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Do It For Johnny
by Michele Christopher
turtle throws down first:
Something’s in my life have always went without question. I always knew I would live on fast food. I always knew I would never have kids. I always would end up in bad situations. It's really not like I stumbled into these situations. It was more like I wanted it. I just wanted to go where the action was and leave the rest behind. I could listen to music all day, but really, I knew at the end of the day, something would come up. You could feel these coming up as the sun went down.
Just learning truths about life.
I woke up with someone handing me car keys saying we had to go watch a gang fight, oh by the way here is some LSD and a beer so get straight quick cause we have to be on the road in ten minutes.
I could have said no. But, the bottom line is...
What the fuck was going on? Two skinhead gangs were battling for ground. I told you, some of this shit got out of control. Someone wanted me on one side to fight for them and someone wanted me on the other while I was just wondering where my cigarette lighter was. See, I always thought that skinhead shit was bullshit. I watched the fucking Church of the Kreator snag my friends one by one in their ideological beliefs and bullshit. I heard the "Why don't you support your white brothers and sisters?" so many fucking times remembering all of them almost puts me in a coma. No, I'm not gonna buy Docs. No, I'm not gonna wear straps. No, I don't like you. The only thing I got from those guys was respect. That's even more than I wanted.
"Maybe this isn't a spectators sport."
"Just think of it as West Side Story and shut up."
Well, the two biggest gangs fighting for some stupid ideal started running at each other. I won't lie. It was fun watching two gangs I hate, and still continue to hate, beat the living fuck out of each other. These were the bastards that were destroying my scene. Let them fucking destroy themselves for once. This was my own victory. Each guy that went down, I silently smiled. That asshole who is coughing out blood was the same guy recruiting my friends last week at a show. Try to break our scene, someone will break your fucking jaw with a bike chain. And ya know what? He is one of your own. Don't look to me cause I'm up in a tree here for shits and giggles. I'm not part of either of your gangs, so don't look at me for help.
I stopped caring about you guys the day I was born.
The fight only lasted about 10 minutes. I mean it was brutal. Anyone left on the ground was pummeled with baseball bats. The other gang ran while being chased by anyone who could still move. A car was started. Tearing out in front of the park taking out two people. A girl went right down under a tire.
Lying in the street.
I jumped down from the tree and ran up to her. I was hit a few times with shit but that really didn't stop me. I mean yeah, it hurt like fuck, but when you see a good friend on the ground barely breathing, some things like thought, smells and emotions stop. All you have to think about was why was she there and how you could get her out of there. This was supposed to be fun. What happened? Why is she bleeding in the street? Why did this happen? I didn't know she was in this shit. What the fuck am I gonna do? Oh shit, she's bleeding bad.
Calm fucking down turtle and figure this out.
She was on her face. She sounded like a coughing horse. Barely breathing. People running everywhere as someone snagged me in the face with something. Some kind of chain. Meh, feelings stopped along time ago. Blood was dripping off me. Let's deal with this now. Her breathing was slowing down. Police cars coming as I turned her over. I looked at her face as I was being pulled away by my friend. Blood was on her face. Blood was dripping off mine. I wiped clear my eyes as I noticed this wasn't her.
This wasn't my friend.
This wasn't her.
I walked to the car and got in. My face had a nice snag on it that looked like a Schwinn 1953 Edition chain rip thru my cheek. Maybe a 1954 bike chain. I got home that night and just sat on the couch. I always know that if something happens, somehow, I'm going to be somewhere in the aftermath.
Later that night, I found out the driver of the car that ran over the two people stabbed himself eight times in the chest while driving home.
West Side Story my ass. - T
michele is ready to rumble:
So we carried on the rivarly. They hated us cause they were told they were supposed to. We hated them for the same reason. Legacy. Some kids pass down sex tips to the younger kids in the neighborhood. We got lessons in how to hate for vague reasons.
But the whole gang mentality thing was only big in the summer. Sure, we made fun of their school, their football team, their mascot, their heritage, their mothers. We made up songs about them and carved nasty rumors about them into telephone poles. They, in turn, did the same to us. But that was just school rivarly stuff. In the summer months, we became gangs. That's right, gangs. We be bad.
Our towns were separated by a two lane main road. We'll call these towns Springfield and Shelbyville. On the south side of that road there was a 7-11. Unlike today, where there's a 7-11 on practically every block, there was just a lone store back then. Meaning if we wanted Slurpees we had to cross into Shelbyville. We had Murray's candy store on our side and we might have gone their instead of 7-11 if Murray didn't have a a vicious German Shepherd that left teeth marks in the candy. You'd pick a Bazooka gum out of the bucket, open it up to read the comic and see canine imprints in the gum. And drool in the bucket. So fuck that. We went across the street.
During the summer, we would run into some Shelbyville kids in the 7-11. Dirty looks would be exchanged. Stares would be met with stares. Silent stand offs. A whispered insult. But there would be no fight or anything exciting like that. Just silence coupled with the affected stares of middle class kids who weren't sure how to get a rivalry past the insult stage and into gang war territory.
Or maybe we just liked it the way it was.
Things finally came to a head in the summer of '75. It started in June at, of course, 7-11. And it started, of course, with me. Me and Sissy Smith*. Sissy was the youngest in a family of five kids. She was the only girl. Her brothers had a reputation for being tough, mean and criminally insane. When stories were told about the Shelbyville kids, they were always about the Smiths. They were the ringleaders of every near-fight that almost took place. Rumor had it that the oldest boy, Steven, was in jail, and that the three younger boys had all seen the inside of the juvie hall. They were legend.
Sissy herself was two years younger and about three inches shorter than me. I didn't realize this til I met up with her in front of the Slurpee machine that day. I had never seen her up close. I had heard so much about this girl - she was only about ten years old but acted like 18. Street smart and street wise. Carried a switchblade. Knew more curse words than my grandmother. Could eat carcass of a dead buffalo. You know how rumors get. I mean, I knew 20 year olds that were terrified of her. See, itt was all in her demeanor and her voice. Sissy carried herself as if she were six feet tall and made of body armor. Her voice was thick, raspy and deep. That's what happens when you start smoking at six. That's what I was told about her, anyhow. Sissy knew her reputation and knew her part in this little turf war. And she played it perfectly.
I'm not sure of the exact sequence of events that went on that day. There's a whole "grassy knoll" mystery to it. I just know that it involved me, several of the boys I was with and a Sissy mistaking something I said. It culminated with the running out of 7-11 faster than fuck, crossing two lanes of traffic wtihout looking, and not turning around til we were safe in Springfield. Sissy and two of her brothers were standing outside the store, using curse words I had only heard spoken by large, hairy men at fire department picnics. Fuck. This sucked. Not because I pissed off Sissy Smith. No, there was much more to this scenario than that. A sense of doom fell over me. My entire summer, ruined. Months of relentless heat that would not be washed away with Slurpees. Because we could not go back to the Shelbyville 7-11 again. They'd be waiting for us. Maybe with knives and chains.
Word traveled quickly. An barely existent exchange of words by the Slurpee machine became something else. Like a game of telephone played by crackheads, the story warped, stretched out, magnified and distorted until that one little word I was supposed to have said became shots fired from the depository.
War was declared. It was going to be a long, hot summer.
Perhaps we were the product of suburban boredom. Or perhaps we had all read The Outsiders one too many times. Either way, we had quietly assumed the role of gang. We stopped being just a bunch of kids and we became a gang. You heard me. A gang. And we were going to have a gang fight. No, not just a gang fight. A rumble.
Jesus. Did anyone ever use the word rumble seriously? Besides us, I mean.
Now that we were tough gang members, we had to act it. We roamed the streets at night in packs, looking menacing and furious. We said mean things about cops. We loitered where it clearly stated NO LOITERING. We played handball against the wall that had NO BALL PLAYING spray painted on it. We went into the school yard after sundown. Oh yea. We were bad. Welcome to the fantasyland of bored surburban kids.
Later that week, two of the Smith boys met with a few of our older gang members to schedule the rumble. Yes, schedule it. Hey, some of us had things to do. Like ballet or boy scouts. At first, it was going to take place the first Saturday in July, but a few people couldn't make it because they were going on vacation with their family. Then it was moved to the following Thursday, but that was messed up because too many kids were going to summer school and had early curfews. Finally, after everyone checked with their parents that they didn't have anything to do that day, it was scheduled second Saturday in August. I know, this is the height of dorkiness. If we had modern technology back then, we all would have whipped out Blackberries and programmed the gang fight into our datebooks.
Waiting for the fight, the days dragged. We playied Kick the Can, went swimming and praticed our loitering skills. We talked about the rumble in code words and whispers.
This was all fun and games, really. But when talk turned to weapons, I got nervous. I knew what happened to Dally in The Outsiders. Which one of my friends would be the one to die? Which one would have to choke out the words stay gold, Ponyboy? I was all ready to get melodramatic and put a stop this tragedy waiting to happen. Scenes from West Side Story ran through my mind but in some odd way I thought it would be really cool to break out into song while one of my teenage friends lay in a pool of blood while his brokenhearted girlfriend from the other side of the tracks looked on and oh, the heartbreak! The drama! Then leaf subsides to leaf/So Eden sank to grief/So dawn goes down today/Nothing gold can stay.
Ed slapped me across the head. Hello? You paying attention? I snapped out it. They were asking if I could steal a lead pipe from my father's work yard. Sure, sure. No problem. Lead pipe. I never gave it another thought. I knew even then, despite my musical fantasies, that this rumble was never going to happen. We were chicken shit. All of us. We were middle class, whiter than white, suburban kids looking for some excitement. The excitement, of course, was in the talking about it, not in the doing. Who needs that anti-climax? The summer would just sail by if we spent every night getting worked up about hiding lead pipes in the sump. The anticipation of this would see us through right through August.
The day of the big rumble finally arrived. We met at the playground early that morning to map out our battle plan. But Ed showed up with a bag full of fireworks that he found in the bushes behind his garage and we spent most of the morning trying to light them off. They were all duds. This bummed us out and we ditched the playground and headed to my house for a swim, forgetting all about our gang plan. Our plans wouldn't have mattered, anyhow. We were the little kids of the gang. Tag alongs. Hangers on. The high school kids, they were the ones with the real plans. Lead pipes and molotov cocktails and kitchen knives. They had a last minute meeting scheduled with the Smith boys. While we were playing Marco Polo and eating PB&Js that my mother cut the crust off of, they were hammering out rules for the rumble.
Finally, night came. Rumble night. I forgot the lead pipe, maybe on purpose, but no one asked about it, anyhow. We walked as one towards the sump. Our hearts were racing, our adrenaline pumping, our fear meter ramped up just a bit because, for all our posturing about being gang members, we were scared shitless. Still, I hummed some tunes from West Side Story while we walked.
We arrived at the sump expecting to see a crowd of people climbing through the hole in the fence. But there was no one. No Shelbyville kids in sight. No one but Ed, sitting on the curb drinking a soda. Apparently, the fight was off. Again. The Shelbyville kids wanted to change the venue to their sump. Our guys wanted it here. They almost decided on having it in another town, but no one felt like walking all the way over there. So the fight was off. Again. Disappointed but slightly relieved, we headed back to my house and played stickball until our curfews were up.
Two weeks later. It's the big end of summer event The local church fair. Ferris wheel and zeppoles and gambling tables, all signs that the summer was done.
It was about 10:30 on the last night of the fair when I ran into Sissy Smith. I had exactly one quarter left out of my allowance and I knew what I wanted. A pickle. Not just any pickle, but one of those half-sour, half-crunchy pickles that had been sitting in a barrel of garlicky, salty pickle juice for days on end. The kind of pickle you could only get at the farmer's market, except during fair days. My mouth watered just thinking about.
I walked over to the pickle booth. Stopped short when I go there.
The only thing standing between me and that half-sour was Sissy Smith. Except she wasn't looking so mean. She was kind of frowning. Sad, even. Tough shit, bitch. I felt empowered by her obvious sadness. She wasn't going to bother me. I could go get my pickle without fear.
When I got closer to the pickle guy, I could hear him telling Sissy that the pickles were a quarter, take it or leave it, her thin dime was of no use to him. His voice had the edge of someone whose patience had run thin. He sounded a bit mean, actually. I approached the counter. Sissy looked me up and down. I ignored her, dug the quarter out of my pocket.
Give me your quarter. That raspy voice.
I handed the pickle guy my quarter.
A half-sour, please. Cut in half?
He cut it in half, fat ways, and smiled at me as he wrapped each half. I handed half to Sissy.
We spent the next half hour in the side alley of the church lot, leaning against the convent wall, eating our pickle and listening to the workers dismantle the rides. Summer was over. So was my time in the local junior high; I'd be going to the Catholic high school come September. I knew that my days of hanging out with Ed and the gang were pretty much over. And when Gina and Lori, who had been looking for me, finally found me and I was giggling at some joke Sissy just told me and they didn't freak out on me for being with her. Instead, they sat down and Gina took out her Marlboros and handed one to Sissy.
I knew the rivalry was pretty much over then.
Still kinda pissed that I never got to be in a gang fight, though. -M