Retired engineer Timothy Martin has written books about running and dogs, but “The Culverts of Humboldt County” ($16.95 in paperback from PublishAmerica, available through amazon.com), is something else entirely. It’s a politically incorrect “romance for men” that wallows in redneck culture even as it’s being satirized. It’s “The Bridges of Madison County” for those with an “affinity for fried food, the NRA, John Deere tractors, ruined vehicles, and anything that explodes in a really, really big way.”
The story is pretty simple (presumably out of respect for its readers). Told to the author by one Ruby Harmon, now of Redding, the tale takes place in 1982. Earl Perkins of Ukiah is “the last of a dying breed, a hard-drinking, pickup-driving man at the end of an era, confused by a time of dwindling timber resources and the fading dignity of sweat and physical toil.” He’s a culvert repairman who leaves his plus-size wife after having “cheated on Elvira no less than a hundred times during their marriage.” But, “being the kind-hearted soul that he was, Earl left Elvira almost everything he owned. He left his matched set of World Wrestling Federation beer coolers, his eight track Marty Robbins tapes and his velvet Elvis painting. . . . Earl took his K-Mart tools, a quart or two of whiskey, and nothing more.” Generous.
Eventually on his travels he encounters Charlene Bickle, also unhappily married, “a tall, good-looking, long-legged woman with a tiny naked Smurf tattooed between her breasts who subsisted on tobacco smoke and beer.” They eventually wind up dirty dancing at the Nasty Place, a bar that is “dimly lit and decorated in typical white trash fashion with bowling trophies and posters of girls in tight jeans, bending over,” and, when the inevitable brawl breaks out, they escape only to find ecstasy in each other’s arms. Then comes a chapter called “A Bounce on the Bedsprings,” if you get what I mean.
Martin is clear that “this is not a tale of love and confession among the rich and unethical. . . . This book is a tacky testimonial to bad hangovers, cigarette burns, and anyone who can belch and say their name at the same time.” It’s also “not for the faint of heart. . . . It’s a reader’s equivalent of a steel splinter from a flywheel striking you in the face. . . . It’s a skinned knee, a nosebleed, and a concussion from a car slipping off the jack and landing on your head.”
So why did I laugh out loud?