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Authors: George Singleton

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Between Wrecks

BOOK: Between Wrecks
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“Every page has a sentence worth reading over again just to savor the image.”

Winston-Salem Journal

“George Singleton has the singular voice of a down-home schizophrenic. His stories are crazy mad fun.”


“George Singleton writes about the rural South without sentimentality or stereotype but with plenty of sharp-witted humor… A raconteur of trends, counter-trends, obsessions and odd characters.”

—Morning Edition, NPR


“A miasma of flea markets, palm readers, bowling alleys, and alligators, offering a disturbingly askew—at times, downright surreal—vision of the South.”

Entertainment Weekly

“When was the last time you sat reading, in a beach chair, and started laughing out loud? … George Singleton keeps the humor volume on high.”

—Seattle Times

“Sly, intelligent, hilarious.”

The Charlotte Observer

“George Singleton is a madman. He's also one of the most talented American writers the South has turned out in decades.”

—The Post and Courier
(Charleston, SC)


“This is a South that knows something of suburbia and while the characters may not be in the best circumstances, this is a great new take on the hard-drinking, hardscrabble Southerner.”

—Raleigh News and Observer

“Singleton's hilarious insights come early and often.”

—New York Times Book Review

“Singleton's style lies outside the usual briar patch. It's a cross between, say, Ralph Ellison and Molly Ivins… Singleton isn't just a killer at the hilarious one-liner, he can keep riffing on something good paragraph after paragraph, page after page.”

—Atlanta Journal Constitution


“If there is a fiction genre blending the riotous, bleary-eyed excess and absurdity of gonzo journalism with the rather earnest sensitivity of a John Irving hero—who always does right by his wife in the end—
Work Shirts
belongs to it…it's a fun read…an adventure to be undertaken.”


“Smackover funny and rare, many of Singleton's laughs come from deep wit and not easy Southern eccentricities and the rough-screeching Skoal crowd.”

—Barry Hannah, author of
Yonder Stands Your Orphan

Between Wrecks
George Singleton


In Memory of Harry, Barry, Larry, and Lewis


No Shade Ever

Traditional Development

Which Rocks We Choose




Between Wrecks


The Sinkholes of Duval County

Unfortunately, the Woman Opened Her Bag and Sighed

Jayne Mansfield

Leach Fields


I Would Be Remiss



Because I'd seen part of a documentary on gurus who slept on beds of nails, and because I'd tried to quit smoking before my wife came back home after leaving for nine months in order to birth our first child—though she would come back childless and say it was all a lie she made up in order to check into some kind of speech clinic up in Minnesota to lose her bilateral lisp—I had a dream of chairs and beds adorned entirely with ancient car cigarette lighters. This wasn't the kind of dream a person could forget or disobey. In the dream, I stood in the middle of a giant room filled with my handcrafted furniture. I didn't remember making the works, but I understood that it was an art show, that I was the center of attention, and that I was going to make 14.5 million dollars. I kept thinking, Who would pay that much money to sit on chairs and beds that could offer only a tiny strange cushion effect? There were famous rich people at the opening, namely Ted Turner and the vice president of the United States. I thought in my dream, I don't care that they're probably not on speaking terms, as long as they buy my work. Some professional basketball players and golfers stood around wearing their uniforms and outfits. Hollywood starlets stood on the perimeter, but I could tell that they wanted nothing more than to grab me by the arm and tell me how they wanted their mansions out in California completely covered in car cigarette lighters, or at least the shiny silver ones found in 1960s models. A group of Japanese businessmen fought over a banquet table I'd drilled a thousand holes into in order to glue in Cadillac lighters. Of course, everyone wore tuxedos and evening gowns, and I stood around in my underwear pretending that I knew what I was doing, that it was some kind of statement, that I thought it important to show up at my first art opening clad in my work clothes. When I woke up alone, I certainly didn't feel good about myself, and before I had my first cigarette of the morning—who could quit smoking with dreams like this?—it came to me that maybe I'd taken yet another wrong-headed turn over the last year.

I'd given up on finding one more thesis-worthy subject for my low-residency master's degree in Southern cultures studies at Ole Miss-Taylor. But I'd learned enough along the way to understand that the subconscious—or what one of my ex-interviewees called “the sumconscious”—held more power in Southern culture studies than in other branches of academia. So I got out of bed, walked down to the Unknown Branch of the Middle Saluda River, lifted a giant flat rock, unearthed a metal ammo box, and pulled out a pack of American Spirits I'd hidden from myself. I got back to the kitchen, poured bourbon in my coffee, poured bourbon and Pepsi into my Thermos, and drove straight down Scenic Highway 11—then south on 25, to where it no longer seemed scenic—to Doc's Salvage in Traveler's Rest. From the asphalt it appeared that Doc only had a collection of snail-back trailers, battered ski boats, a couple school busses, and a few Buicks without their hoods, but down the clay-rutted road leading to his raw-wood office there must've been enough wrecked cars to fill a mall parking lot. I did my best to dodge or straddle every nail, bolt, hinge, snake, rat, or hubcap along the way, and pulled up front, next to a moped leaning against a three-wheeled shopping cart leaning against a mound of crushed beer cans.

Getting out of the truck, I tried to remember that experience of accomplishment and euphoria that I had felt in the dream. I tried to envision enrolling in a low-residency furniture-making class, or maybe an art school one rung above the ones advertised on matchbook covers, then constructing a giant chair be-jeweled with car cigarette lighters in a way that would match a petty dictator's jungle-house's throne. As I scraped my shoes on a rough-hewn welcome mat that read Beware of Junkyard God, I imagined my wife Abby and our child, who I still had reason to believe existed up there, standing around in one of my outbuildings converted to an art studio, watching me manufacture car cigarette lighter chairs and daybeds suitable for Hollywood movie sets and vacation homes alike.

“Doc's out back,” a man said when I finally got inside. “Doc's out looking for a carburetor. You looking for a carburetor?”

I assumed it was the guy with the moped. I said, “No. No, no carburetor for me.”

“I ain't Doc. He's out in the yard. I'm Bobby Suddeth, but they call me Freebird. I might as well be Doc, much as I spend time here.”

I said, “I'm Stet.”

“I might as well be Doc, much time as I spend here,” Suddeth said. I wondered if he suffered from echolalia, and kind of saw him crashing off his moped one too many times without wearing a helmet. “Doc's getting a carburetor. And I'm hoping he runs across a kickstand.”

The room was like any other salvage-yard main office I'd ever encountered. There were a few pin-up calendars scattered on the walls from the 1960s up until the present. All of them came from a place called S & M Towing, and I made a mental note to search this place out some time. Doc had written various notes to himself in ink, lead, and Magic Marker—“Coy needs Caliente pump 1964,” “Darryl Starter Mustang GT,” “Preston Alternator Lincoln,” plus enough telephone numbers to make up a small town—and the requisite dirt-, grease-, and oil-smudged paperback parts and price list directories atop the chest-high service counter. There were boxes of bolts scattered on the floor.

The place smelled like a mixture of cilantro and fruity candle.

“Got to get me a kickstand for my bike out front. I keep forgetting, and it falls over. In time I guess I'll have to get me new grips on my handlebar, and then a new handlebar if it gets bent.”

Normally I would know what to say to a man who liked to be called Freebird. I'd lost my touch. I said, “If gas keeps going up I guess we'll all be riding scooters.” I couldn't imagine any sane person in a three-state area saying such a thing. I hadn't used the term “scooter” since about second grade.

Bobby sat down on a sawed-off end to a telephone pole Doc had wedged in the corner of his office. I sat down on a brown vinyl-covered loveseat of sorts. There were no magazines scattered about. “I know about every square inch of this salvage yard,” Bobby said. “Tell me what you came for, and I can send you off in that direction.”

I didn't want to explain to this guy how I'd had a dream, and so on. Already this feeling of being an outsider started creeping up on me. It's not like I didn't have that feeling about every day while trying to conduct a thesis-worthy interview for my low-residency master's. Believe me when I say that I finished more than a few, and although they weren't exactly “scholarly” or “awe-inspiring” or “relevant” or “spectacular” or “research-laden” or “filled with forward-thinking relevance” according to my mentor Dr. Theron Crowther, I had placed them in various literary journals and quarterlies that published rhetorical nonfiction. Maybe my subject matter wasn't on par with what's expected of a southern culture studies master's degree recipient, but it was good enough to get me anywhere from ten to fifty dollars a printed page, plus a year's subscription. I've had profiles of a woman who thinks she met the devil working as a cemetery caretaker, and a man who thinks he can touch the image of a televangelist and make the guy ask people to send donations to the Humane Society, and a man whose wife is obsessed with putting “Before” photographs all over her kitchen before she remodels, and suburban meth labs and their importance to making people in the neighborhood getting friendly again, and a family that traveled all over the world trying out mission work before ending up in Las Vegas. There are others, too. Believe me when I say that whenever those essays get published and I get paid, it'll be more than nice to show Abby how I can support a for-real newborn seeing as I kind of let my river rock business dry up even more so since she left.

I didn't want to explain any of this, but luckily Doc walked back in holding what ended up being the carburetor for a Ford Pinto. He limped visibly. I thought, Who would want to fix up a thing like that? but didn't say anything. I said, “Hey, man.”

“Freebird, buddy, I'm gone tell you one last time—I don't have a kickstand for your moped. I don't carry moped parts. I never have and I never will. You either have to walk to the moped store's parts department and order one up new, or figure out a way to weld your own on. Like I said before, a length of rebar with some kind of swivel joint should work”

Doc didn't seem to be in the best of moods. He was a tall man, and he moved as though he once owned a belly that made all the decision-making as to where his body might follow. He had a receding hairline on only one side, which made him look as though he'd recently undergone brain surgery.

Bobby said, “You never know.”

BOOK: Between Wrecks
3.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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