was on?’ It was best to let sleeping dragons lie and to find another TV.

So it was that night. Dad turned on a two year old re-broadcast of the Lumberjack Nationals and promptly dozed off. There I was, in bed with my brother lying wide awake listening to the drone of a live chainsaw. Awake, in the dark, with the glow of the TV playing over my blanketed body, my ears being assaulted worse than Manual Norreiga’s ever were. I settled in for the long night.

Then I felt a stirring in the bed next to me. My brother, 17-18 at the time, was rolling over. Surly he wasn’t sleeping, not in this environment. I glanced over to see a peaceful serenity covering his face. It took all my effort to resist the urge to punch him in the nose. No sooner than I had looked over than he stirred again. It may have been a serene sleep but it was a restless one as well. There it was again, and again! Soon his body was in almost constant motion. It was a slow but graceful sight, my brother, in the throws of sleep, doing aerobics to the grinding chainsaw drone of my father’s snoring. I was in hell.

Slowly the night droned on. I must have dozed off for a while because the next thing I remember, the Lumberjack National’s were over and the sports channel was now covering rocket car races. Screaming thunder of jets steered by men who had lost their love for life, all in silence as the calliope in the next bed played on its broken pipes. Suddenly my bed shook. I felt the wind cold against my pajama clad body as the covers were whipped from them. I looked over to see my brother executing a mid-air maneuver whereby he managed to twist his body around to face me while simultaneously stripping the sheets and blankets from me. He spun like he was stuck on an invisible rotisserie, and then landed with a thud that bounced me up and almost out of the bed.

As if on queue, dad ratcheted up the volume from ‘rock concert’ to ‘inside a jet engine’. The noise was deafening and would have been all-consuming had it not been for the fact that I was sleeping with a man who was training for the ‘Olympic Sleeping Team’. Ashley landed, the tightly wound bed covers softening his landing and he lay still for a moment, before it started again. Like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, Ashley’s legs began to struggle against the constraining covers. As I watched, they fought their way out into the roaring night. I tentatively reached over to try and help them escape and possibly recover some of the covers for myself. To no avail, no sooner had they escaped than Ashley seemed to have sub-consciously become alert to the fact they had escaped. He flipped once again, executing a mid-air maneuver found only in the high-dive competition. Under different circumstances, this would have been a beauty to behold. But in my current, sleep deprived, road-tripped numbed state, I was not amazed.

And so the evening wore on. At some point, I started awarding points for Ashley’s maneuvers. He was as adept at on-the-bed maneuvers as he was graceful in the air. All scored by the staccato beat of Dad, the human white-noise generator. Ashley thwarted my every attempt to recover my portion of the covers. Twisting and turning, I eventually tired of fencing with him for the covers, gave up and settled for a sheet that he had failed to notice. And so I spent the rest of the night curled into a fetal position, bloodshot eyes starring blankly at the flickering images on the screen. A peaceful and serene visage of snow skiing, juxtaposed onto a soundtrack of 1 thousand nails being drug across a blackboard; me, my father and the world’s only Olympic sleeper passed the night.

Morning found us unchanged. I must have dozed off at some point because I don’t recall the sun breaking through the window to call us all back into the day. The first thing I remember is deafening silence. My first though was of alarm, I knew that my eardrums had finally burst. I was actually thankful at this point because it still meant silence. Then slowly, I began to hear other sounds. My hearing was returning. Once again I could hear the inane patter of early morning sportscasters recapping the sporting scores of yesterday. (Never once did they recap the Lumberjack Nationals so I have no idea who won them, or even if you CAN win them.) No, my eardrums had not burst Dad was slowly lumbering to wakefulness.

He sat up, glanced over at me, smiled and said, “Sleep good?”

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