Speed by James Loesch | Flickr
“Nothing wrong with do-overs,” I tell Ralph as we file into Bowman Gray Stadium for maybe the hundredth time this summer. “More times a man goes around the track, slicker he gets,” meaning, no days off for us. “Practice enough, you do without thinking,” I say. “Practice makes perverts,” I say, and on, and on like that.
I am the brains of our operation. Ralph’s the hands, the feet, maybe the balls, but not the mouth. He’s what you call legally dumb. Can’t make words. It’s on me to coach him up, so he don’t get sloppy or give in to the heat. “Do-overs can’t hurt a man,” I holler every night. “Do-overs can help a fool, which, not saying you’re one,” which, actually, who knows? “Look,” I say, pointing at the track below, “reps teach when to speed up and when to slow.” But – this I don’t tell him because this don’t occur to me yet – reps can’t teach a man what to do when shit hits the windshield.
So, here’s me and Ralph at Bowman Gray Stadium, sweating in muggy twilight, same as ever. We’re pounding tallboys like we do, quick as they’re handed down the row. Truth, we’re ordering the Pabst, waving down the vendor every time he Beer-Heres near, and we’re hitting the suds hard. But the flabby guy sitting one row down? Bald, soft-looking one with enough baby fat makes you doubt the Confederate flag tats on his scalp and arms are legit? Dude sitting right next to the brown fanny pack. He’s paying. Way too many twenties in that man’s pack. If we don’t step in, some gang-banging, child-molesting crackhead’ll pluck it from him. True, not many blacks in this crowd, but, only takes one. Which, I’m all the time telling Ralph we’re public servants. Keeping the streets safe, keeping children free from fiends and such. This is what we do. It is who we are.
We show up every night, rain or shine, buy our tickets like everyone else. Some folks leave bills hanging out their pockets, which, me and Ralph appreciate. Once inside, once the anthem’s played, there’s noise enough an elephant standing beside you could fart into a megaphone and you wouldn’t know, what with engines revving, fans yelling, vendors vending, citizens going crazy every time the cars roar by, cars sticking to that quarter-mile track like they got no choice. Inertia, a prissy egghead didn’t belong here once shouted, jumping up and down like he’d discovered sex. Inertia, right there!
Money is all the time falling out of people’s hands and pockets and me and Ralph are forever gathering it and waving down the Pabst man. All that practice paying off steady.
Local boy, Shlomo “Bubs” Fagleman, will drive in tonight’s last race. This town forever comes out for the Jew, he being not black, not Mexican, not Muslim, and almost one of us if you think about it. When the loudest women and drunkest men start chanting Go Shlo! Go Shlo! Go Shlo, Go! and ol’ Bubs jumps on the gas? No way anyone’s noticing a pro like Ralph pulling bills out another man’s pack.
Tonight, Ralph’s been hitting this one fellow’s pack repeatedly. He don’t just grab the pack and head out with all the green at once. That’s not our way. We like to make a night of it.
By the time Bubs’ Charger rolls to the starting line with that “Have-a-banana” Hebe music blaring over the intercom; by the time the people start in with their Go Shlo-ing, me and Ralph, we’ve had some beers. Ralph’s a little soused, but he’s practiced. He knows how to do.
For maybe the twelfth time tonight he slides a couple feet over, leans down like he’s tying his shoes and plucks a pair of twenties from the bald man’s purse on the way up.
And this is when some middle-aged fool a couple rows up gets to thinking it’s time to toot what looks like a goddamn ram’s horn he’s brought along. Toots it loud and strange, turning heads and making folks squirm. Fanny Packman turns to see what the fuck, and he can’t help noticing Ralph standing behind him, two freshly plucked twenties in his fist.
Seems the bald bastard is not one for sharing. He’s one for punching and kicking, for head-butting, biting and maiming.
Me? I’m for turning the other cheek. I slide as far to my left as possible, so as not to see what’s happening to Ralph. I focus on the race, where Bubs is driving hard. I’m screaming with the crowd for that fellow barreling along at maybe 150 mph feeding dust to the other drivers, probably bouncing up and down in his seat dancing that dance they do.
Then I spot the pigeon, likely sick on bad barbecue, winging wild and wrong, racing crazy as chaos to the exact spot it needs to be to dump a load dead-smack eye-level on Bubs’ windshield.
There’s a gasp from the crowd, the sound of the Charger slamming the wall, bouncing back like some broke toy into the middle of the track; smack of more cars piling into it; the whoosh of flames; the wail of sirens.
The good news for Ralph? Bald guy stops beating on him so as to leave before the stadium has a chance to burn down.
Good news for me? Ralph’s dumb, always. His left shoulder dangles like some loose noodle. His face is slick and soupy, already swelling, and his mouth’s short some teeth by the time he hobbles over to me and we head for the exit.
“Reps make winners,” I’m steady preaching as we hit the street. “Do-overs is important,” I say like nothing’s changed and never will, holding true to what’s always been, while we wander in no particular direction through the hot, starless night.
Bob Shar is a former factory worker, newspaper editor, little magazine poobah (founded/edited/published/ nearly-went-broke–running The Crescent Review, 1983-1988), disreputable bar mitzvah instructor and retired librarian. He has been writing short stories since he was 18, with the very rare (and usually odd) story surfacing over the last 48 years in such places as Greensboro Review, South Carolina Review, Bacopa Literary Review, 2-Bridges Review, Stoneboat, Literary Orphans, Print-Oriented Bastards, Bartleby Snopes, and elsewhere. He lives in Winston-Salem, NC, expecting fame, fortune and fabulous women to start banging on his door momentarily.