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Tuesday, March 6, 2012
It Isn't Funny Anymore
Anyone can live in Lowell, Massachusetts, because everyone’s all ready there. It’s a strange melting pot interwoven with man-made canals and cobblestone roads. Lowell is a city, drug addicts and all, but there’s a childlike stupidity running wild, a childlike stupidity that would be crushed in other cities. Pull up a chair and listen in on a conversation at the end of the night in some shadowy corner of Lowell; over a beer at the Blue Shamrock or with a cigarette pinched between your fingers in front of a 24-hour convenience store. What you’ll hear, more often than not, is the preamble, “We were just fucking around and…” Most of those stories end with black eyes and arrest records.
Wait by the Bridge St. bridge, where the new C V S sits and where the Tavern by The Bridge and Russo’s Music died. If you wait long enough, you’ll see a car load of teens coughed in clouds of marijuana smoke. They’ve got open cans of Milwaukee’s Best at their feet, just daring the cops to stop them, which happens, but has failed to happen yet. These kids are crawling down the street, calling out at pedestrians. Here, before the bridge and the polluted Merrimack, which turns brown on clear days, these teens call out to a pedestrian traveling in his own cloud. They stop at the red light and as it switches to green, a skinny sixteen-year-old with redden eyes and a red sweat shirt hangs out the rear passenger window and screams, “FAGGOT!” The pedestrian and the boy have had no prior knowledge of one another, but for that moment, they are mortal enemies. The boy screamed it for the thrill of upsetting someone and getting away with it. He’s confidence that his friend will floor the gas, leaving the pedestrian to scowl in the streetlight glow.
The pedestrian has done a few bumps of the stimulant, cocaine. The driver, whose had his license for all of a month, has been drinking the depressant, alcohol. The driver sees the pedestrian charge, his eyes burning red and he turns, accidentally putting his weight on the emergency brake. The boy in the red sweat shirt spills back into the car and urges the driver to drive. Were the emergency brake not on, they would have shot across the bridge and probably smashed into a parked car on the other side. As it occurs, they trundle on to the bridge as the pedestrian on cocaine surges toward them. The pedestrian swings a fist like a wrecking ball into the rear passenger window, moments after the boy in the red sweat shirt rolls it up and the driver realizes why his vehicle is filling with the smell of burnt rubber and spent petroleum. The driver pulls the emergency brake, the glass shatters, cutting the face of the boy in the red sweat shirt and then the driver stamps down on the regular brake. The driver’s ire is up. After all, they were only fucking around.
“What the fuck? What’s wrong with you?” The driver barely meets the eye line of pedestrian on cocaine, but he’s sure that, even now, this is only a game. He’s playing the tough guy and the pedestrian is supposed to scamper away. The pedestrian doesn’t scamper away. He puffs his chest and his face begins to redden to the color of a ripe cherry. Even now, the driver doesn’t realize that the pedestrian is going to viciously beat him until the cops come. Neither the pedestrian nor the car full of teenagers realizes that there is a small crowd gathering. No one is considering calling the police to stop the incident that’s about to happen. There’s a police dispatch office right inside the C V S. There used to be a Centerville precinct, but now that's a Metro PCS. The crowd wants to see the tiny driver boy get his face smashed in, not because the teens have been terrorizing the streets, but because there’s a meanness in Lowell. There’s a love for something horrible to happen.
The rest of this scene can be assumed. Assume that the pedestrian smashes the driver’s face in. Assume that the boy in the red sweat shirt swarms away into the crowd, hoping not to be noticed by the raving pedestrian. Assume that one or more of the other boys from the car spill out in aid of the driver who’s sprawled out in the middle of the street. You can’t, however, assume that everything ends well. There isn’t anyone you’d hope to be happy so, how can things end happily. The cocaine-fueled time bomb or the teenager assholes, who were narrowly spared from spilling off the edge of the green, metal bridge. Even the spectators don’t care.
Try this. Down the street from the Robinson Middle School, rolling down the hill, you’ll find dull music seeping from a single-story ranch house and across a leaf scattered front lawn. This isn’t an insane house party. It’s five young friends sipping beers and telling stupid jokes while the surround-sound works through an alternative rock play list. One of the five friends would have been graduating as valedictorian, but a woman coming home would be dressed in his best black suit and dropped down six feet.
The woman, a sister of one of the friends, is coming home from an explosive and confusing argument. It was explosive because her boyfriend refused to explain a pair of plain white panties crammed in between two couch cushions. It was confusing because the argument had been preceded with a handful of multicolored pills and a full bottle of Vodka. The woman comes home in a haze of rage and confusion and sees a house full of laughter and pleasure.
The woman demands that the friends leave and the sibling to the woman attempted to calm her down. This attempt drove the woman deeper into her rage and she goes into the kitchen and picks up a knife, but doesn’t intend to use it. This, again, is a game. She expects to scare them out the door. The one friend that would have been a valediction must know that she was playing a game. He has ever intention of leaving, but not without his coat. The woman screws up her and shoves him, shoves him away, forgetting that she has a knife in her hand. The would-be valediction isn’t a bad guy, but he pushes her back. She pushes harder, her free hand hitting his chest, her hand holding the knife hitting his soft belly. The knife pokes into his stomach and she actually falls into it, driving the blade into him. Her foot, somehow, hooks onto her other and she falls, accidentally stabbing and ultimately killing the would-be valediction.
The woman swears, again and again through a wash of tears, that she completely forgot that she had the knife. She swears that she didn’t mean it. She swears that she just wanted them to leave, that if he would have just left, it wouldn’t have happened. She ends up in the back of a cop car and is driven away. The valediction survives for a few four hours, but the blade had sliced into his kidney as well as part of his intestine. His blood is becoming toxic and he dies with tears in his eyes.
There’s a third game. This one isn’t that far from the house where the five (now four) friends gathered. Right off of Bridge St. where the young driver got his teeth knocked out, two brothers live. One brother is closer to thirty than twenty and the other is midway between zero than ten. These two brother live under there mother’s roof. The older brother does not work. He does not going to school. He has no girlfriend. He has no prospects. All he has is a pump-action BB gun that he’d spray painted black, a cigar box filled with marijuana and a black, leather bag where he stores his works and small, plastic baggy filled with heroin.
The older brother knows that his existence under his mother’s roof is very tenuous. His mother knowing he uses heroin would push him over the edge and out the door. Knowing this, he ties up and shots up behind a locked door. He doesn’t get very high on heroin, although that is getting very hard. His mother works two jobs and therefore has given the older brother one job. He has to be awake and at the corner for his younger brother. Children of a certain age are not allowed to just walk inside their homes. They need to be accompanied by someone. The older brother is expected to be that someone.
The older brother goes around this rule, part way at least, by wearing the bus driver down. Inside of being at the corner, the bus driver allows the older brother to just pull back the living room and wave. Confirmation that someone is home and ready to take responsibility for the young child. The older brother doesn’t quite like this arrangement because he can’t get high in the living room. He might nod off and leave his works in plain sight. He could smoke pot, however. He just had to blow the smoke out the window. Marijuana wasn’t the same as heroin, though.
Sometimes around noon, the older brother gets a little high and goes out into the backyard and shots his BB gun at beer cans. There’s a high wooden fence in the backyard that normally catches any stray projectiles. It’s this fact that assures the older brother that he is being responsible. Nothing is being damaged and no one is being hurt.
It is one of these days that the older brother decides to play a game with his younger. The bus driver is in a hurry. The older brother is in the backyard with the BB gun. The bus driver leaves without checking the window for the brother. The young comes in and calls for the older. The older hears and decides to play a trick. He’s a little high and doesn’t realize how stupid the trick is. He’ll jump out and scream POW while aiming the BB gun. The younger brother will have a good scare and they’ll have a good laugh. He plays the trick.
A BB is released from the BB gun and shots the younger brother in the eyes. The shot is fired at almost point blank. The BB rips though the younger brother’s eyes and drives into his brain. The younger brother doesn’t scream, but just fells down and the older brother is certain that he has killed his younger brother. His brother isn’t dead, but he isn’t moving either. The older brother isn’t high anymore. It isn’t funny anymore. He remains still and stares at his younger brother who is stretched out on the living room floor. He wants to be high again. He gets high, bringing his black bag into the living room. He keeps going to the telephone, knowing he should be calling someone. He doesn’t. He just gets high, the syringe plunging into his forearm. He doesn’t know what to do. He considers claiming that he had found his brother stretched out on the floor, that his brother had snaked the BB gun from under the older brother’s bed. He abandons the lie and smokes some more pot. There’s a long silence in the living room and the older brother wishes that he would nod off, but murder seems to have gotten him too jacked up.
The little brother isn’t dead, but he is dying. He’s wet himself and his urine is soaking the carpet. Drool is rolling down his cheeks. He has no control of his eyes and eyelids, so he can only stare up at the ceiling and his vision is fizzling away at the edges. There’s a spot on the ceiling, a water stain that looks a little like Jesus. He knows that he is dying and no one is doing anything about it and he wants the Jesus on the ceiling help him, but he just stares down with sad eyes.