Nathan joined the club, bought one of those Small Pecker Alarms for his third hand Charger – one of those loud, gargling announcement mufflers that every time he revs his engine says, “Hey, look at me. My pecker is so small I’ve got to let my over-priced muffler prove my manhood!”
Nathan is proud of it. I suspect his girlfriend considers it an ok consolation prize.
The deeper in the sticks you go, the more your car substitutes for substance. I guess it is a little like that everywhere – but the greater the distances between destinations, the longer you are associated with what you drive, the more you feel your car speaks for who you are.
It has gotten to the point where people don’t really want a factory new car. Everyone wants a car that has clawed around a few tough miles, one that could use a tweak here or a twist there. One you can tinker with on the weekends, or early evenings when no one minds that you have a beer on the workbench in the garage even if you are underage. A car that over time becomes more and more like you: a sum of odd parts and custom opportunities, the victim of proclivities that don’t always seem to have straight-line logical causes. A car that says, “Who knew THAT was around the curve?”
Of course, some people say Nathan’s desire for noise has more to do with the bear than his desire to compensate for his ineffective pecker. If so, he would be unique to the class, and I don’t believe it; I’ve seen too many of these cases, sold too many adapter sets. I look them in the eye and think, yes, you had to let your date know that, in fact, the two of you did have sex, or you had to wake her up afterwards. I’ve seen the cliff edge crumbling away in those eyes.
But there was the bear.
As it is told, Jimmy Nash was driving, and Nathan was trying to stay sober with his second beer in the passenger seat. Thank God they had Jimmy’s Dad’s truck: a huge metal monster designed to get twelve miles to the gallon, drag a trailer of loose hay uphill with a full load in the bed. They were headed to the secret place everyone knows about, where everyone in the county has their first beer and nearly everyone has their first sex. A place only spoken of as a rumor about classmates to nattering groups of less than three.
There are bears in the woods. Most people keep their trash outdoors secured, but primarily to discourage the raccoons, not bears. Raccoons around here are as thick as mosquitoes mid-summer. Bears are more of a threat to unruly children. There is a bear crossing sign near the junction with the main four-lane highway – but that is probably there to encourage the curiosity of potential tourists originally only passing by. No one here keeps a bear rifle handy. Most locals have seen a bear at a distance. It is not like they are as feared as property taxes.
So, the two of them were shimmying and shaking along Eason Road, about three quarters of a mile past old man Eason’s place, swaggering in that beat-up solid metal truck, when they hit that right-angle curve that gets more sharp the more alcohol you have sluggered down and, whomp, there was the bear. To Jimmy, it was four feet at the shoulder even down on all four, and on the high side of five hundred pounds. Not that a boy with a busted fender to replace at the junkyard on his father’s truck can be believed. But the boy holds to his story. Says the bear was in the middle of the road, peaceful as a well-fed barn dog, not in any hurry: sauntering through, at peace with his purpose, nobody’s hero. Jimmy had to make the decision to try to steer around or lock brakes, so he did both, making each ineffective and whomp the passenger side caught the bear barely on the last of the slowly travelling bear’s rear-end, the side where Nathan was sitting with a beer he would have likely spilled, impact or no.
The two of them ended up with bladders intact, a still drivable truck, and a last sight of a bear seeming startled but none the worse making his, or her, way a little quickened deeper into the woods. And the boys got a great cover story handed unwarranted to them.
But I don’t think the reason Nathan has to have a hey-look-at-me muffler has anything to do with a bruised bear.