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Authors: Sean Carswell

Train Wreck Girl

Train Wreck Girl
a novel
Sean Carswell
Manic D Press
San Francisco

For Joan and the Old Boy


Thanks to Mickey Hess, James Jay, Joe Meno, and Todd Taylor for touring with me to support my last book. This novel, in no small way, grew out of the conversations we had about writing on the long rides between readings. Thanks to Pat Geary, Jack Lopez, Jim Ruland, Toby Tober, and Felizon Vidad for reading drafts of this novel and giving me helpful feedback. Special thanks to Jennifer Joseph for all of her help editing the novel and for publishing it.

©2008 Sean Carswell. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. Contact Manic D Press, PO Box 410804, San Francisco, CA 94141.

Printed in the USA

Cover photographs: Jeffrey van Daele / Tre Graves

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Carswell, Sean, 1970-

  Train wreck girl / Sean Carswell.

    p. cm.

  ISBN 978-1-933149-21-9 (trade pbk.)

1. Life change events—Fiction. 2. Bereavement—Fiction. 3.
Self-realization—Fiction. 4. Homecoming—Fiction. 5. Cocoa Beach
(Fla.)—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3603.A7764T73 2008




1 Pink Parkas and Black Eyes

2 Sal Si Puedes

3 Too Late to Die Young

4 The Fucker in the Room

5 The Evils of Betty Boop

6 Two Days on the Dog

7 Forget the Car, Remember the Spare Tire

8 The Fat Kid and the Phantom Ice Cream Truck

9 Hurricane Sophie

10 Knucklehead Chronicles

11 Adventures on the Short Bus

12 The Whitest Girl in Florida

13 The Face that Launched a Dozen Greyhounds

14 Superheroes and Sidekicks

15 Does PTSD Wear Off?

16 Ripping Off Guernico

17 Bart's Homemade Death Tests

18 A Holiday in the Past

19 Dead Guy All Over It

20 Pink Speedo Lambada

21 The Funny Thing about Regret

22 The Way of the Barnacle

23 Twilight of the Idles

24 Run Away, Danny

25 A Special Kind of Stupid

26 Crazy Broads and Dead People

27 Seeing Scars

28 Joe and the Samoan

29 It's More Fun If You're Scared

30 Still Dirty

31 Picking Up Stiffs

32 Where the Waves Break

33 Surfing the Hurricane

34 East to Mexico

35 One Foot on a Banana Peel

36 Charged with Mayhem

Pink Parkas and Black Eyes

With three minutes left in the millennium, the DJ at Tommy's Bar played the same song that DJs everywhere throughout the Mountain Time Zone played: Prince's “1999.” I was so drunk I was dancing. And not just dancing, but dancing like I meant it. Spinning like I thought I was Michael Jackson, pointing a finger in the air like I had Saturday Night Fever. Hell, if the crowd hadn't been so thick, I would've been humping that mud and beer soaked floor like Prince in
Purple Rain.

My girlfriend Libra tried to dance with me, but mostly she just laughed.

I was not trying to make her laugh.

Libra was a kid. She didn't know. She didn't know what it was like to have been a horny, small town adolescent trying to figure any angle that would work with the girls. She didn't know what the eighties were like to grow up in: all tight pants for boys and big hair for girls. She didn't know what it was like for a thirteen-year-old Danny McGregor in front of his brother's TV, trying to learn to dance from late night videos even though he hated the songs because that's what the girls wanted—to dance to these songs—and all Danny ever wanted was to do his best to be what the girls wanted. Though I guess Libra did know that last part about Danny. The part about him trying to be what the girls wanted. That was the thing that was perfectly clear about Danny.

The other thing about Danny is that he's me.

The other thing about Libra was that she was just starting elementary school when this Prince song came out.

So that was the big difference between Libra and me: she was at the beginning of her twenties when we danced and waited for the New Year. I was at the end of my twenties. Just a few months from thirty. And, with less than a minute left in the millennium, I flashed back to those days of being that awkward adolescent, hanging out with my buddy Bart at a school dance, taking tiny sips off of stolen whiskey because we thought it was cool and listening to this very same song and me saying to Bart, “Man, that's gonna be one hell of a party when it turns 2000.”

“Not for us,” Bart said. “We'll be old by then. We'll probably have families and kids.”

I said, “Not me. I'll be dead before I'm thirty.” I took another sip of stolen whiskey and headed off to dance with Rosalie White, because I had a joint in my pocket and she liked to share her asthma medicine, which had some kind of speed in it, and together we'd be in for a fun night.

I snapped out of the flashback just as the countdown began.


It occurred to me that I wasn't gonna be dead by thirty.


Or at least the booze and drugs wouldn't kill me before then.


And if the booze and drugs weren't gonna kill me, what was I gonna do with the rest of my life?


It was a second of vertigo. Like what the fuck?


I needed something to hold on to so I reached out for Libra and put my arms around her and spun her and kissed her like it was the end of a black-and-white flick.


Libra laughed a few feet away from me and I opened my eyes and realized that Libra wasn't in my arms at all. That some other girl was.


I let go of the girl. She slapped me in the face. Her fingernail jabbed my left eye. My vision was too blurry to see what she did next, but whatever it was, it caused her to slip and fall to the mud and beer soaked floor.


The girl's boyfriend helped her up, then turned to face me. He was a little guy.


Even though I knew better than to do this, I pushed the girl's boyfriend. Even though I know, never ever push someone in a bar fight. Either start swinging or don't touch the guy at all.


The girl's boyfriend knew this rule. He started swinging. And he knew how to fight. He cracked me once hard in the cheek and kept swinging. I didn't put up my hands to block or fight back at all. He landed five or six punches square to my head by the time everyone else finished screaming, “Happy New Year!” and kissed each other and the bouncers dragged me out and left me sprawling on the icy sidewalk in front of Tommy's Bar.

I walked away from Tommy's and into the Flagstaff night with snow and ice crunching under my Docs and just thinking again and again, damn, I'm a fuck up. A block into the walk, I heard Libra call out, “Danny, wait.”

She jogged up to me: pink parka-ed and fuzzy hooded and little clouds of warm breath floating out of her. I wasn't really surprised that she was coming after me. I'd seen girlfriends do this before. All these crazy broads who'll forgive me for the most ridiculous shit. I never understood.

Libra caught up to me. She took my stocking cap out of her parka pocket and put it on my head. She ran her mitten over my left eye, which was already starting to swell. “Are you okay?” she asked. “I think that guy gave you a black eye.”

“The girl did,” I said. I started walking again, through downtown. Libra and I lived on the other end of it, down the railroad tracks a little. Libra walked with me. We didn't talk. I didn't apologize and she didn't ask me to. All around us, college kids floated in and out of bars, carrying bottles of champagne and blowing noise makers and throwing snowballs and making out against the bricks of century-old buildings.

We walked out of downtown and took the shortcut along the railroad tracks, toward our trailer. A couple of times, trains raced by, and Libra and I walked off the tracks and into the pine forest and waited for the trains to pass, then cut back onto the tracks. Libra carried a snowball with her. She tried to convince me to put it on my eye. I didn't say yes or no. I just kept walking. About halfway down the tracks, I sat down. “That's it,” I told Libra. “Tonight's the night I'm not gonna make it. Tonight's the night I'm gonna break down and admit that all of these motherfuckers are better than me. Every one of them.”

“Get off of the tracks, Danny,” Libra said.

I shook my head. She knelt down in front of me. She pressed her snowball against my eye. It stung enough to feel good. She leaned her face in close, as if she were going to kiss me. The fuzzy hood of her parka brushed against my cheek, right where that first punch landed. I decided right then that it was over between Libra and me.

Within three weeks, I'd breakup with her and buy my ticket back to shit city.

Sal Si Puedes

I got to know Sal because of his torch.

Two years earlier, I'd been chugging west on I-40 through the Painted Desert with California on my mind. I'd been feeling like it was time for me to move on and figured that, as long as I was doing nothing with my life, I may as well do nothing with it where the waves were good.

I didn't know anything about Flagstaff then. I had no idea that, in the middle of that giant Arizona desert, my 1973 Ford Galaxie would have to climb a mountain.

Halfway up the mountain, my Galaxie told me just how bad of an idea it was to try to climb this fucker in an old American car. I blew a radiator hose. Stupidly, I duct-taped the hose, refilled the radiator, and kept going. I tried to be careful. I pulled over often and waited for the engine to cool. I reapplied duct tape. I refilled water. I drove slowly. Still, by the time I made it into Flagstaff, something in the Galaxie was seriously fucked. I got a room at a hostel there. The people who ran the joint were okay with me working on my car in the parking lot. I decided to stay a while.

I replaced all the hoses and the radiator itself, and the Galaxie still leaked water. With all that heat going up the mountain, I'd cracked the head of the engine. So I spent a couple of days under the pines in the parking lot, taking out everything on top of the head. Then I walked two blocks down to Sal Si Puedes Auto Shop and asked the owner if he had a welding torch. The owner was this crazy looking chicano guy with slicked-back hair and a devil beard and a body like an upright brown buffalo. He introduced himself as Salvador. He said he did have a torch, but he didn't know how to use it. And this was how we got to be friends.

We worked out an arrangement, Sal and me. Anytime Sal needed any welding, he'd call me and I'd do it free of charge. In exchange, Sal would gather piles of any kind of scrap iron or steel he could get his hands on. I could use the back of his shop to do whatever I wanted with the scraps. So on days when I felt like I needed to spend a couple of hours staring at a single straight flame, welding the shit in my head into some kind of tangible pile of scraps, I'd go to Sal Si Puedes Auto Shop. Sal would call the piles of scraps sculptures. He'd sell them. I wouldn't take the money he made from them. I always knew when he sold a new sculpture, though, because he'd come into my bar and lay down ridiculously large tips. And so it worked out for everyone.

It even worked out for the Galaxie. I drove that old son of a bitch for another year and a half before the transmission gave out, and I just parked it next to a shed in my front lawn. It made me feel like I'd gotten closer to my destiny: living in a trailer with a dead American car in the yard.

So three days after New Year, I went back to see Sal. To weld some shit together and get some perspective. I had two Greyhound tickets in my pocket. One for me. One for Libra. I was heading back home. To Florida. Maybe I'd ask Libra to come with me. Who knew?

Sal was under the hood of a Cadillac when I walked into his shop. He popped his head out, took one look at me, and smiled. “What happened to your eye?” he asked.

“Ah, this crazy broad slapped me.”

Sal grabbed a rag off the Caddy's fender and wiped his hands. He walked over to me and got a good look at the eye. He wagged his finger at me and said, “Looks like you just don't fucking listen.”

He walked over to his little dorm-size refrigerator and grabbed a can of soda for himself and a bottle of water for me. We sat in two lawn chairs, back behind the Caddy and commenced to bullshitting.

Sal had gotten a DUI on New Year's Eve night. He told me all about it. Called it a DWM. Driving While Mexican. He'd had three beers and headed home early so that he could ring in the New Year with his kids. The cops pulled him over straight out of the bar parking lot. His blood alcohol level was just barely over the legal limit, and still he went down. “How does that happen, Danny?” he asked. “How do the cops know to pull over the only sober guy on New Year's Eve at nine o'clock? Was I driving too straight? Was all that going the speed limit pissing them off?”

“It's a fucking racket,” I said. Sal shook his head.

We talked about other things. Arrests, cops, bad shit. My black eye, fights, more bad shit. At first, I thought that Sal would be in a hurry to get back to work, but he just didn't seem to be. I thought about it and figured that the owner of the Caddy had to be white and Sal had to be still on the clock. I remembered Sal had gone on a rant after his first DWM, shortly after I met him. He told me that he was charging all his wealthy white customers an extra hour's time until his fines were paid, because these fuckers would never have to go through this shit and they had to pony up for their privilege to be white in a white society. I remember asking Sal what race he thought I was and if I had to pony up. “Nope,” Sal had told me. “Poor and white doesn't count.”

I didn't bring it back up with the second DWM. Sal and I didn't talk much about race and whatnot. We just sat around, bullshitting in the garage until the conversation rolled around to where men's conversations always end up: women.

“I'm gonna breakup with Libra,” I told Sal.


“Yeah,” I said. “I keep getting mixed up with all these crazy broads. I gotta do something about it. I gotta find a sane woman.”

“What's crazy about Libra?”

“She's with me, isn't she?”

“So you're saying that any woman who'd get mixed up with you is crazy?”

“Pretty much.”

“And you're looking for a sane woman?”

“Man, am I.”

“Good logic, Danny. You're not setting yourself up for failure at all.”

I knew exactly what Sal was talking about. It wasn't my logic that was flawed. It was the way I explained it. So I decided to lay it all out for Sal. I couldn't afford a shrink and Sal was my next best bet. Someone was paying him sixty-five bucks an hour. As long as he had nothing better to do with that time than sit and listen, I was in luck. I said, “It goes like this, Sal. There have only been four women in my life who meant anything to me. All of them were crazy.”

“Okay, so we'll start with the first one,” Sal said. “Tell me about your mother.”

See, Sal was just like a shrink. Only he was off with the first question. Because I didn't have a mother. Not really. She died of cancer two months after I was born. So that was it for her. I hardly knew her. I told Sal this and he told me to start with the first crazy broad, then. “Okay,” I said. “It was Rosalie White. My first girlfriend. Turned me on to sex and drugs. I dated her for three years. Ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade. She moved away my senior year.”

“And what made her crazy?”

“She was black and she grew up in Cocoa Beach, Florida, which is almost exclusively white. It's enough to drive anyone crazy.”

“Fair enough. Who's next?”

“Sophie Dunn.”

“Another black girl?”

“No. Why?”

“I don't know,” Sal said. “What was up with Sophie? Why was she crazy?”

“Because she stabbed me. Three times. In the gut.” I lifted up my shirt to show Sal the scars. They were four years old and faded. One of them cut across the first “o” in my “BORN TO LOSE” tattoo. Sal stood up and examined the scars.

“Born to lose,” he said. “That's a self-fulfilling prophesy.”

“You're really on that kick today, aren't you? All my problems are my fault, huh?”

Sal sat back down. “Well, we know about Libra. That's pretty much your fault, isn't it?”

I nodded.

“And I take it Libra's one of the four?”

I nodded again.

“So who's the last one?”

“Helen Kanako. Sophie stabbed me because I left her for Helen.”

“And what was up with Helen?”

I shook my head and said her name. “Helen.” I stood up from my lawn chair and headed for the torch. This session was over.

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