Through Any Given Door

3.13 Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

my brother-in-law, Chuck

1959 • La Habra ~ Chuck wasn’t prejudiced; he hated equally all those he believed were inferior to him. His spewing slurs insulted every race, color, nationality, and ethnic origin. His left middle finger was constantly raised in salute as he angrily cursed the wops, cut off the chinks, and careened past the beaners. The darker their skin, the more contempt he rained upon them. Carleen was constantly screaming at him to slow down, calling him a goddam gutless wonder, and threatening to get out and walk. Then there was me in the back seat, green to the gills, barfing into a brown lunch bag.

Driving anywhere with him was not only dangerous, it was butt squeezing scary. He raised tailgating to an art form, following the semis so closely we’d be sucked along in their backdraft.

“Saves gas,” he’d boast.

When the big-rigs didn’t go fast enough, Chuck whipped around them, cutting them off just a hair too close for comfort. He reveled in the squeal of their tires and the blare of their horns. With his arms flinging, face twisted, and bloodshot eyes dilated, my brother-in-law looked like a crazed Wile E. Coyote hurtling down the open road.

On a divided four-lane highway, two eighteen-wheelers spied Chuck coming up on them. They must have radioed each other. Watching in their oversized sideview mirrors, they positioned their trucks side-by-side to block us from passing, then slowed down to have a little fun. But no goddam sonofabitchshitkickin asshole truckers were going to make a fool of Chuck and hold him hostage, oh no, not Chuck.

He downshifted. The V8 lurched forward as he hunched over the power steering wheel (he loved power steering) and stomped on the gas, the transmission screaming, the speedometer ratcheting to sixty, then seventy, then eighty miles an hour. Hurtling in slow motion up to the two trucks’ mirrors, I saw the drivers high up in their cabs, saw their heads turned towards us, the looks of horror on both their faces reflecting the horror in mine. They raised their sunglasses in disbelief, the big bearded one shaking his bald head, the thin tattooed one gritting his crooked teeth. They see a lunatic, maniacally waving his arm in triumph as he slips between them with three children in the back seat and a wife in the front. They see all of us frozen except for our lips praying frantically to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. My guess is we were the only reason they didn’t squeeze us like a tin of sardines, then run him over and leave him like flattened road-kill on the black macadam.

There was another time I thought we were going to die. Roaring down the highway into the setting sun, a rear whitewall blew and we spun full circle then slid sideways a couple of hundred feet. Gravel splashing and metal scraping, the Mercury left a trail of rubber and skid marks in its wake, the right rear rim embedding to a halt in the burning Southern California asphalt. Betty was with us. We clung to the armrests and one another, each making personal bargains with God—except Betty—who was swearing a blue streak at what an asshole Chuck was. Betty never did think much of him. She thought he was a chicken-shit bastard. He thought she was a backbiting bitch. I think they were both a good judge of character.

Chuck didn’t spill a drop of his Cutty Sark. He finished it off, spit out his cigar stub, swung open the car door and hopped out. As if this was simply a blip in an otherwise normal Sunday family outing, he popped the trunk, pulled out the jack, spun off the lug nuts, and threw on the spare.

to be continued…

© 2018. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Jim Chatfield says

    Wow, God must have really been watching over you. He was defintely crazy, a danger to himself and definitely to others.

  2. David Juarez says

    I have known a few guys like this fellow Chuck. You were spot on capturing this guy’s character traits which he shares with too many others out there.

    • Most of his ilk finally died. Others took a low profile. These days, unfortunately, they are coming back out of the woodwork.

    • Chuck died in 1996, doing what he loved best, driving down the highway like a maniac. He cashed in his chips on the Orange Freeway on his way to work, his cigar butt clenched between his teeth, his daily morning mug filled with Cutty Sark and a shot of black coffee. He had a heart attack and hit the fast lane center divider. It was the only time he ever slowed down behind the wheel of a car.

  3. Geoffrey Elliot says

    I just read 3.10 thru 3.13, and want to tell you how much I enjoy watching your already admirable writing skills grow and expand! As you have begun to rely more on your own memories, as opposed to other peoples writing and stories, your imagery and narrative has become ever more evocative and confident. I watch your prose grow as you tell me more of your growth. It’s fun! Thanks!