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American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
01-01-2015
Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
01-11-2014
Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
01-04-2014
Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2014
Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
10-01-2013
Nonviolence by Jim Courter
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
07-01-2013
The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
04-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
10-01-2012
DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-07-2012
Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-04-2012
Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
Patience by Ward Webb
The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
01-01-2012
Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
01-10-2011
When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
01-07-2011
The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
01-04-2011
Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
Someday Man by John Grochalski
01-01-2011
I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
10-01-2010
Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
07-01-2010
Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
04-01-2010
Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
Invisible by Anjoli Roy
One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
Storyteller by Alan McCormick
01-01-2010
Idolatry by Robert Smith
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
They Do! by Al Po
Full TEX Archive
Side Photo for The Big Stupid Review

Automatic Transmission

By Warren Buckles

stinkbug in a lemon tree, up close

Junk has been my downfall. Greasy junk, rusty car parts, bolts, screws, shafts, bearings, manifolds, curved sheet metal bearded with curling paint, gauges with needles pointing to hot or cold, empty or full, zero or thirty, charge or discharge. I was a scholar of junk, a perennial student of the unmade, the abandoned and the obsolete.

Perhaps it was an accident of birth.The youngest of three boys, I got the hand-me-downs: outgrown clothes and well-used toys. I wore the clothes that fit and tried to fix the toys that didnít work. They had seen rough handling, but ours was an era of metal, of springs and gears, before plastic toys that came in boxes marked 'batteries not included.' The mechanisms were simple: springs linked to gears that turned wheels, the difference between stasis and movement a matter of small changes in alignment or spacing. I often simplified what I didnít understand and left out parts that seemed more decorative than necessary.

In time, I learned to make the lame walk and sometimes even raised the dead. My parents were impressed. My brothers were not and began to keep their broken toys.

This drove me farther afield, to the garage and the attic, then to vacant lots and alleys. I was drawn to things with no obvious use, scattered parts, mechanical puzzles that my brothers derided and my parents sometimes threw out. Even so I kept their toasters and bicycles working, fixed the TV set when it went dark and made sure the lawn mower ran when it was my brotherís turn to use it.

It wasnít long before I discovered the automobile. I quickly learned its needs and failings and took a job at the local garage, further annoying my brothers, whose skills were limited to bagging groceries or delivering newspapers. But cars were not my vocation. They were only another thing to know, an organized collection of parts with an incidental usefulness. Their owners, of course, felt differently, and demanded function, not explanation and I became a necessary, if not welcome, adjunct to their needs.

And so I learned the fickleness of both things and people. On the whole, things were more predictable. All their parts served a purpose and did not tolerate casual rearrangement. People, on the other hand, remained beyond my understanding. They had little interest in what they used, and considered the privileges of turning and pulling, winding and unwinding, starting and stopping, to be theirs by right. They ignored me until something broke and their changing moods baffled me. I grew estranged from people, first from my family, then from neighbors and friends, until my only contacts came through things that didnít work.

I became a mendicant and wandered from job to job, sharing a truck with my tools and junk. I collected what junk I could carry and worked on cars wherever I found them, in the roadside dirt, parking lots or driveways. A few times I used other peopleís sheds or garages, but these arrangements never lasted beyond a midnight tune-up or an engine planted in the vegetable patch.

For a while I used an old filling station, a place with two gas pumps that had last worked when regular was 21, high octane was 249 and no one had heard of oil embargoes or unleaded gas. I cleared tumbleweeds and dirt from the lift and spread my tools on the workbenches while old vehicles, drawn from back yards and empty lots, gathered outside.

It was perfect but it didnít last. In a few months I was on the road again and the place became a briefly-popular restaurant, then a hair salon, then a realty office where they sold the nearby hills in half-acre lots. When these were gone they flattened the old place and built a mini-mart where people could buy gas for cars that never need fixing. But that happened much later, long after I stopped caring about cars and junk and all they entailed.

The gas station gone, I once more lived as an itinerant. The old place stayed with me: I couldnít forget the lift, the workbenches and space to keep all the junk that came my way. Traveling aimlessly, I often stopped to moon over decaying garages and derelict cars. I explored the informal junkyards of abandoned ranches, followed the traces of old roads to mining camps and empty, nameless settlements in the mountains. When summer came the mountain campgrounds filled with motor homes, camping trailers and station wagons overloaded with squabbling children and their parents. Sometimes I joined these gatherings, replenishing my gas supply at night with a siphon hose and a five gallon can. I pilfered their food, too, often making a mess so bears or raccoons would take the blame. But mostly I kept to myself, preferring the old settlements with their abandoned buildings, keeping company with decrepit steam engines, ore crushers and the junk left by forgotten miners.

Summer ended and the campers went home, taking their fuel and food, so one Sunday I packed my truck and moved on. Despite all my traveling I had never gone very far from home, or what was once home, and the road was familiar. I coasted downhill and crept uphill to stretch my stolen fuel. This was too slow for most drivers, and I often pulled off the road to let them pass. I was looking for another place to pull over when I noticed a car beside the road. The hood was open and a man stood looking at the engine. His hands were in his pockets, as if he did that sort of thing all the time, but it seemed to me he was afraid of getting dirty.

I pulled in beside him, running my wheels up the bank and leaving a narrow lane open. Cars squeezed by, the drivers honking and gesturing but the man ignored the disturbance and continued his examination of the carís engine.

The dust from the last car was settling when I approached the stalled vehicle and its owner. I looked at the engine, its once-shiny cam covers dulled by dust and oil, then looked at its owner. He smiled suddenly and took a step toward me. "Nate!" he said.

"Little Joe!" I replied, remembering him swaggering through the high school lunch room with a crowd of hangers on trailing behind. He hadnít been smiling then.

His face tightened and the smile disappeared. That was more familiar and I hastily corrected myself. "Sorry, itís Jerry, right?"

"Yeah, itís been Jerry for a long time," he said. The smile didnít come back as we shook hands. We had started grade school together, eventually graduating high school in the same year, but we hadnít shared much else. In those days his father owned the sawmill that roared and smoked outside of town. The old man had been born Jose, but everybody called him Big Joe and all through grade school we called his son Little Joe. In high school Little Joe became Jerry and made it stick with his fists and cowboy boots.

I had heard the old man was dead, or pretending to be dead and living in Mexico so Jerryís mother couldnít get more money out of him. Still, there seemed to be money around: Jerryís stalled car was an E-type Jaguar, an expensive mix of style and unreliability that would make a good meal ticket for someone like me.

It didnít take me long to fix the Jag, but I made a show of it and tried to set Jerry up for a little more work.

"This car needs regular attention," I said, and wiped some oil off the cam cover. He didnít say anything. The aluminum housing was starting to show and I plowed on, "Itís leaking oil and needs a good tune up." Jerry came closer. "There used to be a good shop down at old the mill," I said, wiping faster and trying to read his reflection in the now-shiny metal.

"Can you work on this thing there?"

I stopped my polishing. The metal was warm. I looked back at Jerry and nodded, my throat too tight for speech, afraid I might start begging if he said 'no.'

"Just keep this thing running and you can take over the whole place," he said, tipping the Jagís hood closed. I barely got out of the way.

"Sure,Ē I said, ďI can do that."

I was still standing there when he pulled out. I didnít mind the dust.

It was dark by the time I got to Big Joeís old sawmill. The gate was open. That wasnít a good sign, but I kept going, following the rutted tracks around piles of rough logs and buildings with shattered windows that reflected my headlights in a crazy pattern. Eventually I came to a large shed, an arch of corrugated metal with sliding doors at one end and a solid wall at the other. The sliding doors were chained shut, the big padlock dented by bullets but still closed. Guns only open locks in the movies and I hoped the ricochets had done damage to the gun-wielding fool. Jerry hadnít said anything about keys so I cut the chain with my torch and pushed the doors open. The oxyacetylene flame left me seeing purple spots that the truckís feeble headlights couldnít dispel, so I drove in slowly, stopping when the truck hit something solid and the engine stalled. I decided that was far enough for one day and slept in the cab, feeling like a miner protecting his mother lode.

The sun came through the half-open door and woke me. I smelled the truckís old seat and tried to stretch out but the passenger door was in the way of my feet and my head was stuck under the steering wheel. After a few tries I sat up, opened the door and climbed down. My truck stood in the center of the bare floor, the nearest solid object a good fifteen feet away.

But I didnít have time to wonder about things I hadnít seen the previous night. There was a concrete floor under my feet, a metal roof over my head and five acres of junk outside the door. Heaven couldnít have been better and I felt like crying with joy.

stinkbug in a lemon tree