Where do you live?
This is Molly Reynolds, lab intern, finally rolling to a close in addressing this question from the last two weeks, with the apparently unavoidable and inescapable help of my "native guide," the janitor, Rob Miller.
The Renaissance Center:
"The roof? Hell, I figure, that's where the action is— like, Lord A's saucer or some shit. I mean, why else would Sang-a-wang be so tight fisted with the keys?"
I surmise that it might have something to do with the huge liability problems, especially when considered in tandem with Rob's apparent inner-ear problems.
Rob rolls his eyes, "Yeah. 'Liability.' [this flanked by air-quotes —M.R.] Whatever."
It is here, in the Ren Cen garage, that I make the acquaintance of the "brothers" Spider and Devo Ramirez. The "brothers" earn their irony-quotes owing to the fact that, while they certainly bear a shared sense of aesthetics in dress, speech, body jewelry and mannerism, I strongly doubt that they share any genetic material. I note as much to Rob, who again rolls his eyes, in what I take to be his pantomime for 'get a ticket for the clue-bus, lady.'
"Molly," he says, "they aren't that kinda brothers," and makes an arcane gesture with finger and fist.
"Oh," I say, non-commitally. "Oh!" My hand flies to my mouth involuntarily. I feel like such a priss. "I— um . . ." Thankfully, the brothers have come to greet us, interrupting our indelicate parley.
Spider is, by all appearances Mexican-American, his limbs tightly wound with great, taught slabs of muscles. The tattoos which spider up his arms are complicated, and slip effortlessly across his chest, under his neat, strappy man's undershirt. He quite evidently has washboard abs. His features are broad, his hair long and slicked into a braid.
"¿Rob, que tal, esse?"
"Nada, bro. Nada."
"Dis da fine lady you been tellin' us 'bout?"
"Ah . . ." Rob blushes.
Devo, narrow shouldered, wiry, dressed similar to Spider, save for the bandana and a very short blonde brushcut in place of the thick black hair. He has a sooty pair of welder's goggles hanging limply around his neck. He casually drapes his arm over Spider's shoulders.
"¿Roberto, what up?"
"Nada man. Nadamente."
"So dis you new lady frien'?"
Devo and Spider exchange glances, smile mischievously.
"Yeah, that . . . I was . . . just . . . I, uh . . . "
"Listen, guys, not that I'm pressed for time or anything, but . . . well, can we get this over with?"
"She wants to get it over wit'?" Devo pulls Spider close and refers to me with his chin. Spider smiles.
"She want it over wit'." Spider nods and slides across the room to stand directly in front of me. He's clean, smelling of soap. He inspects his trimmed nails and I see his fingertips are pink from overwashing. He looks back up from his nails and smirks.
"We can get it over wit'." Devo nods.
"Yeah. It's you we worry 'bout. Can you get it over wit', Molly Reynolds from the lab?" Spider walks backward away from me, to stand next to Devo again.
"Are you . . . what, propositioning me? What do you want?" I'm a little sharp, a little impatient. The voice I use with my niece when she whines.
Both of them look sheepishly at their shoes.
"Nah, Miss Reynolds, we jus' playin'," says Devo.
Spider sighs. "Yeah," he says, and looks up at me, "You wanna see the shop?"
I consent, am toured through a variety of stations— removing quarter panels, salvaging engine components, grinding down VINs— and am somewhat surprised to find that what at first appeared to be a chop shop staffed by monkeys and run by a pair of swinging quasi-Mexican-American life-partners is, in fact, a chop shop staffed by chimps and run by swingers. I observe as much, and the tour comes to an abrupt halt.
"Dere a prob'em wit dat?" Devo asks indignantly. I seem to have struck on a sore point.
"No. Is your employer aware of what you're up to down here?"
"'ware enough," Spider answers, squinting, "Lord A don' got much a mind for money-matters. We, down here in da car mines, we makes ends meet."
I allow as how that is fairly reasonable— and it does, in fact, go a long way toward explaining how ends are made to meet. The lab, after all, hardly seems like a profitable endeavor, in and of itself. But, when all is said and done, I can't help but be a little disappointed that there isn't more, and say as much.
"You wan' mo'?" Spider asks, showing his gold incisor, "Oh, baby, we got mo'. We got lots mo'" Devo laughs, slaps Spider on the back, and the next thing I know, we're in the Spider Bros '64 Impala, racing across Southwest Detroit to their own, personal sancta sanctorum.
As I said before, there are very poor roads in Detroit, and every pothole we hit sends us skyward, a thin spray of asphalt and concrete mushrooming up from the tail of the car. In between nitro bursts, I ask Devo if their car may actually be making the roads worse. I'd swear that the potholes look larger after we pass them.
"Well, in a large 'nough time frame, it all goin' be shit, eh?" He thumps the dashboard of the car. Spider is driving, held into place by a webbed harness that has at least a dozen points of attachment. "It like our car here, the Spidermobile. This nitro system we got in here is shit for the engine. It'll burn it out in no time. And it fuckin' 'spensive to replace. But in the long term, everythin' burn out and be 'spensive to replace. In the short term, it's really really hard, eh? Real good." Devo isn't wearing his seat belt, and he leans across to kiss Spider on the cheek.
It occurs to me that Devo is, in all likelihood, Canadian, and I begin to wonder about how they met, this unlikely pair, when a loud claxon sound shouts from the dash.
"What's this," I ask, "your radar detector? Engine warning siren?"
Devo looks back at me with this wide-eyed, is she nuts? expression. "No. Course not." He points to a thin black box mounted on the dash, and then to a clearly lit Engine Warning light on the control panel above the speedometer. "Dose is here, and here. Dis alarm," he flips a toggle on the top of the dash and the claxon dies away, "is our pager. Looks like Lord Architeuthis needs us for somethin'. It's prolly his exo. . ."
Devo's eyes get wide. He clearly almost told me something he shouldn't have.
"Yeah, so we need to get to the, uh, other garage now." Devo's voice is professional and low. Spider's hands grip the wheel tighter as a nitro-burst/pothole combination sends us a good eight feet into the air and we sail over an intersection, missing the traffic light by inches. "Rob, can we drop you both off at your pad, esse?"
"No," I interrupt, "I'd really like to see the other garage, too."
"Listen, Miss Reynolds—" Spider begins, exasperated.
"I'd like to see it, Spider."
A complex set of glances is exchanged among Devo, Spider and Rob, who finally says, "Yeah, I guess we better go there then, OK, guys?"
Spider shakes his head, but keeps driving.
"Is this an SS?" I ask.
Devo glances up from driving so that he can look at me in the mirror.
"It sounds like a 409," I shrug, "I'm just wondering."
We drive out across the city and far to the west.
Spider hangs his arm out the window and watches two winos fight over a dog's leash. The dog, a mutt with one ear missing, lays in the gutter on his back, barking lazily. Every time he barks, his left leg kicks back.
"My mother rebuilt an SS," I say, feeling like no body is listening at all.
The dog barked again. We turned a corner and drove straight at a brick wall. Nobody seemed worried, so I went with it. The street feel away at the last minute and the Impala slid easily beneath the wall into crisp, white garage.
There are seven little guys in clean suits carrying pieces of curved, polished metal across the floor to a large construction bay while we coast to a stop in one of six parking spots.
Directing the little guys in clean suits is a smallish latino man bearing a striking resemblance to Spider.
As we get out of the car, Rob comes around to my side and puts his face next to mine. I am about to punch him when he whispers:
"Spider's real bro, Goat." He indicates the man with his chin. 'Goat' pauses in his directions of the little workers and catches Rob's eye. They look at each other, then Goat returns to assembling what quickly begins to resemble a giant metal claw. "Goat's not happy about . . . you know . . ." Rob looks over at Devo who has his hand on Spider's hip.
One of the pincers on the claw clatters to the white concrete with a crash, sending the workers scattering and making desperate sounds. They scuttle away quickly and I see one pivot around on the knuckles of his gauntleted right hand. Through the plexi face shield of his clean suit, I glimpse brown, wrinkled lips mouthing a series of Gaelic curses.
I turn to Rob. "Who are all of these French midgets."Goat steps down from his platform and interjects, "First, they're Belgian, not French. And second, they are definitely not . . . what?"
He looks past me to Rob. I turn to Rob, who makes a show of having no expression at all on his face. He almost starts to whistle, but then appears to think better of it and looks at his fingers.
"So, you want to see the garage?" Goat says. The little men scurry to the far corner of the garage. And by far, I mean very, very far. The garage is easily the size of a city block. Several of the little men work on stacking unshaped sheet metal. Two of them take turns rubbing each other's backs. One climbs up into the piping on the ceiling and stares back at us across the expanse of the garage, hanging one seemingly too-long arm down and letting it sway.
"Okay," I ask, "so why do these . . . Belgians . . . wear clean suits while none of us have to."
Spider steps up, "Well, we trie' da hair nets, righ'. And den we trie' da . . . you know . . ." he looked at his brother, and then at Rob, and finally back to Devo, "Can I say, you know, 'monkey suit'?"
Goat sighs. "He means coveralls."
"Coveralls," Spider says. "Right. Mechanics coveralls. But nothing worked for . . . well, you know, nothing worked. Hair was getting, like, everywhere."
"Hair?" I say. Rob's expressionlessness is starting to make him look vaguely ill. What the hell is going on here?
"You wanna see the singularity?" Devo seems cheery all of sudden, like he's discovered the fire exit from a burning building and it leads into another dimension made entirely of candy.
Rob takes my arm, which I brusquely take back. "This probably wasn't, like, a good idea." The fact that Rob can recognize a bad idea is such a shock to me that I, for an instant, doesn't care if I understood what was bad about the situation.
Rob mumbles something to me about the brothers having "shit" to work through (an image I was uncomfortable with) and that his apartment is close by and we can get some water to drink or anything else that was, as he puts it, "not so fucking freaky."
So we said our goodbyes and walked up an iron staircase to street level. I turn back to see four of the little Belgians swinging on the pipes in the far corner. It intrigues me enough to step back across the threshold into the garage: Under a tarp near the Belgians is what looks like a metal statue of a giant spider. But then I see Spider apparently pleading with Goat for something. Devo stands by the Impala with his arms crossed, looking so very much like a spouse witnessing a fight between his/her partner and the in-laws. I decide that, for once, maybe Rob is right.
Rob is extremely excited to have me in his apartment, and keeps dancing from foot to foot and racing around to show me things: "Molly, check it out, this is, like, totally the greatest chillum ever— changes colors and shit" and "Molly, check it out, original Dead vinyl. Hardcore" and "Molly, look here, this is the best game ever— you steal cars, and fuck whores and can even beat 'em up. It rules" and so on.
I strongly suspect that Rob's apartment is not the fetid hole-in-the-wall Dearborn apartment you would expect, largely owing to the punctiliousness of his roommate, a handsome— if painful shy— young Indian man named Suveer, who follows us as we tour the house, but seems uninterested in volunteering any information, or even answering direct questions.
Finally, at a conversational loss, I make an off-handed remark complimenting the sofa.
"Right on! That, that is totally Aretha fuckin' Franklin's sofa. I swear to fucking God! I was in Roseville, this one time, buying some 'cid off this guy who lived with these skinheads, and down the block there's this yard sale where this, like, crazy witch is totally selling all this boss, weird stuff. Like these giant-animal-head garbage cans from Boblo Island— back before they shut it down— suits of armor, and all these costumes. Crazy shit. Awesome shit. But, she also had, like, this big, mahogoney dining room set, with chairs like thrones, and this set of sofas, purple leather, that fit together into this, like, giant sofa tub that you just sunk into. And I'm like, 'these fuckin' rule' and she's like 'those are Aretha Franklin's dining room set and sofas— I bought them myself at Aretha's garage sale, back when she had all those tax problems' and I'm all 'no fucking way' and she's all 'true dat' and I'm like, shit, I gotta have 'em; they're just too goddamn cool and comfy and shit. And the guy I'd rode out with, he had a pickup truck, so we got 'em and here we are."
At this point, it seems fitting to point out the Rob has one sofa, not a set. It has an odd shape—a scooped shape—and is stained, and covered in tiny cigarette burns, and sticky brown stains I hope are spilled bong water.
Rob stares at me blankly. "Well, yeah, but I only had the dough for just, like, one." He stares for a few more moments, and then turns abruptly. "You gotta check this out," he says, leading me through a swinging door into his kitchen.
"This is where the three wise crabs chill out. Lord Architeuthis sent them to live with me and totally clue me in on, like, what's-what, in preparation for," Rob pauses, his face closing in a characteristic 'Oops, I've said too much' expression "Um, . . . . Stuff."
Two of the crabs sit in the pool. One sits on top of the other. They both have their legs splayed out for balance, it seems. A rustling comes from beneath a McDonald's French Fry shipping box stained with dry mayonnaise. The third crab, so white he is almost shiny, pokes a claw out (the larger of the two claws) and lifts the box up enough so that he can peer up at me.
I have to remind myself that crabs can't peer anywhere. They aren't looking. They can see, but they aren't looking. But this crab, I swear, was . . . checking me out.
I turn to look at Suveer. I smile at him. He smiles back. Rob continues to stare down at the crabs, apparently very proud.
I gesture with my eyes to the pool and the crabs, as though to ask Suveer what he thinks of all this. He just smiles. "I don't even know," he says, holding up his palms and walking backward out of the kitchen.
He seems nice.
"You know," Rob reflects, apropos of nothing, as we stand watching the crabs, "What I'm wondering about is, if Lord Architeuthis is from outerspace, way out on Tremulon-4, why doesn't he know about stars and planets and shit?"
Indeed, Robert. It is not less than mysteries within mysteries, now.
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson