by Johnny St. Clair
rush hour on the parkway is for suckers. that’s why my ride to work is all side streets and forgotten boulevards. it takes me by this one spot where a graffiti vandal stained the stone under an overpass with the last name of our president. and while the Doktor and i rarely see eye to eye, he agreed that the graffiti would be much classier if it had the word ‘fuck’ above it.
we traveled old-school style, picking up a can of ‘whisper white’ Krylon at the hardware store before catching the 35f downtown. we got off and walked about a mile to the overpass, up an aged stairway that commuters used back in the good old days, and back to that towering abomination. the spot was fairly overgrown with weeds and liberally littered with beer cans.
i took the paint out of my backpack, started shaking, and got the balls rolling. a smashed beer can clanged near my feet and slid on the gravel and into the weeds.
“what the fuck?”
a spotlight light shone suddenly from our left. i turned towards the Doktor and saw my shadow splayed ominously on the ground to his right.
“it’s the cops,” he said.
“the Man! WE WILL LIVE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY…” he croaked as he hopped a rusted fence and tumbled down a steep embankment to the boulevard below. i was just like, fuck it, dropped the paint can, and reached for the sky.
“what’s goin’ on?” i said.
after a moment, i was able to make out the shape of a police cruiser against the neon lights from the street below. the officer walked towards me until i could see the whites of his eyes against this foul blackness. we stood there for a moment, i with my hands in the air, surveying the situation. he broke stare first and turned to look at the handiwork of the vandals.
“coming down here to add to that?” he said and nodded to the writing on the wall. he patted my pockets, my waistband, the small of my back, my sides…unzipped the backpack and took a quick look inside.
“can i put my hands down?”
he didn’t say anything, so i took that as a ‘yes’ and put them down. slowly.
“can i see some identification?”
all i had was an expired driver’s license, but at this point, i figured that could be the least of my problems. let’s face it, he could have taken me down for any number of crimes that i did in the past. make a few up, even. i’ve willfully committed innumerable misdemeanors and a felony or seven along the way and have emerged relatively unscathed. this would be poetic justice. i’m guilty…i confess…why not beat me into a puddle of my own piss and blood and spare the taxpayers a lengthy trial.
“Johnny St. Clair? you have any drugs in that backpack?”
“no sir, they’re at home with the guns.”
“wait right here.”
when he returned, he had a a string of beers in his left hand and my i.d. in his right. he returned the i.d. and kept his eyes on me as he opened a beer and took a sip.
“that’s a nice perk,” i said.
“yeah…i’m off duty. sometimes we come down here when the shift is over.”
i watched him drink and looked back at the wall. of the many lessons i’ve learned in this foul and wretched life, few are surer than accepting as gospel the word of a man with a loaded gun. so when he asked if i’d like a beer, i thought it would be rude and imprudent to refuse.
“my brother did that,” he said and nodded to the five-foot letters on the cement.
“he’s overseas now.”
“yeah…with the army.”
“yeah…they told him he was going to help with the elections. that was a while ago.”
“have you talked to him?”
“no…got a letter at Christmas.”
i sat silent for a moment and sipped the beer. “so…cops run in the family?”
“he’s not my blood,” he said. “so what’s up with the spray paint? you and your buddy have an arts and crafts fair you were planning on attending? or were you guys just gonna paint each other up real nice here under the bridge?” he got a real kick out of that shit.
“i was thinking about a change of scenery. since i have to drive by here every morning on my way to a dead-end job…i figured seeing ‘Fuck Bush’ in giant letters would be a sure fire way to cheer me the fuck up.”
i braced for the mace but it never came. he half-laughed. “you know, you get raised to believe in God and Country…”
“and look what he’s doing to it?”
“what do you mean?”
…now, i didn’t feature droppin’ the heavy shit on johnny law, but what was i supposed to say? where do i even start? do i tell him about the fear? do i tell him about God? about evil? about war-mongering? hijacking religion? about trust? belief? God-mandates? principles? a soul? how about i come off as arrogant and call them all stupid? huh? that’ll work, right? maybe i’ll just jump right into labels – liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, rich and poor, have and have-nots, young and old, right and wrong…that shit’s the same old song.
“i mean…” i continued, “i don’t even know what i mean anymore. this whole mess just seems unhealthy.”
“when hasn’t it been?”
“but now it seems worse.”
“you walk around these streets lately?”
“that’s part of it. your brother went off to war for people and reasons that have nothing to do with him.”
“but look at the alternative?”
“you might be right…they probably don’t give a shit about where he comes from, or the problems we have right here, on this block, in this city, in this country even.”
“and it might really be all about money…”
“it is…i mean, the president of Afghanistan is a former employee of a Halliburton sub-…”
“whatever…that don’t mean a goddamm thing to me.”
“so what’s your point?”
“my point is…is if this war really is a lie…then my brother has to fight because of that lie all the same. he has to believe in what that man says,” he nodded to the wall, “he has to believe in his country, in what he’s doing.”
“i don’t get it.”
“you don’t have to because you’re not over there. and i hope you and yours don’t ever have to go…”
“yeah, but he didn’t have to go either. he knew what he was getting into when he signed up for the service. what…did he expect a holiday in the sun?”
“he’s just trying to do the right thing.”
“i don’t know, man, everybody should be trying to do the right thing. sometimes, shit just seems so wrong…”
“do you remember what you felt on September 11?”
“i couldn’t wrap my head around it…”
“when the second plane hit the tower…”
“i thought shit was going down that night...like, when the sun went down, evil was coming out of the woodwork.”
“it felt like the beginning of the end…”
“maybe it was. looking back now, we had to be blind not to see all the trouble that was seething just below the surface.”
“who saw all this shit coming anyway? besides, that’s not even what i’m saying…i mean he has to believe, because what’s the alternative? that he could die for an ignoble cause? that he is willing to sacrifice life and limb…for what? he has to believe in the tradition…of the nobility of the cause, of the soldier. because if he doesn’t, and he dies, then he dies without purpose. as fucked up as it is now, he has to believe that it can be right again one day…”
“ignoble? that’s a big word for the police.”
he laughed. “if you got some big fuckin’ secret, why don’t you show me something. what’s your big plan? to write the ‘fuck’ word?”
“it would have been if i didn’t get caught by the cops.”
“come on, man, write something.”
“what? like ‘fuck?’”
“i guess we could turn ‘bush’ into something else.”
“okay, smart guy, write on.”
“yeah, but like what though?” i thought for a moment. “how about ‘ambush?’ as in ‘that cheap motherfucker ambushed a nation.’”
“who says cops are stupid?”
“criminals that get caught.”
“point taken. not ‘ambush’ then. alright…” i thought again and took another beer. it’s always nice drinking outside in the nighttime. “i got it. ‘a bus has potential.’”
“’a bus has potential.’ i’ll write it in all capital block letters, no spaces.”
“what the fuck does that even mean?”
“i don’t know. get on the bus. take the ride. a community endeavor. a little unity. some positive shit, you know…that shit’s got potential.”
“arguably the most important societal advancement of the twentieth century got a shot in the arm from an incident on a bus.”
“you right, you right…plus there was that whole hippie thing with the merry pranksters.”
“a bus has potential. i like that.”
i got the ball rolling around in that paint can again. in block letters…whisper white…ABUSHASPOTENTIAL.
after, i took another beer and we stood in silence, looking at the wall. the cop and i shot the breeze about nothing in particular until an unmuffled exhaust and a dusty horn blared from the street below. i could hear the Doktor yell, “!!!odelay!!! where you at, homes?” if he found me consorting with the enemy…i shudder to think.
“sounds like my ride. this is a cool spot to hangout, though…mind if i come back?”
“sure,” the man said, “make sure you come back when there are a bunch of cops around. we can play Rodney King.”
i shambled down to the blacktop and found the Doktor in the bed of a beat-up pickup truck. the cab was loaded with young women who looked vaguely Mexican or Puerto Rican.
“thought you got arrested,” he said.
“naw…i tied the cop up and shoved him in the back of the cruiser.”
“did you get his radio. i need a fuckin’ police radio, yo.”
“we’ll go back later and get it.”
“how we gonna get there? you ain’t got no car.”
“we’ll take the bus.”
“the bus, baby. it’s got potential.”
Johnny St. Clair's latest showing can be seen underneath the 405 on Ohio Ave starting this Friday and continue until someone brings a sandblaster down to clean it off
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