This is a piece written for our end-of-year reading, which, by the way, went very well. So, this piece is meant to be heard out loud. Ask a stranger to read it out to you! Or, y’know…read it yourself.


When Mark told me that we were building a soapbox racer, I named six hills that we could ride it on.

“Sure,” he said. “Only we need to build it first. Let’s go to the junkyard.”

What I knew about junkyards was that they had junkyard dogs, and that I didn’t want to meet one. Also, that my dad said ours was run by impractical hippies. What I knew about Mark was that it wouldn’t help to tell him any of this. We took my red wagon out to the road leading to the junkyard. Mark brought his transistor radio. I was afraid to wake the junkyard dog, but Mark listened to the baseball game the whole way there.

“Will they have soapboxes here?” I was curious. I only had a vague idea that a soapbox was something you stood on.

“Soapbox racers aren’t actually made out of soapboxes anymore, moron. Soap doesn’t even really come in crates anymore.” Moron was his new word.

“Well, they ought to change the name, then,” I said.

I was happy to find that the animal-in-residence was actually a junkyard cat. Her name was “Chicken Dinner” because that was the only thing she answered to. That’s how we met Joan and Dylan, the owners of the junkyard – my father’s impractical hippies. When we got there, they were out in front of their one-story house. Dylan was reading last week’s newspaper, sitting on an overturned washbasin padded by Care Bear pelts and petting the long tabby cat. Joan was tending the marigolds that she grew to keep away bugs, planted in piled-up tires filled with dirt. She watered them using a Javex bottle with holes in it.

“You save a lot of money by recycling,” said Dylan, noting our puzzlement. “We recycle everything.”

The pair knew their piles of junk well, but told us that looking for ourselves would be half the fun. Joan handed us garbage bag ponchos to wear over our clothes, and sent us out, promising to have lunch ready when we wanted a break. Mark made it out the door first, but we saw the piles at the same time: three big ones, with satellite piles around them, mostly kitchen appliances piled five feet high. We went to the closest pile.

Mark pulled out a motorcycle helmet with a cracked visor, and I lifted it to try it on.

“A brain bucket,” said Mark with grim satisfaction. “Got to protect your brain.”

But it smelled like Chicken Dinner had maybe disagreed with that sentiment. Disagreed all over the inside of the helmet. I didn’t try it on after all. Mark punted it and hurt his foot. It hit a Springbok motorboat. What was a Springbok anyway? I thought it was some sort of deer, but Mark said that deer didn’t have much to do with water, so how would that make any sense? Unless the company was moronic, he said.

While we were working, Mark switched his radio over to WDIA, all the way from Memphis, and we listened to B.B. King while we sorted through all sorts of things that I couldn’t name.  I nearly cut my hand once on a Veg-O-Matic blender blade, still full of crusted yellow cheese. Mark wanted to keep it but I made him throw it away. Mom wouldn’t have let it into the house anyway, and by now she was in the habit of turning out our pockets before we came inside. Right after that, I found a bone that I was sure was a finger bone – a human one. Mark thought it was a barbecue rib picked over by Chicken Dinner, but I couldn’t believe how spotless it was. In the first pile, we found exactly nothing for our car. But by then, we were having fun, and we were getting the hang of not making things fall over onto us. We ended up with a set of training wheels for a bike, two cans of white paint, an old steering wheel, and an old seat cushion.

After an hour or two, Joan came over and joined us at a patch of earth next door. She was carrying a small pail and a spade, wearing great black belly boots. She reminded me of the time that Mark and I went clam-digging with our grandmother. She dug through the decomposing newspaper and muck. I watched.

“Ah, there’s a nice juicy morsel,” she said at last, dropping a long fat worm into her pail. There was something about the way she said the word “morsel” that didn’t make me think of fishing. I must have given her a look.

“Oh, for the garden, hon! We compost.”

I believed her.  But still, I wondered what was for lunch.

    • Brad
    • April 15th, 2010

    They ate wooooooooooooooooooooorms!

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