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Jonesing for a drive-in theater and a hotrod El Camino?It’s the dawn of the 1970s and everything is changing. The war in Vietnam is winding down. So is the Apollo Space Program. The tiny northwestern city of Spokane is about to host a World’s Fair. But the Watergate Hearings and the re-entry of Skylab and the eruption of Mount Saint Helens are coming…as are killer bees and Ronald Reagan.Enter ‘The Kid,’ a panic-prone, hyper-imaginative boy whose life changes drastically when his father brings home an astronaut-white El Camino. As the car’s deep-seated rumbling becomes a catalyst for the Kid’s curiosity, his ailing, over-protective mother finds herself fending off questions she doesn’t want to answer. But her attempt to redirect him on his birthday only arms him with the tool he needs to penetrate deeper—a pair of novelty X-Ray Specs—and as the Camino muscles them through a decade of economic and cultural turmoil, the Kid comes to believe he can see through metal, clothing, skin—to the center of the universe itself, where he imagines something monstrous growing, spreading, reaching across time and space to threaten his very world.Using the iconography of 20th century trash Americana—drive-in monster movies, cancelled TV shows, vintage comic books—Spitzer has written an unconventional memoir which recalls J.M. Coetzee’s Boyhood and Youth. More than a literal character, ‘The Kid’ is both the child and the adult. By eschewing the technique of traditional autobiography, Spitzer creates a spherical narrative in which the past lives on in an eternal present while retrospection penetrates the edges. X-Ray Rider is not so much a memoir as it is a retro prequel to a postmodern life—a cinematized “reboot” of what Stephen King calls the “fogged out landscape” of youth.Want to go for a ride?
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X-Ray Rider 1: Mileposts on the road to childhood's end
The X-Ray Rider Trilogy, Volume 1
Wayne Kyle Spitzer
Published by Hobb's End Books, 2017.
While every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.
X-RAY RIDER 1: MILEPOSTS ON THE ROAD TO CHILDHOOD'S END
First edition. November 25, 2017.
Copyright © 2017 Wayne Kyle Spitzer.
Written by Wayne Kyle Spitzer.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Chronoscope | 1966—1972
I | The Sound of Trouble
II | The Starlight
“THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK: A TRUE STORY” | PLUSCO-HIT!HUGHBEAUMONT “THE MOLE PEOPLE” | ONLY $2 A CARLOAD!
III | Last Kid on the Moon
IV | Dagora-Carcinoma
V | World’s Fair
Greatest illusion of the century! Apparently see bones thru skin, see thru clothes, etc. Amaze and embarrass everyone! | Regular size glasses with built-in optical illusion. | X-RAY VISION SPECS...$1.85 per Pair.
VI | There Might Be Klingons
VII | Shifting Gears
VIII | The Wasps in the Window Well
IX | Catalyst
To be continued in | X-RAY RIDER 2
HE LIVES in Spokane, Washington, a smudge of town just off the railway, a place rust-brown by day and elm-dark by night, filled with grain elevators and dim orange streetlamps; a place still without a freeway even in the late ‘60s. His immediate family consists of a mother and father, both in their forties, a brother, who is three years older, and himself. Because he is the youngest of seven boys—four from his mother’s first marriage and a still-born between he and his brother—everyone calls him ‘the Kid.’
They have a ritual which begins at the Phillips 66, in the late afternoon or twilight, where his mother buys him and his brother Cokes and candy cigarettes—Cokes in tall, swirly glass bottles, candy cigarettes in delicate cellophane wrappers. Often she buys them comic books—she calls them ‘funny books’—such as Porky Pig and Daffy Duck, picked from a tall newsstand that squeaks when rotated. He is enchanted by their covers, by the slick, glossy paper and vivid colorizations, the pictures between filmy, rough-edged pages that he can follow, and in a sense, ‘read.’ But what affects him the most, what he wants most to know better, are those things he can see and touch and hear but not read—the marks laid out in tidy rows within the body of the pictures; the roll of the cash register’s tumbler as his mother pays for the books; the runes ticking past on the gas pump as his father fills the tank.
“Thirty-six cents a gallon,” his father always says, shaking his head.
“And 10 cents for a funny book!” says his mother.
Then, as father turns the key and they rattle onto the road in the old Chevy work truck, Elvis takes over, singing “Suspicious Minds.”
And they go riding.
THEY RIDE EVERYWHERE, but he can only imagine what goes on in the farmhouses and the office buildings they pass. He imagines that technicians, who work underground in cramped rooms—rooms full of control panels and television screens—operate traffic lights. That they go in and out through manholes and work down there day and night. He imagines them in gray coveralls with patches on the sleeves—three solid circles, red, yellow, and green. He imagines that The Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed in Spokane’s Manito Park, on a boat in Mirror Lake, across from his grandmother’s house, and that manhole covers steam because the traffic technicians’ rooms—like those of the submarine on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea—are pressurized.
But the ride is not always wonderful. When his parents buy a Ford station wagon in 1970 the family celebrates by going to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, where he gorges himself on cheese mussels, which he loves but cannot digest. He christens the new car by vomiting all over its rear storage compartment, the result of which is a carpet of cheese-mussel vomit—drying on the upholstery, and on the groceries, cracking. His mother thinks it is an isolated case of motion sickness, brought on by the excitement of the new car, and by loving cheese mussels too much. They pull over at a Phillips 66 station where she cleans it all up.
Because the wagon has a back seat he starts bringing along his Marx play-sets—Marx's Prehistoric Scenes, Marx's Modern Farm, Marx's Service Station, Marx's Cape Kennedy, all in tin cases with vinyl handles, like attachés. He opens them on his lap, unfolding new worlds—worlds filled with fences and tractors and service stations, but also cycad trees, dinosaurs, Saturn V rockets—four-color comic book worlds of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.
One afternoon they are riding along Trent Avenue when the light of the setting sun is blocked by an enormous sheet-metal building. The building looks like an aircraft hangar and bears a massive logo high above its daylight windows—sleek yellow letters on a starry black field—like the titles at the beginning of Star Trek.
It is obvious to him that this is where they film the show. He supposes they have the entire ship in there, illuminated by huge lights, supported by lattices of scaffolding. For the first time he thinks of the future—not his future, not tomorrow or the next day or the day after—the future, a future colored Astronaut White, Galaxy Gold, and Re-entry Red. A future his mother and father say will be here before he knows.
HE IS SITTING at the dining room table before a long, low window, building plastic model kits with his brother, when he first hears it—a rumbling and a snarling, coming up the road, coming closer to their house. Out of the corner of his eye he sees a ghostly white blur, a car, swoop into the driveway. Its headlights dazzle his vision as it draws closer to the window. He watches their beams move across the schematics spread over the table—lighting up the U.S.S. Enterprise’s saucer section, still attached to its mold, setting the ship’s cigar-shaped secondary hull on fire, key- lighting its long, tubular warp nacelles. The beams sets the tap water to shimmer in a little porcelain bowl, where strips of red and gold decals float. They glint off the edge of an orange-white tube of Testors glue. Then they’re gone.
He looks out the window, nimbuses of light still imprinted on his eyes. In their place sits the car, headlamps cooling, fading to black, plumes of exhaust rising. It is long and low and Astronaut white. Its driver’s door swings open, as he has seen the hatch of the Apollo spacecraft swing open after splashdown. His father emerges, dressed in his baggy white paint clothes: his hair is greased back, his face tanned; he is wearing aviator glasses—an astronaut returned to earth.
The Kid doesn’t say anything, just watches as his dad’s paint truck swings into the drive behind the car. Out climbs Fast Eddy, also still in his paint clothes. He is smoking a cigarette and carrying a can of Olympia beer. “The man is 40 going on 60,” his mother once described him on the phone, “but is our star employee.” His father says Fast Eddy can double-coat the interior of a medium- sized home in less than a work day, all by himself.
“Hey, Eddy!” shouts his brother. He gets up and hurries out, the screen door banging behind him.
The Kid follows, gluey fingertips sticking to the schematics, causing them to swish from the table, spilling the model’s pieces. There is a click as the bathroom door is unlatched. He pauses at the screen, looking over his shoulder.
His mother stands bolt upright, looking beyond him at the car. She is buttoning her blouse with one hand, holding a small mirror in the other. Her face has been tanned over the summer, her dark-blonde hair bleached gold; still she seems blanched, her expression blank. She reminds him of the astronaut in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bowman, after passing through the Star Gate—paralyzed, transformed. A man his mother described as having just seen it all, “the beginning, the end, everything.”
She sets the mirror down and steadies herself against the table. Her expression softens. She doesn’t quite shine, as would be typical, but something replaces the mask; something in the eyes only, something akin to her true self—something warm, blush, living.
“Go on ahead,” she says. “I’ll pick that up.”
And she smiles—sweetly, wanly.
THE BOYS RACE out to the car amidst a September sunset—the Kid, now six, and his brother, now nine.
They circle the car in opposite directions as it idles in the pre-twilight, the brother laughing, hollering out, the Kid tentative, silent, speculative.
“S-S!” shouts the brother, “It’s an S-S!”
“Sheldon Spitzer, how about that?” says Fast Eddy.
“Right,” chuckles the brother. “Try Super Sport.”
The Kid completes his circuit, stares at the black-accented grill and the chromed ‘S-S’ indicia centered there. He can’t yet read but recognizes the shapes. S-S. As in U.S.S. As in not just car. As in Enterprise.
His father opens the passenger’s side door, gestures to him like Bob Barker on The Price is Right. “...a brand-new car!”
A big teenager who lives next door lopes across the field, arms swinging. “Just about,” he drawls. Everyone calls him B.B.—because his name is ‘Billy,’ and because he walks like Bigfoot. “1968—five years old. Nice El Camino.”
“El Camino,” repeats the Kid. He steps close and stares in at the cab: at the chromed shifter and radio and the futuristic speedometer and council clock; at the single black bench seat and the flesh-colored carpeting—which rises, in the middle of the floor, to meet the shifter’s rubber baffling. He hardly notices his brother opening the driver’s door and slipping behind the wheel. He hardly notices anything but the carpeted floor and the sumptuous mound, which together form a hammock, almost, beneath the dashboard’s black, enveloping shelter.
“Where the heck is everyone going to sit?” says his brother, rocking the wheel, pretending to drive. The dome light causes a queer play of shadows over his face, teasing out features the Kid, the very mirror of their father, does not possess.
“Oh, I’ll just ride in the back,” drawls B.B.
“There’s plenty of room for everyone,” says his father. “You’re not that big yet.”
“I will be,” says the brother. He pulls a handle under the dash, pops the hood.
The Kid doesn’t say anything, only peers through the rear window at the payload bay, which takes the place of back seats.
His father has purchased a white 1968 El Camino with a black vinyl roof and matching decals, but he sees a spaceship, an aerodynamic domicile: a rocket with twin-domed hood scoops and louvered ports and long, pin-striped rear quarter panels, like warp nacelles, which through an alchemy known to Federation engineers and certain boys and girls can fold space, can warp time.
They huddle around the engine compartment—Fast Eddy, father, Sheldon and B.B.—as he peers between, glimpses something black and chrome and complicated before his brother blocks the view—purposely, it seems. He keeps trying to see as Fast Eddy talks like he paints, fast.
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