This is Where Che Finds Out About My Fucking Around With Monica
I first met Che when he moved up from Atlanta to a little apartment near our house in the Bronx. He was really out of place with his Southern drawl and his Stars and Bars T-shirt and his Marshall Tucker/Charlie Daniels/Southern Rock stuff (country violin + gothic electric guitar) music going all day long from his street-level window. As a fellow out-of-placer, I felt a special connection to him and made a point to stop by his window one day.
I guess the music you should be listening to as you read the chapter would be Charlie Daniels’s “Devil Went Down to Georgia:” He was looking for a soul to steal, he was in a bind because he was way behind, and he was willing to make a deal…Though, in the case of my (our) story, the devil had come up from Georgia and was visiting the Bronx. The devil was Che, but, if the truth be told (as they say), and as we know from Paradise Lost, the devil was a very handsome and compelling fellow, as was Che. The devil was thoughtful, hardworking, funny and so was Che--underneath his continuous buzz (which had turned bad), he was a sweet, thoughtful and—I must say—sincere guy. It was the meth that twisted his brain around--he was burning on the crank when I met him and he had been for years and, in fact, he had years to go before he quit. The devil was Che when he had succumbed to the meth, once his brain had gone and his soul was stolen. Paganini had sold his soul to the devil, and Che had sold his—so the violin in the background is being played insanely, veloce, by the ghost of Paganini.
One quirk about Che that I thought was strange was his insane fear of his mother, some sort of twisted Oedipal Thing. The day we met, we were both sixteen-year-old hustlers, and within a few minutes we were trying to impress one another. We arm wrestled through Che’s street-level bedroom window for twenty minutes to a draw--and in twenty-one minutes we were beating the shit out of each other all up and down E. 187th St. Che sucker punched me as I turned to watch a police car scream by and I pulled him out of the window and introduced him to my sidewalk. He’d always fought because he looked like a girl, I’d always fought because I look like an idiot. We were both pretty good and could take as well as we got. We rolled along the busy Bronx street and passed bakery after bakery and neighbor after neighbor (“ Hi, there, Hollywood!” “How you doing today, Hollywood?” “Give your parents my best, Byron!” etc., etc.), and we rolled past Officer Davis leaning on the call box smoking (“Got a new friend there, Hollywood?”). We stood up at the end of the block and traded punch after punch until I noticed a look of saucer-eyed terror explode across his face. I thought that maybe I’d killed him or something, then I heard a little voice behind me.
“What in the hail are you boys doin’?”
I turned to see the smallest human being I have ever seen. She could not have been three feet tall. She had an ornate flowery hat on her head to give her height, but it did no good. She held a little hickory cane with her tiny, cartoon fingers and her eyes crunched up real tight.
“You leave my boy alone or Ah’ll kick your head off,” she said.
Che could not control his breathing. “He started it!” he said. “He pulled me out of the room and started hitting me, ma!”
“So that’s how you Yankees welcome people to your town, huh?”
“He’s not telling the truth,” I said. “He hit me first.”
“God, no, mother! Don’t Jesus Gawd believe him! He’s lahin’—“ He broke down and she grabbed his arm and jerked him back toward home. “He’s lahin’!”
We were best friends after that.
That was in the summer and I remember later—August, hotter days, cooler nights--one night after we’d blown a little weed, we looked up to see a sky full of stars (we could make a few out). It was the first time we’d really spoken. Boys don’t talk much.
“That’s Gawd,” Che said. (God.)
“Yeah,” I said, trying to imagine the intelligence behind the creation.
“All his little ahballs.” (eyeballs.)
Beautiful. The first time I saw his rifle I thought it was a joke. It was small and plastic and it didn’t look real. I laughed and Che swung the butt of the gun around and missed me—smashing it into the wall beside his bedroom window. “Ain’t nobody ever laugh at me!” he shouted, his face purple. “Ah’ll blow your head off!” He then raised the rifle and popped off a few rounds, shredding the wall above my head. Plaster rained on my shoulder.
Shit, I thought. This fucking guy’s crazy.
What’s that noise down there? a little voice shouted through the apartment.
Che gasped. “Nothin’, ma!”
“See to it!”
Che regarded me over the barrel of his .22. “Gawd,” he said after awhile, “you really are ugly.”
He smiled and I remember thinking how nice it was that he didn’t kill me.
I remember another time with old Che and his old rifle. He was young and my age and lived very close to us, two doors down, and that’s probably, more than anything, why we became best friends. That made my parents insane. They had turned the switch off on Che the instant they heard him use the N word—though what he had said was nigra. That was all these liberal, tree-hugging, “Come Home America,” aging hipsters needed to hear. I saw their thoughts rolling around their heads like the fucking news at Times Square: Oh, great, a white trash redneck from the Heart of Dixie has moved in. What Che had said was this: I had asked him if he liked living in New York.
“New York’s okay, Ah guess. Long as you lahk nigras, faggots, and retards.”
He had said it with deep sincerity. He was really giving evil old New York a chance.
There was one special thing he just loved about New York, he told me. He’d show me later.
Mom and dad didn’t see Che’s remarks as harmless and thoughtful. They were collecting scrap metal for the homeless shelter when they overheard our little discussion. They called me into the room.
“Those words aren’t acceptable in our home,” Father said, lowering his voice and speaking slowly.
“Those are words of hatred and meanness,” Mother echoed, supporting her loving spouse. “You’ll have to Ask Charles not to talk that way in our house, or we do not want him invited back.”
See what I mean about them? God, I just hate them. As long as they’re a friend of mine, my parents have a problem with him.
As time went on they would explain to me that Che was dangerous because his family rented and we owned, a huge social difference. My mother reminded me about this several times a month (whenever she expressed her displeasure with my hanging with Che). Fucking idiots.
Anyway, I remember later that day Che disassembled his rifle and put it in his canvas rifle bag, then came over and got me and we headed for his special place. We walked deep in the Bronx and found ourselves on a ridge beside an abandoned building. The subway descended from the elevated tracks here before disappearing around a landscape of rubble and graffiti and empty, rotting warehouses that had burnt sometime in the murk of the ‘70s and had then been left unattended. The trains were covered in fat bright graffiti and they rumbled and wobbled along this stretch very slowly. It seemed like a jungle—wild and insane—but it was, actually, the desolate, post-industrial opposite of a jungle.
“Reminds me of shooting squirrels in Elijay,” Che said, as he assembled his rifle, then found a bit of raised ground and lay prone before it. He leveled the rifle and took aim at a train as it vanished behind a building. “Ah trah not t’ shoot the winders.” He laughed. “Ah don’t wanna kill nobody.”
“You mean you shoot the trains?”
“I lahk to hear the thud of the metal.”
“Why do you like that?” I asked. “Why would you like to shoot at anything?”
He dropped his jaw and thought. “Well, where Ah’m from, ever’body’s gotta lotta guns ‘n shit. Shooting all over the place.” A tear came to his eye. “It reminds me of my home down South. It reminds of Georgia.”
He squeezed off three rounds at a train that suddenly appeared and there came the report of three dull thunks. The train, like some huge gaudy elephant, ignored the tiny bullets and wobbled on its way.
And now I knew there was going to be an incident with Che and his stupid fucking rifle. The morning after my tryst with Monica, I locked myself in the bathroom and listened as Che got up and left the house. Monica was gone, I don’t know where she went. That morning, my love for Monica was weaker than my fear of Che, but I assuaged my fears by telling myself that Che probably isn’t interested.
Around ten o’clock, the phone rang and it was Che.
“Hi!” I said, real chipper like. Hi, pal, how you doing, my best pal?
He whispered because his voice was shredded from yelling. I could hear his mother in the background shouting No, Charlie, no!
“Stay there, Hollywood. I’ll be right over.”
I went to the refrigerator and collected a few beers and headed for the door. He was fast. When I hit E. 187th St., I saw him jumping out of his huge 1970 Impala and heading down the street swinging that stupid canvas rifle bag that I knew contained his stupid fucking rifle. I ran back up the steps at the side of our house, I was going to lock myself in, but he caught up with me and we both went flying into the door—which I’d left open.
I was right. In a flash, the stupid fucking rifle was in my face and Che was yelling about my being a traitor and turncoat and stealing his girlfriend and what a motherfucker I am, and on and on. I dropped to the couch and yanked open a beer.
Che dipped his finger into his shirt pocket and produced an icy-looking dollop of
powder. He then slorped it up a nostril. All gone.
There is a unique feeling having the barrel of a rifle in your face. At first, you don’t think of it, but soon, the thing becomes a heavy burden to your consciousness. There it is. It can blow at any moment and punch a hole in your head and end your life. It is a blunt poem, an unsubtle message of brutal mortality and the shortness of life. A rifle can accidentally go off—that happens all the time. Most people on the business end of a rifle die from an accidental shooting. The problem is that the person on the leisure end of this rifle would intentionally shoot and then claim it was a mistake.
We sat silently for about an hour. Che did not lower the rifle. Now that I think back on it, I didn’t take this brief hour as seriously as I should have because I realize now that he must have been deciding whether or not he should shoot me. It took a long time for him to arrive at a decision. Finally, he said, “I called Monica and she told me to go fuck myself. She wants you.”
Che pulled a ripped piece of fabric from his shirt pocket and lay it across his leg—smoothing it out. It was Monica’s phone number from the seat of his car.
“Call Monica,” he said, and he dropped my portable phone in my lap. He read off the number and I dialed.
“You say exactly what Ah tell you.”
Monica answered and Che told me to say, “You don’t love her, but Che does.”
“ Monica, I don’t love you, but Che does.”
“That Che Brown is the man you need. He’s a major stud.”
“ Che Brown is the man you need. He’s a major stud.”
Sobs, then silence.
“He loves you lahk no man has ever loved you.”
“He loves you like no man has ever loved you.”
“You must give him a chance.”
“You must give him a chance.”
“He is so worthy of your love.”
“He is so worthy of your love.”
“Ah’m just a fucking water head, a fucking idiot…”
I wouldn’t do it. I hung up and waited for Che to shoot. He didn’t, he disappeared. I wasn’t going to say that to the woman I loved. Fuck Che. Those were my thoughts—and they very well may have been my last thoughts.
That was it for Che. One of the last things my mother said to me before we stopped talking was, “Why do you hang out with such idiots?”
The words now haunted me.
I watched Che leave. There seemed to be a dozen parking tickets stuffed under his windshield washers.