Revenge Story: Part One
Herewith starts the revenge tale, filled with lust and murderous intentions, and angry lovers, and innocence unmolested by conscience. Let us go, then, you and I, into this porous, unimpenetrable heart of darkness…
I had recently dropped out of SUNY Purchase, an art college in the famous New York system where everybody’s gay and everybody’s angry (not that the two go together necessarily—but they do there, for some reason). The reason I had dropped out was because I had written a poem I really really liked about a young man who had just returned from the war and who had seen the horrors of battle and the evil nature of humankind and who was distraught and demoralized. He drinks a glass of whiskey and stands in the darkness near blinds that are (as I described, and how I drew this out of myself, I know not) “opened just a little, allowing yellow streaks of light, kind of yellowish lighting there.” He (get this) “gulps the whiskey—his only friend now-- down his throat.” Nice. I was so pleased with that, that I decided that I was going to spend the rest of my life writing poetry just like it, so I dropped out of school and told the restaurant I was working at in New York that I was available to work more hours now. My life was set.
I had a friend back then named (yes, I know) Che, short for Charlie (and, I guess, you could spell it Chay, but I’ve always admired Che Guevara, and this, in a small way—small but telling, real, yes, in a small, real way—is my honorarium to the great, ruggedly handsome guerilla warrior of the black-and-white fifties). His last name was Brown, creating—a literary theorist might say (but, of course, in a much more muddled way)--an interesting mix of rabid anti-bourgeois subversiveness and good old American down-home folksiness (missing, as all good literary theorists do, the obvious; in this case, that Charlie Brown is a famous cartoon character who, in his inky, nonhuman way, helped to usher in the American anti-hero tradition). Yes, he was all those things, but basically Che was just a redneck cultural hegemonist who contradicted himself because he, too, contained multitudes. He was tall and thin and would have been a beautiful girl if the genes were just a little bit different. He had long, blond hair and long narrow fingers and I now know (experience, wisdom; a life lived, man, a life lived) that rednecks with long narrow fingers are murderous. That can also be said of men who would be beautiful women: they are generally murderous sociopaths and Charlie Brown/Che, as it turned out, certainly was, but at the time I dropped out of college to write poetry, I didn’t yet know that.
Che came to my house on E. 187 th St. with a pound of pot. He was hoping that I would help him sell it and I thought that would be a terrific idea since I had recently decided to shed the overcoat of middle-class decency and descend into the Rimbaud-modeled netherworld of insanity and poetry and depravity. Poverty, poetry, purity. I had planned on getting and remaining as high as possible during this sojourn, so I thought Che’s idea, really, a damned good one: make a little money selling dope to rich, white kids, then skim some for ourselves and kick back for a few weeks and blow dope and write poetry. Nice. Thanks, Che. Che’s life came to an end when he caught his girlfriend in bed, literally, I’m not sure if it was figuratively, but one can surmise—anyway, in bed with another friend of ours, a black guy named Ray. Che shot him five times with a .22 rifle. Generally, .22 bullets—little as they are—buzz around inside of you and tear you to pieces, but these little bullets, apparently, just flew right out of Ray and did little damage—except to enrage Ray. Che was such a damned bigot. He really treated Ray bad. Called him names. You know the names. Che was raised in Atlanta during the sixties; chronologically, the nineteen-sixties, psychologically, for many white people, at least, during that turbulent era in the South, the eighteen-sixties. Che knew the master narrative well, understood the codes, assumed his position as the dominant hegemonist even though he was little more than me, which, essentially, from the perspective of the folks in the big house, is trash. Anyway, Ray, who had always put up with Che and knew that Che was trash but liked him—that’s the thing, Ray liked Che and held to the philosophy that if you like someone, you overlook a lot; and, hey, isn’t every white person racist, etc.--pushed Monica aside (“Oop, sorry, honey—That son of a bitching white trash bastard!”) and ran Che over in his ’67 Camaro. Over and over and over and over. Seven times, back and forth. It wasn’t good for Che or for the life that he and Monica had so recently planned together—since he was now about to be dead. It wasn’t too good for old Ray, either—killing someone (particularly a white man in America) and then getting caught really sucks. The thing that saved him was that Che had that fucking rifle in his hand—wouldn’t let go—a good policy for old school plantation rednecks (as Mao will tell you, my friend, as he told me in confidence one day over green tea: “Power comes from the end of a gun”)—as I said, old Charles Bartholomew Brown knew the codes well. Ray got off on a plea of self defense. Some people say Che died of a broken heart, being a redneck and all and finding his girl in bed with a—in the words of James Wait in Conrad’s The Nigger of Narcissus—“a colored gentleman,” but I just don’t know about that—I still think it’s the Camaro that drove over him seven times that killed him. But who can say, who can say?
Anyway, while Che was still alive (and I suppose, in a gruesome way, even now) he had these big crazy motherfucker eyes, so blue you could see his twisted soul, and he turned them on me that day—way back there in the past (a couple of years, but a few years can be a lifetime for people who don’t live longer) in that ugly little house in the Bronx: I remember the snow, I remember the police cars, I remember the overwhelming scent of bread—and said: “The weed sucks, ain’t nothing but shitweed, but we can sell it to these dickheads Ah know in Connecticut and make a coupla thousand.”
“Ah’ll tell ‘em it’s Samoan Thunderfuck.”
“Yeah. Ah’ll turn ‘em on to some real Thunderfuck and tell ‘em it’s from this stuff.” He pushed the large square block of pressed pot into my stomach. That’s a pun because they refer to a pound of pot as an elbow. Get it? Nudge, nudge in the old ribs?
By “they,” of course, I mean “us,” but I don’t want to implicate myself, or have I already? Do you ever stop and think that if the police knew everything you’ve ever done, if your history became transparent, you’d go to jail? I know some of the things you’ve done and I know this about you: you would , at least, be very embarrassed and would look very stupid to your friends—all your goddamned sugary-martini swilling (with a cherry and a twist, please) phony-ass friends. I love Reba AND Tchaikovsky! I cried as hard for DaleEarnhardt as I did for JohnLennon! Fuck ‘em all. Exterminate all the brutes!
Che dipped his index finger into his shirt pocket and produced a shiny, icy-looking dollop of powder. He then slorped it up a nostril. All gone. He smiled.
We measured out the pot in the old 60’s-Purple Haze-Orange Sunshine method: one finger in the sandwich-size Baggie was a nickel bag (in the old CSNY days, that meant five dollars, ergo nickel bag), two fingers was a dime bag (ten dollars), three fingers was a lid (fifteen dollars), and four fingers was an ounce (twenty dollars). Can you imagine? Nowadays the cost is fifteen dollars a gram—which makes about four joints and is the best way to sell pot. Cut the shit with oregano and, bammo, double your money! It’s so easy—and, hey, mom! The kids love it! You make the most money that way (so do I and so do others, not just you—I meant the “royal” you). But it takes a long time to sell that way—very labor intensive. Too many narcs and punks and cops and bitches and hoes trying to steal your shit. Twenty-eight grams make an ounce, right? Sixteen ounces make a pound, right? Thousands and thousands of dollars: 15 x 28 = 420 (remember, back when we were listening to “Cowgirl in the Sand—“ the acoustic Four Way Street version, this ounce cost 20). Sixteen ounces makes a pound (yuckety, yuck, yuck, elbow in the old ribs, wink, wink): (slobbering) 420 x 16 = 6400! Omina, omina, omina, hmmm… Maybe it’s worth the risk… Maybe I should… Use… Ellipses more often….
Speaking of remembering (remember in the previous paragraph?) I remember everything. My head’s enormous. I wonder if my brain’s enormous. I should have an X-ray. I’m a water head—more on that later.
Memory is more than just recalling facts, though, I must tell you (again, I mean the real you—not Penny Marshall—the you I’ve always loved, the you I’ve always dreamt of, of whom I have always dreamt, dreamed, dromedary, dramaturgy, dragons are scary, but not you, never you, I love you, you, you, old ubiquitous you). You know, I must say, Greenwich is really quite charming in a billion-dollar-mansions-with-trees-and-Mercedes-Benzes-everywhere sort of way. The driveways are so long you think you’re in a forest, alone, until you see some argyle socks and Topsiders strutting down the sidewalk beneath flapping pink oversize Polo shirts. This area has been referred to as “Dadland,” and, during the day, while all the daddies are at work in their big office buildings in the city, the kidsies and the wivesies walk around the streets and go to the country club and talk about stuff--they usually talk about how angry they are at people poorer than themselves and black people. The people inside these soft Polo and argyle machines are very wealthy and very young and very beautiful and, like the family of all successful market-cornering, insider-trading, industry captains, very angry and spiteful. This makes them extraordinarily cynical and absolutely magnificent junior businesspeople.
The public high school these white people attend is also quite nice, though the neighborhood is a bit—shall we say—below Purchase Street, a tad on the other side of the boulevard, a place where people like you know can go, etc. Although, I must say, some of my very dearest friends are, you know, those people… Surprisingly, there were some people of color at the old school the day we visited walking carefully down the halls— Ah, the halls, rows upon rows of lockers filled with, God knows, some of the finest drugs on earth. Again, though, I am impressionistically recalling this school and its grounds, I really don’t have any clear memory of any of this… Oh, wait, no, I remember now. Yes, forget that, I do remember clearly. Yes, it’s all moving from Claude Monet to Norman Rockwell--
We met with two Polo shirts and their four fabulously faded, untied Topsiders—their hair was tussled so carefully and cutely you (yes, you) damn near wanted to kiss them (young, nubile, filthy rich—of course, you would want to kiss them). They pinched some of the weed and sniffed it and told us that it smelled great. Samoan Thunderfuck, what could be more beautiful?
Yes. It was the good stuff we paid a lot for money for, not the shitweed we were going to slip them afterward. The plan was to let them have the divided-up pound of immature, useless, so-bad-it-was-legal dirt weed for only $2,000. They knew it was a good deal and all they did was crease an eye—they were good. There had been a bust on I-95 (Iron Road, the main line for dope from NYC to CT—that is, from the Heart of Darkness to the European Enlightenment) and prices were high.
We went around back of the school where there were fewer windows—as if the architect had met with the freaks in the school and had asked them how best to design a place where they could go out and smoke dope and not be pestered by school administration. Their girlfriends came up from the woods (there’re woods everywhere out there and, in literature, as you know, women are always emerging from woods and gardens. In the English tradition, this creates a sense of danger, since to be off the path, as it were, is to err—women are very dangerous. The English hate the woods and clear cut as much as their saws allowed in the last several centuries. Let’s stop them now, the damn colonialist bastards). They were wearing Polo shirts and Topsiders, too. Benetton sweaters were colorfully wrapped around their waists. Their lovely, narrow bodies were visible beneath the soft cotton and, yes, I admit it, I was drawn to the one we learned later was named Monica. Monica, the goddess of frosts and billowing clouds. I forgot the names of everyone but two of the group. Aside from Monica (yes, the same one who gets Che killed later in the story—or earlier, depending on how you want to look at this broken nonlinear narrative) Tom was the main guy—a hell of a sharp dealer. He was going to take the pound we were selling him and he was going to cut it (remember, he thought he was getting much more powerful weed) and turn the sixteen ounces into thirty or so ounces and double the price and re-bag it and, by God, maybe clear ten thousand—and get a bunch of weed out of the deal. Smart guy. He had these eyes under his Cocker Spaniel bushy hair that were deadly—like Che’s, but with something else. Intelligence. Monica curled around Tom’s arm and purred when she smelled the lovely aroma of burning Samoan pot.
Tom, he was not a well person. He had scars on his hands and I asked him if he were a butcher—you know, just to piss him off being here in Greenwich, Connecticut and all and knowing that he hadn’t worked a day in his pampered fucking life. He said no, he beats people up and chops up his hands that way.
“I’ve broken every bone in my hands,” he said. He spoke as if he were from the San Fernando Valley, stressing certain words over others, and using the word “dude” like punctuation, specifically a period, dude. He was beautiful and he was dangerous and he was insane and, as we stood there in the New England cold, smoking pot and thinking about pot-induced stupid things, I realized like a crystal bullet that Tom is going to track us down and kill us as soon as he finds out that the pot we’re selling him is, how shall we say, different from the pot we were smoking and bonding over.
“I ate a peanut,” Monica said.
That sang in the universe for awhile. Tom smiled and nodded as he held in a deep toke. “Peanuts,” he said as he exhaled gently. “Dude.”
Monica’s friend—let’s call her Cathy, I really can’t remember her name—laughed and stamped her foot. She was also from the Valley. Every teen-ager in America is from the San Fernando Valley. “You are fucking so full of shit!” she said. She was ecstatic. “Those weren’t fucking peanuts!” She was singing now, filled with joy, exhalting, bursting. “They were fucking what-do-you-call-‘ems!”
“What do you call ‘em, dude?” said Tom.
Tom’s friend—let’s call him Ed, Ed’s a short name (maybe I should save this one for later)—raised up on his tip toes to match Cathy’s enthusiasm. He said, “Oh, walnuts!”
Monica gripped invisible bars at her face (was she in a secret jail of her own making? What could free her?). “No, I’m sure it was a peanut, I swear to God.”
“Whatever!” Cathy said.
Tom waved the discussion away. “Let’s not get into a fucking fight over a stupid fucking peanut, dude. Peanuts are really dumb, dude.”
Power, unselfconscious mastery of those around him, of the universe. Yes, you would have loved him because when there’s money and power and carefree, Bobby Kennedy-esque beauty—the guy with the big head and the slack jaw gets pushed aside. Just a stupid old water head, that’s me. What’s a guy like me to a guy like Tom?
I really look stupid and sometimes I wonder if I am as stupid as I look. I think I am. And, while I’m on the subject of me—yes, I am an intrusive narrator, but I want to tell you something truthfully: I am reliable.
I was moved deeply by Tom.
Che was studying Tom’s face also. He was trying to decide if he’d hooked him, if he’d won this round, and he realized he had when Tom handed him a roll of hundreds. “Good shit, dude. She smokes pretty and the buds are heavy. Good trippy shit, dude.”
Monica Bogarted the rest of the bowl and this is a good place to describe her. She had a beautiful small face—like Marilyn Monroe’s face, but smaller—with big baby doll, white girl The Bluest Eye eyes. She had ghostly little fingers, delicate, but a bit calloused from handling so many coarse credit cards and counting so much cash. She always felt they should make credit cards warm and soft. When she was extremely happy or extremely angry, she would purr softly and speak slowly. Her hair was beautiful and blonde and, like all rich teen-agers from Greenwich—and this can be said of Palm Springs or Westchester, too—she was naturally, unbelievably beautiful. That garden did not have to be tended too much, the flowers just sprang up. She was like a magnet of good things—of sweets and beauties which had not yet themselves forsaken (and she had the money to forestall that)—and she expected whatever it was that she desired.
She liked the pot, she smoked the shit out of it. That was the end of it for everybody else and Tom—who probably knew her better than anyone else on earth (this is third-person narration here), who had dreamed of her and had prayed for her long before she came into his life--knew that if he wanted to blow some more of this weed, he’d have to buy it. These were Tom’s thoughts as I watched him.
But I noticed something about the group. In the haze of intoxication, I realized that there were some odd triangulations occurring between Tom and Monica and Che and me. Monica began staring at me (I know what you’re thinking—you’re thinking I’m writing this because I think you like Tom—but this really happened) and, if you’ll excuse the phrase, looking me up and down. She held the little hash pipe at her baggy khaki knees and licked her lips. At first, you know-- I mean, I’m not, as I’ve stated, an attractive man and I am aware of that, I usually have people disappearing from me as fast as they can—not staring at me hungrily. Hungrily, that’s the word. I thought she’d misinterpreted her vision or something, being really wasted as she might have been, and was seeing me as a hamburger or something—you know, something to eat. I have a very big head, I’m not really a water head, but I call myself one because I do look like one—it’s this enormous, bulbous head. I don’t look human sometimes. Anyway, I thought she wanted to eat me.
In the meantime, Che was looking at her the same way. He was licking his lips and looking hungrily at Monica, with her little Marilyn Monroe head and hash pipe fingers.
Tom was looking at Cathy who was looking hungrily at Monica as she proceeded to lick the hot bowl of the pipe. Cathy was obviously in love with Monica—and they both had smeared lipstick and disheveled clothes. There’s no doubt in my mind what they were doing in the woods. Ed was cold and bounced on the soft, crushed leather toes of his Topsiders. He had a round head and freckles and ears that stuck out. He looked familiar.
We gave them the pot in a brown paper bag and drove away in Che’s very powerful, 1970 gray Chevy Impala. The Iron Road, baby. 95 heading South, back into the Heart of Darkness.
My thoughts, though, were not on the money we’d just earned… Monica… She was so beautiful…
Che was stoned and drove very carefully, his hair snapping in the wind. He rolled a Marlboro into an ivory and gold cigarette holder. “That Monica is a fucking good looking woman,” he said. “She likes me, man, and let me tell you something, I lahk her, too, brother.” He turned to me with a look of grave earnestness. “She makes me shimmy, Hollywood. I dig her.”
“We just bought a month,” I said, ignoring his bullshit. “I can’t wait to just get back and lie around. Call the Scotch ‘n’ Sirloin and tell them to keep my schedule the way it was.”
“She was looking at me like, Hey, Che, you’re a groovy guy, man. Ah want you, baby.”
“Forget it, Che,” I said. “We just ripped those guys off. You can’t go and try to freaking steal his girl, too. Fucking stupid!” I was jealous, I admit it. My feelings were too new to articulate to myself at that time, but they were there. I was using logic for an illogical purpose, because I, too, wanted Monica. But, although I didn’t know it at the time, I was right. How could either of us possibly organize a—shall we say—date with Tom, the guy we just ripped off’s girlfriend (that is one messy-ass sentence, but it is the way I think, messy, throwing possessives around). It was absurd, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that I wanted her.
The really absurd thing is that I actually got her. She was my first girlfriend.
But that happens later.
The Mianus River Bridge is a highway bridge that was built long ago in sections-- large, several hundred feet long, parallelograms (sideways squares)--that carries the mighty Iron Road over the mighty Mianus River. It’s the gateway to Connecticut. One evening, one of these chunks of highway fell unselfconsciously into the mighty Mianus River, leaving several hundred feet of emptiness which, unfortunately, was indiscernible from road-level. In other words, the highway (a hundred feet above the—if truth be told—rocky, stinky little creek the residents self-importantly call the Mianus River— and why not, everything else about their lives is grand and overstated?) was now like a big fat high dive and you couldn’t tell it as you drove along. A young dentist named Merl, Merl Bedardo, saw the unspeakable happen, heard the mud suck up the huge cement parallelogram, and pulled over to the side of the road to warn the drivers behind him to stop before they were killed. He was a youngish-looking man with big glasses and a scrawny little body beneath a down parka and he looked helpless—like someone whose car had broken down, like someone who was hoping to be saved by the kindness of strangers. He waved his arms wildly to a large tractor-trailer which was barreling down a little ways behind him. The driver, as he always did, one can assume, when seeing someone waving for help, naturally, instinctively, flipped the guy off. He was probably muttering, Fuck you, asshole as the truck suddenly, horrifyingly, dropped into the abyss. But that wasn’t the end of the story of the hungry and vengeful, mighty Mianus River on that fate-filled night. Car after car, truck after truck, drove by Merl—with middle fingers snapping to attention as the drivers passed him (whispered, Fuck you, asshole) and entered eternity. Merl later said that he had never been so cursed by so many people in one two hour period in his entire life. He felt miserable.
The carnage was unbelievable that night. People were horrified at the story. How could the mafia have built such a shitty road? Posters sprang up in the next few weeks with a picture of a truck driving off a bridge above the words Welcome to Connecticut.
That story has always affected me deeply. I think of it often and I always say a prayer as I drive over the Mianus River. It goes something like this: “Dear Lord, I am stupid and I fill my day doing stupid things. Please don’t let my stupidity kill me. Amen.” I was whispering this little prayer as we bumped over the new parallelogram above the mighty Mianus River and it was just about then that Che and I realized that we were being chased by a bright red James Bond BMW Z3 Roadster.
Tom was driving and Monica was in the seat beside him. It hadn’t taken them long to realize that we were scumbags.
Che smiled and slowed down. “Hey, look!” he said. “Ah knew she’d come looking for me, Hollywood, mah man!”
When we were aligned beside the elegant little sports car, Tom screamed through the wind: “Pull the fuck over! I’m going to kill you, motherfuckers!” Not much “dude” business now.
Che laughed. He was undefeatable, a warrior no one could touch, Superman; he had his .22 rifle at his heels under the seat. He ignored Tom, whose face was as red as the Roadster, whose hands were erupting like fireworks. He was beating us to death, but we weren’t yet in his grasp.
“Hey, Monica!” Che shouted. “Mah man Hollywood and Ah want to get to know you better! What’s your phone number?”
Throughout the rest of this discussion, Tom repeated the refrain: “I’m going to fucking kill you motherfuckers!” I don’t need to keep writing it. You just know it’s there.
Monica, of course, shouted back: “What?”
“Hollywood and Ah want to know your number!”
She told us her phone number and Che found a pen in the glove compartment and wrote it down on the seat.
“Get rid of that dickhead and meet some real men!”
“Get rid of that dickhead and meet some real men!”
“Is he Hollywood?” Meaning me. I turned purple I was so embarrassed.
“Yeah. Mah man Hollywood!”
“Yeah, that’s Hollywood!”
Che laughed. “They love me,” he said. “Ah am the best. They love me, man. Ah am the best.”
Tom was now trying to cut us off, which is not a smart thing to do with one of those little Roadsters. These cars are very, very cute, but they are no match for a 1970 Chevy Impala—a wall of steel with an engine like the Saturn fucking Five. Che noticed Tom now for the first time as he dinked the edge of Chevy’s bumper and ripped open a nice flap on the elegant, aerodynamic side of the ornate little car. He went bouncing damn near off the road, but regained control and came back for more.
“What’s that little asshole doing?” he said.
“He’s trying to make us stop so he can—I would imagine--beat us to death.”
Che looked over at me with his insane, but currently tender, eyes. “Are you afraid?”
I thought for a moment. I really was terrified because I’d figured Tom out quickly and I knew he was in a blood rage. It was a terror of knowing the capabilities of the opponent—and knowing he knew and would abide by no rules. He would not stop until we were dead. My fear was a mortal terror.
“Fuck no!” I said, with a laugh.
Che slammed to a stop in the emergency lane at the end of the Mianus River Bridge and Tom skidded to a stop a hundred feet past us. A commuter train rumbled by in the distance. Several cars—even one police car—whooshed by. Protestant steeples poked proudly through the New England vista of nearly bare, orange dotted deciduous trees.
Tom jumped from his car and pulled a chain out from the trunk, all the while singing his little song about killing us motherfuckers, etc.
Che raised the rifle and leveled it on the open front door. Tom must not have seen the gun or couldn’t figure out what it was, or maybe he didn’t care—whatever the case, once he’d wrapped the chain around his wrist, he swung it above his head. Big threat. He then proceeded to run like hell toward us. Che, without a thought, fired off three rounds and Tom went down with a round in his ankle. Ooh, that must have hurt.
“So when are you guys going to call?” Monica shouted over Tom’s writhing mess of Polo and argyle.
“I don’t know,” Che said. “How about tomorrow? Go to the City, party it up and what not?”
We drove off with Tom screaming—he wasn’t dead and he still wanted to kill us, but he didn’t. We’d won. At least this round.
We took his two thousand dollars and split it in half. I paid rent, bought some real pot, and, in celebration of a good drug deal and some well-earned money, a case of Heineken.