My roommate Jake deserves to be a star. He is an ex-wrestler with Jesus hair, a fantastic painter, and a maniac. The oldest of three sons, his father, Smokey, runs an equine hospital near the North Carolina-South Carolina border. Last week he hiked the mountains of Yosemite with Smokey. The old man injected his knee with Corazon to make the hike easier. Jake is bigger than Smokey. This makes him a beast, a real live manimal.
It was a hot day for early October. We were riding in his bright yellow D-90. D-90s or Defenders are specially imported Land Rover’s built for Safaris. There are only about one hundred thousand of them in the United States. Riding in it you sit a good three feet off the ground.
Down Estes to get towards a few Carborro bike trials and I’m pumped. The music is blaring so I can hardly make out his words.
Holy shit, the car’s smoking.
Jake jerks his head back pointing out the thick stream of smoke making its way down the highway.
Dude, you gotta pull over, I say while nervously rubbing the aluminum side door.
Man, I don’t know what’s wrong. I just got the car back from a shop in Raleigh about two weeks ago and now my oil light is on. We drive another four hundred yards or so until Jake is able to pull the car into a gated parking lot. UNC transit buses are dropping off students.
You’re definitely leaking oil, I say while pointing to a long line of jet spots left behind by the truck. We pear underneath and see a steady stream of black liquid drip onto the fresh white concrete. Then, out spits a small yellow flame.
Frantically we try to flag down motorists but for five minutes no one stops to help us or the still smoking car. And then, something glorious happens.
The gas tank erupts, spewing a beautiful orange fireball onto the ground beneath the car. Motorists take notice now as Jake’s nearly full tank of gas exhales demon flames.
A Papa John’s driver stops in the median and tells us he’s calling the fire department.
I gotta go, and after hanging up his cell phone the driver swerves past a head on collision and down the road. I had to admire his dedication. By now, the gas has run out, leaving the car still smoking but not burning.
Do you think the car is OK? Jake just shrugs, his eyes glazed over.
Another five minutes pass and I’m ecstatic, babbling incoherently about our near miss with death. It was a real rush, almost blowing up like that.
That was fucking crazy, I yell while smiling. Looking back at the car my smile turns downward and I whisper, Oh God, no.
Small flames are growing between the two front seats. We stare speechlessly. In the twenty minutes it takes for the fire department to arrive I watch in awe struck glory as the fire quietly grows. I had cheated death, but he wants me to know how close I came. The orange burning truck builds into a blaze at least twenty-five feet high. A bus pulls up and drops off a group of terror stricken students.
Get a camera, I yell. But, all I’m really thinking is get it on youtube, get it on youtube.
The aluminum frame was already melting over itself, like wax, by the time the fire department arrived. I step closer before the cold dead grip of the hose kills the heat. It’s hotter than any campfire I’ve ever built, and better looking, too. I have to hold back a smile, because Jake is right next to me. This is by far the most amazing display of waste I’ve ever seen.
I think I’m going to throw up, Jake says as he walks over to the police car to file a report.
Jake deserves to be a star. Not because he did any great feat of strength or skill, or because I once watched him rescue a woodland rodent by letting in live in a hamster cage. No, Jake deserves to be a star because sometimes in this life we must reward the undeserved, not to spoil them but to remind them that awards are out there, and no matter how bad things seem you have to keep burning, strong and hot like that fire or else you may just blow out, a single match in the wind. Stars are burning themselves, offering us a glimpse of real power and sacrifice. They call our attention at night, begging us to watch them destroy themselves. I still can’t stop myself from staring until it hurts.