The story begins, as much as anywhere, atop a barstool in New Orleans back in late December. The bar was called Molly’s, and was a half a block and a world away from the shit show of Bourbon Street. It was a good place to have a drink and even a better place to have another. Rebecca and I drank happily and let the afternoon slip unnoticed into evening.
With my senses dulled, I idly watched the television above the bar with the sound turned off while non-objectionable rock and roll was piped into the establishment. The show was “Highway Thru Hell,” which reminded me of “Ice Road Truckers” with its cute Canadian accents and not-so-cute Canadian weather.
There were some marked differences though. “Highway” is not filmed as far north and the roads are merely icy as opposed to being made of ice. Also, the focus is not on people braving elements to get from point A to point B, but rather on those called to clean up the mess of those who tried to reach point B and failed.
Just to be clear, the show is not an arctic, reality-TV version of “Emergency.” Our heroes are not paramedics. They are tow-truck drivers and winch operators, forever shaking their heads while pondering how to get a crumpled mass of what was once a motor vehicle out of that deep ravine. If you added a moralizing narrator and some human hamburger, it might have played out like those scare-tactic highway-safety films such as Red Asphalt and Mechanized Death.
I decided right then, several drinks deep and therefore on a mental par with the people who watch these shows, that there needed to be a spinoff where the focal point is not totaled vehicles, but totaled human beings. The show would be called “Car Crash Asphalt Scrapers” and would follow a few unsung heroes tasked with removing skin, giblets, and what have you from the highway lest they detract from the natural beauty of Canada.
My intoxication has dissipated since then and with it any illusion that such a program would be produced and aired on television. The world was not quite ready for “Car Crash Asphalt Scrapers,” but I was and I vowed that it would live on if only in my imagination. This would make me the executive producer and as such, I’d be able to cast myself as the main scraper. “Be the star of your own movie,” a very wise affirmation spouter once said. I assumed the words also applied to reality television minus the reality.
To achieve this, I needed a single-mindedness and clarity of purpose nonexistent among my peers. If I were a man of letters, I would draw my inspiration from great literature. Since I’m not, television would have to do.
In the TV movie The Night Gallery, which preceded the series, the final segment was about a Nazi war criminal who desperately needs to escape the confines of reality. Lacking remorse yet hounded by his past and the fear of being discovered, he sees disappearing into a painting at a museum his only way out. It’s a lovely picture of someone fishing in a small boat in a lake. The Nazi sneaks into the museum late at night and prays to be allowed into the painting. His wish is granted, but unluckily for him, the artwork was replaced by a picture of some guy getting crucified in a concentration camp. The next day, we see the picture with the Nazi up there on the cross, his anguished face a paint-on-canvas version of the sad trombone that is poetic justice.
Minus the switcheroo, this was perfect for me. I took every moment where I could mentally check out (there are a lot of those) and imagined that I was a star of “Car Crash Asphalt Scrapers” with a formidable single-mindedness. Assuming the role of a hunted war criminal and treating the bullshit of my day-to-day existence as my own personal Mossad, I perservered until I finally broke through.
At least that’s how I think it all went down. In any event, here I am.
It’s honest work scraping frozen corpse bits off the road plus you get to drink on the job. I’ve been told to ignore the TV crew and to think out loud. The first part is pretty hard with all the lights on me as I’m crouched down trying to do my job. At least everyone shuts up while the cameras are rolling. Thinking out loud is easy though. I’ve been talking to myself as long as I can remember.
“Frozen blood is just like glue, ya know,” I say, trying not to lazily inject a drawl into my speech. I may be a bumpkin, but I’m a Canadian bumpkin so I am not supposed to sound like Jim Varney.
“It’s a heck of a mess to clean up. That’s for sure,” I continue. “I might consider pouring out some Irish coffee from my Thermos to soften it up, but that would be a waste of good hooch. Good thing I’ve got a head cold. I’ll loosen that road scab with this nice, warm snot rocket, eh.”
I block one nostril and unload the fluid in my sinuses onto the frozen scrap of dead person on the asphalt. I give it a few seconds to soak in then start going at it with my scraper. Just as I thought, the snot rocket is working its magic. The red, meaty ice, combined with the milky white nose nectar, starts to peel off the road looking a little like pink scrambled egg.
“See that, ya hosers? It’s important for you viewers to know that this is all-natural, pure human snot. No coke or meth. I say no to drugs and so should you. I just want to thank my lord and savior for giving me the snot-rocket idea so I don’t have to resort to whipping out my Dudley Do-Right and blasting it with bladder beer. I wouldn’t want to do that because this is a family show, eh.”
Indeed it is and like other programs of its ilk, it is the very best kind. The heroes of these shows are presented for what we are, just plain folks with simple virtues and talents. We may drink in the morning and speak largely in monosyllables, but we are willing to work hard to get the job done. That is a powerful and positive message for the young people watching.
I take my responsibilities as a role model very seriously and that means doing my job the best way I know how. Nobody expects me to perform life-saving surgery with my trusty scraper, but if you need someone to dig into something that’s already dead, I’m your guy.
There is another rule I need to live by. It is the most important one of all. I cannot think about it in realistic terms because doing so would violate the rule and cast me out of this happy place.
Perhaps I can explain it indirectly. There was this movie called Somewhere in Time where Christopher Reeve travels back from 1980 to 1912 so he can bone Jane Seymour. With that out of the way, he looks through his pockets and finds a 1978 penny. The anachronistic coin breaks the spell that brought him here and Reeve is tossed out of 1912 as unceremoniously as being thrown from a horse.
So there you have it. The same fate awaits me if I let my mind wander from what is going on here and now on this blood-spattered Canadian highway. Unlike Christopher Reeve, I am able to make my way back here when I falter. It is an exhausting process though and there is no guarantee that I will be able to return indefinitely.
I get up and look for the next piece of mess that needs cleaning up. I spot an eyeball, or rather we spot each other because its pupil is pointed right at me.
“Jeepers creepers, time to get that peeper,” I say and approach the disembodied eye, scraper in hand.
As I crouch down, I can’t help but notice something familiar about that eye. This is odd because other than the color of the iris, eyeballs look pretty much alike without the faces that goes with them. I get the feeling this eye has observed me before. That’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Maybe I knew the eye’s owner before he died (I knew it was a he, having earlier scraped up his dick).
No, there is more to it than that. It’s like the eye is watching me now, not with disapproval necessarily, but assessing me all the same. It reminds me of…no, I mustn’t think about that. To stay here, I need to be here completely. I refocus and get back to the task at hand. I dig at the eyeball with my scraper, but it too is frozen to the asphalt.
“Hey buddy,” I say. “Lost your socket? Have a snot rocket!”
Alas, I blew my entire nostril wad on the last go so all I produce is a measly trickle that runs down my lip. I switch nostrils and launch the next snot rocket using only partial thrust. It pays to conserve. A smallish but adequate load hits the eyeball and starts to melt the ice.
That’s when the voices start. The video crew is silent so they’re coming from somewhere else. I try to block them from my mind so they don’t take me with them, but there is one voice that persists. It repeats itself, asking about deliverables, current status, and deadlines. I try to ignore it, but to no avail. It demands answers.
I won’t let It take me without a fight. I close my eyes and scream.
“I DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT ANY OF THAT. I’M A GUT-SCRAPING MOTHERFUCKER, DABBING THE CHIN OF THE GODDAMN GRIM REAPER. CAN’T YOU FUCKING SEE THAT?”
When my eyes open, I am still here on this cold Canadian highway. What I did worked. The voice demanding answers won’t be wanting to talk to me again.
The video crew stares at me slack jawed. My outburst was hardly appropriate for a family program. They can edit it out later. I did what had to be done. I was taking care of business. That’s what being a Car Crash Asphalt Scraper is all about.