Nathaniel’s been stuck in this monster truck phase for what seems like three years.  He has monster truck videos, books, magazines, toys, remote control trucks, stickers, tattoos, basically everything except a real monster truck parked in the garage.  When his room (actually the whole house, come to think of it)  isn’t a maze of NASCAR racetrack crap, it’s filled with home-made jumps and obstacle courses for his monster trucks, and his precious NASCAR cars are magically transformed into beat up, old cars that his monster trucks can then crush.

When Nate was three I took him to a couple of monster truck shows, where he sat petrified, terrified but exhilarated, riveted in place by the size, power, and noise of the trucks.  All his favorites were there: Monster Mutt, Wrecking Crew, Maximum Destruction; he has the whole list of fifty monster trucks memorized.  Damn, was it loud. The bone-crushing roar was like a physical assault, and I immediately slammed on his hearing protection, a junior version of the same headset that shooters wear and my attempt to minimize blowing up his eardrums at NASCAR races, air shows, and monster truck shows. (By the way, if you’re the person who stole Nate’s blue headset in 2011 at Monster Jam in Qualcomm Stadium, and you’re reading this, which I realize is unlikely as redneck thieves rarely read parenting blogs, you made my little guy cry and you owe him a blue headset.)

As part of the monster truck craze, we had several mini Hot Wheels monster trucks and a couple of crappy plastic remote-control trucks, both of which broke the first day out of the box, one after being thrown thirty feet through the air to crush a collection of cars at the far end of the living room and the other after repeated falls from the dining table onto the tile floor.  I was having so much fun playing with his trucks that, after he smashed them, I drove over to the local hobby store, where I quickly found out the difference between a toy truck and a hobby truck – about three hundred bucks.  So I was sold a $340 remote-control racing monster truck which came with “For use by adults only – this is not a toy” warnings plastered all over it.  The shop actually managed to sell me $40 worth of model rocket supplies too – I was having visions of my brothers and me launching rockets at the old high school football field in 1982 – only when I got home I discovered via the internet that model rockets were illegal in San Diego and the supplies were not returnable. (Note to redneck thieving family: I will gladly trade you $40 in illegal model rocket motors and supplies for the blue headset you stole).

Anyway, I took the racing truck home, looked up some instructional videos on YouTube, charged the batteries and did some practice runs while Nate was at his mom’s house.  The truck, it was called the Traxxas Slash, I think, was not really a monster truck, but close enough for Nate’s purposes, and was blazingly fast, so fast that it was difficult to control at all, and any little twist of the remote steering sent the truck hurtling through the air at high speed.  It was a tough beast though and handled the abuse – this is totally worth $340, I thought to myself – and after a few runs I was pretty decent at handling it.

The next day, Nate came over.  I couldn’t wait to show him “Dad’s truck” run and he was suitably impressed.

“Wow, that’s cool.  Can I try it?”

“Yeah sure, just be careful,” I said and handed him the remote control.

So, there is this gaping sewer drain hole, probably five feet long and eight inches high in the street by my condo.  No idiot I, I had checked to make sure the truck couldn’t fit in there.  It was close, and the top of the truck just scraped the inside of the sewer drain but there was no way it was getting down the sewer hole.

I handed Nate the remote.  He ran the truck up the hill, turned the remote wheel, and the truck immediately flipped over.

“Oh oh,” he said, “sorry dad.”

“No big deal, buddy,” I said, already jogging up the hill to the truck, “it’s supposed to crash. It’s a monster truck.”  I righted the truck.  He hit the gas.

The truck must have been doing thirty when it hit the sewer.  It slammed into the opening and scraped through with no problem at all.  I froze, shocked, as I watched $340 disappear down the drain. And then something happened in my head.  Instantly and unconsciously, I grew up just a little bit.  While in my head I was screaming, Goddamn it, are you serious, what the hell just happened? I didn’t actually say a word. I just stood there and completely unconsciously calmed the inner screams in the space of a milli-second.  I didn’t plan on being calm, I didn’t take a breath, I didn’t count to ten, calm I just was. I walked the twenty yards down the hill.

By the time I got there, Nate bottom lip was quivering and the tears were starting to leak out.

“Daddy, I think the truck is gone in the hole. It’s going to be lost forever.”

I didn’t say a word at first, just picked him up and gave him a long hug. I put him down. “Wow,” I said, “that truck was going rockin’ fast when it slammed into the hole. Let’s go see if we can get it out.”

We headed over to the sewer.  I could hear the truck far down below, so I pushed the remote a couple of times.  The wheels spun, then there was a sound of plastic crashing, far, far, far in the bowels of the street.  I lay down on the road, reached my hand in.  Nothing but slimy trickles of water.  I got a long stick and waved it around.  Nothing.  I wasn’t even close to touching the truck. I got some flashlights and tried to look into the hole, but my head was too big.  I got a rope and tied a three-pronged yard tool to it like a hook and flung that around for a while.  I did find the bottom of the hole eventually, but never touched the truck.

I had Nate stick his head into the sewer opening while I held his legs and trunk, but he couldn’t see anything, he claimed – I don’t think he ever opened his eyes.  For a split second I considered roping him up and lowering him into the hole, but an instantaneous vision of explaining to D why her child was stuck in a sewer drain while dangling from a rope drove that plan out of my head.

By now Nate was sobbing.   I picked him up again.

“Don’t cry buddy.  It’s just stuff.  It’s not important, just things. It was an accident and sometimes accidents happen.”

“But, but, but I ruined your truck.  I lost your truck in the hole. It’s gone forever in the sewer.”

“It’s just stuff buddy, just stuff.  And it was an accident. We can replace it.”

He perked up immediately.  “When can we get a new one?”

We spent a couple of hours that day and then several hours over the next couple of days trying everything: large hooks duct taped to ski poles; a multiple-hook, grappling iron made of metal coat hangers that I devised and am still pretty proud of; grasping tools tied to the ends of ropes; long handled fishing nets.  Nothing worked or even came close to touching the truck, wherever it was.  The battery had died and we couldn’t hear a peep from the truck, so for all I knew it was already gone, slowly floating away underground to wherever everyone’s sprinkler overflow, toilet flushes, and used motor oil eventually goes.  I tried to pry open the nearest manhole cover, but couldn’t, and I’m mostly glad, because I’m not sure I was really ready to lower myself into the municipal sewer system on my quest for the race truck.

On day four, there was a rainstorm.  I stood on my patio that overlooked the street and watched the water from the hill and surrounding streets gush into the sewer opening.  Bye truck, bye $340.  It was a fun 12 minutes playing with you.  Nate came to the patio.

“Is the truck gone now daddy?  Is it in the ocean?”

“Yeah I think so buddy.  It’s gone.”

He thought for a moment.  ”Do you want one of my trucks, daddy?” he asked.

“Nah, it’s okay buddy.  You should keep your trucks,” I said.

“Well, I have a good idea,” he said.  ”How about if I give you one of my trucks and then you can get another racing truck for us?”

Yeah, that sounds like a great deal little buddy.  How about if you give me one of your trucks and about $339, and then I can get another racing truck for us?  I smiled, ruffled his hair.

“We have plenty of trucks.  Let’s go play with some of the ones we have.”

PS to the redneck thief.  I would be glad to throw in one remote control console for a racing truck, probably worth at least 30 to 40 bucks on the stolen goods market but not worth a penny to me right now, plus the previously mentioned illegal model rocket motors, valued at $40, in return for that one blue headset you stole from me.  Thanks.