Kid KartsOliver Nash
An hour drive up State Route 127 from the (not so) big city to the roadside familiar sprouting of Camden OH, an everywhere-town of six-by-six streets & a Powerhouse Pizza & Subs we pass all bleary eyed & stiff backed, craning our little necks against back seat windows to beg beer-sipping Dad to stop but registration ends soon, we’re late, no time, straight past good ol’ Camden which camps in the center of an unusually large copse by Preble County standards, like the corn farmers had swept up the schmutz into a green pile on the bleachy, yellowed gas station floor across the street from Powerhouse. We are eight & five years old. We blow past houses. We are blown out into cornstalk roads & across the bridge where a decade later we will dip our black lab puppy baptismal into its tobacco-brown depths & wonder accurately if this is the last time we will ever smell the SP-107 gasoline that soaks the Earth like a peat bog or hear the whine of St. Peter in the engines, redneck trumpets of grace. At G&J Kartway, there are fourteen races every summer. There is always someone on the off days, doing laps on empty track, us lounging near naked in a chrome RV & fingering our Gameboy while we wait for the someone to finish burning gas. Without the hundreds of other RVs the grounds are a tangle of gravel plots & streets, weeds & blue skies & ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky: the only song on our first gen iPod which invariably runs out of charge by day two of each race weekend. We eat candy bars & explore the eroded Earth below the cow fence & then brother tells sister this is what it looks like when mountains are made, that don’t you feel like one of those ancient gods? & she says yes. & brother digs in the dirt to make the marks that God makes. It is our time to drive & this place, empty, is outside time, the closest we ever get to Narnia. We dimly wonder if heaven is a hot asphalt day. Entombed in the too-tight helmet & chest protector & jumpsuit & gloves & dirty sneakers we Sisyphus our route around for hours to shave seconds like ingrown hairs, pointlessly & painfully & sometimes freeing, & we never win races though sometimes we come close. We are ten & seven the one time we remember winning—during the barbaric era of using lights instead of a flagman to signal the GreenLightGo! start of each race. We are in the back of the pack. The back half sees the light & accelerates into the front half, which thinks no light was lit & so they must trundle another pace lap around. We see all of this coming. We watch the sixty horsepower chariots piloted by near-infants rocket forward into stationary bumpers & we dodge all carnage, come flying out from the quagmire of bodies & little too-big helmets & streak down the back straightaway, not just victor but survivor, Smart Kid we are. They call this a false start & deny us our victory. We complain about this still at twenty-four & twenty-one. At twelve & nine, we’ve made a silent nemesis of a kid in a gray shark-fin helmet. At eighteen he will father a child, but for now he is just ahead of us at the end of the back straight & we have to make a 180° turn. We commit. We keep our pinched foot pressed down. Half of winning is knowing when to slow down. The other half is pure pig-headed piss & vinegar determination. We mismix the two & wheels leave asphalt, spinning a thousand times in the open August air. We hit the safety hay bales & hay stuffs up our helmet & the paramedics, looking us over in the mispainted mini ambulance, dad loading our kart onto its stand, say we’re fine, just fine, & we play that night at having our Kid Kart purple heart. Bravado is worth near as much as victory. We are invited to sit in on the adults poker game, though are refused sips of their bourbon&cokes. We are eighteen & fifteen for our last kart summer. It is track cleanup day, midway between deserted & bursting, & a nine-fingered G&J elder lights his RV (and body) on fire while cooking hotdogs. We rush out onto the asphalt steppes, eyes bugging at the medevac which swoops down from heaven orange as the too-thin crust of Firehouse pizza. Its blades blow the multicolored trash cans like empty sodas & it is the most magical thing we have ever seen. It is a kind of worship we do later, righting the cans, picking up garbage. The elder survives & at the awards banquet in January he is wearing a cheap suit & a fat smile. He is Orpheus & the track our collective, polyamorous Eurydice: singular, grotesque, beautiful, returned to, lost.