learned how to die from watching old movies on TV.
Our industrial Chicago suburban neighborhood was a landscape of
junk yards, burnt down restaurants and abandoned factories that
became settings for the gunplay and death played out by children.
Sometimes the scene was a bomb ravaged WWII battlefield and sometimes
cops and robbers, whatever, it was based on those old movies.
We fought with plastic pistols, sticks that became M-16s and Thompson
Machine Guns in our dirty and scabbed arms. Stubs of wood
became daggers that pierced our child hearts. We became desperate
men hunting each other across the alleys, jungles and dark streets
of our violent imaginations.
old movies showed how the dead fell with a hand to the chest and
did a twirl or clutching fall to the earth. Rarely was there
blood. Never gore. For us kids, it was all calm falling
towards a shut-eyed waiting while the other kids said, “Time to
get up. You died real good.”
Chubby Vince was the champion of dying. No one died as good
as Vince. He gasped, bugged out his eyes, begged for his mother,
fell to the ground, crawled, reached out for his killer. He
put out all the stops. Like the rest of us, he learned how
to die from hammy B-movie actors in black and white, but he gave
it his own personal spin.
older I got, the more death, the real kind, came into my life.
Relatives passed away from old age, fires and drunken car wrecks.
In junior high, a kid I knew got hit by a car while crossing busy
North Avenue. He had just gotten released from juvie hall
and was on his way to the bowling alley to play some pinball.
managed to get out of high school and worked a series of dead end
jobs: worked in a plastic factory making chicken gut tubs, delivered
Chinese food and worked as a telemarketer for a chimney sweep company.
I sold some drugs on the side. I lived at home with my drunken
dad and his new girlfriend in the same house I grew up in.
I gave myself haircuts that were close to the scalp. I wore
black t-shirts with the sleeves cut off and Levis. I was nineteen
and had my chin out to the world.
had my old room the same as when I was in high school. It had blue-green
shag carpeting with bong water stains, black light posters of demons
and couples in Kama Sutra positions, my JC Penney stereo, my albums
(70s rock and 80s hardcore punk. Couldn’t bear to toss out
my Yes and King Crimson records even if they were irrelevant.
I said, shit changes. Denny had gone to prison for freaking
out on acid and taking a shit in some stranger’s house right on
their white carpeting. He’d done a year at Joliet and got
out on three years probation or something. He came out paler,
shakier, not quite right in the head. I don’t know if it was
the acid or prison that’d done it to him. No one had the nerve to
ask him if he got fucked in the ass or something. Anyway, we
hung out and Denny helped me sling my dope and rode shotgun in my
shark gray ‘75 Mercury Monarch that I called the “Anarch”.
had gotten fatter and fatter. He blamed it on a “thyroid condition”.
One time I saw him eat a whole box of Little Debbie’s, so I knew
it wasn’t no “thyroid condition.” Vince got a job as a security
guard at a construction site. Oh, yeah, and he also got himself
a King Kong sized coke habit. I fronted him product when he
was short and the weeks it took for him to pay me back turned into
months. I still had to pay for the coke, so I was losing money.
As much coke as Vince snorted, you’d think he would have lost some
of that ham on his ass and belly. Maybe he doubled up on the
was one of the first cold nights of October. The stars were white
and cold in a bruise colored sky. Me and Denny drove down
North Avenue past liquor stores, Italian Beef stands and carpet
stores. An AM talk radio guy was going on and on about how
great Reagan was. I switched it off and put on a cassette
tape of the new Black Flag jam “My War”. The music came out
like a growing threat. Denny bopped his head.
shit rocks like a motherfucker,” he said, his eyes wide.
nodded my head and rolled down my window to toss my cigarette butt.
pulled off onto a side street and rode past tire treaded fields
to a dirty–white aluminum trailer, its windows glowing with fluorescent
lights. I could make out Vince’s fat silhouette sitting at
a table in there. His rotten egg yolk colored ‘73 Gremlin
was the only car parked by the trailer. I turned the headlights
off and crept the Mercury “Anarch” up to the trailer. We got
out and left the car doors open. I cracked the screen-door
and went inside without knocking.
Vince looked up guiltily from the stroke book he was eyeballing.
He was wearing a polyester security guard uniform complete with
a fake cop hat. The patch on his shoulder said “A-1 Security.”
up your pants, dude,” I said.
magazines were fanned out on the table. Everything from Penthouse
to the most hardcore and rank shit. The pages were bent and
some had foul stains like water damage but I knew it wasn’t water
“What’s with all the pornos?” asked Denny.
construction guys. They belong to them. The boss keeps
picked up a magazine called “Night Call Nurses.” The cover showed
a red head dressed like an old time nurse with the little white
hat and white stockings sucking a guy’s dick..
flipped through the pages and then tossed it back on the stack.
“The classics,” I said.
was shaking. “What’s up?” he asked.
see you still got the rent-a-cop gig. So what’s the problem?”
payin’ me for all the coke you got off me.”
told you, man. I got bills to pay.”
my friend and shit, but enough’s enough.”
went over to some cabinets and started opening them.
worth anything in here?” Denny asked.
touch nothin’, Denny. It’s my ass if anything goes missing.”
a whole lotta ass,” snickered Denny, picking up a ballpeen hammer
and tossing it into a sink.
fuckin’ high right now, ain’t you?” I asked.
eyes were pinned and his right foot was pounding out a rhythm.
you got money to get dope somewhere else, you got money to pay me,
you fat fuck.”
cut a fart that sounded like a wet rag over a trumpet. A foul
stink filled the trailer.
the fuck?” Denny said.
ate some bad gyros,” said Vince, shifting in his chair.
kicked his drumming leg.
it. Hey, I got problems,” Vince whined.
tweaker,” I said and picked up one of the stroke books, a woman
was dressed in a Girl Scout uniform, her bare ass sticking out as
she held herself exposed like a cat in heat. I dropped the
got a job protectin’ a trailer full of pussy books. What kinda problems
responsible for this whole construction site!” Vince said, waving
his arms around.
walked up behind Vince and tapped him in the head with his palm.
it, Denny!” Vince said.
hammy face turned red and then a dark purple. Tears welled
up in his eyes.
cut it out, guys. What’s up with you? You’re supposed to be
I look like Santa Claus to you?” I asked.
does he got a big white beard?” Denny snickered, kicking at the
back of Vince’s straight back chair.
get blood from a stone,” Vince whispered.
backhanded him hard across the face. A dark drool of blood
came from his nostrils and ran down his round cheeks.
you broke my nose!”
from all the blow you been doin’, lard ass!” I shouted.
started to stand up. I pushed him back down.
out your wallet,” I said.
told you that I’m tapped.”
grabbed him by his clip-on tie and threw it to the trailer floor.
our your fuckin’ wallet!”
better not smell like no gyros farts either,” I said.
struggled to pull his wallet from his back pocket. It was
made out of some kind of cheap material with Velcro and had a patch
that said “Fear” on it.
Ving rocks,” Vince whined.
opened the Velcro strip, “Fuckin’ cartoon punk rock shit.”
found a five and two ones. I dumped all of the lint and pictures
of relatives onto the trailer floor. I threw the wallet into
the sink with the ballpeen hammer.
I crammed the money in the front of my jeans.
get the rest later,” Vince said wiping the blood from his face and
looking at the dark red streak on his freckled arm.
same song over and over with you,” said Denny, the ballpeen hammer
now cradled in his arms.
gimme that hammer before you hurt someone,” I said.
handed over the ballpeen hammer. It had a short handle and
a blue hammer head. Stripes of blue paint were missing from
where it had been hitting stuff.
didn't have to throw my pictures and shit on the floor,” Vince
swung the hammer and hit Vince in the side of the head. He
sprawled out of the chair. The first thing I saw was that
his grey rent-a-cop shirt had come out of his pants and his belly
flopped out on the trailer floor. He was crying like a baby
and holding the side of his head. He sat up and I could see
blood coming out of his crew cut.
man!” he yelled.
the money from your parents.”
ain’t got any money.”
turned away from Vince and Denny and looked down at the floor.
The blood had spattered into quarter size exploding suns on the
filthy wilting linoleum.
take me to a hospital.”
ain’t got to do nothin’” I said, swinging the hammer against his
head again. I was screaming inside. I was white hot
and giving myself to a rage I kept jarred up inside.
opened my eyes and Vince’s eyes were open, his tongue was lolling
around and he was making sick sounds like a retard. Dark blood
came from his mouth and flared out onto the floor. More blood
came from the ear that faced me. It came from his ear like
a dark red bolt of slow lightning.
I looked down at Vince. He struggled and flopped like a fish
on dry land. His eyes stared into my face. Then he stopped
moving. I could hear Denny’s hard breathing.
looked around and saw all the blood spatters. I saw fingerprints
of blood and didn’t know if they were mine, Vince’s or Denny’s.
I felt a dead resignation to whatever was going to happen.
I hefted the ballpeen hammer in one hand and said, “Take this with
us and drop it in the fuckin’ sewage pond.”
didn’t have to...” Denny started but didn’t finish.
opened the door to the trailer. I paused and looked back at
Vince. The blood was pooling around his head.
one died as good as Vince.