“Catalytic Converter”

When he was a boy, he rode with his father to a garage, really just a wooden shed. His father’s new truck needed some kind of repair. The mechanic, a man in a dirty T-shirt and jeans that he kept tugging up under his belly, worked for cash. The boy heard his Dad tell his Mom that he would need cash. It was something about the exhaust.

The shed’s floor was concrete, stained by oil so that it looked like a flat map of the world, all the blotches like continents. While he worked, the mechanic told a story about his dog, which had limped out of the shed and gone around back when they first arrived. The mechanic said the dog had been running off, chasing after bitches in heat. His father didn’t use words like that. “So,” the mechanic said, “I took the top of a tin can and cut his balls off. That fixed it.”

The sound of the phrase “top of a tin can” lodged in the boy. The world leapt up from the stained floor, jagged, shiny, sharp and populated by men such as this.

 

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Michael Chitwood

About Michael Chitwood

Michael Chitwood was born in the foothills of the Virginia Blue Ridge in a small town named Rocky Mount. He grew up there, attending the county’s only high school. He attended Emory and Henry College for my undergraduate degree, earning a BA in English in 1980. He worked as a science writer for a number of years at the University of Virginia Medical Center, eventually becoming assistant editor of the magazine Helix. While there, he also became a full-time student in the MFA program, receiving his degree in 1986. He moved to North Carolina that year and worked as a science and medical writer at Duke University Medical Center and then at Research Triangle Institute where he edited the magazine Hypotenuse. Previous books include the poetry collections Salt Works and Whet (Ohio Review Books 1992 and 1995), The Weave Room (Chicago, 1998), and Spill(Tupelo, 2008). Chitwood has also published two prose books, Hitting Below the Bible Belt: Baptist Voodoo, Blood Kin, Grandma’s Teeth and Other Stories from the South (Down Home, 1998) and Finishing Touches (Tryon, 2006). After the birth of his son, he became a free-lance writer and full-time Dad. And he became a commentator for North Carolina’s WUNC affiliate of National Public Radio. He also began teaching at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is now a full-time visiting lecturer at UNC and lives with his wife and two children in Chapel Hill.