OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- Recently, while stuck on bed rest, I had the opportunity to get some pleasure reading done. At one point, I unearthed my old high school yearbooks.
Flipping through the vulgar comments and past pictures of people I've long forgotten actually brought back some interesting memories.
I found a photograph stuck between a few pages, a photograph of this frightening brute of a kid. He had a sneer on his face that could kill weaker men, eyes full of all sorts of illicit substances, hair parted straight down the middle, bandages covering gashes over his eye and across his nose.
Man, I'd almost forgotten what a hoodlum I was when I was 17. Scared the shit out of me.
And some people wonder why I consider myself fortunate to have survived high school. But I think I turned out just fine. Wouldn't change a thing.
* * * *The machete was brand new, fresh from the Rose's five-and-dime, plastic shrink wrap dangling from the handle.
I heard one of the school's vice-principals shout into his two-way radio as he chased after “Muhammad,” ordering the school's receptionist tell the sheriff's deputies that the “suspect” was armed and dangerous.
Muhammad was normally a peaceful kid, a Black Muslim whose parents had sent him down to Farmville to live with his grandmother. Muhammad had spent his early childhood being instructed in the ways of the Five Percent Nation.
Though a man of peace, who had many friends of many races, he readily admitted to distrusting white people, to being convinced that the FBI had killed Brother Malcolm and Dr. King, to believing that the federal government was pushing crack in housing projects across America.
Muhammad had been suspended from school for fighting with a white kid earlier that day. The white kid had received a lighter sentence. So Muhammad was sent home, and the white kid was sent to In-School Suspension.
Muhammad had obviously gone shopping for some very mean-looking hardware, purchasing a tool to extract his pound of cracker flesh for what he apparently viewed as a racist conspiracy. As he ran past me, after the white kid who'd passed me only a few seconds earlier, I noticed his eyes were aflame with that lust, that murderous thousand-yard stare of a man consumed by his own hatred.
I learned a long time ago that one does not step in the way of a man wielding a machete, even a normally peaceful man. Machetes do not leave pretty wounds and often sever limbs.
Mr. S., a chisel-faced man in his late fifties, was the senior disciplinary administrator of the school district. He'd survived the 'Nam; he once claimed that maintaining discipline in a rural Virginia high school was nothing compared to dealing with Charlie. But despite his reputation as a harsh man, he was also known to be fair and once, according to legend, had even laughed.
Mr. S. plowed through the throngs of 13-18 year-old kids who clogged the sidewalk as they waited for their afternoon buses. He pushed students to the ground as he ran, hollering ahead for students to get out of his way or risk being run down. Some moved out of the vice-principal's path; most did not.
“Muhammad” apparently did catch up with the white kid, who'd run to the school office for shelter. The principal convinced the Five Percenter, the normally peaceful kid with many friends of many races, to put down his weapon before he ended up doing something he'd later regret.
By the time the county mounties arrived, the incident had been resolved. And "Muhammad" went to jail, never to return as a student.
Later that week, the school yearbooks were distributed to those who'd paid for them. I remember wishing that Muhammad had waited to go crazy, wishing that he'd waited until after the school year ended, so I could've gotten him to sign my freshman yearbook.
After all, he was a peaceful man, most of the time, with many friends of many different races.
* * * *
I don't know what inspired me that night.
Maybe I'd seen too many gang-related films - movies about South Central Los Angeles, Miami drug lords and New York crime kingpins were all the rage in the mid-1990s. Or maybe it was the gangsta rap or the aggressive punk music, the stuff I started to listen to the moment I hit puberty.
For whatever reason, I was inspired, after helping a "Max" jump a guy behind the Food Lion, to piss in a kid's face as he lay on the ground.
We used to call this sort of juvenile code enforcement schoolin' a motherfucker. And, as my friend put it so eloquently that night, if this motherfucker wants to steal shit, he needs to be taken to motherfuckin' school.
Nobody else wanted to help this friend of mine out. None of our mutual friends, who all talked a good game, stepped up to get his back. They were all conveniently busy, had baseball practice or dates. So “Max” and I sat alone in his beat-up yellow tank of a car for two hours, drinking forty after forty of Colt 45 and waiting for this stupid kid to leave a shopping center cineplex.
The poor bastard didn't even see it coming. Walked right out towards his car as if he owned the world.
“Max” did most of the work. It was his stolen property, his lost income. The only thing I did was hit the kid from the back while Max informed him of the charges against him, of why this milder sentence of the Court of Street Justice was better than the alternative.
As the kid lay on the ground, squirming and begging, the 160 ounces of malt liquor filling my bladder suddenly demanded a prompt exit.
It was nothing personal, really. I just had to take a leak.
As Max reminded me afterwards, when I felt guilty about it, that kid probably would've done the same to me if he'd had the chance. And if it'd been other guys jumping him, less civil individuals from Church Hill or Hampton Roads or D.C., then he probably would've endured much, much worse.
An eye for an eye, a piss for a piss.
* * * *
That motherfucker had a .22...
When he first pulled it from the front of his boxers and started waving it around, screaming about how “hard” he was, most people just laughed. And when he fired into the air, bobbing his head up and down, one hand holding up those baggy jeans and the other holding a weapon, people just stood there and stared.
Here is this 16-year-old, skinny-ass white dude, who everybody knew was crazy, save for the court-appointed dumbass who'd let him off probation early. Here's this Crazy-Ass Peckerwood, waving a gun around in a parking lot at two in the morning.
And the only thing anyone could do was laugh, then stare in amazement.
If this kid's parents hadn't been wealthy socialites, I'm fairly certain he wouldn't have been set loose by the correctional system. If he'd been poor, or a minority, or poor and a minority, he would've been rotting in a juvenile prison somewhere.
But because he came from a good family, one where the poor little thing's psychosis was easily blamed on a desire to fit in and his parents' divorce, he was set free to go all apeshit in the middle of the night without so much as an ankle bracelet.
When Mr. Crazy-Ass Peckerwood started beating that tiny handgun upon his tiny chest, screaming about how he was going to bus' a cap on someone if he did'n get respec', people finally began to back away from the scene.
The cops, surely, had been called, and nobody wanted to be around an armed nutcase when the cops showed up. As I ducked down to climb into the driver's seat of the Maroon Doom, my prize Dodge Shadow, the idiot started firing again. But this time, he wasn't firing into the air.
I remember being shoved from behind, with a friendly hand on the back of my neck. My chin caught the shifter and my shin caught the door frame as my body fell into the car. My first reaction was to start laughing. Earlier that night I'd watched a documentary on the Reagan assassination attempt - the idea that my friends would choose to play Secret Service agents to a would-be Hillbilly Hinckley was too absurd not to laugh.
I rolled over and sat up in the driver's seat, still laughing. A hand reached up from the backseat and smacked me upside my skull, with voices screaming for me to drive, motherfucker, drive.
As I started the engine and shifted down into second gear, I looked over at the crazy motherfucker. He was pointing that little pop-gun .22 towards the Maroon Doom, firing away. From the back seat, people were arguing about someone needing to see a doctor, about me needing to drive to the emergency room.
As I drove, the person who'd been grazed climbed into the passenger seat next to me, showed me what looked like a long cigarette burn, and said that, no, he didn't need to go to a doctor – our other friends were just being pussies.
He'd been shot before, so I took his word for it. He smiled and pointed out that getting grazed was a much better alternative than having me get shot in the face.
I laughed at first. And then it hit me like a cinderblock to the chin.
I spent the next few days barely sober and rarely narcotic-free, afraid to face the nature of my own mortality, the fact that, yes, a .22 pistol is a small gun that can still, if someone's shooting at you, end your life if its rounds hit you just right.
... And he just tried to fucking kill me.
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