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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 2: Mileposts on the road to childhood's end
The X-Ray Rider Trilogy, Volume 2
Wayne Kyle Spitzer
Published by Hobb's End Books, 2017.
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
X-RAY RIDER 2: 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
I | Drag Race
II | The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes
III | The Dead Wasps
IV | Fire Not Flames
V | The Giant Spider Invasion
VI | Behind the Curtain
VII | Drive-in of the Dead
VIII | Dime-store Gazelle
To be continued in | X-RAY RIDER 2
HE HAS BEGUN TO NOTICE a pattern to all their riding about Spokane.
His parents revisit the same places over and over—his Uncle Shane’s painting business, for example, which is huge in comparison to his father’s, and which looks like an auto dealership with its neon signs and fleet of trucks, and his grandfather’s painting business, housed in an enormous brick building in Hillyard, a building with the words SPITZER INC. painted across the top, each letter the height of a man. They also visit a nightclub called the Pine Shed, where his uncle’s white Lincoln-Continental is often spotted, as well as a little house in Platter’s Ferry, where his mother’s first husband and young wife are said to live. Yet they do not visit these places so much as orbit them, slinking around their peripheries like spies, the Camino’s engine purring and growling.
East Trent Avenue is the common corridor between everything, a wide, long stretch of road which cuts through but also connects most of Spokane’s industrial zones. There are Quonset huts all along this strip, which, again, like the fuel farms near Hillyard, the Kid likens to the miniature sets in Japanese giant monster movies. He is especially fascinated by the U.S. Army Reserve depot at Spokane Industrial Park, just off the far eastern end of the avenue, where he often spots military vehicles, nothing so grand as a tank or artillery piece, but at least a few camouflaged jeeps and sometimes an armored personnel carrier, slumbering in the stockade beneath the cool dark of the elm trees, like animals in a zoo. The thing about Trent Avenue for him is that it runs parallel to all the most familiar sights, like the Disneyland Railroad past the Primeval World—which he has not actually experienced but has seen on The Wonderful World of Disney. It covers the entire distance from downtown Spokane to Grandpa Spitzer’s house in Otis Orchards—a clean, quaint affair until you go into the basement, which is missing an entire wall so you encountered a dark, moist face of dirt, root and rock.
They are idling at a stoplight on Trent—the Kid sitting in the bed of the Camino with his back to the cab—when a black Pontiac Firebird pulls alongside and begins revving its engine. The car is full of teenagers, one of whom leans out the backseat window and asks the Kid if he gives blowjobs.
“Because you sure got a pretty mouth,” says the young man, who is wearing a crimson and gold letterman’s jacket, and looks to be about sixteen. His eyes and hair are dark, stupid, like an animal’s. His head seems wide as a watermelon.
The Kid doesn’t say anything, partly because he is in his own universe, partly because he has no idea what blowjobs are, has never even heard of them. But the intent of the comments is clear. He knows that if Sheldon were here he might vault over the bed rail and smash the guy in the face—but Sheldon isn’t here. For all the Kid knows, Sheldon is with them, the teenagers. Sheldon even looks like this guy, at least when he’s mad—minus the dark eyes and watermelon head—has the same iron gaze, the same unexamined confidence—it is an older brother thing, he suspects. There is a girl in the car as well, who puts her thin face next to the guy’s and coos, “Oooh, I’ll bet you he does. Look at all that pretty blonde hair.” She has long, blonde hair herself, which curls away from her face as though blown by the wind, and is wearing too much blue eye-shadow.
His mother laughs bitterly. “I doubt you even know what you’re saying, young lady.”
All the teenagers laugh, as though his mother were the funniest thing on earth. Something about this angers the Kid more than he can account for. The girl is the worst of all—piggybacking off the guy, piggybacking his power, the power of the car—laughing at his mother like that, who is so much her superior; not because she is a grownup but because she makes her own power, and would never have clung to a boy like that, a gorilla, a bulldog, a pig. He feels a compulsion to dominate the girl, to degrade her. It is not just because she is degrading him. There is something about her—the long face, the long eyes, the soft pale skin, pressed against the boy’s—something repellent and alluring. Something which challenges him. Something hostile and yet promising, if he can tame it.
He fumbles for his X-Ray glasses and slides them on, looks the girl up and down. “I see infection in you. Chlamydia. Lots of it.”
Chlamydia is a term he has heard before. He isn’t sure what it means either, but knows it’s something dirty.
The girl hesitates for an instant, unsure how to react, then bursts out laughing. “Long-haired faggot’s got some lip!” All the rest laugh too. The Firebird’s engine revs and roars.
So does the El Camino’s. The Kid gets up and crouches by his father’s window, shakes the hair out of his eyes. “Race them, Dad. Blow them away.”
His mother rolls up her window. “Nobody is racing anybody, for heaven’s sake. They’re drunk.”
The Firebird’s engine roars and roars. “Do it, Dad.”
“Don’t you dare do it,” says his mother.
“Mary Lee,” his father says. “Of course I’m not going to do it.” He continues revving the engine, glares straight ahead. “I’m just waiting for the light.”
Everything happens at once. The Kid looks at the stoplight and immediately sees how the x-ray glasses work—it is night that activates them!—sees that the red light has become a glowing red word in the fumy air: X-RAY; X-RAY twice, one above the other, so that the lower mirrors the upper. The word turns green as he looks at it; it vibrates and rocks as the Camino vibrates and rocks—its back tires squealing, its engine howling. “Hold on, buddy,” says his father, as the Kid grips the fender and the Camino launches forward, the Firebird doing likewise, the stench of scorched rubber wafting up and vanishing behind them, the g-force almost causing him to lose his grip, the wind savaging his hair, his mother shouting at his father, the streetlights flashing overhead, faster and faster, X-RAY—X-RAY—X-RAY-X-RAY-XRAY!
The cars blast neck and neck up East Trent Avenue, past the East Trent Motor-in (NOW PLAYING! BILLY JACK), past the House of Mai Tai Chinese Buffet (“We’re So Proud of Our Food You Won’t Believe It!”), until the sound of the Camino’s engine blooms like a wet, black rose, opening wide, doubling in intensity, causing them to leap forward as though going into warp, leaving the Firebird behind, dazed, confused, weaving back and forth, the cones of its headlights lost in blue-tinged smoke, its headlights shouting X-RAY, all glittery yellow, cowardly yellow, signaling surrender.
The Firebird turns on Green Street, slinking away like a whipped dog. He looks into the rearview mirror and sees his father smiling, slapping the steering wheel; in the space of seconds he has transformed into a teenager, an adolescent; when he looks through the rear window he sees his mother has done the same, laughing, grinning broadly, her head thrown back, hair dancing, licking out the window, which she has rolled down again, the streetlights playing over her face, X-RAY, X-RAY, X-RAY.
And they just roll casually on up the road, past the neon bulldozer sign at Modern Machinery (with its animated treads like a Las Vegas marquee, the Golden Nugget, maybe, which he has seen destroyed on television by Glenn Langan as The Colossal Man), past the Futurist office building with the Modernistic panels along its pediment, past Spokane Community College and its big, bisected windows (he calls them Reptilicus windows because they are the same kind the monster escapes through in the movie), past the old Armour slaughterhouse where Uncle Shane worked in 1954, and where he’d learned to butcher his competitors to become a multi-millionaire, and which looms like the Bates Mansion in the hazy dark—all the way to Spokane and beyond.
The Kid grins the whole way, lying upon his foam mattress, gazing at the stars and the moon, which says: X-RAY. He has seen the Camino transform into something previously unimaginable; a thing conflicted, repressed, angry—yet buoyant, exuberant, free. He, the Kid—now ten, but still a boy—has transformed too. He has become, for the first time, the Boy with the X-Ray Eyes. A surfer of invisible waves—explorer, reporter, seer—the boy who will put it all together.
THEY CELEBRATE THE VICTORY at a Chinese restaurant in downtown Spokane, at a little round table in a corner whose walls are comprised of glass. He has never seen his parents act quite this young or behave so affectionately toward each other, as though they have just met, as though they are the king and queen of the prom. They look like movie stars to him, their hair having been coifed by the wind, their skin tanned, and their teeth so straight and white. Everything is reflected in the shiny glass walls, beyond which cars glide back and forth: the little orange candles—which are round and have little nets on them—the light with the wide-brimmed shade which hangs low over the table, himself. He is wearing his white Spiderman T-shirt with the blue trim, its sleeves rolled up like James Dean, and his brother’s Little League baseball cap—black with a golden ‘F,’ for Frankenfurters. He has a belly full of scallops and snow crab, a pile of empty shells to make monsters, and the love of his parents, who are young, dashing, victorious. And he has a pair of X-ray glasses.
Nobody says anything about math or about bankruptcies. Instead his mother talks exuberantly about the future and what it holds, about how wonderfully he has learned to write and to draw; how another bid is just around the corner, that they will go to San Francisco and Los Angeles and San Diego and Las Vegas. That the external world holds no threat for a middle-class American family whose members are all healthy. That she has faith. That they have lots of time together. That they need be in no particular hurry; need not construct safety nets in case the center doesn’t hold; need not belabor children over how to survive in the world.
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