Jalapeno Summer

by Ryan Werner Read author interview September 24, 2012

The summer I turned eighteen, we drove a car off a cliff every Sunday. Gas was still a buck a gallon and all of us were moving away in August to places where polka music wasn’t a dogma.

The cars we wrecked were already wrecked when we bought them. It was only fifty or sixty dollars apiece to buy an old Mercury Marquis with a transmission like a house of cards and no floorboards. Still, we had rules. No peeling off dashboard ornaments placed by previous owner. All windows must be down at all times. “Stranglehold” must be the first song played on the cassette deck—if it worked.

I only chose purple cars when it was my turn to go looking for something to crash. The way the silver cracked through on the crumpled hood made it seem fair to measure anything by how it holds up when totaled.

* * *

We were all hockey fans, so none of us were above acting appalled when the violence we hoped for actually happened. When it got to the point where putting a car in neutral and pushing it over a cliff became slightly anti-climactic and our buddy Leo wanted to send one off with a cinderblock on the accelerator, we let him.

Four cracked ribs and a snapped collarbone when the car took off and he went with. Ten broken fingers, too. The doctor said it would have been eleven or twelve if he had them to break. His hands were totally fucked. Within days I could already see his fingers starting to heal into awkward contortions, like ten marble dicks that were snapped off ten statues and glued back on by a blind person.

Leo was still alive and still an idiot. All of the unfortunate events that would have compounded nicely in a demolished car would instead be dispensed throughout the course of his life.

* * *

The newspaper ran articles on the wrecked cars all throughout summer. Aliens seemed to be the agreed-upon most logical conclusion. One of the grocer women who looked like a stack of donuts asked me what I thought about it one day. I suggested that maybe somebody’s just wrecking them.

“Sure, fine,” she said. “But to what end?”

If one were to isolate that conversation and pay attention only to my confidence when saying What if there is no end? and walking away, there would be no argument against the idea that I was the smartest person alive.

* * *

Mickey and Tal dropped out of college before they had a chance to stop going. They worked at the meat processing plant and made five dollars an hour—cash, under the table—until they turned legal and got a two dollar raise. In a roundabout way, they presented an equation that ended up being something like staying at mom and dad’s house – student loan = accumulation of wealth.

None of us stopped to check their math. We were guaranteed free beef jerky. And, in a way, we all sort of figured that if everyone goes to a new place except one or two people, the old place becomes a new place as well.

We had to twist deeper through back-roads to find new ravines big enough to stash the cars. The further out we went the more we wanted to get caught. We put JALAPENO SUMMER stickers from the meat processing plant on the back bumper and left fingerprints everywhere.

Once we got too deep into the dark parts of the county, not even the residents said anything. When we saw a woman hanging up her laundry, we pulled up into her driveway and told her we were going to ditch the car at the quarry a hundred yards from her house. She was still outside picking up dropped clothespins when we did it. There was nothing in the paper next week except articles about the pool’s new hours and an interview with Perry from Perry’s Very Finer Diner.

Summer was almost over.

* * *

I wrecked the last car myself. By the end of August, I was the only one actually leaving. Mickey and Tal had already started full time at the plant and Leo couldn’t go up north to work on his uncle’s farm until he could disprove a relationship between depth of stupidity and length of existence.

They gave me their share of the money for the last car and nobody showed that whole weekend after I bought it. So I kept it. It was a grey Corsica with brakes I had to pump to get it to stop. The driver’s seat was braced by a 2×4 jammed into the back of it, meaning that with enough force from behind I could become a kabob.

When I did wreck the car, it wasn’t until a couple months later. And it was an accident. I took an unmarked corner too fast and ended up in the ditch with the front axle broken and the hood folded up like a tossed book. I sat on the roof with my legs out and my head hanging off the back. I waited awhile but nothing happened. Nobody showed up, and it didn’t matter, because I wasn’t going anywhere.

About the Author:

Ryan Werner is a cook at a preschool in the Midwest. He plays guitar in a loud instrumental rock band called Young Indian. You can find him at @YeahWerner on Instagram.

About the Artist:

Leslie Salas is a Dean's Fellow in the Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Central Florida, where she teaches composition and is working on a graphic novel. Her work—both prose and sequential art—has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals such as Sweet: A Literary Confection, The Southeast Review, and Burrow Press' 15 Views of Tampa Bay.