American Refugee

This is my first book, the entire manuscript in its current edition. It is the prequel to Fire on the Mountain, the story of the birth of the Resistance in Israel (Z.O.B.) and largely based on the real event of life between 1998-2001.

If you’d like to purchase a hardcopy you can get one at ZOB.PRESS@gmail.com

 

 

 

“If you remember nothing of my story throughout the long night with no sleep, remember this Trikhovitch. If there are but two people sitting in a dimly lit room, their minds bent on hatching conspiracy and composing freedom songs, then no one can turn and say humanity is sick, humanity is evil, selfish and cruel. If no one can see it, God can. IT sees everything at once. Look there! Humanity has not made itself a total cowardly, traitorous whore. There are two. And two who love knowledge, love freedom and would offer themselves in sacrifice for a broken junkie, an orphan, the poor and the enslaved. These two can light a fire. These two can organize a million to teach, to heal, to fight. We will make our stand right here in the city of our birth. For those who love freedom, even two can beat their drums and use their words like artillery.”

This is a book about American Dreams & Nightmares; about growing up on the top of the Mountain; about how a former stripper, a black Israelite, a Russian orphan, some ghetto youth and a street painter planned to launch an uprising in the Jewish military colony. This is how the Resistance in Israel was born.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American

Refugee

 

 

 

 

The First Play by

Adler S Walt

 

Manuscript completed on 12 August 2004.

Consolidated 10 December 2014.

Dedicated to Joanna Kocab,

As to relate the events that occurred immediately before we met.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

 

8 November 2001

 

 

 

They are sitting quietly in a Haifa hills café that is small and dimly lit. The last light of day falls softly on the Carmel. A fleeting splendor ripples over the harbor bay.

 

The boy is too thin to look American. His eyes have a lean and hungry look and are bad eyed and deeply sunken. They are filled with hate.  His clothing is worn and torn. He might even be mistaken for a Russian street kid. The dirty gray corduroy cap on his head is encrusted with sand and sweat. It conceals his natty brown hair and gives him the appearance of a child like Che Guevara, perhaps in his own mind alone. The loose, blue pin-stripe suit he wears had been kosher cut in Golder’s Green, but is now a patchwork of torn threads and desert dust. He removes a crumpled green pack of Noblisse cigarettes from the inner pocket, puts one in his mouth and lights it. He takes long drags.

 

Like he’s learned to smoke by imitating some noire movie detective.

 

It looks as though he might cry out at any moment, or lash out across the table throttling the chubby preacher with his bare hands. If he lets down his guard down long enough though, he might have to admit defeat.

 

Occasionally the boy looks up to stare across the table at the man who is so determined to save him.  This true Christian soldier has a cherub-like face even though he is in his forties and sports a brown scraggly beard. The chubby man is a proselytizer disguised as a tour guide.  The man is uncertain whether this meeting will lead to more violent outbursts. His last encounter with this boy in Jerusalem was a debacle. The man says a quick prayer and begins to talk in his soft Midwestern drawl.

 

“I’m sorry,” the preacher says.

 

The boy looks up. His response is steady and calculated despite his condition.

 

“They fucked her within an inch of her life before they killed her. They ripped her to shreds. The body was cut into pieces and they dumped her along the southern highway as if they knew there wasn’t even any use in covering the thing up. Where was the man Jesus then? What do you know of good hard pain?”

 

It is a sharp and biting response. There is a quick pause and the flash of yet another silent prayer as the fat man’s eyes dart up.

 

“I know plenty about plenty. Do you remember what I said that first evening we met Sebastian?”

The boy’s eyes focus intently. He is uncomfortable with anyone using his real name. No one has used his real name for a long time. Suddenly there is some frustration in his voice.

“Why do you insist on calling me that?”

 

“Because it is your name.”

 

“My name is Zachariah Artstien.”

 

The preacher give him a ‘boy don’t talk crazy’ look.

 

“Your name is Sebastian.”

 

“Bu there is no such a person anymore. If you wish to carry on this conversation you will not refer to me by the name of a man who is rotting in the ground,” he responds sharply.

 

“You know I don’t like to humor your devils.”

 

“You know I do not like to humor your just about anything,” the boy retorts. “You cannot save me. I don’t believe in your religion. You are wasting your time on me, yet again.”

 

“Please calm down, Sebastian.”

 

The boy gets up to leave.

 

“Sit down!”

 

There is authority in the man’s voice for the first time.

 

“I told you the first time we met that I saw a well of pain in your eyes that was so deep that you might drown in your own sorrow. The night we met I laid awake praying for hours in the hope that you might find peace.”

 

“Redemption being some man called Jesus of Nazareth, of course. Shut the fuck up.”

 

“Could you please stop?”

 

He looks like the kind of person who says ‘darnit.’

 

“What do you really know about me? About this Sebastian you’re trying so hard to save? I grow very tired of people these days. Especially those with penchants for doing the Lord’s work through lost children.  There is nothing you can say to me to make me forget everything that has happened.”

 

“You can forget the past, Sebastian. Even the immediate past.”

 

“Well thank you, you quintessential, self-helping faith healer!”

 

“I killed two people last night.”

The preacher stares into him and knows that cannot possibly be true.

It’s not in the prophesy.

 

“Not everything you saw actually happened to you. You are not a corpse, but you have allowed hateful demons to possess your body and speak on your behalf. It is time to go home!”

 

“My home is a place near two flaming towers where men of finance sacrificed three thousand of my former country men to their false god and those that rule this country collaborated with them!”

 

His words sear the man’s heart as he continues.

 

“Thank you for telling me what everyone always tells me, just in case I had forgotten the misery and grind of things since yesterday? Perhaps another brilliant cliché is in order like ‘be myself?’  Or forgive my enemies perhaps! I’ve been trying. I swear I have. In all honesty I think your coming here was a waste of both of our time. I have no home at all.”

 

The man’s tone changes.

 

“I figure you tell lots of tales. Throw around theology at people and radical rhetoric. You’d tell your secrets to any stranger who’d care to listen if you thought it would teach them something. But that doesn’t make your secrets true.”

 

“I don’t follow you.”

 

“How many people speak out of your mouth boy? Who’s that imaginary friend whispering in your ear? It’s gotten worse since you arrived here in the land hasn’t it? Can you tell anymore who is talking, you or the devils?”

 

“Don’t worry your neurons. So what’s the moral, Brent Avery? The take away?”

 

“What I want you to do is to tell me how you came to be the way you are without Zachariah doing the story-telling. Why are you so angry at your tribe and country of birth, the world in general and even God himself? ”

 

“You would never understand that story, Brent. It isn’t set in places where the wind blows lightly on the plain.”

 

“Try me then, boy. Believe it or not we’re not so different. God cries for all of us.”

 

“Oh really!?  I don’t believe that for a second. He spits on us with his indifference! I doubt that there are two people who could be more different than you and I. You have your Lord, your God. You serve him blindly like a sheep. My only higher power is the coming revolt. I will get what I contribute.”

“They are one and the same these higher powers you speak of.”

 

“Really, Brent Avery? Do you think I believe that?”

 

“No. I don’t think you don’t know what you believe in anymore. Other than in the hate that never leaves you, other than the demons whispering inside you to pick up arms and kill without compunction for cause.”

 

The thin boy smiles with a shit eating, devilish grin.

 

“At least I can believe in my hate. But if faith is what governs us–you in your God, and me in the coming revolution–what makes you think we should see eye to eye on anything? You play the preacher pray boy and I’ll play the rebel with righteous cause.”

 

“You should confide in me because we all have nightmares about the things we can’t control. Your demons have taken their toll, Sebastian Adon. An ocean, a new name and some ten thousand miles later ain’t improved your sleep, boy. Is that truth?”

 

The coffee shop has all but emptied out, still the boy doesn’t answer. The Arab Christian is keeping it open for the sole prospect of what these Americans might buy. He will stay open all night as long as they keep drinking and eating things. The Carmel is sometimes slow on a Tuesday night. Especially since the uprising began.

 

“You want to hear a yarn?” the boy asks.

 

“I want to hear a true story.”

 

“There’s no such thing as a true, Brent. There’s only the mostly true, the heartfelt and remembered past. It’s a long story. It goes well with vodka and cigarettes.”

 

“We’ve got all night, but you’ll have to settle for coffee. I’m not much of a drinking man. I’ve come a very long way to get you home and I don’t have anywhere else I’d rather be.”

 

“Well, let us all hope this Arab can tolerate the sound of English and take mental notes. It begins with the tale of a rude boy on the last days of summer. It ends with a hooker beaten half to death on a lonely desert high way. A black man hanging from a tree and an early deportation. And we know exactly who brought the towers down, and more importantly why.”

 

Tough talk from a seventeen year old.

 

But the boy is still just a walking corpse with a demon inside him and the if the lord works in mysterious ways maybe Avery can him back to Babylon before someone, something or even himself will cut the story short, or worse change the underlying narrative. Take a boy meets girl, meets some Negro revolutionaries and twist it until you don’t even care who lives and who dies.

 

 

 

 

 

PART ONE:

Concrete Jungle

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

My oh my.

 

Tickle me Tamerlane. I wish I were part of a religion important enough to have my God housed in that thing, thinks the pilgrim as he looks up at the sprawling temple complex on the mount in this little desert town.

 

This is the Pale City in the badlands.

 

The streets are dark. An eerie twilight dances upon the cobblestones and the happy laugh of children is missing. The pilgrim senses that this place is just no good. There is no moon and someone has turned off the stars. He has been here many times before. He has wandered these cobblestone streets lost while searching, drinking deeply from the puddles of his own soul. Time has no meaning here. There are only the ghosts and the growing darkness surrounded by an endless desert of the mind. Each time he returns to bow down and to venture towards the light glimmering in the darkness. He is no longer sure this light even exists. Behind every locked door is some route to the horror freak-show of his subconscious, some lurking subterranean display of rape or torture. The place is good at making a religion out of violence.

 

The pilgrim passes by a towering Ferris wheel at the town wall; a Bregna barrier, an apartheid separation wall made of pyramid bricks and barbwire. The wheel sits in a thorn garden. Its operator is a hideous harlequin whose face is painted white, red, and black and who laughs like a mad man carries himself like a pederast.

 

There is no way out.

Every night the pilgrim returns to this personal hell, this Pale City in the desert, this home of perpetual blackness. His pilgrimage begins anytime he goes to sleep causing him to return to pay homage over and over again, to bear witness to hell as he understands it.

 

Tonight there is a great commotion coupled with alarm. The town’s transient population waits on the central square called umslagplatz. Their faces are twisted in grimaces too close to death to be truly alive.  Everything appears grainy, toned in black, white and gray scale unless it needs to bleed. Then it is the color of bright red arterial blood, like a 1970’s B movie grindhouse.

The temple looks like a cross between the Hagia Sophia and the Luna Park housing projects, or maybe the Alhambra mixed with Astroland in its heyday. Robed clerics on the balconies of the temple drone out prayers from behind their grey hooded robes. One can never see their faces, accuse them of their crimes. The holy men are never from the pilgrim’s tribe.

 

A tall and twisted tree stands in the center of the square, bulus and ghatly.  It looks like the last standing cherry tree in the parking lot at Chernobyl. It has flowers, but not the kind you would give a loved one. The pilgrim knows what is to come for he has read about it in a banned book called the New Testament. You can’t get a good translation of it within ten thousand miles of Brooklyn.

But most versions agree on one detail at least. When the messiah came back, well the forces of evil got him, got him good.

 

An illiterate and rowdy mob has assembled around the main square. A large garrison of foreign troops forms ranks and bars all the entrances and exits. A big black man crowned in barbed wire, already beaten nearly to death, is being dragged through the streets as the people pelt him with rocks and garbage screaming for his blood. The crowd exists as a single entity, a twisted sweating creature of manipulated rage. The black man carries a long wooden board over his muscular African shoulders. Grisly avulsions run down his back. His blood and sweat only lubricates the mob’s resolve to hurt him further. It emboldens them.  Many would have begged for mercy or made an indignant show of fortitude toward their captors but this man simply marches along with a sad look in his grey eyes. His humility makes them hate him even more.

 

The pilgrim is watching the spectacle from his hiding place in a bombed out café at the edge of the square. He is too scared to get much closer. Finally, the man is lifted by the mob onto the tree. The beam is fastened. They begin nailing his hands to the ends of the board. Then they nail his feet with one great big rail spike right into the tree. Two more pitiful figures, some alleged criminal that the pilgrim didn’t know and some revolutionist are fastened next to this dying rebel. Their bodies form a triangle above the base of this crucifixion tree.  The mob is cheering with an orgiastic glee, dancing about the tree. Soon they begin fucking each other right there on the square.

 

The pilgrim shudders. He is only thirteen and can’t speak the language much less really protect himself from that mob. He uses a pair of binoculars to look up from behind the counter of the derelict cafe into the eyes of the man. There is no fear or agony on the man’s face, simply the grim realization that he has failed in his mission. The black rebel spasms and coughs up blood as life drains out of him.

A soldier stabs him with a bayonet to seal the deed.

 

A young girl in a dirty white dress is hiding in the bombed out café also. She is only sixteen or seventeen and pregnant. She could be Arab or Puerto Rican but passes for blan. She has red hair like Jessica Rabbit, bright died red hair. She is sobbing quietly. Her hair is tied in the light grey wrap that pilgrim women wear.

 

She whispers accusingly, “Collaborator.”

 

 

The alarm rings. It’s an air raid siren blaring the pilgrim out of slumber.

 

 

 

 

I wake up quickly in a pool of sweat. I nearly fall out of the bed that is a raised bunk bed with my desk underneath. It has been another in a string of nightmares. They all started sometime in 1997.  I never remember most of the details, only the horror.

 

It is 6:15 am on a Monday morning of a new school year. I live at Waterside Plaza on the island fortress of Manhattan. My school is an hour north by subway in what some call the Boogie down, but what I call the fucking Bronx.

 

It is time to go to school.

 

My name is Sebastian Adon. Believe as much or as little as you hear about me. That goes for the things I tell you about myself as well.

 

The mind works in cycles and patterns, innate behavioral conditioning brought about through external governing factors that mold response and reaction. How strong or beautiful a person appears is genetic, but that the mind is a clean slate, a great evolving tapestry, a mostly unused muscle. With discipline, this muscle can be harnessed to radically affect a person’s surroundings, sense of time and ultimately, the character of an individual’s life. The mind is a beautiful piece of organic clockwork that we are largely unable to understand, regulate or control.

 

I’m sure that I’m not using more than 8% of my brain, but like all things that will change.

 

I get up quickly and shower. I jerk off in the shower thinking about my dick with two chicks–one Black-Irish, one Asian. I towel off. I dress in whatever is lying about. Some days I undress again when the socially conscious part of my brain realizes my threads look ridiculous.  I run back to the bathroom. I throw Queen Helene, that thick mix of hardening green goop, into my hair, slick it back, spike it and sculpt the devil horns that swoop and curl. I use Scope instead of brushing my teeth because it is quicker. If I’m late the teacher will make me sit in the corner.

 

I run down the stairs and drop by the steel shutter coffee stand to wait in line for my morning fix of that nasty, bitter stimulant that will keep me awake long enough to do last night’s homework on the train.

 

It is “essential” that this work be completed, because it is essential that one finishes high school. That’s the place you memorize facts you do not need to know in pursuit of a so-called “body of knowledge” necessary to be considered a civilized member of Western society. This is nation-biased bullshit that paints our consumer-frenzied culture as truth and light to the brown barbarians.  But learn it you shall, for college is only four years away. There you will be further tuned and refined into a cog, screw or girder in mainstream society. Eventually you will choose a career you hate, making enough money to one day join that promised upper middle class bracket of the American socio-economic stratosphere. You will marry, have 2.3 kids and move to the dream home in the suburbs. You will go on vacations to places with beaches or European cities you can’t quite pronounce and hopefully sip fancy drinks. Your children will grow up to be accountants, doctors and lawyers if you’re a Jew or athletes, musicians, or entrepreneurs if you’re black.

But the main goal is to get rich. This is the American Dream.

 

I board the uptown #6 train on 34th Street and transfer at 42nd to the #4 Bronx-bound uptown express. The train is packed like a fetid Polish cattle car, a sea of inter-tangled flesh, crammed into a metal can and shipped to its respective destination.  People push and shove, fighting over every inch of cubic space. The heat is unbearable. The stale air is cross-pollinated with the odors of aftershave, raw armpits and cheap cologne.

 

Right now all I am thinking about is the history homework I didn’t do, the sleep I didn’t get and the utter monotony of the life I am currently leading. The roar of the train car through the underground tunnels is deafening. People peer through the glass divider giving me annoyed looks as I finish off my cigarette. I once read a story about a boy who was thrown to his death from the train while riding between cars as the train made a sharp turn. I am sure these rumors are propagated by the old to make the young less daring. Wouldn’t want to be fucking statistic!

 

I arrive at the Bedford Boulevard station at 8:30 am.  It’s the second to the last northbound stop on the #4 train. I’m fifteen minutes late. It will take another five to ten minutes to cross Bedford Park Boulevard and Harris Field and smoke another stoag.

 

My school is the Bronx High School of Science. I have been going here for two weeks. I spent the nine years of elementary and middle school at the private United Nation’s International School.  But it was pure luck that I tested into this school a month before UNIS suspended, then expelled me.

 

Bronx Science is a magnet school. The school draws its roughly 2,400 students from throughout New York City. Like many other New York City Public magnet schools, the classes are over-packed and the kids are largely middle class. Unlike almost all other New York City public schools, Bronx Science will, in theory, get you into a good college. I took the admissions test back in 8th grade.  I got in by a single point.

 

I am walking through Harris Field, the dilapidated expanse of gnarled-down lawn that is a massive sports field where teenagers smoke pot. This morning students are clustered across the field indulging in the morning reefer madness amid patches of dying grass. There’s no cover, just gonna-see-the-law-coming-from-a mile-away cover. A part of me notices that it isn’t even 9, so what is there to celebrate? Maybe they have first period off because they commute from Staten Island, but they’re probably cutting. Maybe they just like the green.

 

The school is a T-shaped, red brick building that is three stories high. The object is not to learn, but to absorb it sometimes seems.

 

There are exceptions. My first period teacher, the one who is about to put me in the corner, is rather on point. His name is Dr. Maskin. He wears real tight pants and has crazy person eyes. I keep falling asleep in his class, even if it ain’t so boring.

 

I run up the down staircase as I rush toward Dr. Maskin’s first period global history class. I dash past a group of Asian schoolgirls sitting in the corridor talking. They are legion at this school.  My homework is only half-finished. I will most definitely be placed in the corner. My only hope is that he will have checked the work already. There’s a slim chance. I have another worry as well. I push open the door.

 

“Good of you to join us, Mr. Adon,” he says sharply. “Your presence and your homework were greatly missed.”

 

“Sorry, sir.”

 

“Quite alright, Mr. Adon. Your homework please.”

 

Dog ate it, I think to say but mostly give him a stupid look like it was news to me we had any. It was me or the dog.

 

The class is staring at me. I look for the sympathetic eyes of Case Yadger, another sometimes denizen of the corner. I see him smirking in the back of the classroom, his blue baseball cap pulled tightly over his brow. Also smirking is Tamar Dreyfus; the Greek-Jew girlfriend of my latest friend Donny Gold.

 

“Sit in the corner. You’re late and unprepared.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“Stop calling me sir.”

 

“Yes, Dr. Maskin.”

 

The theme of today’s class has something to do with cavemen and fences. My eyes feel heavy. Sleep begins creeping into my mind. The room periodically blinks out of existence. The class drones on. Reality melts away. I slump over at my desk. The room fades to gray. I fight it but just can’t win.

All I see is the great desert expanse and the Pale City, dimly lit in the never-ending twilight of my mind. I’m on the tree. My hands are nailed to the branches. I look to my side at the Black man nailed next to me. He eyes pop open and his head swings in my direction. Although his mouth never opens I can hear his thoughts in my head.

“Collaborator, do you see it?” he questions me in rasps.

 

I awake with a sudden start. I have fallen asleep at the wheel once again,  with too many witnesses.

“Mr. Adon, perhaps you could give us some insight into this subject,” says Dr. Maskin smugly. I have been caught sleeping in class yet again.

 

“I can tell that you are particularly enthralled by the discussion and won’t hesitate to add some of your own vast wisdom to our dialogue.”

 

The class bursts out in faggot chuckles.

 

“Well, I suppose I could repeat the question for you, Mr. Adon. I know a mind like yours requires periods of, thoughtful hibernation.”

 

“Yes sir, it certainly does,” I respond to the amusement of my peers.

 

“We were discussing early human socio-economic development, Mr. Adon. As you know from last night’s reading, which I am sure you read in depth, hunter-gatherer societies evolved into the classic city-states of antiquity. We are now debating how.”

 

“Well, um. I suppose when the rich folks started building fences around their homes and telling all the little brown people what to do, tricking um like to relinquish control over property that nobody really owned.”

 

Dr. Maskin looks vaguely intrigued.
“So, like, society evolved from a concept of ownership and property, a mass theft really. Hunter-gatherers did not understand the concept of property. But it was this concept that created the early foundations of the city-state. The moment the biggest, toughest caveman built a fence and declared that the land inside was his, modern society was born.”

 

“Once again, ladies and gentlemen, the young philosopher king redeems himself. He may pass this class, yet. You may return to half salute slumber, Mr. Adon.

 

I lean back in the chair with a smug grin.

Only seven more periods to go.

I hate school. If there weren’t girls here I wouldn’t probably even show up.

 

 

 

2

 

 

If you’re outside of school and it’s not a free period and you don’t have an ID or a silver tongue, the pigs are going to nab you for truancy and ship you halfway across the Bronx for truancy violation and leave yer ass at Lincoln High School where all the Ghetto trash go. Screw that noise. School gets out at 3:15 pm.  That’s when it’s safe to move about the periphery.

 

It’s 4:30 pm and I’m good and clear of the mostly brown borough. I am sitting in the park on 53rd Street and East End Avenue smoking weed with Donny Gold. The sky is pale and the light is fading. The cars zooming past on the underpass below us race quickly home, carrying the beaten-down dregs back to their telescreens and TV dinners.

 

We have a latest tradition. Every day after school Case, Donny, and I meet up to shoot the shit and harass pedestrians on the Upper East Side. I have known these two for about a week. We met in my homeroom class. Donny and Case used to go to Wagner Junior High School, a public middle school in Manhattan. They are both nice Jewish boys from nice Jewish families, solid upper middle class Americans, like me. Donny loves to smoke pot. I have never met a person who smokes as much pot as Donny Gold. He smokes pot before school. He smokes pot during school, right before math class to be precise. He smokes when he gets home and he smokes before he goes to sleep. Case on the other hand doesn’t smoke at all, doesn’t do anything for him spiritually I guess.

 

Donny and I light our cigarettes from my silver plated Zippo lighter and watch the traffic on the underpass expressway. It was this same Zippo that got me started smoking in the first place. I had seen people with them in the movies and had always thought they were really cool. I used to ask my parents for one all the time, but they always said that it would get me to start smoking. All the girls in junior high smoked. I justified that if I had a Zippo, I could light their cigarettes and be a cool guy. A month later I was smoking stoags. I never liked the way they tasted. I always knew how bad they were. But I wanted to look cool just like everyone else. There was a big uproar about the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel. The media said they were marketing smokes to kids. That shit never got to me. I blame junior high school girls. I man I was just trying to get laid like everybody else.

 

Donny cracks the paper of the blunt as the light dims over the river, empties the guts onto the ground, and hands me the outer paper to steam. Then he produces a dime bag and puts its contents into a hollowed out, cheap cigar.

 

Donny starts smoking the blunt.

 

“You really hassle Maskin man, I sometimes wonder how you ever made it through middle school” says Case.

 

“I didn’t,” I respond, “my ass got kicked out. But dude, what did we ever learn in grade school that was worthwhile anyway besides the moral quandaries of celebrating Thanksgiving?”

 

“I mean, if ya think about it,” I begin again, “We just spent eight years learning things that were pretty simplistic retarded. And now, in high school, we are learning that half of what we learned before was just, well simple lies. Like how Columbus didn’t actually discover America and like how Lincoln didn’t want to free the slaves.”

 

“That stupid ‘ish.”

 

“If you hate learning so much, why even go to school?” asks Case.

 

“I don’t hate learning. I just hate school.”

 

“Same shit. You learn in a school.”

 

“No not really. That school hones us into becoming pliant sheep with credit cards.”

 

“Young people won’t just educate themselves,” says Case, “Just look at Donny, he’d need an electric GPS collar and piss test to make it out of high school kid.”

 

“Fuck you, Case, I’m like the brilliant undercover scientist, the genius’ist person you’ll ‘eva know son” sputters out Donny, coughing on pot smoke.

 

Then the blunt is finished and then there’s nothing left to say.

 

 

3

 

 

Six or seven hours later we are beginning’ to gather on the south side of Union Square around 7:30 eve. Most of my crew went to a public junior high school called Wagner. Donny and Case had introduced me to the bulk of their elementary school friends. Most of them live on the Upper West Side. It is an area of the City I have never been to prior to coming to high school.

 

I walk over to Donny through this mob of kids ready to go drinking. There are about twenty of us Bronx Science kids. They brought friends from other schools like Lab, Beacon and UNIS. Donny and I had gone to the Upper West Side after school to pick up our share of the alcohol. There is a deli on 84th and Amsterdam that has been selling to the Wagner kids for years. They don’t card for shit, which is rare during the Mayor Giuliani years. No immigrant Arab or Korean businessman ever takes the risk unless they know the kids. There are two Red Dog 40s and a Woodchuck 32 in my backpack. I have never drunk a 40 before, Donny put me on. They are huge and dirt-cheap. I love it, early 90’s hip hop bearing influence on the rich white kids firmly and finally.

 

I look at the faces of my two-week-new friends.

 

Daliah is thin, chesty and Dominican, a bit outspoken. Geanie Goto is half-Japanese, half-freckled, maybe Irish. Michelle is half-Japanese, half-Chinese. Her father is a famous theoretical physicist. Cute girls have cute girl friends. And Michelle has dragged out a handful of Lab school cuties. Tamar is Donny’s Greek girlfriend, Brandy is the only black girl in the clique. And there’s Lisa, and Nona and Elle and Dora and a bunch of other shorties.

 

The guys in this crew are some real solid, young motherfuckers. A lot all some type of Jew. I have brought along my little brother Benjamin to teach him the ways of it, even though he is only 12. My guy Donny Gold skates like a madman, smokes three blunts a day and never takes off the blue FR hat, cuts class incessantly. Case Yadger is a smart-ass joker who drinks like a fish, but won’t smoke anything. I like to go over to his massive crib in on 53rd Street and box with his older brother. Donny and Case are both third-generation Russian Jews. Nike Brickman is half-Indian, half-Hebrew but looks a little Latin. His father, a venture capitalist, is arranging to sell the Chinese Government a laser that destroys nuclear weapons. His mother is currently estranged from his father and is seeking a divorce. Nike’s only brother Christopher is a savant pianist who used to bang out Paris Hilton so the rumor goes. There’s Saul Metternich, who looks like a grunge skater with a worn red baseball cap and Isaac Zucker who we all call Crack. Both of them are Yids as well, but don’t look like it. Olu Okonkwo is a quiet and stuttering Nigerian with a White mother. He is the whitest Black man on earth and lives at Waterside. People call him an Oreo Cookie, which is crueler than it sounds. There’s Max Pomegranate who was in this movie ‘Searching for some fucking chess player’, his whole fucking family was once wiped out by the Nat’zis. Rammy Detroit is the one wasp, a diesel motherfucker. Hubert O’Domhnaill  is the only Catholic, and my Catholic I mean red head freckled, brolic rude boy Mic.

 

My best dude Julius Zarr from my UNIS days is half-Lebanese, half-Italian. He lives in Stuy Town. He taught me about Ska music, how to grind, how to pick up girls, where to cop drugs and using lies on the authorities. He taught me how to fight dirty.

 

That then is the composition of said convoy and crew, an irregular underage drinking brigade.

 

I can see my little brother Benjamin in the crowd just ahead of me, young and innocent; sort of. He came with some little up-and-coming thug from his new public school. I heard the kid going on to my brother about the Kings. I am half worried about why he is around such delinquent company, not that I particularly know what a King is. Some spic gang.

 

My mind is drifting little as we wander East to the river and the Murphy Park.

 

Murphy Park is well situated between Stuy Town, the Power Plant and the FDR drive. It is secluded enough for drinking outside, weather permitting. There is one gate in and out of Murphy Park. This presents a bit of a problem should an elderly woman living on the fourth floor of the Peter Cooper housing development decide to call the police because there are drunk and rowdy teenagers partying a little too hard in the adjacent park.

We are sitting on the bleachers overlooking the field smoking a poorly wrapped blunt. Donny passes it my way. The weed comes from a dealer called Culture. We page said dealer and wait for a callback. He tells us to wait about an hour, which really means two or more. He shows up in some piece-of-shit car and one of us goes for a ride. He has twenties and fifties. We know he sells in greater quantity and quality, but this is all he will offer to people of our age and rep. There is another dealer named Cartoon Network that only sells 50s and up for higher prices than most of us can swing. And you need a buyer reference.

I am nursing my second 40. We kids mingle and drink, try and hook up. I leave the ciphe to talk to Michelle Tagomi, the cute ass half Chinese half Japanese girl, with the genius father from Socialist talk radio, from my bio class. Girl is fly.

 

We didn’t hear the sirens until they were two blocks away. People started running from all corners of the park toward the main gate. I am still on the bleachers with Michelle. My brother and Donny run up to ask what the plan is. It’s run like hell. I fuckin’ hate law men.

 

“Split into two groups and meet up near Union Square,” someone yells like we’re in B Double D horror movie.

 

Everyone is clutter-fucked at the gate unsure of where to flee. Forties are hastily emptied onto the ground, lobbed into the bushes. People split into two groups and rush off thinking two parties in an unfamiliar turf is somehow logical.

 

 

My group contains most of the males in the crew. The other group is substantially smaller than ours. As the sirens get louder, we take off in separate directions.

 

Everybody takes off hap hazard in two groups. Were there really even cops coming?

 

After smoking two blunts and polishing off our forties in that second PJ park, we head west on 14th Street. Max P. goes into the Ray’s Pizza on the corner of Avenue A and 14th Street to get a slice. The rest of us are waiting outside, high out of our minds. Except for me. I am just really drunk, puffing slowly on a Philly, feeling pretty slick smoking the world’s cheapest cigar.

 

A kid in a red Jordan jersey wanders up to me and asks me if I want to buy trees. He is showing them to me. It is obvious that all he has done is to pour oregano from the pizza place into a sandwich baggy.

 

“You think I’m fuckin’ stupid punto?” I ask him. He yells back in Spanish.

 

I try to put out my cigar on his face. He jerks away. He starts cursing at me loudly in Spanish.

 

As we’re crossing the street, a 40 bottle shatters next to me. A group of Puerto Rican kids are throwing 40s right at us. Max lobs one back.  I do too.

 

“You cracka-ass motherfuckas!” one yells, “stay the fuck out of our ‘hood!”

 

Another 40 almost lands on me. I see some empty Heineken bottles in an overflowing trash can and throw one across the street. Since I throw like a girl, it smashes against a parked car setting off the car’s alarm.

 

“Like this!” yells Donny as he rips his half empty 40 at them.

 

It crashes on the roof of a cab across the street. I see Rammy fire off one that nearly hits the Puerto Ricans who are flinging at us.

 

We hear the police sirens and take off north into Peter Cooper Village. The park security guards riding around in a green double pig-in-a-box, get out of their car to try to stop us.  Case body checks one as we dart past and get away. Rent-a-cop pigs in green don’t run for shit. Pretty soon we hit the ramp over the highway from 23rd Street to the plaza at Waterside, my home territory.

 

 

4

 

 

 

Benny Adon is not exactly sure where his brother has gone. He isn’t even entirely sure if proper directions was given to his group. Daliah keeps looking for a “small park.” There are a lot of small parks throughout Stuy Town and the LES, but the other group isn’t in any of them. Benjamin’s group is wandering through Peter Cooper in the direction where they believe the park is located in, but not one of them are really from this hood and its all red brick and shit all looks the same.

 

“It would have been smart to have taken someone who knew where we were going with us,” states Geanie Goto.

 

“I know where I’m going,” insists Daliah, obliviously drunk.

 

“Sure ya do,” mocks this kid Jackson.

 

“Wewwwwwewwererrr, so fucking lost,” stutters Olu.

 

“Look, I’ve hung out down here before. Just follow me and I’ll get us there,” she insists.

 

They stop in yet another small park.  Benjamin takes a seat on the bench. It is a cool September night and he pulls the hoodie of his sweatshirt over his dirty blond hair. Daliah goes up to a group of Puerto Rican kids smoking weed on a bench at the edge of the park. Stuy and Peter Cooper are a maze of virtually identical red brick, short-story buildings.

 

“Wuz up, mommy?” one of them asks.

 

One of them gets up and tries to squeeze Daliah’s ass.

 

“Get the fuck away from me!”

 

“Or what? We’ll done fuck your faggot friends up.”

 

Benjamin comes to Daliah’s defense. Juan, his ghetto friend from school, runs over to get his back.

 

“Leave her alone, puta,” yells Juan.

 

“Come on Daliah, let’s get out of here,” says Geanie.

 

Street violence happens fast over nothing important. The sound of a plastic bat hitting someone in the face sounds something a lot like, “FWAC!”  Benjamin hears it as the kid nearest him gives him a crack.  He yelps in surprise, but not really pain. A kid not old enough to shave or hold a hustle, had picked up a wiffel bat and cracked Benjamin across the face. Daliah tried to get out of the way but got whacked, too. Juan quickly jumps into the violence throwing punches and duffs the kid with the bat square in the face. Juan can kind of fight for a 12 year-old. He grabs the bat and starts frantically swinging it at anyone from that crew in reach. He aims the plastic bat like a spear in one kid’s eye.  Benjamin recovers quickly and jumps on the kid who had hit him in the face. Juan gives the kid on the ground another kick. It is a peculiar fight being that all the kids are about eleven or twelve.

 

Stuy Town security rolls up and everybody scatters. The others from their crew flee leaving their friend lightly beaten on the asphalt.

 

A few blocks later Daliah is drunk and crying. Olu comes over and puts his hand on her shoulder.

 

“Are y, y, you al-al all right?” he stutters.

 

“Those motherfuckers hit me,” she cries.

 

“I think we she-should ge-get back te to Waterside,” stuttered Olu.

 

“The others will head over there anyway when they realize we can’t find the park,” says Daliah.

 

“What a fuckin’ rude evening,” mutters Benjamin Adon, still totally unsure of where his brother wandered off to.

 

 

 

The next thing I know I’m making out with Daliah Rodriguez at the bus stop. We all met up at Waterside Plaza and decided it was time to end the evening after the little mishap in Peter Cooper. I can’t remember what I have said to her to get her to kiss me, but here we are. I press her up against the side of a building holding her tight as we kiss. Withdrawn for a second, as if before was forgotten. In a pause:

 

“Ya wanna like, go out sometime?” I ask her.

 

“Go out where?” she giggles.

 

“Like be my, you know, my girl.”

 

“Yeah,” she says, “I’m with that babe.”

 

 

5

 

 

 

The streets are silent. I am being followed. Someone or something is stalking me down the cobblestone boulevard of New Lots Avenue. There is a gentle rain. Odd for this arid climate. The rain is blood. The crimson trickle stains my forehead and white garments as I quicken my pace. The weather here is always peculiar. A gray mist that covers the Pale City greatly limits my visibility.

 

The town is silent except for the clang of the rusty gears of the machinery working deep below the street surface. Whatever is pursuing me is getting closer. I can feel its presence. It hungers for me. It is hunting me, coming in for the kill. I begin to run through the side alley and into the square. I head toward the only place that I know where there are people, the game shop. An old man lives the north edge of the square with his wife and daughter. The shop specializes in restoring old board games.

 

I run quickly now. The thing is right behind me. I tear up the steps to the shop and bang on the large mahogany door, desperately seeking entrance. Any second now, the thing will be upon me. The old man opens the door. I push inside and bolt the lock shut.

 

“You look like you’re in a hurry,” he says.

 

His hands were combing his think gray beard.

 

“Someone was….”

 

I have forgotten why I had come here.

 

“I came for my game,” I say, remembering he was restoring a board game for me.

 

“It is still missing the most important pieces. It will take time to ship them in.”

 

“Ship them in from where, old man?”

 

“From outside the Pale City, little pilgrim. Where trees still grow tall.”

 

I feel the same sickening déjà vu knowing this exchange has happened a thousand times before.

 

“What is beyond the city limits?” I ask.

 

“I have no idea,” he replies.

 

“Make something up,” I ask him.

 

“Life, lights and trees perhaps?”

.

I wake up in a cold sweat. More goddamn night terrorism. Only this time, I remember every detail clearly. I stumble toward the bathroom to get a glass of water. It is 3:03 am. I know that if I don’t write down what I dreamt that by dawn the whole experience will be forgotten.

 

 

 

6

 

“What defines the moral standards of a society?” Dr. Maskin asks in his eighth period Global Studies class.

I’m making up for lateness by doing some overtime in his late session during my Thursday free period.

 

“Are we inexplicably bound by a predestined course or does the societal collective shape its own sense of justice and morality?”

 

He’s pacing back and forth around the room.

 

“You all probably consider yourselves free agents, detached from the social mainstream of modern day America. But let me stress this. There are really only two schools of thought applicable to this debate. Either the individual determines his own fate, or external factors govern the way our lives progress.”

 

“I think society is shaped by the individuals within it and that each person subjectively determines how much or how little they are bound by its standards,” I respond.

 

“Ah, Mr. Adon, ladies and gentlemen, he enjoys my class so much that he comes twice a day.”

 

“I feel as though a person can define his own set of standards the further he can break loose from what most find so-called normal,” I posit.

 

“Everyone conforms, Mr. Adon. That is the very nature of society. You sacrifice a degree of individualism to obtain a greater sense of security.”

 

“Security is over rated, and the world is fucked, excuse my language. Freedom is my ability to flourish without the restraints of these social standards. Prove myself moral without being forced into it” I respond and people giggle.

 

“Your definition is Utopian at best, anarchistic at worst. Such a state cannot exist,” he counters.

 

“I differ to beg. Granted, it is the exception not the norm, that a person becomes truly free without the desire to exploit the weakness of those still oppressed, but you can’t make a blanket statement like ‘Everyone is a conformist.’ It’s not in our nature to just make babies and die, we’re not beasts.”

 

“Mr. Adon, there is nothing that you do that was not in some way influenced by your external environment and your genetics. Everything from your clothing, to the music you listen to, to the girls you go out with, was all based on patterns that society established for you. Those patterns, that set of social standards you adhere to, were formed by our society.”

 

“I don’t buy into all that sir.”

 

“Do you think you’re free, Mr. Adon.”

 

I pause to consider the question.

 

“I’m workin’ on it.”

 

He pauses then says smiling, “Well who are we to tell this rebel otherwise? Good luck with that Sebastian.”

 

“Thank you sir, in the immortal words of Captain Han Solo, We’ll need all the luck we can get.”

 

 

 

7

“Yo, woman, just leave me to my drinkin’.”

 

These words ended my relationship with Daliah. It happened quickly just about two weeks later. Once again I was drunk. It had been meaningless, hasn’t even gotten too far. The breakup was as unofficial and as sudden as the beginning. We were at Murphy Park for the second Friday night in two weeks. I had been right in expecting a greater attendance. Once again the law had routed us and our retreat had scattered us to a broken-down pier ten blocks north of the park. My dismissal of Daliah has sent her storming quickly in anger without saying good-bye. She had been going on about something.

 

Julius Zarr and I are sitting on the old pier overlooking the waters of the East River that are filled with eels and would make you slick with oil for a week if you dared to fall in. You would for sure get poisoned if the rip tides or hypothermia didn’t do the job. The derelict remains of a Volkswagen are protruding out of the icy current. Just the remains of the passenger compartment peering up at us like a fucked up transformer.

 

“No great loss to lose that mouthy spic,” Julius says.

 

“Girls are bitches. It’s fuckin’ true.”

 

“Easy come, easy go.”

 

“I’m retarded drunk my dude.”

 

The world is spinning but I’m standing still, I will ‘tip my bottle still for my homies that killed.’

 

 

 

8

 

 

 

My father had built the dacha in Long Island before he met my mother. After finishing dental school, he enlisted and was sent to Vietnam in 1967. Because he was a dentist they promoted him to Captain and attached him to the 198th Light Infantry Brigade based in Chu-Lai. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his work with the villagers and for designing a preventive dental program for the Army. He doesn’t talk too much about the war. Whenever you ask him about it, he tells a story about how the villagers invited him to spend Tet with them in ’68 and how his commanding officer wouldn’t let him go. It probably saved his life because that was the night the Vietcong launched the massive Tet Offensive.

 

After getting discharged he went traveling in Europe in a Volvo P1800. When he got back he built a dental practice on Staten Island, eventually saving the money to buy land and have a house built in East Hampton. The four-and-a-half acre property was ideal for a well-to-do dentist and his rabble-rousing friends. Before settling into the life of a family man, he played a young, wild bachelor. He never talked about that part of his life because he was afraid it would encourage my brother and me to get into trouble.

 

East Hampton is exactly what you make it to be. The lower brow you are, the more likely you are to have grandiose misconceptions about what it’s like. These hedge fund, dot-com, corporate shit-bags found it in the nineties, but my Dad always says it was different when he bought land in the late 1970’s. It was always an old money retreat by the water near Georgica Beach, but there were great local village communities and tons of artists. It was largely Jewish for a while, because Jews were excluded from American aristocracy beachfronts like Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

 

The Hamptons technically include East, West, and Southampton, Amagansett, Water Mill, Montauk, Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor. There’s a lot of money being flashed around out there in the form of cars, homes and benefit galas.

 

I didn’t grow up with that around me. It was just a weekend in the woods near the beach. It’s was all green fields, forests, sand dunes, crystal clean blue-water beaches and the crash of Atlantic waves. It was campfire picnics on Main Beach and the Art Barge in the dunes and tumbleweeds of Montauk. It was my brother and I swimming, running, biking and going to Pathfinder’s Day camp. It was movies and adopt-a-road trash pick-up on Two Holes of Water Road where my father subsidized a 25-cent a bottle or can pick-up rate for my brother and me to sweep and clear trash off a section of our road.  It was a real nice place to escape the City. If the City is a rat race, they say it’s a lobster race out there.

 

Donny and I ride bikes down back road trails rich with autumn foliage. The leaves have begun to fall and the way the light hits the trees makes it look like they are on fire. We hit a clearing in the woods and pause to rest and smoke cigarettes.

 

Back in New York City, Julius Zarr fumbles with the keys to 20 Waterside Plaza, Apartment 27 A.  He’s accompanied by a dozen or so of Sebastian’s old friends from UNIS, among them Ronny Lestor who looks a bit like Sebastian Adon, but chubbier with a ghetto lisp. He was born in Chile, but looks completely European. A middle class Jewish family had adopted him.  He continues to fumble with the keys. He’d fumbled about like this in front of 27A, the Adon home, three times before over the summer. It was always a bitch to unlock that top lock.

 

They go in their ‘friend’s’ house, do a ton of dope and whip its, steal a bunch of random shit. But Sebastian’s mom isn’t in Long Island, she comes home and finds the door bolted.

 

No way out but over and around. When my Mom unlocked the door, the safety chain was latched. She smelled pot smoke and heard voices and freaked out. Before she could even think of what to do, a dozen kids practically knocked her over dashing out the apartment and into the nearest staircase.

 

The Waterside rent-a-dopes didn’t catch a damn anybody. The elevator cameras are not ever working, but my Mom recognizes Ronny Lestor and Julius Zarr. And she mostly blamed me. One way or another for everything that’s about to happen.

 

 

9

“He robbed the house,” explains my brother.

 

“What the fuck?” I ask. It was more a statement than a question.

 

“Mom came home and they were there stealing shit–CDs, movies, cash. She said there were fifteen or so kids.”

 

“Julius Zarr?” I ask, incredulously.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Is she fucking sure?”

 

“Dad thinks you gave him your keys,” my brother informs me.

 

He was often the bearer of parental insight.

 

“I have my keys on me,” I protest.

 

“Well tell that to Dad. He’s livid.”

 

“They robbed our house?”

 

“Yeah. Mom caught them in the act. They almost knocked her down on their way out.”

 

Maybe Donny can see the look of revulsion on my face. I feel like I am going to be sick.

 

“What’s the next move?” Donny asks.

 

I thought for a moment. My best friend had truly stabbed me in the back. Made himself a robber in my home. A rat yellow bastard. The blow strikes me hard like a fist. The person I trust the most in the world had betrayed me completely and publically. He’s sold me cheaply.  I try to imagine why he did it and who else was involved? I pause before I answer Donny’s question.  I resort to the basest of human emotions.

 

“The only question I have for you, Donny, and for anyone else is:  Are you gonna help me hit this bastard back?”

 

 

 

10

 

 

The hateful little fuck. Roughly $200 bucks in cash, gift certificates, and jewelry had been taken. About twelve CDs were missing. That was the extent of the tangible robbery, but they’d taken far more.

 

My mother had found empty beer bottles and whip it casings scattered around the apartment. The sheets on our beds stank of sex. She was hysterical. She cursed my friends, accusing me of orchestrating the whole thing. It had not been Julius Zarr alone. Ronny Lestor had been there. So had Kimberly Babiano, the girl who had ODed on pills and poison in my home a year before. All the people at UNIS whom I had considered friends had been in my apartment stealing things. We dropped Donny off with his mother out in Greenport on Long Island and returned to the City. My Mother was on the verge of yet another nervous break down. Obviously the whole mess was my fault. It always was according to my Mom.

 

“You little shit,” she yells as I entered the apartment, “Your trash heap friends stole from our house, had sex in our beds, and did drugs all over the place! You gave them those keys, you little asshole.”

 

“Bitch I never gave anyone keys!” I yell back.

 

She gets up in my face and slaps me as hard as she can. The bible says you can stone to death a child for cursing their own parents.

 

“You little fucking bastard! Look at the kind of people you hang out with! They used you. They knew you would let them party here! I feel like I’ve been raped!”

 

When my mother gets angry, she gets really angry. She is sobbing, pausing only to heap abuses upon my father and me.

 

“And you!” she points to my Dad. “You let him get away with this bullshit. Tell the little shit  he’s grounded!”

 

My brother retreats to his room. As usual, I would fuck up and he would later comfort my mother back to a reasonable degree of sanity.

 

“Sebastian,” says my father, “until we know what happened consider yourself under house arrest.”

 

“I didn’t fucking do anything!”

 

“Shut up, you little shit,” she shrieks.

 

“Tell this bitch I didn’t do anything!”

 

“Don’t talk to your mother like that,” my father implores, knowing it is already out of control between my Mom and me.

 

“I’m calling the cops!”

 

“Don’t bother,” my Dad replies.

 

“Why the hell not, Dad? We know who did it!”

 

“I talked to Gary Zarr earlier today. Julius Zarr is grounded and Gary has agreed to give us $500 to replace anything that was taken,” my Dad announces.

“That isn’t fair! He needs to pay for what he did. I’m gonna fuck that kid up!”

 

“You won’t do anything. It has been settled. They only thing you should be doing is thinking long and hard about who your friends are,” my Dad adds with exasperation and sadness.

 

My father always attempted to turn a negative situation into a paternal moral lesson.

 

“This is bullshit. I’m gonna settle this in his bloody face.” I add clearly missing my Dad’s “lesson.”

 

“Look at you with your ghetto street trash mentality,” screams my mother. “Real life isn’t a movie. You don’t settle things like a nigger!”

 

“GO FUCK. I’m gonna handle this right.”

 

“No. You’re grounded.”

 

“Fuck you! I’m out of here.”

 

I storm out of the apartment slamming the door behind me.

 

 

 

 

12

 

 

Julius Zarr had given me no justification for his actions. I walked out of my apartment resolved to retaliate. Beginning another new tradition I moved onto Donny Gold’s couch for a few days to escape heat at home. My hate consumes me. I cannot live down such a grievous insult, even if I still love him like a brother.

 

My crew shares this conclusion. Donny is down for a fight. So is Case Yadger, and so is everybody else because they all knew they’d request the same aid if they had suffered this kind of injury. By the end of the week my crew, the Bacardi Mafia, is lined up to help me get retribution on Julius Zarr and the others involved.

 

Despite all the external distractions, I could think of only one thing, the crunching sound a bat makes when it is brought down on someone’s head. The color the pavement turns when it is wet with blood. The anguished cry that comes when a person is beaten half to death.

 

“He’ll be down in five minutes,” announces Toby, another old UNIS friend whose lured Julius out of his house on some pretext.

 

“Just get him out of the building and we’ll take care of the rest,” I declare.

 

We are waiting off to the side of the entrance to 3 Stuyvesant Oval. I watch the falling leaves tumble from the trees and the children playing in the adjacent playground. An elderly couple walks by giving us a suspicious look as if we are about to commit a crime. Fitting, I think.

 

I clench the bat tight in my hand and take a practice swing. Donny gives me a nod as if he knows what I am thinking. To the others, this is just a part of being a city teenager. Standing up for your friends. To me, more. It goes beyond rep at this point. It is a matter of betrayal and someone has to pay. Case points toward the entrance. Julius Zarr emerges and heads toward Toby.

 

“Now or never, Sebastian,” says Donny.

 

He is less than twenty feet away from me. I signal with my hand for the crew to move in. Before Julius Zarr knows what is happening, he is surrounded. I know everyone is waiting for me to take the first blow.

 

“Just do it,” he says, wincing.

 

And then I freeze. I can’t bring myself to hit him. Everyone just looks at me waiting.

 

“Just fucking get it over with,” he says

 

“I’ll ask you one more time,” I half bitch mutter, “Why?”

 

He looks at me with sunken eyes. I am holding the bat ready to swing it into his face. People stop to watch what is going on. It is now or never.

 

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly. “I never meant for it to go down like that.”

 

I pause, muscles tense, ready to swing. It is now or never.

 

Donny looks at Case. Rammy takes a step forward. Max blocks the entrance to the building. Nike Briickman looks at Toby. Olu the Nigerian speaks.

 

“Ya-ya d-don’t ha-have to d-do it.”

 

“Fuckin’ smash him!” says Donny Gold.

 

But there with my guns drawn, my crew’s fists good to fly, I tell everyone to back away, to back down. In the end I don’t do anything. I do nothing to my old best friend, wgo I’d half grown up trying to emulate. He is now transformed into an enemy and a stranger.

 

He looks really sad and broken; he already has two black eyes. I bet his Dad hits harder than I do. Everyone here is from a nice middle and upper middle class family, playing hard for very little. Fronting all over the goddamn place, like would Holden Caulfield blush.

 

Nothing worse than betrayal. Well maybe self-aware hooligans.

 

 

13

 

 

My suit doesn’t fit. It’s about two sizes too small. My arms run longer than the sleeves by about four inches and the jacket restricts my movement. Guess I haven’t had to attend anything classy in awhile.

 

The music is horrible. I’m not entirely sure how I was tricked into this. I think while trying to have sex with a half Japanese girl. Geanie is sitting next to me pale with freckles. She looks amazing and amazed, like she really likes this opera stuff. She’s wearing a slinky black dress that she changed into when I picked her up from Gotham, her fencing studio.

I’ve wanted to fuck her for awhile.

My brother had outright refused to come. After a lengthy fight with my parents, it was agreed that I should bring a friend in his place. This was my second opera. I had seen La Boheme in the sixth grade. It needed subtitles and a rock set.

 

For the life of me I could not remember the name of the performance or make out a single word, maybe this opera is La Boheme. It is in Italian.  It might as well be in gibberish. I don’t believe anyone really enjoys opera.  They must go purely to appear sophisticated. My parents are always going on about how kids don’t take enough advantage of the wealth of New York City culture. For as long as I can remember, they have always brought my brother and me to Broadway shows.

 

During the intermission I manage to convince a middle-aged hipster to buy me a Jack and Coke. It’s pretty watered down and I wonder what kind of guy buys younger kids booze.

 

I close my eyes taking in the music, tuning reality out. I’m getting real good at doing this. I concentrate on an idea, and fade out.

 

The theatre is empty. The walls are gray. The seats are red. Not some subtle off red, but bright as fuckin’ scarlet. I’m wearing a white suit. Arabic music is playing loudly in the background intermixing with techno.

 

The walls of the theater begin crumbling upwards into the heavens, ceiling first. The theatre is metamorphosing around me. I see Geanie dancing on the stage spinning and thrusting with her sword, enacting some arcane, ritualistic death mantra, fighting imaginary demons of the night. The metamorphosis continues.

 

Now I can see the sky. I hold a glass of red wine in my left hand, a pocket watch dangling from my right. The steel and concrete are replaced with marble. The modern opera hall now has the look of a Roman amphitheater. The music is getting louder. Geanie dances faster and faster. The amphitheater gets bigger and bigger. I can see the endless desert behind the stage. I sip the wine.

 

Geanie looks beautiful, her movements quick and fluid. I notice that there are no stars. A million candles ignite one by one illuminating the stage. Faceless soldiers in black uniforms march in formation toward where Geanie stands. She has stopped dancing. There is a look of terror in her eyes. I try to stand up, to call out to her to warn her they are coming. I cannot move from my seat. I take another sip of wine. It is thick and bitter, almost metallic. The wine is blood. The soldiers surround Geanie. One of them knocks her to the ground. They all begin kicking her. I shout out, but no sound escapes my lips. Finally after what feels like hours they drag what’s left of her beaten body off the stage. I get a glimpse at what is left. Her black dress is in tatters. She has been beaten beyond recognition as if to say back into a clot.

 

The theatre begins to fade. All I hear is the sound of applause.

 

I come to with a start. Instinctually I look over toward Geanie. I am relieved to see she is still all right. Everyone in the theatre is clapping. The audience is giving the performers a standing ovation. Geanie looks beautiful and smiles at me.

 

“Wake up sleepy. You’ve gone and missed the whole the thing,” She says sweetly.

 

My parents drop Geanie at her home on 125th Street. She lives near the river where the neighborhood is still upper middle class. She and my father chatted the whole time in the car. I can tell he likes her.

 

The nightmares have begun creeping into my waking life. I must feign control. I can only describe the sensation I am having as remembering. Remembering something absolutely horrible.

 

 

 

14

Now it’s October 1998.

 

Nicholas Trikhovitch, this new drinking buddy of mine has been getting with this girl Lauren Zivia, for about two weeks. They aren’t exactly going out, but it isn’t as if they are getting’ with other people. Lauren has long black hair and elf ears. She is cute in girl-next-door-might-be-a-whore sort of way. They had met at his friend Dorothy’s birthday party at the church on 79th and West End. It was a drunken hook-up that had worked its way toward fuck-friend status. Lauren is a Dutch Jew who goes to Bronx Science. The Murphy Park parties die, with my short rep, now it’s all about Rock Parties Upper West and I’m the one whose gotta make that trek.

 

Nicholas and a kid named Izzy found a big secluded Rock in Riverside Park off 83rd street and figured while warm it was suitable place to get hammered.

 

There will be another Rock Party in three days. Nick Trikhovitch had heard that the Murphy Park parties weren’t going to happen anymore since each one ends with someone getting hit in the face or robbed. This would make each successive Rock Party a little bit bigger. Nick was ultimately aiming toward a Bacchanalia.

 

I walk down 95th until I reach the building where Nick lives, he’s invited by me to chat about dreams and smoke dope. His family’s home on the 15th floor is a rent-stabilized penthouse. His parents remember way back in the 80’s when the neighborhood was still sort of bad. Giuliani has rolled back the dregs of Harlem twenty blocks at least.

 

Nick’s father is a neurologist, which is fitting, considering his mother is pleasantly insane. Catherine Trikhovitch is in treatment for bi-polar disorder. A loving mother and upbeat person for someone her age, Catherine’s medication isn’t quite keeping the disease in check.

 

Nick has twin little brothers named Raffy and Rolan. They are nearly identical in appearance although Rolan is far more sly like his older brother. The Trikhovitch residence is a crazy place to be. The five-person, slightly dysfunctional Trikhovitch clan are not the only creatures to reside in the penthouse. Fond of animals, the Trikhovitch’s own two tanks of fish, three turtles, a cat, a snake, a lizard and two French Angora mountain rabbits that resemble something of a cross between a cat and a hamster.

 

Nick’s room resembles the captain’s quarters of a submarine on LSD. The walls are painted arterial red. He sleeps in an elevated bed with leopard print sheets. A desk and computer are under the bed. Nick is fascinated with technology and considers himself something of hacker. This self-perception had been validated by the movie Hackers. A set of katana blades hangs from the wall along with a set of black and white photos depicting scenes from Vietnam and World War Two. There is a highway stop sign on the wall that he had found just outside of Rosendale where his parents have a country house. Next to it is a bookshelf with a cow skull on top of it. The bookshelf contains volume upon volume of Chose Your Own Adventure books. Nick always gets himself killed while reading them. A battered parking meter leans against the wall near a box of tools that Nick has employed in an attempt to open it. The glass face has been shattered open. Nick has begun looking for a jackhammer. He is certain that he will get the thing open. The last resort scenario is just to lob it off the side of a building. But that is the surest way to loose all the coins.

 

Nick pushes Lauren Zivia giggling off the bed, as I peak into the room.

 

“Welcome to back to Babylon brother,” he says passing me a spliff.

 

Lauren Zivia waves to me, wrapping herself in a bed sheet, scampering off to the bathroom to spit out cum. However, hip-hop tells us that bad bitches swallow.

 

 

 

 

15

 

 

We met on the green benches on the traffic island of 86th and Broadway. Nicholas Trikhovitch gives orders. He is directing people to the non-carding deli on 84th and Amsterdam and telling people to make more calls of invitation while greeting old friends and new acquaintances.

 

Some people say they don’t like the taste of beer. I don’t mind it at all. We drink purely to get drunk, but there are some subtle differences between a Red Dog and Woodchuck or a Heineken versus a Colt 45, or an Olde English 800, a Ballantine and a Miller Light. A 40 tastes like shit if you’ve ever had a European half-liter on tap. Since most of this crew hasn’t, they have no basis for comparison. For roughly two bucks you can help yourself to an array of choices. They taste about the same served in 22, 32, or 40 oz glass bottles that we wrap in brown bags, as if that fools a cop or makes us any less underage. It’s all malt piss water. The only real variation is a Woodchuck, which tastes something like apple cider and costs a bit more at $3.50. Our crew mostly goes with either Red Dog or Woodchuck. Olde English and Colt 45 are more watered down and maybe only a quarter cheaper. The more hip-hop influenced kids jump on these. The girls mostly buy wine coolers or Coronas. You’ll never see a guy with a wine cooler. Not unless he’s faggot. We all look like we’re 12 years old. Bars and liquor stores are out of the question. In a year or two we’ll start mass-producing fake IDs on Photoshop and some of us, especially the ones of us that can grow facial hair, will be able to get into some East Village or Williamsburg dive bars where the levels of police scrutiny are lower. For now we’re strictly seedy parks, 40s and house parties.

 

I watch the crowd grow on the Broadway traffic island at 86th. Nick is still giving orders like a teenage general with a deep-seated need to promote underage drinking. Nike Brickman has started a hack circle. I’m too uncoordinated to participate. I always just fuck up the hack.

 

“What’s good?” asks my man Donny Gold.

 

“That dumb cunt Daliah wrote my home phone number all over the walls of the 161st subway station along with ‘call for gay sex’.”

 

“How’s the home front?”

 

“It’s still fucked up at home after the robbery. My mother has never gotten over it. Its fights and bullshit whenever I walk in the door. ”

 

We head for Riverside Park around 8 pm. The Bacardi Mob is well represented, but I’m not the main guy if I ever was. It’s Nick’s crew now.

 

There are drunken teenagers all over The Rock. Empty 40 bottles are strewn around the base. Someone has used a thick black Pilot pen to draw an Afro on the placard of some old, rich, dead man whose face is affixed to the rock in copper plating. Case assumes Donny Gold did it.

 

There are couples making out on the ground around The Rock. Young kids think they are much older than they really are when they are getting down in drunken, sloppy hook ups in the middle of a park. They kiss people they might not, if they weren’t piss drunk. This drunken kissing hardly ever leads to anything else thinks Nick R. Lauren Zivia is smooching Sebastian on the grass in front of everyone. Spread the damn love, thinks Nick R. But he was pretty upset on the inside.

 

Case Yadger climbs up The Rock toward Hugh and Toby. He is watching some hook-up on the grass in front of the rock amid a veritable sea of empty 40 bottles. This isn’t the most discrete location to be getting down.

 

“GIVE ME AN H!” shouts Micky.

 

“You’re an H,” says Case.

 

“GIVE ME AN O!” he shouts again.

 

“What is he shouting?” asks Case to Toby.

 

“Look at Lauren,” said Toby, “she’s getting fingered in front of like thirty people. Stupid slut.”

 

“GIVE ME AN R!”

 

“Sebastian Adon, winning classy gentleman points as usual!” yells Micky.

 

“30 MORE POINTS!” yells Toby.

 

“Does he know Lauren is sort of Nick R.’s girl?” asks Case.

 

“I don’t think that would stop him if he did,” says Toby.

 

“GIVE ME AN E!” shouted Micky.

 

“Wow. Literally everyone here is getting a free show,” says Case Yadger.

 

“WHAT’S THAT SPELL?!” yells Hugh on the top of his lungs.

 

“You forgot the ‘W,’ stupid,” shouted a crowd of girls near the base of The Rock.

 

I wonder where her damn vagina is? My hand has been in her pants for just over a minute and I haven’t had hit the right spot. Lauren is moaning and completely drunk. Is her name Lauren or is it Katie? Or is it Julia? I couldn’t even remember how we had hooked up. We were talking and then it just happened. What the fuck is this girl’s name and where is her vagina?

 

Her kissing is sloppy and mildly disgusting or maybe it’s mine. The grass is moving, the world quickly rotating beneath me. I have drunk roughly 120 ounces of malt liquor and feel too wobbly to stand. Doubt I can stand. I stop hooking up with this girl for a second to check my watch. It is 10:05 pm. My curfew is 10:30. By cab it would take about fifteen minutes. Easily forty-five by subway. Some drunken fool is shouting something from the top of The Rock. The girl heard it. I was too far gone.

 

“Fuck you!” the girl yells up at them.

 

“What did he say?” I ask her.

 

“He called me a fucking whore!” whatever–her-name-is cries drunkenly.

 

Who the hell is this prick calling this girl a whore? She is really upset now, cursing up towards the top of The Rock where the catcalls are coming from. Filled with drunken anger I get up to throttle whoever is being a cock-blocking, jackass hater. Up the side of The Rock ready to punch whomever was yelling. Fuckin’ haters. I swing aimlessly at the first person I see.

 

“Get off me dude!” yells Toby, as I yank him by his shirt.

 

“WHY THE HELL WERE YOU CALLING HER A WHORE!”

 

“Chill the fuck out, big man,” smirks the instigator Hubert O’Domhnaill, an Irish man with which few can be angry.

 

I shove Toby. Rammy and Case run over to see what all the yelling is about. Rammy is ripped like a tin tank and Case is just as strong.

 

“Yo, Sebastian, be cool!” yells Case.

 

“We’re all friends here,” says Toby, “You’re just being a real drunk ass.”

 

“You were calling that girl,” I pointed out the female figure slumped over, puking on the grass, “a whore.”

 

“No beef, Sebastian, no beef” says Toby as I let him go. “We were just fooling around.”

 

“I think someone needs to put Sebastian in a cab,” says Rammy Detroit.

 

“I’m beyond fine,” I mumble. And then I fall over drunk.

 

 

 

 

16

 

 

Dr. Maskin asked me to meet with him after school in his classroom. The desk is cluttered with opened books with highlighted segments streaked throughout the text. He has a big mug filled with cold black coffee. I can see the students outside the barred windows streaming out of school towards the buses and trains.

 

“You need to stop showing up late to my class. I have a girl who comes from Staten Island with a better record than you.”

 

“Sorry. I’ve just been having trouble going to sleep at night.”

 

“You sleep well enough in my class. You’re a good student, but I’m going to have to mark you down because of the lateness.”

 

“Is there any way I can pick up my grade?”

 

“Yeah…show up on time. I talked to your other teachers. You show up late to all their classes, too, and you never do your homework. What is it that you do with all your time?”

 

“I hang out.”

 

“Hanging out is a problem.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because kids that hang out get into trouble.”

 

“Everyone hangs out. What’s this really about?”

 

“I’ve worked at Bronx Science for nearly fifteen years. I’ve seen students come and go and I see a lot of kids screw up their lives hanging out and getting into drugs and alcohol. I see you out across the street smoking cigarettes with your friends. This is a tough school and you’re not living up to what you could be doing with yourself.”

 

“Everyone always says that.”

 

“There’s a reason everyone always says that.”

 

“I just feel like this is all a bunch of bullshit.”

 

“You think learning is bullshit?”

 

“Not learning. School.”

 

“So drop out then. You’d have more time to hang out.”

 

“My parents wouldn’t go for it.”

 

“But you would?”

 

“Look, I like your class a lot, but I don’t really care about all the other shit. All those stupid books we read in English class. All those stupid formulas in math. Biology crap twice a day. I don’t see how any of this stuff applies to what I want to do with my life.”

 

“What do you want to do with your life?”

 

I stare at him in silence. I try real hard to come up with something smart to say, but I can’t. I draw a complete blank.

 

“You don’t have a clue do you?” he says with sadness in his voice.

 

“I want to…” I stop.

 

“Do you know why I teach history?” he asks.

 

“Why?”

 

“Because when you understand what has happened before, you know what’s going happen tomorrow. People are just like the civilizations we study in class. They rise, they fall, and they are left behind. You, my friend, are on a path to self-destruction and you are too young to leave behind anything that you will be remembered for.”

 

 

 

 

 

17

 

 

 

“Boy Pilgrim. Open your eyes.”

 

And suddenly here I am in the desert on a bluff overlooking the Pale City, infinite sand in every direction. I can see the dunes miles away shifting in the wind. The sky is black and there are no stars in the sky. The moon is black and bright. The city looks larger than I remember. I’m not seeing out of my own eyes just yet. I’m rotating above my body. I am translucent. And then I see clearly.

 

“What is it that I’m looking at?” I utter.

 

The girl is tiny. Her white dress is dirty and her feet are bare.

 

You are looking at the occupied desert.”

 

“But what does it mean?”

 

“You’re not ready to understand.”

 

“Why did we come here?”

 

We are legion, nothing is barred from us. Look ahead, boy pilgrim.”

 

She points across the desert to a dune of slope maybe a hundred miles away. A convoy is moving away from the Pale City. She hands me a sea man’s opticon.

 

We begin to levitate. In seconds we are flying quickly over the desert until we are directly above the convoy looking down. There are hundreds if not thousands of figures below me. They are chained together and torture-porn hooded being led by huge metallic creatures with black cloaks. Gears turn as spindle-like metallic limbs grind together towering over the enslaved. Their faces glow like TV screens with a woeful countenance. The evening news from Yemen is displayed on their brow. They move on two legs and then on all fours, more like beasts than men. Each prisoner is entangled with barbed wire. Tentacle like appendices slither out their backs with video cameras recording everything for posterity. I hear organ music playing as they grind their way to sandy oblivion.

 

“Where are they going?”

 

“In this place, no one goes anywhere.”

 

“What are they?”

 

“The control systems.”

 

“They’re out of control. I’m out of control too,” I tell her.

 

“There are numerous ways to control a human monkey. But generally one can split them all into two classifications, force or conditioning. Like monkey into man Maskin taught you.”

 

“These people are being led to die.” I observe.

 

“An extreme example. Their eyes have been removed and the sockets have been sewn shut. Molten lead has been poured into their ears. Their mouths have been stapled. They are in chains. The collars around their necks detect deviant thought and admit a piercing shriek directly to the brain if they continue thinking.”

 

“Who are they?” I ask.

 

“People who needed to be controlled and removed from the population, thought criminals all claiming to possess the new social gospel, criminals of low morals; they may threaten stability here at the temple.”

 

“If we’re so dangerous, why not just kill us?” I suggest

 

“Us?” she laughs, “Killing a rebel creates a martyr and every martyr will generate a thousand new rebels. We are reducing the cancer of resistance.”

 

“Resistance to what?”

 

“One must bear in mind that to the governing bodies your shortcomings towards utopia as a species are quite secondary to our maintenance of power. You are violent little monkey’s who seek to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, that is all.”

 

“What does the second type of control entail?”

 

“You should know quite well.” She responds.

 

“Why is that?” I ask.

 

“It’s working its way over you as you slumber.”

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,’ I say.

 

“It’s just neuroscience. The people that control the world are about two hundred years more advanced technologically. You just don’t see it benefiting you,” she says, “do the rich even die anymore?”

 

 

18

 

 

Its five days until Halloween, I’m depressed as fuck. Always a little high or drunk, cutting class trying to sleep more, end up dreaming more, can’t ever sleep for long.

 

Everyone in the city is looking for a costume. Ricky’s is always a safe bet. Halloween Adventure works, too, if you’re willing to spend a little money, which I never am. The original plan had been for everyone to dress up like the X-Men. Unfortunately, no one got their shit together and the plan fell apart. We are at an odd age to participate actively in Halloween. We are too old to trick or treat, too young to go bar hopping and not suburban enough to egg people and toilet paper homes.

 

You can make a real haul as far as candy goes in the right areas of the City. Even if you hit two of the four Waterside Plaza buildings alone, you can nearly fill your bag. Fat kids always have huge bags. UNIS always gave us Orange UNICEF boxes. I have no idea what that stands for or what Halloween and raising money for third world relief efforts have in common, but for the past seven or eight years, I’d been asking people for pennies to fill my box. There is a table stating where the money you raise goes on the back of the collection box. Probably to giving fishing pools to every single child in whatever African country has no fucking rivers.

 

I wonder if the UNICEF aid workers tell the people they help where the money comes from. Do they just say it comes from the UN or do they say it comes from the US? Does it go directly to feeding people or do they use it to subcontract building companies for schools and hospitals? Imagine if they told these kids where the money really comes from. I can imagine a conversation between a refugee child and an extremely blunt UNICEF worker.

 

“In America they have a holiday where children dress up like monsters and fill large bags with a sweet food called candy.”

 

“What’s candy,” a tiny malnourished Ethiopian refugee asks.

 

“It’s nutritionally useless and fun to eat.”

 

“They collect this candy for us?”

 

“No. They collect pennies for you.”

 

“What’s a penny?”

 

“It’s the currency of such limited value that most Americans leave them lying on the street.”

 

The little dark child starts crying, but only in a UNICEF commercial.

 

Every Halloween I try to come up with a good costume. In the end I settle for what I know. I’ve been Batman at least six times and Luke Skywalker at least thrice. I’ve always dress up as my favorite fictional hero of the moment. One year I was Optimus Prime.  My mother dressed me up as an eggplant for my first Halloween. I’m told it was precious.

 

I heard on the wire that Rory is having a Halloween Party. I’ve been over to his house a few times before when there was nothing to do.

 

Rory broke his leg a few weeks ago playing football. Or he slipped in the shower masturbating when his kid sister walked in depending on whose story you believed.  I heard he’s on crutches and he’s having the party so he doesn’t have to go out. I think Rory is one of the least interesting people I know, but that might be because I don’t know him very well. Everyone has a lot of respect for him so I leave it alone. I’d prefer drinking in a park to “sober fun” at his parent’s house any day. Sober fun generally means me drinking a 40 locked inside his bathroom.

 

Rory lives in a three-bedroom apartment on 81st and Riverside, around the corner from our infamous Rock. It has a relatively fancy lobby and a doorman in a uniform. People go to Rory’s house when there is nothing to do and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Rory doesn’t go out too often and he never drinks. He has parties fairly regularly if you can call not being allowed to drink or smoke while his parents are in the house a house party.

 

Rory is very soft spoken wasp that acts and looks like a vaguely nebbish upper west side heeb. He’s one of the only people I know that gives you his undivided attention when you speak to him. It’s a good quality that I don’t claim to have. As far as I’m concerned, you go to Rory’s if there’s nothing else to do. Otherwise you’d be drinking in a park or a house, or out at the movies which are always bullshit and you never score.

 

Odds are I’ll end up at his house on Halloween. I follow where the girls will be at you know what I’m saying.

 

 

19

 

 

I snuck out under the Pale Cities sewage system and walked for what seemed days of night following the tracks of monstrosities called ‘systems of control’.

 

I’m now standing parched on a hill overlooking what appears to be a mass grave in a dirt quarry surrounded by dunes. There are bodies with black bags over their heads being pushed into this enormous hole by large machines that look like a cross between insects and bulldozers. Their metallic limbs scoop and drop the bodies into the gaping pit. An enormous stone monolith is stuck in the ground next to me. It towers into the black sky so far that I can’t even see the top. The Old Man is seated on the ground next to me. He looks sad and befuddled, a bit jaundiced too.

 

“I thought you never leave the store.” I say.

 

“Normally I don’t,” he responds.

 

“What’s the occasion?”

 

“They wanted me to write something meaningful.”

 

“For what?”

 

“For the tombstone of a generation.”

 

White lye is sprayed out like a snow storm from extendable gaskets harnessed to these foul metal, killing beasts.

 

“Got any good ideas?”

 

“Drawing blank,” he mutters and coughs.

 

“That’s a lot of death in that gully. I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

 

“That is nothing. Eulogize the faceless masses, harder than to kill them.”

 

“Who are they?”

 

“They don’t exist anymore.”

 

“That’s a lot of nobodies.”

 

“Millions more every year.”

 

“Well doesn’t somebody miss them?”

 

“Who knows? No one keeps track anymore. Not unless you’re in the priestly class or getting filthy rich of this.  Or even higher, but those don’t die the same way. These are just disposable dregs. They got sold out in the spiritual war and we caught them in foreclosure.”

 

It was a veritable sea of corpses. They were piled up high as far as the eye could see.

 

“Aren’t you gonna tell him where we are?” says a voice behind me. I turn to see where it came from. Standing next to a dried out trunk of a tree stands a man in blue pin stripe suit and a beige trench coat with a grey furry collar smoking a filter less cigarette. I can’t see his face because of the dust and gloom.

 

Emblazoned upon the right arm of the trench coat are the letters ZOB on a red and grey armband.

 

“Don’t tell him yet,” says the Old Man, “He needs to figure it out himself.”

 

“Who the fuck are you?” I ask.

 

“That’s not very relevant at this juncture,” says the man in the coat.

 

“All right. I love how helpful everyone is. Not only do I have night terrors, I have obscure hard-to understand night life.”

 

“This isn’t night life,” mutters the Old Man.

 

“He’s right,” says the man in the coat, “you need to pay more attention.”

 

“Pay attention to what?” I ask both of them.

 

“We’re trying to teach you something. When you finally get it,” the trench man pauses, his hands extend out simulating a silent explosion. Then he nods as if I’ve understood him.

 

“You’re doing a hell of a good job!” It echoes through the valley.

 

“You’re doing a hell of a good job. You’re doing a hell of a good job.”

 

At least I thought it was echo.

 

“They’re complimenting you,” says the man in the coat.

 

“Who?”

 

“The sea of them.”

 

“You’re doing a hell of a good job. You’re doing a hell of a good job.”

 

It isn’t an echo. The sea of bodies is mumbling in dead unison. There is no life in their million sunken corpses, and yet something is moving in each of them as they mouth words in unison beneath the black bags tried over their heads.

 

“Eureka,” shouts the Old Man

 

He begins chiseling something at the food of the monument at an incredible speed.

 

“We’re gonna get you through this,” says the man in the coat, “You may be kicking and screaming, but we will get you ready to become aware.”

 

“You’re doing a hell of a good job. You’re doing a hell of a good job,” says the sea of corpses.

 

“Aware of what?” I ask, more confused than ever.

 

The old man is done chiseling. He puts his tools back into his belt and starts off back down the slope toward Pale City.

 

“Aware of what!?” I demand once again.

 

The man in the coat is gone. The Old Man is gone, too. I walk over to where the Old Man had been sitting to read what he had inscribed on the monolith.

 

In death, all are finally equals.

 

“You’re doing a hell of a good job,” says the faceless sea.

 

I run down the slope toward the City and catch the two of them sauntering along the road.

 

The Old Man turns and extends his hand to the ZOB man in the trench coat, “Mike Washington I presume?” he says.

 

 

20

 

 

Olu the stuttering Nigerian, my brother ‘Little Benny’ and I end up as expected at Rory’s Halloween party together in a yellow cab. My parents and I are in a fight because I refused to come home on time for dinner this week. They have taken away my allowance. I am pretty broke and don’t have the money to go out and get a costume. I acquisition, steal some devil ears and paint up my face red. We arrived at Rory’s crib on 81st Street around nine.

 

A big group of Stuyvesant kids show up right after we do. The only one I know is the brown bagger Julia Shoot. Most of these Stuy girls are pretty beat. One reminds me of a blonde Velma from Scooby Doo, says her name is Zivia. She isn’t ugly, just real girl-next-door  plain. She wears glasses and has a bookish complexion. She isn’t wearing a costume. Her home girl Julia Shoot is a brown bagger with big tits. I say that because everyone says they’d like to bang her out cause of her D titties, but she isn’t pretty, so they’d ‘put a brown bag over her face.’ It’s just a saying. The other two are prettier and are wearing costumes. Both are skinny blondes, one dressed like the devil the other as a vampire. The devil girl and I have identical costumes, but she doesn’t exactly act too interested when we get introduced.

 

The cold broad Roxanne slips past me as I talk to KayKay and Zivia. Roxanne is definitely the prettiest of the four. KayKay keeps on talking, but I’m not really paying any attention to her. Boring ass Japs.

 

Nick Trikhovitch calls the house to tell us the 40s have been bought. Everyone who is drinking is supposed to meet outside in Riverside Park. This kid Robert Flannigan and a group of about ten other guys whose names I don’t remember take the elevator and stairs to the lobby.

 

 

“Why do they want to get all stupid and drunk,” asks Roxanne.

 

“It’s because they’re not very confident,” says little Zivia Lubetkin.

 

Most of the Bronx Science boys have left the party to drink. It is mostly Stuy kids in the living room now. Roxanne figures this is because there isn’t the same culture of alcoholism at her school. Roxanne compares the Bronx kids to the Stuy kids and realizes that there is a substantial difference between the two mentalities. Bronx kids are drunk and wild, perhaps only interesting because their asocial tendencies are justified somehow by their proclaimed self-proclaimed intelligence. Stuy kids have more of a sense of what they are doing, like their homework.

 

“They should see themselves,” Zivia says.

 

“The Genie gets power from the bottle,” mutters Roxanne.

 

“Huh?” asks Geanie Goto turning around looking like she wants to fight.

 

“Nothing. Just a saying,” Roxanne responds to her.

 

“Oh.” Geanie resumes her palaver with Daliah thinking, ‘better not be talking to me bitch’. Now having a chuckle at Sebastian’s expense.

 

Roxanne had met that kid dressed like the devil before. His name is Sebastian and he is definitely a case in point for why teenagers should be barred from the smoke and bottle until a much later age. They had met originally at a Rock Party that KayKay had brought her to. He hadn’t made a very good first impression. She doubts if he ever did. She is actually reasonably embarrassed that they are wearing the same costume. Now he’ll get drunk and wanna get with me she thinks.

 

They say in an egg and bottle fight, better to have the bottle. Not again, is the first thing that comes to mind when the Dominican kids from the projects in the West 70’s start throwing eggs at us while we drink. There are twenty of them and they chuck eggs from the street level down into the park. We respond lobbing 40 bottles. Three minutes later we’re still pinned down on West End Drive exchanging fire. Looks like both sides have the eggs and bottles. Our ammo runs out first.

 

Rory and Max P. take off back down the street toward his house. He’s faster on his crutches than I am on foot as we evade the flying eggs. There are about fifteen of us and we probably could take them but they take off uptown. When we get back to Rory’s house, we are all winded. Rammy and Nike have disappeared. Someone said they had just gone to get high on top of Mt. Tom.

 

“Let’s get some eggs from my house and go get um,” says Rory. And this is from a guy on crutches.

 

Everyone feels pretty much the same way. I can’t believe that Rory decides to tell his mother what has happened and much less tell her what he intends to do. She tells him to call the cops and that there is no way she is going let him go get into a fight in the condition that he is in. While he is bickering with his mother Nick R. and Katzerbaad remove all the eggs from the fridge and put them in a backpack. I can’t decide whether Rory has told them to do this or if they just decided that Rory isn’t getting anywhere by trying to convince his mom.

 

The vibe is that the party that had never really been a party is over. Most of the guys want to go out and look for a fight. Benjamin and Olu left the party while we were out and have presumably headed home.

 

Roxanne notices that the guys are all riled up about something and stink of booze. Daliah calls KayKay, who also has a cell phone, and tells her that there is another house party on 106th Street. Daliah tells her that she should come, but not with any of the boys and not with more than six people.  The Stuyvesant girls say their goodbyes and head out. Rory’s parents won’t let Rory leave. About twelve people stay upstairs and the rest of us head down to look for the kids who egged us lead by Nick T. and Katzerbaad Katzer.

 

 

I light a cigarette when I get outside. There are seventeen kids, mostly guys from the Bronx crew, and the rest from Beacon. We all head towards the Park in the direction someone thinks the Dominican kids have gone while the Stuy kids start walking to the 1/9 train to get to the next party. As I finish off my cigarette and am about to follow the guys into some dumb rumble, I see Roxanne turn and give me a real stank look.

 

It was a look that simply said, “I think you’re a rude, fucking idiot.”

 

“Die you uppity straight-edge cunt,” I say under my breath.

 

“Go get fucked up!” I yell.

 

It is the beginning of a long, cold night and an endless road to nowhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART TWO:

Rude Boys & Girls

In Babylon

 

 

 

Interlude

 

January 30, 1984 8:02 pm

 

 

My earliest memory is of being in an enormous strawberry field somewhere near Montauk. My mother brought me here. I’m tiny and helpless. I am eating more strawberries than I put in the basket.

 

There are sirens blaring in the distance. The paramedics are on their way. Someone is dying. The sirens don’t frighten me.

 

The sky has no stars at all.

 

Paramedic Nick Barker is telling my father that my mother might not make it. Paramedic Barker has lost his ability to push hope even though doing so is in his job description. We’re all still in the strawberry field. They can’t find a doctor.  I’ve been in this field a whole month more than I should have been. It’s killing my mother. The moon is a huge purple half-circle hanging over our heads and the horizon.

 

West Indian nurses hover around my mother. Paramedic Barker is telling her not to push. The words “emergency C-section” get thrown around. Still no doctor.  My father is solid, but pale like a ghost.

 

I love the strawberries, but I have no basis for comparison. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything else.

 

A doctor finally rushes in. The West Indian nurses are frantically professional. My father prays fervently to whatever he calls god for the first time since the night of the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War.

 

My mother who should have died, doesn’t. I am delivered via Cesarean section after ten months in the womb. Paramedic Nick Barker goes back to pushing hope.

 

Another baby born in Babylon.

 

 

 

1

 

November 1998

 

You know, I was given roughly nine years of private European style, elite education. I grew up with a nanny who was the daughter of Trinidad’s protocol minister and French babysitter who was in law school. I speak three languages and am learning Chinese. I know how to set a table, the true mark of class in America. But I learned how to be a scum bag, a little fucking rude boy thug in just under three months of undoing my lower gentry life.

 

We’ve have been learning a great deal through negative repetition, the mother of socialization.  Clearly coming at us from the ideations of the inner city, not a sickness in the culture itself permeating out in all directions!

There are so many pundit and academic opinions that try and blame drugs, Negro music and some ambiguous conspiracy via the Media. They blame violent movies, they blame hip hop, they blame rock and roll and punk; they blame gangs, they blame jazz, or reefer, or communists. They want to know! They need to know! Why are the children of aristocrats and educated white collar people, why are plump happy white kids in the suburbs acting like hooligans?!

It must be mental illness. It must be ADD. It must somehow be the fault of the niggers. No, no, no it could not be our European style education or being born in bored abundance high in a citadel, glutting ourselves while something wicked this way comes from the squalor below of those billions who starve in the shadow of our plenty.

 

I personally am getting much more effective at my own self-destruction. I am capable of drinking prodigiously and without remorse. What previously would have made me pray to the porcelain gods now barely gets me buzzed. Smoking weed is like eating breakfast. If a girl won’t jerk you off or at least let you titty fuck her, then she’s a useless prude. I smoke a lot more stoags now. Fights with my parents never seem to end.

 

I used to be a really good student.  Now it’s a rarity if I show up to school on time or even have my homework done. My grades are moving into the D-range in Math, Chinese, Music Appreciation and Biology, and to the C-range in subjects in which I used to excel like Global Studies, English and Art.

 

Virginity is being taken left and right; and I’m not just talking about hymens.

 

I’ve fallen in with a bad crowd. I like to drink. I like to smoke. I like foul language and I love chasin’ pussy. My feet have hit the concrete jungle running. It isn’t a revolt against my parents or a rebellion against authority. It is not as intellectual or child-psychologically packaged as that. What resources can you devote to rebellion when you are in the middle of waging a full-out war against yourself?

 

There is something eating away at me. I can’t just blame the drugs or the parties, the underage drinking or even the quest for degrading premarital sex. “K” is no longer just a letter. We are careening out of control.

There was a movie called “Kids” made about our older brothers and sisters generation in early 90’s NYC. I saw it once. It looks exactly like us, but no AIDS.

And I heard from Nicholai Trickovitch the AIDS was just a plot point they needs to carry a movie pretty much about our lives; party, fight, drink, smoke try and get a girl to fuck. I still tell people that movie is tamer than us, but much tamer than whatever goes down in the inner city.

Deleon told me things as different since the early 90’s. He said Mayor Giuliani doubled the amount of police up to nearly 40,000. That’s why Manhattan seems safe.

My compatriots and I live in a city that offers up international power and the green money of opportunity to most; one of the most diverse intellectual and cultural environments on the planet. It gives some of us a free education. But instead of asking the profound questions of our day, we merely ask where the next party is, what hook up is next.

I am plunging further into the land of red brick, blue steel towers, concrete floors, canyons of the citadel and a ceilings without stars.

 

2

 

 

I get dragged to a Bar Mitzvah during the weekend, some friend of my father’s or maybe a distant relative from Long Island. A Bar Mitzvah is one third of the secrets of the Jews; exposing both their boys and girls from age 11-13 to double the education; law, language and a 5,000 year old people’s you never knew. I didn’t know anyone there. Maybe that’s why I was in the cloak room foraging for stoags and the occasional loose wallet. I was in a synagogue no less and the very temple where my parents were married up on 72nd Street. Cream of the New York Jews.

The service wasn’t very long or Orthodox thankfully. I remember having to do a lot more at my Bar Mitzvah, which was little more than a year ago. I smoked up before I go and keep nodding off. I am always pretty broke so I employ an old hustle that I learned at East End Temple, the shul on 23rd Street where I got Bar Mitzvahed. While everyone was upstairs I went down to the unguarded coat check. Once I made sure no one was down there, I start going through people’s jackets taking out cash, cigarettes, and wallets of anyone stupid enough to leave a wallet in the coat check. I remove the cash and stuff it in my inner suit pocket. In less than five minutes I had stolen about $275 and two packs of Marlboros, I don’t fuck with anything light.

 

I wanted to go home but my parents made me go to the party. Like most Bar Mitzvahs, the music is a decade off hip old and the proud parents have spent too much money on the catering. All the kids looked like they were ten years old. The star of the day is this chubby little Yid with curly black hair.

 

A young girl followed me when I went outside to light an expropriated cigarette. She is pretty damn cute. She has short black hair and is wearing a pale yellow dress that looks expensive. Her eyes are brown. She can’t be older than twelve or thirteen.

 

She looks around to see if anyone she knows is watching and then asks me for a cigarette. I tell her she is too young to be smoking, but I have every intention of bumming her one. She keeps demanding a stoag. She insists that we go up the block and find a stoop so no one will see her. The party is in the Meatpacking District, the club goer haunt south of Chelsea with all these huge hanger-sized party spaces where I guess meat used to get packed.

 

The girl’s name is Dinah. And I was close. She’s thirteen ‘going on sixteen,’ whatever that means. She goes to a boarding school in upstate New York and is back for the weekend. Her parents live on the Upper East Side and she is the cousin of the Bar Mitzvah boy whose name I don’t know or care about but am now sure is not one of my relatives, I have only a few so probably not. My tribe is wide though.

 

I am watching her smoke her cigarette. She doesn’t know how to inhale. She is tiny and I imagine what a tight pussy she probably has. Odds are she’s a virgin. She’s only a year younger than I am. I want to fuck this little baby. I was supposed to cut out and meet Donny, but I decide to stay and flirt with her. We stole two beers from the bar and drank them in a bathroom. When I take her hand and put it down my pants, she has absolutely no idea what to do. She doesn’t pull away. She just kind of sits there on the toilet for a minute giving what could be called the world’s most confused hand job. She’s blushing and says she has never done this before. I tell her it’s cool and that she should keep doing it. After about five minutes she stops. I haven’t gotten off because she has no idea what she is doing. She is real embarrassed. I tell her not to worry. I take her number down and say I’d call her the next weekend she’ll be in New York.

 

Just one Saturday later she came to New York from boarding school.

 

It is a Saturday in early November and I have a six-pack of Red Stripe lager in my red GAP backpack with the checker-striped straps. I’m not going to lie. I plan to get her drunk and see what I can get away with. That’s kind of half my bag these days.

 

Dinah lives in a brownstone on 73rd and Madison. Her family owns the entire building–the fabled brownstone. She is an only child and her parents lavish her with anything and everything she might want or need. Long story short, she got a little anorexic, a little depressed, did a bit of drinking and got sent to a boarding school. When I arrive at her place we are the only two people in the house. It is lavishly decorated.

 

“How was your week?” she asks me.

 

“Uneventful. My ex-girlfriend wrote my home phone number in the 161st train station and I’ve been getting calls at home about the gay sex her little graffiti ad offered.”

 

Dinah laughed. “Your parents must be flipping out.”

 

“Not really. I don’t really see them too often. I never really go home when they’re awake.”

 

“My parents are strict. If they knew you were over here right now they’d flip. I used to go to Horace Mann, but my parents caught me smoking pot and sent me to this all girl’s boarding school.”

 

There are a few things I get excited about hearing; all girls’ boarding school is one of those things.  We head up a long stairway carpeted with a blue rug and go up to her room on the third floor. There’s a Spice Girls poster on the wall and ‘Got Milk’ posters taped above her bed. The room is pretty large and I can see a walk-in closet filled with designer labels.

 

“What do your parents do?” I ask.

 

“My dad is some corporate lawyer for an oil company and my mom is a trophy wife.”

 

I see in the pictures downstairs that her father looks old enough for her mother to be just that. I see it all the time in East Hampton, men with wives half their age. It’s a good look.

 

“You want a beer?” I take one out of my backpack. “They’re from Jamaica.”

 

“Sure.”

 

We drink and talk about nothing of real interest or importance. She tells me about her school and what she likes to do. Apparently she’s on the school volleyball team. Three beers and forty-five minutes later I’m fingering her on her bed. This time I find it. I can only get one in. I can tell she’s trashed. She lies on her back moaning. My shirt is off and we’re making out. Her tits are tiny and firm. I finger her for about ten minutes and push her head down to my crotch. I don’t ask her shit. I just whip it out and tell her to suck my cock. When she doesn’t do it on her own I shove my penis in her mouth? She’s so drunk she barely knows what she’s doing. I get off eventually. She’s crying by then. With my cum still on her red face and mascara running smudged under her eyes, she locks herself in the bathroom. I hear her crying. I let myself out of the house without saying good-bye.

 

I have to be at the Met Museum at 4 pm for some culture.

 

 

3

 

 

Nearly everything typically associated with the all-American high school hierarchy just doesn’t accurately describe our scene.

 

A lot of our crew likes hip-hop music.  It’s impossible not to be influenced by this music when you have grown up in the City and go to a public school.  This group smokes weed at parties. They drink 40s. They say, “yo” and call people “son.” Some even say “my nigga” even though they aren’t Black. Some of these kids rob people. They dog-out girls. They join crews like Beer Squad, TFO, SOS and Bacardi Mafia because they need people to have their back in stupid fights that go down every other week. They aren’t criminal enough to join a real gang. These kids might want to fit the “thug” label but would deck someone who called them a wigger.

 

A lot of the kids are athletic. Donny, Case, Sam Roebling and Max P. organize football games in Central Park on the weekends. Roller blades are strapped to Donny and Deleon’s outer backpacks. I want to buy a bag like theirs to get more skate time. A bunch of kids carry skateboards everywhere and do tricks on the other side of Harris Field during free periods.  Braunstein, Rammy Detroit, and this new kid in our crew, Yoshi, are all on the school gymnastics team. Kayo is on the fencing team. Brandi Stewart and Daliah Rodriguez are cheerleaders. I go running every week and was on the UNIS track team. Bronx Science doesn’t have a football team, but a lot of the ‘kids smoking across the street’ as Dr. Maskin calls us, do a lot of athletic activities without being what you might call  “jocks. “Jocks” are not very high on the school’s social hierarchy.

 

There are no “Preppies” at Bronx Science. That is to say, there are no kids running about in Abercrombie and kiss-my-ass. There are not a lot of GAP-wearing, metro-sexual rich kids even in magnet public schools.

 

There are some kids who play hacky sac and smoke weed three times a day like Donny. Some even have tie-died shirts like Saul Metternich, but these kids aren’t called the “stoners” or “hippies” nor do they listen to Rusted Root and Grateful Dead like some upstate throwback.  There are people like Akila, Hubert O’Domhnaill, and that kid Zach Soloman that go with me to punk shows at the Knitting Factory, the Wetlands, Coney Island High, and Tramps before Puffy bought it made it another jazz club. Akila and I have Operation Ivy, Inspector 7, Link 80, NOFX, and Suicide Machine patches sewn on irregularly to various articles of clothing or our back packs. Hubert O’Domhnaill s wears black combat boots, jeans, red suspenders a tight white Dropkick Murphy shirt and a green bomber jacket with cropped short hair. I wear ties, patches and have checkers painted on my back pack, but we aren’t “punks” or “skins.”

 

Our scene is real eclectic in its fashion sense and musical tastes. Most of our lifestyle choices make us the “bad kids across the street” with our cigarettes and house parties, baggy jeans, hip-hop music and raves.  But Hubert, Akila and I were into something a bit different from that crowd. Hubert and I were rude boys. Akila was a rude girl. Unlike most of our friends, we moved to the trumpets and horns, the sax and bass, the Ska-Punk, Ska Two Tone vibe born in Jamaica, raised in England and represented in America by the Boss Tones, the Toasters and Reel Big Fish.

 

Akila Abulaffia is of Moroccan descent. Nearly everybody in our extended crew, like the city we live in, is a mutt. Akila is “thug” because she fought in a Bacardi Mafia brawl. She smokes a blunt every other day. She likes hip-hop. Her jeans are baggy. Akila is also a “skater.” She can roller blade better than I can. She is one of the few girls who go out with us to drink and grind. Akila is a “jock” because she’s the only one of us serious about being a professional athlete. She dreams of getting to go to college in Canada where she could join an ice hockey team at the school. Akila wears a Rangers jersey every other day and is also one of the only girls to play in the football games in Central Park

 

Akila lives with her mother in a small apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. There are no rules in her home.  We can drink and smoke there and even have parties. Ska and Punk shows only happen at a handful of New York venues and normally on school nights, so Hubert and I always crash with Akila on her futon and couch when we go. Her mother is a licensed nurse. Her father was murdered when she was a little girl. Akila and I are pretty close mostly because of the Ska scene. Later on she became my ‘female shrink of the year,’ a confidant to what was happening in my mind.

 

Looking at the way we dress, I look the most like a rude boy wearing ties all the time. Akila looks like a punk with her died crimson red hair, lip piercing and band patches all over her jeans. Hubert looks like a skinhead, but his hair is crew cut, not ever totally shaven. We go out to a Ska show a month. Sometimes this kid Zach Solomon, a friend of Donny’s from LaGuardia, joins us. We saw Less Than Jake together at Roseland Ball Room. We saw the Pilfers, Stand Pipe Siamese, and Edna’s Goldfish play at the Wetlands down in Tribeca near that creepy red steel highway sculpture. Coney Island High is in a single room, barely-100-capacity venue on St. Marks. That is where Step Lively plays.  Hubert and I saw Inspector 7, a skinhead Ska-Punk band tear up Tramps where you can hang off the pipes on the ceiling. Whenever mosh pits open up Hubert and I “skank about” swinging. Skanking, as the dance form is called, is a sort of one-person swing dance with a West Indian reggae shuffle. Ska comes out of reggae and rock, lots of horns and singing about love. Since Hubert O’Domhnaill s is huge, it’s better to mosh with him when the dancing just degenerates into tons of rowdy, pumped up White kids swinging at each other. There’s Punk and there’s oi, oi that is skinhead Ska. There’s two-tone, which sounds more melodic and is better for skanking, and emo which isn’t really punk or Ska at all.

 

The three of us are the only people in the crew besides Zach Solomon that even listen to Ska. It got popular briefly in a third wave in 1997, but hip-hop and trance won out as the premier sound of the New York youth culture by the end 1998. Zach and I go to Stand Pipe Siamese shows at the famous punk venue CBGB’s on the Bowery. Our only real bond is the music. Take away the Ska and he’s a drug-dealing wigger. Julius Zarr put me onto Ska back in UNIS. I can’t say why I like it, but the only times I feel what you might call happy is skanking about the pit at one of these shows to the sound of the horns.

 

I like Akila because she facilitates me going to these shows without massive fights with my parents. She is outspoken. She’s ballsy and rude. Akila likes me because I am amusing and I’m a reckless adventurer. I’m always up for everything. I’m pretty sure that Akila doesn’t participate anymore when she hears people saying I’m an asshole or a psychopath.  It’s not because I’m fun, Its because I take her mother to AA meetings, which she says is both “wildly hypocritical and sweet.”

 

We don’t hang out much at school but I drop by her house several times a week with Donny and we get mildly weekday drunk with her mom. Akila’s mom thinks I am well mannered, completely crazy, and should marry her daughter. Akila tells her mom that I’m not manly enough for her. And she’s a bit too Tomboy for me.

 

I am hurrying to meet Akila and Donny to go to a lecture at the Met Museum for art class homework after my little escapade with Dinah from Madison Avenue.

Akila is waiting impatiently on 86th.

 

 

4

 

 

You can’t really call Akila’s building a housing project. It is either run down Section 8’d or Mitchell Lama or combined low income housing. After all, it has a doorman and not everyone one is Section 8 subsidized, but the layout is similar. The apartments are small and the stairwells are an endless mess of graffiti and empty 40 bottles. The floors are sticky enough to make your sneakers creak. It always smells like Clorox and urine. It is one of the few holdover blocks from when Hell’s Kitchen was a rough part of town. The stairwell system is odd. There are four sets of stairs that open onto either even or odd floors. One can easily get lost while intoxicated in a winding maze of neon lit bleak floors and stairwells that never lead back to where the party is.

 

Just eight hours after the lecture at the Met Museum, I am blitzed nicely on vodka and lost in this maze.

 

I had stepped out of the party after making Daliah start bawling. I’m not sure what I said. I remember something about repeating some rumor about her to everyone I met. I went for a walk to get away and now I am lost. I can’t remember what apartment Akila lives in. I had thought the floor was seven, but the stairwell I am in leads to a different seven that looks nothing like the hallway I remember seeing before. I change to another stairwell and it takes me to the fifth floor. As I stumble around the building I bang on people’s doors demanding directions back to Akila’s house. No one opens their doors. Perhaps they are used to the late night disorderly.

 

When I finally found Akila’s apartment again it was even more crowded than when I left. It is a small two-bedroom with a small living room and an outdoor terrace. It is wall to wall with drunken teenagers. Daliah is sitting on a couch. Her friends are giving me dirty looks. Silly bitches.

 

Nikh Trikhovitch sees someone puking over the balcony. Nikh is sitting outside in a foldout chair with a girl from Hunter High school on his lap. He thinks her name might be Pia or maybe it’s Sophie. He’s really too drunk to care. Nikh thinks that the wack thing about this party is that there really aren’t a lot of rooms to hook up in. At a solid party there are enough rooms so that at least two or three couples can hook up. Nikh has no real problem with getting with a girl on a couch or on a lawn chair on the balcony. It’s just that to get a girl to give you a hand job or suck your dick, you need to get her alone. Only a real slut lets you finger her in front of a party load of people. Nikh realizes in his drunken stupor that the person puking off the balcony is Sebastian Adon.

 

Trikhovitch thinks back to the Rock Party where Sebastian fingered Jantina Boz in front of like fifty people, right after he helped Sebastian retaliate for the robbery. That was pretty damn tasteless. He guesses that some people don’t need a private room at all.

 

I’m out on the balcony washing the taste of puke out of my mouth with the rest of my 40 slumped down on a lawn chair next to Nikh Trikhovitch and some girl. The dry heaves keep me hanging off the terrace edge in case I blow again. Nikh says something to me. He’s asking me a question, but I’m not really taking anything in. As the girl tries to give him a hickey he keeps asking me the same question that I’ve been running over the whole night. Am I going to be all right? I think about it for a second. As the drunken girl on his lap sucks tastelessly on his neck, he passes me a smoke and waits for me to say something.

 

I don’t speak, but just give him thumbs up. We both know I’m lying. But we both know that we’re going to play this game as hard as we can and until someone comes along and gives us a reason to fear our wicked ways.

We are going to drink up, smoke up, and bang out. Bottoms up.

 

5

 

 

I’ve been getting into some pretty get-stoned-to-death-in-the-Bible-type fights with my parents since I turned 13. That’s when I started drinking and smoking, although there wasn’t necessarily a pure correlation. By that time I was calling my mom things like bitch, whore and cunt. She’s bellowing something at me right now.  I think she got a letter from school saying my attendance was lacking.

 

“GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS HOUSE, YOU FUCKING LITTLE SHIT!”

 

“Fuck YOU, YOU STUPID WHORE,” I yell back.

 

Something in my gut tells me that you aren’t supposed to say things like that to your mother.

 

“DON’T TALK TO YOUR MOTHER THAT WAY!” bellows my Dad.

 

“FUCK YOU!” I shout back.

 

“You’re grounded for the weekend,” he yells but then realizes I was supposed to be grounded anyway.

 

“HE NEEDS TO LEAVE NOW! HE NEEDS TO JUST GET OUT,” yells my Mom hysterically. “HE NEEDS TO LEAVE RIGHT NOW!”

 

“FINE, YOU CUNT. I’m leaving!” I slam the door behind me.

 

These fights followed a simple pattern. Something minor would always come up. My Mom would start yelling. I would yell back. My Dad would try to calm us down and then be unsure of whose side he was on once I really went off. Sometimes he’d end up in a fight with my Mom over what she said to me. I would either storm out of the apartment or just go to my room. My Mother would follow me into my room yelling and then I would take the next logical step and flee. It hardly ever got physical. A part of me wished they’d just hit me so I could be justified in hating them so much. They never did.

 

I have a few ideas about why there is so much domestic strife. My parents want me to be something I’m not, which is to say a ‘good kid’. They have a preconceived notion about what a teenager should and should not be doing, its part Hebrew part WB.

 

Whenever shit gets really bad or hectic around the house, I always bounce and go to visit my old babysitter Natalie Desmond. She is a woman in her mid-thirties who lives in Building 30 of Waterside Plaza in a three bedroom, rent-controlled apartment.  My brother little Benny and I call her our sister. Though she is Trini by birth, but she has lived in the U.S. for most of her life. She attended the U.N. School just like me. Like me, she is outspoken and confrontational. Most of what we know in the way of manners came from Natalie. We have a joke. She raised us and my parents provided the financial backing. This is not entirely fair to my parents, but it did contain a certain amount of truth.

 

Natalie lives with her boyfriend Dan, the son of a famous rabbi in New Jersey. She was married to a guy named Mick, but it had only been a convenient way to get citizenship when her mother returned to Trinidad. Dan is Jewish. The third roommate always changes. Natalie has come to the conclusion that the third bedroom room has bad energy and is cursed after a long string of bad roommates.

 

When Sebastian buzzed up from the lobby Natalie mentally prepared for the latest drama. He only really comes to see her when things at home are really bad. Things had been less than stable in the Adon household since the robbery. Natalie has always known that Zarr kid was nothing but trouble.

 

“Your parents aren’t assholes boy. You realize the robbery has them wound real tight. If you just settle down for a couple of weeks things will blow over. Then you’ll get all that freedom that you would have had in the first place if you weren’t in trouble all the time.”

 

“I can’t believe Julius Zarr robbed my house.”

 

“I can. Never trusted him at all. He always acted shady around me.”

 

Natalie lights a cigarette, locked in a endless battle to quit. I always feel like an adult when she does that because when I was a kid she would always hide it.

 

“My mom is fucking losin’ it.”

 

“You say that all the time.”

 

“For real though this time. Every time I’m around her she flips shit over the cigarette thing.”

 

“You have to be smarter about doing shit that you know makes them angry. I’ve been telling you that for years.”

 

“I know.”

 

“I don’t think you do. Your parents are real good people, but there are certain things that set them off. You guys play into each other all the time, like the whole smoking thing. You know your Mom hates it. So why won’t you use Fabreeze and gum to keep her from knowing you smoke?”

 

“It’s too much trouble.”

 

“So don’t complain to me when you get caught.”

 

“My Dad won’t shut up about this building trust thing either. They tell me if they trusted me I could have more freedom, but they won’t let me have any now so I feel like I have no incentive.”

 

“Stop being a child.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“You get into fights with your parents. You break curfew. You smoke cigarettes, and from what I hear from your brother, you cut school. You think they’re gonna just let you do whatever you want and that you don’t have to follow their rules?”

 

“I just feel that we’ve been fighting worse and worse ever since around the time of my Bar Mitzvah. I just wish I had a clean slate and could prove that I should be able to do what I want.”

 

“Once again, you’re being a child.”

 

“No, I’m not!”

 

“Being an adult is about showing that you can be independent. You want to be independent, but you won’t do any of the basic things that will make your parents sleep easy. I say you’re being a child because you still can’t seem to avoid stepping on their toes.”

 

“Stepping on their toes?! They have a completely unrealistic expectation for how kids grow up in New York. I have a ten-thirty curfew. I have to do my homework every night and study. They won’t shut up about studying. It’s like they think I have a test every day. They harass me and harass me. My Mom still blames me for the robbery even though I had nothing to do with it.”

 

“Calm down. What makes you think you deserve all this freedom anyway? What have you done to earn their trust?”

 

I can’t think of anything.

 

“Yeah. Exactly. You got kicked out of UNIS. Then you got kicked out of summer camp. Then your house got robbed by your good friend Julius Zarr and all you want to do is stay out late and get fucked up.”

 

“I get fucked up ‘cause its somethin’ we do.”

 

“I know you believe that, but if you don’t take care of school and your parents, then you’re not gonna be able to party with your friends cause you’ll always be grounded.”

 

“Did you get in fights with your parents a lot when you were my age?”

 

“Of course I did. My Mom and I used to go at each other like you couldn’t even believe.”

 

“Trust me, Natalie. I can believe.”

 

“Yeah, you’re pro’lly right.”

 

“So how did you deal with the whole growing up thing?”

 

“I did my school work. I studied in front of them. I stopped yelling at them and made them think I was always on the straight and narrow. I didn’t let them smell smoke on me. When I got fucked up I slept over at friends’ houses.”

 

“How come they don’t get it?”

 

“Don’t get what?”

 

“They don’t understand what it’s like to be young here.”

 

“They come from a different time. Different values. Parents can’t get why kids are growing up so fast. I blame television.”

 

“Natalie?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

I wanted to tell her about the nightmares, but I didn’t. The best way to deal with them is to treat them like they don’t exist.

 

“Can you bum me a cigarette?”

 

“For a moment there I thought you were gonna say something deep.”

 

“What do you think this is,” I ask, “the WB?”

 

I’m sure as soon as the future arrives that reference will be lost on nearly everyone.

 

 

 

6

 

 

 

Ah, Gregorian Calendar New Year 1999!

 

People whisper the world is going to end next year. I tell them the far older Mayan, Chinese, Hebrew and Islamic lunar Calendars don’t have any world ending proscribed in the cards so we shouldn’t presume that 2000 years since the alleged birth of Jesus means all that much.

But, Akila says the vanished ancient Mayans have something called the Baktun Long Calendar and that it’s cycle ends on December 21st, 2012.

We still have a while to party I tell her.

 

Akila and her Mom are hosting a New Year’s party this year. It will actually be the first time I won’t be spending it with my parents. Instead I will be spending it with Mr. Red Dog 40, Mr. Woodchuck, Mr. Ballantines and a shit load of my so-called friends, which I suppose is preferable when you think about it.

 

Andy’s Deli knew it was us when we called to tell them we would be buying $300 worth of forties and that we will pay for their cab back and forth from 84th and Broadway to 54th and Tenth. They knew it was us in a figurative sense anyway. By us, I really mean a group of underage drinkers.

Though the Wagner kids had been buying from the Muhammeds for a couple years.

Akila’s Mom is one of the few parents you don’t have to wait until she goes away to throw a party. She even throws in money for the 40’s. Akila told me her mother is an alcoholic. I just figure that is one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot to describe people who really like to drink. I feel that it really is more of a state of mind than a disease. It isn’t as if someone catches alcoholism. Akila’s mom just adheres to the philosophy that we are going to be drinking anyway so we might as well have a house to do it in. It is sound reasoning. At least she has a realistic understanding of how kids really are. I can really respect that enlightened approach to child rearing.

 

A Muhammad from Andy’s showed up around 6 pm with about twenty brown bags worth of 40s. It is a terrorist attack on our livers. We have gone half and half between Red Dog and Woodchuck. There is so much beer that Benjamin, Akila and I filled the bathtub with ice once the fridge filled up, to keep it all cold. Muhammad smiled as we gave him the money and wished us a very Happy New Year.

 

The apartment filled up by 8 pm. By that time I was already pretty drunk. There simply isn’t enough room to move around. I go out on the balcony terrace to get some fresh air. Issachar ‘Izzy’ Vitz, a friend of Donny’s is out here smoking a joint. I’ve seen him all over the place but we’ve barely spoken three words.

 

“Wanna hit this?” He asks.

 

“Fer sure.”

 

“What’s up, kid?” he asks passing me a thick spliff.

 

“I’m trying to think of a New Year’s resolution.”

 

“Bone more bitches. That’s mine,” he suggests as he hits the grass puffing.

 

“I was thinking a bit more along the lines of dealin’ with my shit. Drink less. Do more school work? Make things right with my parents.”

 

“No. Bone more bitches is a much better resolution. You’ll end up not keeping the other one.”

 

I take another deep hit.

 

“I seen you about.” Says Izzy. “You need to tighten your game.”

 

“My game is tight,” I reply.

 

I’d seen Izzy a lot at the Rock parties. He always wore this white hoody with a huge tribal design on the back and a green cameo visor with the word IZEKIAL printed on the cap. He always showed up with some private school broad. Always asked around for condoms he knew mad guys carried in wallets but never used.

 

“Gotta change out your condoms every few weeks. They sit around too long in your wallet and they sure to break,” he says finishing off the clip.”

 

“How do you bag so many fly girls my dude?”

 

“My game is tight. And I’m the straight lady killing gentle man. I could put you on. Bitches just seem to love Izzy.”

 

He speaks in the third person sometimes I’ve noticed when he gets stoned.

 

The hands down hottest girl at the party, a Lithuanian Japanese sophomore from Hunter High school named Jackie O’ Niche comes out to the balcony as if to illustrate his point. She’s a half pint, eyes painted like a Gus Meyer film. She curls up in his arms like a pussy cat.

 

“Jackie, this is Sebastian,” he says. Izzy always introduces his latest girly. As if to say to everyone, easy come, easy go, but not until he’s done.

 

“The crazy one,” she smiles as we shake hands.

 

“That’s flattering,” I respond. But crazy is always better than ‘weird’.

 

“Is it?” she smirks and lights a cigarette.

 

“Happy almost New Year, Mr. Vitz. You too, Jackie,” I say talking my leave.

 

“Indeed,” Izzy says, “You too, motherfucker. Happy damn New Years. Let’s resolute to hang out sometime, just in case you’re first resolution falls through.”

 

“What’s your number?”

 

“Ah, the most important three words, I hope I’ll ever teach you to say.”

 

The evening ended around 5 am with Zivia Lubetkin, the little Stuyvesant pip squeak, Akila, Benny, and me lying uncomfortably and drunk on the fold out couch in the living room watching the Twilight Zone marathon in a haze as the dawn broke. I feel as though the entire evening is a taste of things to come. The taste of things to come tastes a whole lot like Malt liquor.

 

 

 

 

7

 

 

 

I am sitting in the middle of the desert. I notice that I am handcuffed to a dead man. A fucked up corpse. He appears to have blown his brains out with a WW2 service revolver. Obviously, the booze isn’t helping this dream situation much anymore.

 

I’m not alone. A campfire is burning and the old man is sitting under a tree looking off at the dunes. In the pitch black I can only see a slight glow coming from the Pale City miles away. There is a wooden stool across from me. A beat up television sits on top of the stool buzzing with static.

 

“Wanna tell me what this is supposed to mean?” I ask the old man.

 

“You know, before I came to this place, I remember being happy, sort of. I remember having a family and trying to write a good Russian style novel. There was a lot of joy in that. I remember thinking that my book was really going to ‘change the world’. Open a lot of closed eyes. Wake the zombies up like salt. I thought that it would shed some light on why people are the way they are, why things happen as they do. But I kept getting tired. Or they kept putting me to sleep. They seem to have burned my latest manuscript.”

 

“What was the book about?”

 

“It was about your life. More specifically, it was about how your morals died inside you.”

 

“How did they die, old man?”

 

“When you stopped carrying the fire.”

 

“What in three fucks that means, you spew a whole lot of flim-flam my pasty old beard friend of a nightmare.”

I look at the corpse. It looks a whole lot like me. It is missing part of its head.

 

“I think you’re just fucking with me again. None of what you say has any bearing on the real world. You’re just people with ideas.”

 

“Who says you’re dreaming?”

 

“Well for one thing, in real life I wouldn’t be handcuffed to my corpse in the middle of the desert.”

 

“Have you considered that maybe we’re dreaming of you not vice versa? Maybe we dream of being a terrible little student with a quickly developing set of a-social tendencies. In this place we’d dream of that and make you our beleaguered young messiah by comparison to forces ruling here. Come on boy. This isn’t a book that will sell well in Babylon.”

 

“No. That sounds like true blue bullshit.”

 

“There really is no way of knowing. But if I prick you with answers, you may swallow and die.”

 

“You don’t give me any answers. You and the wild girl, and everything about this place are my own personal Hell. I have no idea what you’re trying to tell me, but I sure as Hell know that I made you all up not vice the versa.”

 

“Whatever you have to tell yourself to get by, Michael.”

 

“That’s not my name.”

 

“Did you know that the Hebrew people wandered the desert for forty years before God let them into the Promised Land?”

 

“Why did you call me Michael?”

 

“Before they reached their destination they had to be purged of their tainted ways acquired in the house of bondage. They had to become righteous.”

 

“I asked WHY YOU CALLED ME MICHAEL?!”

 

“None of the original Israelites made it to the promised land. They all died in the desert. Only their children saw the freedom they were promised. They simply couldn’t unlearn their sin. You have one foot in the door, Michael. You’ve got one in the house of bondage and the other in the desert. Mark my words. You will die before you see the Promised Land too. Your near self-destruction is an integral part our plan.”

 

“There isn’t a plan, you ancient fuck! This is all in my head!”

 

I scream unintelligible Middle Eastern profanities at the sands and the moon.

 

The TV on the stool stops flickering static and I see an image coming into focus as I struggle to get free from the body I’m chained to. I see an empty grave and the next thing I know I’m lying in it, the body right next to me. I scream ‘til I piss all over myself clawing out my own eyes.

 

I wake up wet, still screaming, hand clenched like a pistol pointed out into the darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

8

 

 

 

Nikh Trickovitch likes to tell elaborate stories. Not outright long lies like Izzy, just wild exaggerations. More plausible yarns. Embellishments if you will. Populist youth story-telling like how he and Katzerbaad expropriated weed pretending to be police officers.

 

Anytime that I was at a party intoxicated, I would demand that Nikh recount one of his stories to the strangers we had just met. One went like this.

 

Nikh claimed that a young Black kid had accosted him as he was walking back from playing video games at Blake Braunstein’s house. The robber had a chain. Nikh pulled out a small blue crow bar that he always carried out as the chain swung in his direction. He pulled the chain away with the crowbar and the robber was left unarmed. Now it was Nikh who had the upper hand.

 

“The tables have turned now, bitch!” he yelled. “Now give me your wallet.”

 

The confused and unarmed kid handed it over. Nikh claimed he took the cash and threw the wallet over a fence. No one ever thought Nikh was telling the truth. People just liked the “chain story” because it was so far-fetched. You have to understand that every 14 year-old American boy lies about something. Nikh just figured it was better to at least make it interesting.

 

Nikh was a little more mature than the rest of us and he reeked of charisma. Although he mostly led the crew to drink and do drugs in parks, and would end up popularizing cocaine on the magnet school level, he was a good guy. He was the first person to have a cell phone. It was a clunky black box. This was right before the second Palestinian Intifada made cell phone technology accessible to young people as a means by which parents could theoretically always touch base with their kids. Nikh was sort of the life of the party for all the wrong and right high school reasons. He would always show up with girls and later with girls and drugs. His cell phone was the coordinating mechanism for Rock Parties, a sort of switchboard for underage drinking. And he knew all the deli guys on the Upper West Side. This made everything real easy.

 

There was a subversive depth to Nikh hidden under all that party-boy exterior that few saw. Sometimes when I stayed over at his home on 95th Street, we’d stay up smoking stoags, having long talks about human nature. Talks about god or love. The kind of sophomoric intellectual nonsense NYU college students ramble on about in coffee shops. Rosy, as I sometimes referred to him, was filled with secrets. Darkness and demons just like me. I kept mine kept somewhat in line with the bottle. Rosy kept his in check with sex and with tales.

 

The bonds of friendship are being remodeled within our crew. Donny’s brand of escapism bores me. Weed has lost almost all its appeal. I am tired of watching Donny smoke trees and Case play video games like Star Craft. I am spending more time with Nikh Trikhovitch and Izzy Vitz. Izzy explained that while the booze could drown out my past or whatever causes these demons, that girls can take my mind off everything.

 

Lately Trikhovitch is believing in that thing called love so much that we rarely see him. He fell for this Beacon girly, Sabine Pubar, a precocious little blonde, emotional vampire that likes literature and plans to immigrate to the Czech Republic one day after high school. The girl has a dark secret and Nikh shared it with me. Her father’s friend fucked her up the ass when she was little. So now she’s into hard and dirty sex. Likes getting roughed. I see him less and less through December and January.

He is catering to this secret’s needs.

 

Donny Gold, Tim Finnegan and I go roller blading at night amid the towers of blue glass in Midtown the night before my 15th birthday on January 29, 1999.  We steal a couple six-packs of Red Stripe Jamaican lager from a supermarket and an enormous can of Fosters from a deli. We get so drunk that at one point we are skating as fast as we could into this wall with a reflective mirror surface. It was just the three of us male-bonding with smokes, Jamaican brew and skates.

 

The next day Finnegan and I went to go steal more beer for my birthday party. We got caught the first try. Apparently grocery clerks are more perceptive during the day. I tried to talk my way out of it, but we ended just booking it out of the store. I wasn’t trying to spend my birthday in the Tombs.

Your privilege around here goes only to a point.

We plan to meet up on 86th and Lexington around 4 o’clock. Donny thinks it will be good to invite everyone down for a birthday party even though I don’t have any money or any idea about where we can go.  I haven’t been home in a week. I have been living with Donny and his Mom Bonnie. She likes having me around because I clean shit up around the house and make sure Donny goes to school.

 

Izzy Vitz is waiting on the corner with a couple other kids. By the time four o’clock rolls around most of our crew is hanging out on the corner. People start giving me money. I don’t really understand why they came out to my birthday. Izzy is trying to figure out a place to have the party while I walk around making small talk with these people that are apparently still my friends.

 

Its later now and brik as shit. That means VERY cold.

 

The wind is ripping across the rooftop where we huddle nursing 40 ounces to freedom. I spent most of the money I was given for my birthday on 40 poison and assorted six-packs of Coors bottled beer. There are about twenty people drinking on Nikh T’s roof. It just keeps getting colder.

 

“Screw this brik ass weather,” says Blake Braunstein. “Why don’t we just go over to my house?”

 

No one was about to argue with him. A free crib, was a free crib.

 

I down my third Red Dog 40 within the 15 minutes it takes us to walk to Braunstein’s house.  I think back to my 14th birthday that I spent alone on a street corner. My 13th birthday was worse, my bar mitzvah. I didn’t like dancing to the hip-hop that had been popular four years ago with lots and lots of relatives I didn’t know and so-called friends I didn’t like. What is it about my birthday that spells melancholic relief? It is as if each year I gain a greater understanding that my few years on this earth have been wasted and lonely. I am entirely too down for someone my age.

 

Everyone has a 40 or some assorted smaller bottle of beer once we arrive at Blake’s house. There isn’t the same frantic binge atmosphere that normally accompanies our parties. Things are slowly going down frame by frame as I walk room-to-room trying to capture the jist of fifteen conversations. The topics range from Rammy Detroit babbling on about Navy Seal recruitment benefits to the construction of a foot-long joint. I like the fact that in about an hour I will really see an attempt to smoke a foot-long blunt. We at least have that going for us.

 

That girl Roxanne has been hangin’ around all night for some reason, guess Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air. We had a halfway civil conversation on the way over to Blake’s. It turns out that she goes to grade school with a few of my crew. She warms up to me when I stop trying to be cool. Izzy had schooled me. Girls smell phony game three lines away.

 

Roxy is sitting by watching me drink. We are having this easy conversation that is pretty far removed from the things I usually talk about. We’re talked about theatre and art. She knows all the words to Rent and Les Mis. We are sitting in Blake’s stairwell debating the message of Les Miserable. It’s so offbeat to even talk about this, but I’m fascinated with it. She doesn’t drink or smoke. She’s totally straight edge. She’s the calm, confident one always putting people in cabs at the end of the evening. That’s me as well, I said smiling as I drink my Red Stripe. She smirks at me. She’s got this innocent blonde schoolgirl thing going on.

 

 

“You’re cleverer than you let people think,” she says suddenly.

 

“It’s easy to talk shit when you don’t get to know a person.”

 

“I’ve seen you in action before, Mr. Adon. Your actions are pretty shit.”

 

“What, like on Halloween?”

 

“That was some pretty testosterone-fueled, male bonding.”

 

“You know how it goes sometimes,” I laugh.

 

“Right. How does it feel to have ‘matured’ so quickly at the ripe old age of fifteen?”

 

“Considering I spent my 14th birthday on a street corner without any friends or family about, it’s a step up.”

 

“You fight with your parents a lot?”

 

“Once in a while,” I say with a serious look in my eyes.

 

“I heard from Akila you haven’t been home in like three weeks.”

 

“I’m on a little winter vacation you might say.”

 

“You don’t seem like a bad kid, despite what everyone seems to say.”

 

“That’s because haters wanna hate.”

 

“Why do talk like a wigger. Misunderstood are you?”

 

“Tragically.”

 

“I think you smoke and drink too much, but you’re smarter than I would have thought. Did your Grandpa really read you Les Mis when you were five years old?”

 

“How else would I know it so well?”

 

“Spark Notes.”

 

I clink my 40 oz. against the stairwell wall.

 

“You see through my French-literature-cramming-to-impress-Stuy-girls game. I’m surely finished.”

 

She smiles and kisses me on the cheek. Its a little too Hollywood for me. I don’t know how to react. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve haven’t kissed a girl sober since 6th grade. Well, I’m sort of sober.

 

“I was wondering what it is you’re always so deep in thought over. Sometimes I see you at parties staring out a window or at a Rock Party by yourself pondering something away from the others.” Roxanne says suddenly.

 

“You really want to know?”

 

“Kind of. If the answer’s good enough it will be your saving grace.”

 

“Saving grace from what?”

 

“I don’t kiss boys that do shady things unless they have a good back story.”

 

“I have no such good story. There are no good excuses for the things I do.”

 

“You’re really kind of funny. And well read, and cute in a way. But it’s late, and I think one thing will lead to another with you if I hang around.”

 

“There’s a question I’m stuck with, Roxy.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“It might be too much for you.”

 

“Try me.”

 

“No seriously. If I put you onto this and you were to let people know and someone figured out the answer before I could, I’m not sure I could live with myself.”

 

“I promise. It won’t go further than me.”

 

“On your word? You really want to know what I think about all the time.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Alright. The question is this. Who’s a better hero, Batman or Superman?”

 

She has a blank, boys-talking-about-Star-Wars kind of look on her face.

 

“And the answer is?”

 

“Batman of course.”

 

“Now why do you say that?”

 

“Because being a good detective by night makes up for being an undeserving billionaire by day. And he gets to go home with any girl he wants, while the invincible Super Man has to pretend to be a big dork just to hide in a sea of mediocrity.”

 

“Is that what it’s about to you? Going home with any girl you want or not deserving all the things you have?”

 

“Neither. I just like super heroes. I’m just making small talk from something I saw in a movie.”

 

“You always silly play games like this?”

 

“With people I kind of like.”

 

Akila and Roxanne leave the party around midnight to sleep at Roxanne’s house. There were only a dozen people or so still around anyway. About ten minutes later Akila calls Blake Braunstein and tells him that she is coming back. They decide that Roxanne will sleep over at Akila’s where the curfew is real nonexistent. Some combination of Akila wanting to fool around with Case Yadger and Roxy intrigued with me led to this logistics change. That means they can now be out all night.

 

Roxy came back. Without too many more words, we were making out on Blake Braunstein’s sofa under that historic Tyra Bank’s poster that hasn’t left his house since my I lost the election. We’ve become a giggling, passionate ball of tender kisses. We tumble off the sofa onto the floor wrapped in a huge red sheet. We curl up together and make a blanket tent. The kissing goes on until nearly dawn, I don’t try for anything else

 

Less than five feet away from me on the other couch Nikh Trikhovitch is losing his virginity to a girl named Sabine. Sabine, who is full of secrets, is not losing her virginity to Nikh, but is humoring his ignorance of this fact a little longer. They are enjoying themselves. Roxy and I fail to notice that they are in the room. I am in some thankfully dreamless, peaceful sleep in her arms.

 

When I wake up in the morning, she is gone. But like any type of junkie, even a blissful sobering moment is clouded quickly with time. I am back to my wicked ways only a week later; and with them comes the darkness my head contains.

 

 

 

9

 

 

 

I’m terrified of clowns, but I’m doing my best to cut a deal. He doesn’t say a word, the creepy pederast grinning miserable fuck. He communicates in hand signals, the motions of guerrilla warfare. Periodically when he isn’t feeling what I have to say he’ll burst out laughing. Why am I talking to the clown, the creature that always mocks my escape attempts? I’m talking to him because the only way out appears to be up. And the clown sells balloons.

 

The clown looks likes like a fighter up close with more war paint than makeup. He’s grotesquely fat. I guess the only difference is what you do for a living. His head is wrapped in a black turban. He wears a beige trench coat and over the coat is an ammo belt that holds six clips for a Kalashnikov rifle.

 

We communicate through one of the chain link fences that surround the Pale City. He motions for me to cut my payas, Jew curls. I wasn’t even aware that I had them. I’ve been here so long without a mirror I haven’t the faintest idea what I look like. He passes me a scissors through the fence and motions that he’ll send me up if I pass him the payas. SNIP. SNIP.  A slot drawer opens in the fence. I drop the payas in it as they slide over to the other side.

 

Next thing I know I’m flying high above the desert. A fan that propels me forward is strapped on my back, as I am kept afloat not by one, two, or three, but 99 red balloons. I am whistling the lyrics to a song. I don’t know the words because they are in German and I will have nothing to do with that particular language.  They did, after all, slaughter around six million of my people.  Right now I’m just trying to put as much ground as humanly possible between the Pale City and me.  My whistle is a nervous whistle. The sky is pitch black but something tells me that if I float high enough I’ll break into daylight. Wishful fucking thinking.

 

Why am I trying to leave this place when I know that just hasn’t been in the cards? I’m trying to get a message out to God. Yeah, the Big Guy.  I’m tired of the old man and his bullshit. I’m tired of the torments of the little suicide queens. And of course there is the ever-elusive man in the beige trench coat who I gather is either what I want to be or am supposed to be eventually.

 

I wonder if I’m dead and I just don’t know it. It is entirely possible that I’ve gone to Hell and am dreaming of being alive. The engine on my back sputters low on fuel. I see another form rising out of the desert in the darkness. It’s a lobster attached to a mass of red balloons. I’m sharing the air with a creature that feeds from the bottom and then gets boiled alive. The propeller stops. I undo the straps and let it fall miles below me to the desert floor. The balloons take the lobster and me straight up. Weighing less, the lobster passes by me. As it does it turns its little crustacean head and says,

 

“What does it tell you that I’m much smaller then a camel?”

 

It would take me a very long time to find out what that meant. The lobster floats out of sight. I hear the squawk of birds and I see a swarm of birds heading toward me. I sense it more than I see it. They fly past tearing at the balloons and me. Occasionally one pops, but it doesn’t seem like this slows my ascent. I realize that one bird in particular isn’t in any hurry. This bird is bigger than the rest. That is because this is not a bird. This is the man in beige with pin stripes with a Daedalus flying contraption of wooden poles, wax, and weathers. Only in ancient Greece and psychotic hallucinations is such an apparatus actually airborne.

 

“I’m here to tell you, you don’t have permission to meet with It.”

 

“Who?”

 

“You know who. You’re acting like a child and a presumptuous child at that.”

 

A bird pops a balloon right above my head.

 

“How do I get an audience with him then?”

 

“The sooner you stop thinking of it as a him, the quicker your departure from this place.”

 

“And who the fuck are you?” I demand.

 

“Me? I’m Mike Washington. You ask me that every time like you got a condition.”

 

“Is this my afterlife, Washington?”

 

“That would imply you were alive before you got here.”

 

“I was. That is. I am. This dream is Hell and I can only thank God that I get to wake up from it.”

 

“Do you really mean that?”

 

“What?”

 

“Do you actually can thank God?”

 

“It’s a figure of speech.”

 

“Well in that case I only know as much as you do.”

 

A bird pops another balloon. They are literally flying past us. Mike Washington seems to glide effortlessly upward as I rise parallel to him on my red balloon rig.”

 

“I didn’t understand what the lobster said.”

 

“Lobsters don’t talk, pilgrim.”

 

“I forgot.”

 

“So whose side are you on?”

 

“There are sides?”

 

“Yes. There are always very wide curving porous sides. People that can’t pick a side are fickle. No one likes the fickle.”

 

“Well, Mike Washington, I don’t even know what each side stands for.”

 

“And that’s why you don’t get to meet Him today. Of course Him is the wrong term, but that’s how Western civilization has socialized you to think of our maker.”

 

“Until I negotiated with that sad fucking clown to buy this flying machine, I don’t know that I believed in “Him” at all. My faith is transient. You might say I haven’t seen any convincing miracles.”

 

“You’re flying three miles above the desert talking to a man flying on wax, sticks, and eagle feathers. That’s pretty fucking miraculous. And call me Mike.”

 

“So how do I get upstairs, Mike?”

 

“Isn’t that the question everyone keeps asking these days and forever? Until the day of judgment that is?”

 

“What religion are you, Mike?”

 

“I’m gonna put you on to something,” he whispers still soaring.

 

“What?”

 

“Religion is for drunks, the poor and children.”

 

A McDonalds is sitting on a cloud floating miles above the ground. Seated on the cloud is a camel trying to put its head through the eye of a needle. A crowd of people is cheering on the effort. Shirtless men and women with white cotton tunics stand around making bets on whether this camel will get through. They munch on burgers. When Tupac asked if heaven had a ghetto, I wouldn’t be able to answer. I do now know that what I call Hell has a McDonalds.

 

“Fancy a meat burger?” asks Mike.

 

But it’s too late. Unable to control my flight path, I am unable to land.  I just keep going up and up.

 

“So where are we exactly? Hell, purgatory, the rocky road to Heaven?”

 

“You’re thinking in terms that simplify the greatness of God.”

 

“Are we heading in the right direction?”

 

“Every which way is the right direction if you get the feeling that your purpose is close to realization.”

 

“Then cut me loose, Mike, ‘cause I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m doing here. I don’t have a purpose.”

 

“You do. Mark my words you do. It just hasn’t made that purpose clear.”

 

“Yeah, I stopped paying attention after all the floating camels, and the talking lobsters, and the torments of the little girls with the homicidal intentions.”

 

“Sebastian…”

 

“What?”

 

“Lobsters don’t talk.”

 

The birds begin attacking the remnants of my balloon cluster.

 

POPOPOPOPOPOPPOPOPOPOPOPOPOPOPPPOOOPPO!

 

Suddenly there are only three balloons left.

 

“The lobster was talking, Mike.”

 

POP. POP. There is only one left.

 

“You have to separate what is devilish from what is divine or you’ll be lost in Babylon forever.”

 

A bird is perched on the final balloon keeping me afloat.

 

“What is Babylon?” I ask, eyeing this bird whose presence spells my three-mile drop back into oblivion.

 

“Babylon is a place where one cannot hear God.”

 

POP.  And down I go falling.

About to fall hard.

 

 

 

10

 

 

There’s this cat that goes to my school that I really look up to. His name is Deleon. He’s the only Black Jew I’ve ever met, and he ain’t from Ethiopia.

 

He’s always reading books on spiritual and political shit, stuff I never took an interest in, but probably should check out. He’s pretty tall for a junior in high school and has well-kept dreds. Deleon has this backpack that contains everything he needs to get by for a couple of weeks without going home: a change of clothes, a couple of cans of food, and a sewing kit. His skates are attached to the back of the bag. I don’t know too much about his domestic situation except that he usually stays over at his friends’ houses. Deleon is also strait edge like Roxanne. He doesn’t do drugs or drink or even smoke cigarettes.

 

Like Roxanne who I only called once, twice and three times after that night and never heard from again. Puppy love bullshit feelings type shit.

 

I’ve never met a straight edge guy before who wasn’t a herb. We don’t have much in common, but we talk a whole lot sitting on the concrete steps outside the school.

 

“Why the Hell don’t you drink, again?” I ask incredulously.

 

“That shit is poison.”

 

“And you don’t fuck with drugs either, right?”

 

“Nope. Poison too.”

 

“So what do you do to have fun?”

 

“I read. Get with mad shorties and skate it up grind style. You don’t actually need drugs to have fun, kid. The crime-fighting dog was right. So was Carmen Santiago.”

 

“That’s just crazy talk. Being straight edge really isn’t normal.”

 

“What makes you think taking drugs is so normal?”

 

“’Cause everyone does them.”

 

“You ever think that maybe only your circle of friends does them?”

 

“I don’t think that’s right.”

 

“So you really think that all kids your age are smoking dope, drinking 40s, and having banging out bitches?”

 

“Pretty much. Yeah, I do.”

 

“You just hang out with the bad crowd, kid.”

 

“What? Your friends don’t do that shit?”

 

“They do. My crew hangs out across the street, too. I just don’t think you can make blanket statements about youth and absolute delinquency. I don’t think that most kids get into what your friends are doing now until maybe when they go to college.”

 

“I think American youth are overall pretty fucked. They should just legalize everything and let us say no to whatever we want.”

 

“Trouble is, taught to consume, we say no to nothing. The last thing our generation needs is easier access to drugs and alcohol. You do realize that drugs and alcohol keep people from revolting, keeps you all doped up and sedated so you never question the grind of it all? There’d be revolution if you got these poisons forever out of the minds of youth and the masses.”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“If people didn’t get drunk and high, tune out all the damn time, they’d realize how the government fucks them. Trick them. Makes um hate things they don’t need to hate, buy things they don’t need to buy. Pay motherfucking taxes. How it grinds us under its heel.”

 

“The government doesn’t fuck anybody.”

 

Although even then I had my doubts about what they were even good for.

 

“You say that because you forgot how to read.”

 

“You’re telling me that the government is responsible for what’s wrong with us? What?!”

 

“It just isn’t exactly that simple homie.

 

“So elaborate, motherfucker.”

 

“What do you know about the capitalist system?”

 

“I know it’s about making money and that it works pretty damn well.”

 

“You’re brainwashed, kid. Straight brainwashed hardcore.”

 

“I didn’t know you were a pinko.”

 

“I’m not a communist, but do you even know what that means?”

 

“That I can’t buy McDonalds once the Russians ruin our economy?”

 

“Russia isn’t communist. Wasn’t even communist before it fell apart in ’89. Certainly isn’t now. No country is pure this or that. But capitalism takes something out of everyone because it alienates people from both the means of production and boils human interaction down to pure economics. ”

 

“I don’t think I understand your little diatribe.”

 

“You’re not using that word right.”

 

“Which one?”

 

Diatribe.”

 

“Whatever. What do you mean about making everything about economics?”

 

“Materialism, kid. We are completely living our lives for material gain. Everything we do is about getting rich. The reason so many kids get into drugs and alcohol is that they have a sick desperation that comes from subconsciously knowing that they are being turned into parts for a machine that does not actually benefit them.”

“So us being all fucked up is really the fault of the government? Is that what you’re saying?”

 

“The government perpetuates it and exploits it, but they don’t cause it.”

 

“So who do we blame, Del?” I ask belligerently.

 

“Well first we gotta blame ourselves.”

 

“What do you mean blame ourselves? Aren’t we the victims?”

 

“Nothing is simple, kid, but I’ve come to believe that the only people not tainted by the system are the ones who separate from it.”

 

“And how does one go about that.”

 

“Not doing drugs and drinking is a good start. When you’re not fucked up all the time, you see things a lot more clearly. Remember how to read.”

 

“I know how to fucking read, Del.”

 

“But do you own the right books?”

 

“What would the right books show me?”

 

“The world’s fallin’ apart all around us.”

 

“I don’t see that.”

 

“You’ll just have to take my word then son.”

 

“Everything seems pretty solid. I feel like it’s us that are falling apart.”

 

“Youth are the spiritual barometer of a nation.”

 

“What the Hell does that mean?”

 

“I mean that you can gauge a society based upon the condition of the youth.”

 

“Why is that?”

 

“Because youth are the ones that are supposed to change things, be the most fervent idealists.”

 

“So our desperation comes from our inactivity in response to a decadent society?”

 

“Something like that. The death of idealism leads us to accept the less than perfect reality.”

 

“I don’t accept it, but I still can’t tangibly figure out what’s wrong.”

 

“Seems like you know what’s up,” he says.

 

“Yeah, but I’m not really doing anything about it. Not putting down the bottle anytime soon.”

 

The period bell rings and kids start heading across the street to get to class. I don’t really feel like going. I feel like if I stay out I might learn something, but Vance is out this period and he’ll start fucking with me. I give Del a pound and head to class.

 

Vance has been fucking with me nearly every day. He puts me in garbage cans and rolls me down the hill. He’s a big motherfucker and I’m not sure what to do about it. I really need to deal with that fuck. Later after school when I see Del again I ask him what I should do about it.

 

“What you really should do about it is turn out his sister,” said Deleon as we sat on the Harris Field ledge that overlooks Bronx Science.

 

“How the Hell would I even go about finding her?”

 

“Well, for one thing you could come with me to BBYO.”

 

“What’s BBYO?”

 

“It’s a Jewish youth organization that Samson and I go to bag chicks. Vance’s sister is a member. Her name is Trish. I bet you’re just her type.”

 

Samson is my Jewish brother from another mother.

 

“What’s her type?”

 

“A little nerdy, a little bad.”

 

“Why the Hell are you part of a Jewish youth organization?”

 

“That’s really not the issue here. The issue is you fucking Vance’s sister to get back at him for fucking with you all the time.”

 

“That’s a little underhanded don’t you think? But why are you in this BBYO thingy?”

 

“Slutty White girls.”

 

“Say no more. But why would banging the sister hurt him?”

 

“It’s called guerilla warfare. Peripherally striking the enemy when you can’t meet them in open conventional combat. Besides, you’re not exactly one to adhere to any rigid moral scruples from what I hear. You’re the ill sexual terrorist.”

 

“Whatever that means.”

 

“She’s kind of cute anyway, a little young for me though.”

 

“How old is she?”

 

“12, 13 maybe.”

 

“That is pretty young.”

 

“It would really make him angry. Especially if everybody knew about it.”

 

“It certainly would.”

 

“Such a score is easy enough to advertise.”

 

It doesn’t escape my attention that for all of Del’s talk of youth and redemption he isn’t above using me to use Vance’s sister to hurt our common enemy.

 

Del took me to a BBYO meeting later that week. It was held in an office near 34th Street. They serve pizza while talking about Jewish shit and how much fun Israel is.  Yay! The room looks like it’s decorated for a high school dance. There are big color posters of smiling Jews hanging on the walls. Vance’s sister Trick is real active in BBYO. I saw Samson at the meeting and it’s surprising because I didn’t even know he was very Jewish. He looks and acts like an I-Ty Guido. It’s hard to figure out what BBYO actually is. Zionist propaganda from the look of it with free food. I flirted with Trick most of the evening. There are some pretty cute girls at the meeting and Del says, “They all loose as Hell.” I get Trick’s number and we decide to hang out later that week. It was all entirely too easy.

 

 

11

 

 

Fuck the bridges and blow the tunnels; somehow I ended knee deep in Queens. I’d linked up with Case after a Saturday spent smoking at Donny’s crib. Next thing I know I am in some land beyond train lines called Bayside. At a god damn Hebrew-BBYO dance, some acronym for young Jews being drunk sluts. I am so fucking drunk by this point I’d been up for anything, I’m at this little Zionist dance off to get the number of this kid Vance’s kid sister. Vance is a sophomore who fucks with me at school, I’m gonna knock his sister up.

 

But then one huge fucking ethnically charged brawl later we are zipping down Bell Boulevard, being chased by copper skinned umpalumpas. Case, Donny and I are running from some Jewish Italian mob of wanksters and wegros. Apparently even in the world’s most multi-ethnic borough, a black city boy like Del can’t get caught kissing a white Queens women when they have boyfriends, in the bathroom.

We run like hell to out flank a brawl and a hate crime.

 

Eventually we get clear. We split a Gypsy cab and get to the last stop of the # 7 train for an evacuation. We get as far away from that dance as we possibly can.

 

“These are not the Jews you’re looking for,” I say to myself.

 

Donny and I end up at another house party back in Manhattan. When we arrive there are only a few people left at the party, but that kid Isaac Zucker, who everybody calls ‘Crack’ is passed out on a bedroom of the host’s parents. His wallet, pager, and keys have all fallen out of his pocket. No one is watching. Donny and I look at each other.

 

“Don’t do it, man.” Donny tells me.

 

“Why the Hell not?”

 

“Isn’t he your boy?”

 

“No. Not really.”

 

“It still isn’t right.”

 

“Who cares? I want to take a cab home,” I say nonchalantly.

 

“This is one of those moments we talked about where you can choose to actively be a part of the problem.”

 

Crack is a stupid fucking stoner. He won’t even know we took his money.”

 

“I absolve myself of this.”

 

“Absolve away.”

 

I open the wallet and take out all of the money and two Metro cards. It comes up to about fifteen dollars. I think about pocketing his pager, but that really doesn’t get me anywhere. We say goodbye and leave. I hail a cab on the corner.

 

“I can’t believe you just robbed Soul Train.” Says Donny Gold.

 

“You getting in this cab?” I ask.

 

Donny thinks about it for a second.

 

“No. I’m gonna find another way to get home.”

 

“Suit yourself.”

 

I sometimes think that I do some pretty damn tasteless things. Things like taking people’s wallets even when I don’t even need the money. Things like fingering twelve year-olds in maintenance closets. Yeah, fingering a twelve year-olds and putting my dick in their mouths in a maintenance closet to get at her older brother who fuck with me at school.

High minded shit.

Just two days after the dance in the Styx, I call Vance’s sister Jill and ask her to meet me at Waterside. I could have hooked up with Jill in my parent’s apartment. I could have taken her to a museum or a movie or bought her a flower or done something sweet. Instead, I bring her to my place and try to think of the grimiest place in the world to get with her. Waterside has all these tunnels and sub corridors filled with dodgy little unlocked rooms. There isn’t even a couch. There isn’t anything except the two of us in the dark hooking up amid mop buckets and shelves that hold bottles of disinfectant. She is a real lousy kisser. The worst part about it is that she actually has some crush on me, some stupid feelings. I probably should feel like I am taking advantage. But I don’t feel anything at all. I see getting with her in the cold hard terms of getting back at her brother. That’s the kind of guy I am. I am not a very good dude. I push her on her knees and unzip my pants.

However, I have no allusions about my lack of moral scruples. None at all.

‘Put it in your mouth and suck it off you little bitch’ I say to her.

She giggles that I call her a bitch, like it’s sexy or funny? And she gives me head in a maintenance room. That’s the City I live in.

 

 

12

 

 

 

I’d gotten suspended for fighting in school. They gave me a week off. So I went to hang out down on Chambers street in lower Manhattan and say what up to my buddy Karl Katzerbaad, maybe bump into Roxy; that was the real goal. She hadn’t returned any of my calls.

And there she was.

My parents once took me to a good musical.  I’ve been taken to plays and musicals my whole life. My parents always urged my brother and me to take advantage of all the cultural events that happen in New York. Roxanne had mentioned that she knows all the lyrics to the play. It was called Rent. It’s a Lower East Side takeoff on the famous opera La Boheme. It’s about being poor, being in love and dying of an incurable disease.

 

“The real message is that true love can surpass hardship,” says Roxanne.

 

We’re sitting on this low concrete wall across the highway from Stuyvesant where she goes to school and where I’ve spent all day waiting for her.

 

“It wasn’t love. They shared a need for companionship as they quickly approached death.” I tell her.

 

“That’s a pretty shitty way to look at a perfectly real vision of romance,” she replies.

 

“Never been in love. So I’m wholly unfamiliar with the emotion.”

 

“No need to cheapen something beautiful.”

 

“Fictional characters, Roxy.”

 

“Representing a story that goes on across the world. I believe that if you saw the bigger picture, you’d come to understand that our existence as a people is worth precious little if there were no such feeling as love.”

 

“Alcohol.” I flippantly respond.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“The other substitute when love is missing.”

 

“In the kindest way that this can be said, that is the most silly and pathetic thing I have ever heard. But coming from someone who just got suspended for smashing someone over the head with a wine bottle, little you say could surprise me.”

 

“Then I’ll have to just try harder.”

 

“No you don’t. No need to debase yourself for my amusement.”

 

“Harsh words.”

 

“You need to hear them because people are saying that your behavior is getting a little out of control.”

 

“People are always saying things.”

 

“Why’d you come to Stuyvesant, Sebastian? Do you have a crush on me or something?”

 

“Maybe. A tiny, stupid kind of crush.”

 

“You need a hobby, Adon. A cause maybe? I’m not gonna be another little conquest for you.”

 

“I think the things you hear about me are true for the most part. I think I’m not your type. I’d ask you not be hardened against me in your thinking. I might be a better man one day.”

 

“What does it matter what I think? You’re young and wild. Go chase other girls. Did our little hook up mean anything to you? I doubt it. Your crush is groundless. Does it make you smile to think of kissing me again, spending time with me?”

 

“Come to think of it, it doesn’t,” I lie.

 

“Then we should leave it at that.”

 

“Why’d you tell all your girls I can’t kiss?” I ask. That’s the word on the wire that had gotten back to me.

 

“Cause you were real drunk and you forgot how to kiss.”

 

“It was that unbearable? We hooked up for hours.”

 

“If it was unbearable it wouldn’t have gone on that long. What do you care? It was a stupid

hook up to you in a slue of stupid hook ups, right? You’re a player.”

 

“I’m not a player.”

 

“Would be if you could be. Why’d you make out with Kelly then, like two weeks after me? And then you got with Annie. Come on, I go to school with these people.”

 

“You told me you had plans on Valentine’s Day. I was hurt. Then I heard about you telling people I can’t kiss, so I hooked up with two girls at your school. And, I wanted to hurt you.”

 

“You didn’t prove me wrong about anything or hurt me. I was with my little brother on Valentine’s Day.”

 

 

She hopped off the wall as I sat there stupidly, smoking.

 

 

 

 

13

 

 

 

Public high school students get one week off for spring break in early-April. I had, once again, run away from home. I was living with Izzy Vitz and his parents on 86th between Amsterdam and Columbus. Izzy was not cut out of the same cloth as the rest of us. His parents were far more permissive.

 

He and Trikhovitch were leading the extended crew through the gateway of harder drug use.

 

Izzy was not exclusively responsible for introducing Jungle Music and rave culture to everybody we knew, but he was partly responsible for making it accessible. I started going with him to an all-Monday-night-into-Tuesday underground rave called Koncrete Jungle that started at the Ska-Punk venue Coney Island High and then moved to the Acme Underground basement further downtown near Houston Street. Izzy was always selling E pills, or at least getting them for people at a mark up.

 

How I came to live with Izzy Vitz was a combination of my mother and me being unable to tolerate even the sight of each other without a fight, the state of constant grounding I was living in, and the fact that Donny’s full blown burn-out was depressing to observe close up. Donny was a mess and just like McGruff the crime-fighting dog had told us, it began with weed. It also ended with weed, as that was mostly what Donny continued to abuse.

 

Izzy tells everyone that he ‘adopted me’. His parents were nice people and were sympathetic to the trouble I was in at home. Izzy told them the things he’d seen and heard around my house. His parents took me in because they believed what was going on between my Mother and I was unhealthy, whoever’s fault it might have been.

 

Izzy drinks and womanizes far harder than I do. And he’s is better at it. He claims he gets straight A’s at Hunter and he always keeps the drugs away from his parents’ attention. He is a weekend warrior for the most part. He says that you have to keep drugs for raves and booze for parties and that you have to keep totally clean for the school week, except for weed, which he doesn’t smoke all the time. Weed isn’t in the category of drug or drink to him. The girls he gets with are always cute as hell. His parents like me a lot. They are these nice, well-tempered Jewish people. They are actually similar to my parents in temperament, but are a quite a bit more mellow. They like me so much that they give me an allowance. I am learning how to behave.

 

Izzy always has girls over when his parents are away. He always has a bottle of something that he wants you to drink with him, mostly vodka or so-called good whiskey. He smokes probably as much pot as Donny, but there is something more extravagant about the way he smokes. Like Donny, he would sit around all weekend at his house smoking blunts and playing video games. Izzy would try to roll a foot long joint and would fool about with various elaborate paraphernalia. Donny would smoke blunts with his friends. Izzy would smoke blunts at school with his teachers, or claim to. I think what I like the most about Izzy is how he claims to live his life. He always has a good story.

 

I never feel like anything I ever do is worth repeating. I can’t really figure out why he’s helping me so much. I don’t really feel like I deserve it.

 

Izzy decided he wanted to have a tequila party during spring break. His parents have taken off to Florida for the week. His home has turned into a den of sin in their absence. A few phone calls later I am doing tequila shots with a bunch of girls from Hunter while Izzy hooks up with Elle Takaway in his parent’s room. She’d forgiven me. She came over, got real drunk and is hooking up with Izzy.

 

We got the bottle of Jose Cuervo from a liquor store up the block.

 

I’ve always thought Izzy was a violent, temperamental drunk. And he’s confirming my notion right now. He’s cursing out his window at someone on the street nine floors down. I don’t really want to get involved. I want to stay here, get drunker and keep hitting on this private school broad, but I get this feeling that Izzy wants me to have his back at this particularly senseless occasion. Next thing I know Izzy’s telling me that there’s beef and that I need to get his back. Izzy runs out the door with a small baseball bat.

 

I haven’t the faintest notion of who the beef is with or over what, but I pick up a pair of bolt cutters and rush downstairs to fight. As we rush down the stairs I wonder what in the Hell I’m actually going to do with these clippers I’m carrying. I think Izzy intends for me to hit someone with them. I feel very sick, not in the least bit interested in whatever beef my new best friend is apparently dragged me into. As we get out onto the street, Izzy takes off up the block towards a group of random wiggers in Northface.

 

Izzy is yelling about as he waves the bat in the air. One of them glowers in Izzy’s face daring him to swing. Then suddenly it’s as if the beef has ended. Izzy has invited them up to drink. It doesn’t make any sense, but I’m way too drunk to think about it too hard. I don’t think either of them recognizes me. They look stoned out of their heads. Izzy and the silly wigroes all head upstairs. Beef and then no beef. As abruptly as it started, now everyone is just friends. Kids on the Upper West Side are a lot of talk. I reach into my pants pocket and pull out a cigarette. I really don’t want to go back upstairs. Hunkered down on the sidewalk I watch the cars fly by on 86th Street. The lock clippers are sitting next to me. I’m ruining the neighborhood I bet. I close my eyes, black out for a little while.

 

 

 

Next thing I know there are two people standing over me. I think I recognize them, but I feel real sick and everything is kind of hazy. I feel like I might pass out again at any moment.

 

“Jesus kid. You look like shit,” says Saul Metternich wearing that same dirty red cap.

 

I don’t respond.

 

“I told you he would be here. He lives here now,” says Akila.

 

“Why does he have lock clippers? Why do you have lock clippers dude?”

 

“God only knows,” says Akila.

 

“Sebastian? Anyone home?” Saul waves his hand in front of me.

 

I mumble something.

 

“We really shouldn’t just leave him like this,” Akila says.

 

“Wanna take him up to Izzy’s house?”

 

“Nope,” I mutter, “No more booze. Don’t wanna drink anymore.”

 

I pointed up in the air in the approximate direction of Izzy’s apartment and yelled at the top of my lungs.

 

“DEN OF SIN!”

 

They pause a second.

 

“Wanna go to Roxanne’s house?” Akila asks.

I didn’t respond. They pick me up and I stumble through the streets in a daze like a wounded weekend warrior. I feel poisoned. I don’t know where we’re going. The last thing I remember thinking is that I can’t believe Roxy said I couldn’t kiss.

But they don’t care what I’m mumbling Seth and Akila hoist be up and carry me up Columbus Avenue.

 

 

36

 

 

The sexiest thing a woman can do is help bring a man back from the dead with compassion.

I feel like someone has taken a jackknife to my liver. The room is dark. The digital clock on the bed stand next to me tells me in neon green that it is around 12:30 am. I am hung over and I taste the after draft of puke on my lips. After a few dry heaves, I try to get up. I’m parched. I wolf down a glass of water that is on the nightstand. I sense that there is another person in the room. She’s is lying on a bed next to mine in this dark, little room.

 

“Drink some more water,” Roxanne says.

 

“How long have I been here?” I mutter.

 

“Longer than I probably should have let you stay.”

 

There’s a long awkward pause. Why the fuck did they drag me over here.

 

“I’m not a bad kisser,” I say as I take another drink from the cup of water from her.

 

“You’re still on that?”

 

I think about it for a second.

 

“Yeah, I’m totally still on that.”

 

“Well you shouldn’t be.”

 

“That’s a major affront to my manhood.”

 

“No. A major affront to your manhood would be if I said you had a small penis. I just said you were a bad kisser. It’s not like I told anyone besides Akila and Kelly and Julia Shoot and Zivia.”

 

“That was nice of you. To be so discrete, I mean.”

 

I drink more water as my eyes become more accustomed to the darkness.

 

“You really shouldn’t be as concerned with it as you are.”

 

“It’s embarrassing.”

 

“Oh, you thought that girls like it when you get slobbering drunk and grind all over them having no feelings for them at all. You presume we like that. That we enjoy ‘hooking up’?”

 

“That was the basic assumption.”

 

“Oh. Well, just so you know, booze makes you a useless lover, Sebastian.”

 

A bit more silence.

 

“Roxanne. Why did you let them bring me here?”

 

“Cause you have nowhere else to go and my Mom won’t be home until tomorrow afternoon.”

 

“Where’s your Dad?”

 

“I don’t have a dad. Do you want more water? You were vomiting for an hour. You puked all over my bathroom, probably lost a lot of fluids.”

 

“I’ll clean it up,” I say trying to get up.

 

She gets up faster, “I cleaned your mess up already. More water?”

 

There’s a heaving in my chest, but there is nothing less to expel. The poison has soaked in.

 

“Please.”

 

She fills up another glass with ice from the kitchen.

 

“Thanks.”

 

“Try to be quiet. My kid brother is in the next room.”

 

“I’m sorry I came here. I couldn’t stay with Izzy anymore.”

 

“Akila says she’ll take custody of you tomorrow.”

 

“Ha.”

 

“What’s funny?”

 

“Custody.”

 

“Well you can’t or won’t go home. You don’t go to school. We all have to look after you, don’t we?”

 

“Like a child?” I ask.

 

“No, like a broken young man.”

 

“I think I’ll leave.”

 

“You’re sick. Just spend the night. I’ll make you breakfast when you get hungry.”

 

“Why are you doing this, Roxy? Is it like Izzy, to have some power over me to feel all altruistic without having to care?”

 

“I’m in it because Akila asked me to do it and Akila is my friend.”

 

“Why are you awake?”

 

“I don’t sleep well when my mother is away. The house is empty. I don’t like night.”

 

“Where did your father go?”

 

“The coward abandoned us before I was born. My mom remarried, but I hate the bastard for leaving us.”

 

“Sorry.”

 

“I don’t need your thanks or your sympathy. I need you not to puke anymore, not to be sick. And not to wake my kid brother.”

 

“Thanks for taking care of me. I’m not well.”

 

“I already said you don’t need to thank me. Just don’t drink anymore. Girls won’t want to smooch with you if you poison all the passion out of yourself.”

 

We talk until the sky gets all purple before the dawn. This blonde Jew from Stuy with her father’s Cuban last name is quite a special broad. I feel like some wounded animal made docile only when broken, which is what I am. Will I have learned anything when I wake up? Feel anything? Or will I just reach for more poison? She tells me that she will tutor me in algebra if I promise to go back to school. She says that I should apologize to my parents; make things right with my Mother.

 

“I need to get out of the City.” That’s the last thing I remember saying.

 

“If you don’t change soon, they’ll send you away anyway. You’ll disappear like everyone else.”

 

 

 

37

 

 

 

The sun is shining in the window and it hurts my eyes. I feel hung over and the alcohol shakes are taking hold of me. I shudder as the poison still sits in my liver. I smell something cooking. Is it eggs or pancakes? You always feel a little grimy when you sleep in your clothes, but I am pretty used to it. The digital clock next to bed says it is 11 am. She must think I’m such a fucking drunk. A bad kisser and a drunk, but I guess she knew that before she let me crash here. I rub the sleep out of my eyes and get out of bed.

 

Roxanne is wearing a red Little League shirt and matching sweat pants. She is cooking eggs at the stove. Her shoulder length dirty blond hair is pulled back with a black hair band. She is so petite. I remember holding her in my arms that night worrying in my drunken stupor that I might break her.

 

“You want some breakfast, sleepy?” she asks me smiling.

 

“Yeah. That would hit the fucking spot. Sorry.”

 

“About what? I don’t care if you curse in front of me.”

 

“I mean more about being a hooligan. Coming here.”

 

“You were shit-faced. Akila brought you here to coalesce.”

 

“I’m an asshole.”

 

“No. You’re a drunk and a bad kisser, remember?”

 

“Oh yeah, I forgot.”

 

She smirked as she turned back to flip the eggs.

 

“How do you like them?”

 

“From chickens.”

 

“Oh. These are from cows. I guess you’re not eating.”

 

“Cow eggs are good too. That shit is kosher, right?”

 

“Oh yeah, completely. Us all being observant Jews and everything.”

 

There is a brief silence and I feel like I need to say something.

 

“Like, I know I said it…but thanks.”

 

“Whatever, man. It’s cool. I told you, Akila is my home girl.”

 

Another silence.

 

“So . . .What does one do if they don’t drink at parties?”

 

“Get hit on by guys that can’t kiss. Sometimes hooking up with them.”

 

“You’re funny.” I say figuring that I couldn’t have been that bad.

 

“You know. Nobody ever complained before.”

 

“That’s because they’re drunk out of their minds when you hook up with them. Your reputation precedes you.”

 

“How bad is it?”

 

“There are those with worse.”

 

“Like serial killer worse?”

 

“No not like your buddy Vitz. Like, you’re-not-the-only-grimy-guy-in-NYC worse.”

 

“I’m not that grimy.”

 

I remember that I hooked up with her best friend Kelly two weeks ago.

 

“Whatever you have to tell yourself to sleep at night.”

 

“Believe me. I lose sleep. But not over that.”

 

“And pray tell what does Sebastian Adon lose sleep over?”

 

“I was abused as a child.”

 

“That, I find difficult to believe. A nice Jewish boy like you?”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“I hear that you’re as bad to your parents as they may be to you.”

 

“Maybe? They’re fucking insane. I don’t live with Izzy for my health.”

 

“That’s an understatement if I ever heard one. Is it true you pulled a knife on your Dad?”

 

“No.”

 

She looks me dead in the eyes and has a face I can’t lie to.

 

I say nothing but she knows.

 

“Don’t go into politics, Sebastian. You’re a shitty liar with a notorious past.”

 

“Why the fuck, would I ever go into politics?”

 

“Yeah, I forgot how little you care about anything or anybody, besides yourself.”

 

“I care about things.”

 

“What? Like booze and girls?”

 

“I bet you didn’t know I write poetry.”

 

“That I didn’t know. Is it any good?”

 

“Like William fucking Shakespeare.”

 

“That good, eh? That the only poet you know? The eggs are done. Go have a seat.”

 

I show up drunk, puke all over her bathroom, and she is serving me continental breakfast. A fucking amazing sweetheart.

 

“How’s Stuy?”

 

“Hard, building a future with a dream. How’s Bronx?”

 

“I don’t really go anymore. I can’t stand math and they keep trying to expel me.”

 

“Assaulting people, of course, has nothing to do with that.”

 

“You certainly know a lot about me.”

 

“Word on the street is that you’re pretty crazy. How crazy are you?”

 

“I’m not crazy. I’m misunderstood.”

 

“In meaningful and fulfilling ways, I hear.”

 

“Well we can’t all be fucking perfect, can we?”

 

She glares at me for a second and then stops. I shouldn’t have said that.

 

“I can teach you math,” she says suddenly. “I’m in the advanced class.”

 

“I think you’d be wasting your time better spent on anything else.”

 

“You need to go back to school.”

 

“Why are so interested in what I do with my life?”

 

“You know. I’m really not. I didn’t show up at you home.”

 

There is yet another awkward silence as we return to our eggs.

 

“Look. I’m not really used to girls like you.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“I’m not a charity case, as much as Izzy might make it seem.”

 

“That’s not why I want to help you.”

 

“So why then?”

 

“Because I don’t have anything else to do tomorrow.”

 

I don’t give a shit about math, but I want to see her again.

 

“My schedule appears to be wide open.”

 

“So call me tomorrow. I have to study for my finals and you can’t be here when my Mom comes home in an hour.”

 

“Can I take a shower before I go?”

 

“Sure. Just don’t puke in it again. Or make a mess jerking off.”

 

“I don’t jerk off at girls homes on the first date,” I tell her.

 

 

 

 

38

 

 

 

I stay happy and completely sober and in love, at least that’s what the emotion feels like for the next two weeks.

The girl keeps my mind here. She keeps me out of trouble too. She teaches me math and how to kiss. I am spending my days with her to avoid both Izzy and substance-based escapism.

 

It’s nice to have her tongue in my mouth and not a cigarette.

 

I don’t want to spend more than a day without seeing her. I believe that Roxanne is pleasantly surprised when I suggest a picnic. We had the picnic with several other friends. It is my first picnic with a girl that I love. The food tastes better than anything I’d ever eaten. There are no alcohol or drugs. Someone took a snapshot of us that afternoon. The others all look so young and clean cut in the photo. I look like a loser. Roxy has a look of partial concern on her face. It is the look of someone who appears to be sizing up a situation and wondering where she stands. There’s another picture of Roxanne faux smoking a cigarette, something she swore she would never do maybe mocking me half way.

 

She is pleasantly surprised again when we spend the day on Long Beach. It is her idea to get me out of the City. We walk several blocks to the boardwalk on the beach from the train station. We took some friends with us. Ari Wilmer who likes playing Risk; Max Young who is quiet and looks like he’ll be a cop some day; Zivia Lubetkin who has become my little sister, or female shrink of the month as Izzy calla it; Isaac Zucker from Bronx who people called Crack or Soul Train (who I robbed without his knowledge and must pay back); as well as Akila Abulaffia who has been one of the crew for quite some time. I am wearing a black T-shirt that is too tight and ugly khaki shorts that I borrowed from Ari. Roxy has on blue short shorts and a powder blue sleeveless, collarless shirt. It is brilliantly clear, but there aren’t a lot of people on the beach.

 

 

“Happy again?” Akila asks me when the others left us to get some food.

 

“She makes me pretty happy.”

 

“Make yourself happy, Sebastian.”

 

 

 

I am back at Izzy’s house the last night of spring break getting shit-faced, turning off my head. My little acts of prohibition did not last long. We have already knocked down two Red Dog 40’s each. The room is starting to spin and is full of cigarette smoke. His parents are still on vacation.

 

“So you love her, do you?” mocks Izzy with wild eyes.

 

His bedroom is cluttered with books, dirty clothing, and wires leading to a computer, an alarm clock, and a slew of other electronic devices. We’re both pretty hammered. I’m not sure why we are getting so trashed in the absence of girls or a party, but both of us are celebrating my seduction of Roxanne. He had told me to abandon that as a lost cause weeks ago.

 

“Yeah, head-over-motherfuckin’-heals, my man.” I slur.

 

“I want to warn you that teenage love is stupid and fleeting. Your seduction might be useless once your reputation renders the fling undone.”

 

“Seduction isn’t the right word, Izzy.”

 

“It was the first one that came to mind. She didn’t even think you could kiss a month ago. That’s a pretty rampant affront.”

 

“She’s making me good again. She makes me feel like Sebastian isn’t this grimy piece of shit that hooks up with too many girls, steals and does all that other disreputable shit I’m known for.”

 

“She knows your rep in the third person?”

 

“I gather as much.”

 

“I’m tellin’ you, kid, you gotta start getting with private school girls. Private school guys put your rep to shame. These girls won’t know who you are when you meet ‘em.”

 

I pound back another 40. Some of the liquid dribbles down my chin.

 

“I’m not that interested in other girls,” I say, taking another drink. “I want to go out with Roxy. Get her to be my girl.”

 

“You’ve spent a week getting with the same person and you think you’re in love. That’s cool. Who am I to say that isn’t real to you? But if you want my two shiny cents, that girl is gonna get bored with you. Her friends are gonna talk her out of you, and you’re investing quite a bit in what? A stupid fuckin’ fling.”

 

“It ain’t a fucking fling.”

 

“Sebastian, my dude. Love doesn’t exist to us. It was raped, murdered, and left bleeding by the side of the road by Maxim Magazine, Sex in the City, and the Hollywood movie industry. By that I mean you have no conception of what love is. Wouldn’t know love until it asked you to punch it in the face.”

 

“I feel sorry for you.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because I’m telling you about being in love and you say it doesn’t exist. I think that’s sad.”

 

Izzy chugs his 40 and then dumps the empty bottle in a blue mini-trashcan. He pulls a pack of Camels from his pocket and lights one with a black Bick lighter. He doesn’t offer me one.

 

“They really did a number on us. We can’t love. We can’t feel. We spend our whole lives chasing that pie in the sky and all we might get if we’re lucky is a house, a woman we are somewhat attracted to, some kids, and the promise of what comes next proclaimed over every TV screen.”

 

I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.

 

“If you’re in love, man, power to you. Just remember that it isn’t going to last.”

 

“You’re wrong.”

 

“You know that this girl you’ve fallen in love won’t actually fix your head. You’re off chasing a girl who’s gonna break your heart.”

 

“Roxanne is gonna help me get away from this shit. I can’t do it myself.”

 

“She ain’t gonna help you, son.”

 

“Why shouldn’t I do the only thing that has ever brought be any real happiness?”

 

“The objective of life is not happiness, that’s fucked delusion” Izzy sneers.

 

“What then?” I yell back.

 

“Freedom.”

 

“Freedom from what?”

 

Izzy has a really crazy look in his eyes. It looks like he might cry, or punch me in the jaw. He stands up suddenly from the green futon he’s been sitting on.

 

“You know what’s going on! We all do. We’re spending the most idealistic years of our lives seeking out every available means to pacify our own resistance. Render ourselves blind!”

 

“What the hell are we even resisting, Izzy?!!”

 

“I don’t want to die like all these other people knowing that my eyes were always this blind. I want to live in a country that doesn’t taint everything it touches with escapism and false or useless dreams!! I know that our generation could change the entire world if we weren’t so busy getting fucked up. THEY GAVE US SO DAMN MUCH TO WORK WITH! We have the City, and some wealth, and a good education; but we are running from everything. SO DAMN scared to face the reality of what happens when we grow up. WE DRINK, we SMOKE, and we bandy about words like LOVE? Love, Sebastian? IT’S ALL THE GREAT ESCAPE!!! I need you to focus with me on this. I’m drunk and high all the time. I feel nothing. Nothing at all. Neither do you! I’ve made an invention of my life. A story to make people excited, to hear a crazy tale! Freedom from this is what we went looking for down the rabbit hole. We took that potion, took lots of fucking potions. Smoked everything that was dead and green. BUT FREEDOM!”

 

He’s ranting now, knocking things over.

 

“You are SO LOST, kid. SO DAMN LOST. Who is this little trick Roxy Martinez? Distraction. Distraction like the drink and smoke. You don’t love her. You don’t even love your stupid self.”

 

“Why are you saying these things?!” I yell at him.

 

“Because you can’t pick a side, Sebastian. You can’t be a straightedge, little goodie-goodie and a womanizing drunk on the same ten square city blocks. You can’t light people on fire or hit thugs with wine bottles and then plan a faggot fucking picnic.”

 

“Fuck you, Izzy, you’re a being a dick. You’re jealous because I’m rejecting this lifestyle that’s killing me, killing you too.”

 

“Fuck me? I feed you. I house you. My parents give you the only money you have. YOU HAD A STRING FOR A FUCKING belt when I met you.”

 

“Yeah, fuck you, you pathological fuck. I don’t need your tainted fuckin’ hospitality.”

 

I get up to leave. He jumps on me. We crash to the floor hitting each other. He’s bigger than me and a better fighter. I try to claw his eyes. He hits me in the head. I punch him in his right kidney. He kind of backhands me as we roll across the floor knocking things over. I finally manage to strike him in the balls. He doubles over howling in pain. We both lay bruised and winded on the floor of a room hit with the tornado of a volatile broken friendship.

 

After about a minute of us lying drunk and winded on the floor of his room, he tosses me a cigarette.

 

“Was it good for you, too?” he asks me.

 

“What, the fuck, is wrong with you?”

 

“I think we’re both, in serious denial, about the things that make us happy.”

 

“Then let’s not try to rain on the false happiness parade okay, Izzy? She’s made me happy in the short term. Why are you rambling on about freedom?”

 

“Cause love’s a harder drug, than malt liquor and cannabis, my dude. Harder to get off of, harder to rehabilitate a person from.”

 

“What’s this really about?”

 

“I just don’t want the broad to fuck your fragile little head. You’re on the edge enough without a dumb little tramp like that. And she can’t love a kid like you. Don’t forget that, Sebastian.”

 

“What’s a kid like me, Izzy?”

 

“Like a goddamn jungle boy. Swingin’ around with no damn supervision. Breaking the laws, blowing the Conch! Living like the lord of the flies.”

 

 

 

 

 

פ

When Columbine happened, I thought it was funny. My first thought was that those jocks got what they deserved. That’s where I am spiritually. The Matrix has just come out and everyone is trying to say that the movie had something to do with the massacre as opposed to every other piece of media that teaches young boys guns are fun and that shooting is the manly way to solve a problem. It was only a matter of time. Looking at why those two boys did what they did, it really didn’t have anything to do with their school, or their domestic environment, or the stupid Matrix, or video games, or mental illness, or the use of drugs and alcohol or all the other things people are blaming for their condition. Maybe it is true that they had a condition, but what happened next was merely the logical conclusion to a string of unfortunate circumstances and poor judgment. Chinua Achebe says it better. On a long enough time line all “things fall apart.”

 

 

I’ve always liked guns. I mean what young American boy doesn’t who’s not a faggot or a Mormon or some kind of pansy-conscientious-objecting-hippy-coward. My father had bought my brother and me two toy rifles when we were eight or nine. We were always running about the woods on Long Island at night hunting things that make young boys afraid.  After I saw The Matrix I bought a bunch of water guns and painted them black. Neo had this crazy scene in the movie where he whips out a dozen loaded pistols and battles a room full of guys. And it is water gun fighting season. A water gun painted black doesn’t really look like a real gun at all unless you are, in fact, Black also, especially when you paint it with a Sharpie. But the teacher that found the guns thought this was a particularly alarming piece of asocial behavior, especially since it took place right after the Columbine shootings.

 

I left the guns in my lunch bag in Dr. Maskin’s classroom. So I suppose it was the only teacher I really liked that ended up turning me in. When I went back to look for my bag later in the day, he told me to report to guidance counselor’s office. It always seems like guidance counselors are particularly annoying and misinformed. There’s always been loads of guidance to go around when it has come to me and always after the fact. Today is no different. She had heard that I wasn’t doing so well. She wants to know if I am thinking about hurting others or myself. I assure her that I just think The Matrix is a swell movie. This reconfirms how terrible action movies are for young American males. I honestly see no correlation between my guns and some Colorado kids on a shooting spree, but apparently she does. She tells me that I ought to inform my parents that there will probably have to be follow up action. I didn’t tell her that I was neither living with nor talking to my parents. When I got out of her office, I bounced from school in the middle of 7th period.

I have a last shot date with Roxy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I borrow a gray pinstripe suit from Nikh Trikhovitch for my date. Izzy had told me about a couple of places where I could take a girl and be classy about it on a budget. The restaurant is on 83rd and Amsterdam. It is an upstairs Italian joint. I order something elaborate sounding. Roxy orders simple pasta. For every gesture of hopeless romanticism I perform, there are 1001 rumors of wrong-headed behavior that make Roxanne wary of association, much less romance with me.

 

We barely speak a word during dinner even though just three days ago we’d been rolling around in the sands of Long Beach. I swear to myself that I will never go on a stupid clichéd dinner date ever, ever again. The taste of all Italian food is bland, fatty and vile. It is an awkward meal. She keeps asking roundabout questions about rumors friends have told her about me at school. I feel uncomfortable playing dress-up. She is not the same person. She believes everything they say about me. Her friends have turned her heart against me, but I’d never won it over in the first place. Nothing I can say will really make this love of mine go anywhere. As soon as we can, we split the bill. A date never goes how it’s supposed to when a woman pays half the bill.

 

 

ק

 

 

 

 

After dinner we found out that everyone is going to a rave at a trance club called Vinyl down in Tribecca downtown by the entrance to the Holland Tunnel.

 

I am sitting on a couch three hours later waiting for half a pill of Ecstasy that I have split with Elle Takaway to take its effect.  Elle and I bought the Ecstasy pill for $25.  I took it with a tab of acid that one of my old UNIS friends gave to me. The club is lit up a million shades of neon and the thumping of the bass line sends shivers down my spine. Everyone I know decided to come out. They let us all in without IDs, everyone except for Zach Cooper, one of the Hunter boys. This is my first rave and it is exactly how I expected it to be, a visual and auditory orgy of light and sound. I left the suit at Izzy’s house and am wearing my gray camo pants and a green Serial Killer T-Shirt with an image of a man putting a gun to someone’s head. It is a scene from the movie The Usual Suspects. I don’t know the actors’ names. I want to say Kevin Spacey. My mind is moving quite quickly. I feel like a cop working on deactivating a ticking time bomb, racing on a very tight timeline with all or nothing stakes. I have to find Roxy to tell her what I feel. I lost track of her somewhere in the mob of dancing, gyrating, drug-infused candy ravers. My search is complicated by the Ecstasy and acid, a narcotic combination known as Candy-flipping.

 

I scan the dance floor. The lights make it seem like we are all dancing in thigh-high water. I make my way past a sea of dancing flesh toward the chill out room in the back of the club.

 

The dancing mass is clad in all the colors of the rainbow twirling their hands quickly with glow sticks that leave lines of light zipping here and there. I eventually spot Roxy on a couch by herself. I sit down next to her awkwardly. The couch is made of tattered green fabric and is surprisingly comfortable.

 

“I won’t deny that you intrigued the shit out of me,” she says. “But it must be obvious that I can’t be with a person like you, despite my Pygmalion complexes.”

 

“What is a person like me like, Roxy?”

 

“A person who drinks heavily, like blackout heavily. A person who gets with prepubescent girls. A person who gets in fights all the time, robs even his own friends, hates his parents, cuts school and is always running away from home. We have very different sets of values. You’re not a very good person, Adon.”

 

I stare blankly at her trying to think of the right words. There aren’t any. She looks away. In the psychedelic ambiance of the club I put on the world’s-most-serious-face for my world’s-most-serious-moment.

 

“I’ll admit that I’ve done a good many things that I should regret. I assure you the rumors are probably no worse than the reality.”

 

“Even your own friends tell me not to get involved with you.”

 

That hurts quite a bit and I maybe wince a little.

 

“I know there is nothing I can say that will communicate the way I feel adequately. So I’ll be as blunt as I can. I love you Roxy. The last two weeks have been the only time in the fifteen years of my life where I went to bed content. No drugs, no hook ups. Nothing has come close to how much I have enjoyed the time I’ve spent with you. You’re telling me that in those two weeks you felt nothing?”

 

“I like you, Sebastian. I just can’t be with you. The last two weeks were fun and we can be friends. We just can’t be lovers. And you don’t actually love me. You just think you do.”

 

“So how do I prove what I feel is real?”

 

“You can’t. And you shouldn’t. A person can’t treat everyone around them like shit and act as selfishly as you have for as long as I’ve known you and then one day, because you claim to be love, convince me that you’ve changed. That’s all I can really say, Sebastian. This isn’t a teen movie with a Hollywood ending. In REAL life people are judged based on what they cumulatively have done to the people around them. DO I even need to run down the list of things you’ve done to the people around you?”

 

As soon as she says it, like a processing computer, I see faces flash before me. People I’d stolen from. People whose girlfriends I hooked up with. My parents who I’d disrespected and abandoned. My brother who I corrupted. Girls I’d gotten drunk to get with. It’s all running through my head quickly and a part of me is proud of it all. The sheer volume of it all. She is right though. I can’t change.

 

“I don’t want to be another girl you use and abandon. I’ve always been blunt with you, Sebastian, so I’ll leave it at this. You’re just not a very good person.”

 

There is only one thing I can say to that.

 

“I know and I’m sorry.”

 

“Have a good life, Sebastian Adon.”

 

“Have a good life, Roxy.”

 

She gives me a weak informal hug and a small, passionless kiss on my cheek and then leaves me sitting on the couch in this jungle. The drugs took hold soon after. The floor of the club turned into sand and all I can hear is the baseline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ר

“AND I can’t live without her so I won’t even try!”

 

I hear the Reel Big Fish Song “Beer” playing that line over and over again as if on repeat. The people are dancing out of control as I push through to get to the exit. I need to go outside because there’s something I have to do.

 

“AND I can’t live without her so I won’t even try!”

 

 

I see Mike Washington in his trench coat near the exit. He’s smoking a cigarette. My blood pulses through my body to the rhythm of the base. I hear Mike’s voice in my head.

 

“Come on, we have to get out of here.”

 

He grabs my arm and we go out the exit that leaves us on the ridge of a canyon. We quickly make our way carefully down the ridge. It takes over an hour but I know that when nightclubs turn into dreamscapes, time is the least of your concerns.

 

 

“If I give you a burner and you’ll probably shoot yourself, right?” Mike Washington whispers quickly.

 

My vision is like a split-screen videogame. I can see my body slumped over in the club and I can see the rocky desert trail I’m on following Mike towards the canyon floor. A third screen opens and I can see the Reel Big Fish playing.

 

“AND I can’t live without her so I won’t even try!”

 

“Trust me. You can live without her.”

 

“I’ll blow my brains out if you give me a weapon. Not that that will get me anywhere because none of this is real. I’m not even sure why I’m following you.”

 

I hear a roar and people start running out of the club down the ridge toward us. They move like insects sometimes walking on their hands doubled over, possessed. They’re not wearing raver gear. Their eyes are black and they have dollar bills pinned to their chests with safety pins.

 

“What are they?”

 

“They’re the reason we had to leave that club. NOW move!”

 

They screech like high-pitched sirens as they scamper toward us. I see Mike slide a clip into the gold pistol he’s carrying.

 

“Mike. I’m getting tired of all this bullshit. I’m not running anymore.”

 

“Don’t be an idiot. This is your last chance…”

 

He turns and puts a bullet in the head of a creature that looks very much like Izzy Vitz. It had leapt 40 feet from the ridge above us and landed right next to me. The swarm is gaining on us. Finally we reach the canyon floor.

 

“I think you just shot my friend.”

 

“It’s not real, remember?”

 

“Oh yeah. I can’t believe Roxy thinks I’m a scum bag.”

 

I’m so detached from all three realities I’m watching. Most of my attention is stuck on the Reel Big Fish verse that keeps playing,

 

“AND I can’t live without her so I won’t even try!”

 

“You have done some pretty bad things.”

 

“No worse than anyone else my age.”

 

“No, pilgrim. Worse.”

 

There’s a gray motorcycle with a sidecar waiting for us on the canyon floor. Looking back up the side of the ridge the swarm has grown enormous. They tear at each other when they get in each other’s way. They bare only a slight resemblance to humans. I jump in the sidecar while Mike starts the engine. We move quickly through the canyon, dust flying everywhere. Mike passes me the loaded pistol. It’s heavy in my hand.

 

“Don’t shoot yourself. That would be such a fucking waste.”

 

“I don’t care about anything if I can’t be with her.”

 

Mike turns and snatches the pistol back from me.

“Never mind.”

 

The creatures are running after us, but the bike is fast and we appear to be losing them.

 

“AND I can’t live without her so I won’t even try!” says the Reel Big Fish.

 

“I’m worried about you, pilgrim. You hardly knew the girl. Anyway, when you see what’s on the menu for tonight you’ll cheer up. We’re getting out of the desert.”

b

“No one gets out of the desert.”

 

“IT says we do today.”

 

“As of when do you get to talk to Him?”

 

“We got a letter inviting us to a wedding. It includes travel papers and everything. All we have to do is get to the airport on time and we’re out of here. Once we’re out we never have to come back to this freaky fuckin’ place.”

 

“I wish I believed we’d make it.”

 

“Fine. Just shoot yourself then or better still feed yourself to those zombies.”

 

“Those aren’t zombies. Zombies can’t run.”

 

“Yes they can.”

 

“I’m a Zombie movie expert and I know for a fact they don’t run.”

 

“Sebastian, do you know how many actual real Zombie attacks I’ve survived. Trust me. They run.”

 

“Oh and pray tell, where were these attacks?”

 

“One was in Paris, one was in London and one was in Tel Aviv.”

 

 

I grind my teeth. I am, after all, still lying on the couch in the club on Ecstasy although this image has faded completely along with the Reel Big Fish.

 

 

On my left as Mike and I zoom down the desert road is an enormous red statue made of steel girders that twists like a huge knot into the heavens.

 

“What’s that thing? Other than the statue I saw outside of Vinyl.”

 

“Whenever one of you appears to be ready to awake they build more idols to confuse us.”

 

Someone has strung a piece of wire across the road. It takes off Mike’s head in one clean slice and knocks him right off of the bike which in turn crashes into a rock throwing me several feet from the vehicle. I knew it wasn’t going to be that easy.

 

 

* * *

 

 

The others find Sebastian curled up biting his right hand, eyes rolled back on a small green couch in the chill out room. Izzy, Donny, and Akila took him in a cab to Akila’s house after the rave ended Saturday morning around 7 am. Sebastian is despondent. His head is on Akila’s shoulder most of the ride. Akila figures it is over Roxy, and, of course, the after effects of E. While Donny and Sebastian slept on the floor of Akila’s room, Akila and Izzy 69ed on the bed; which means she sucked his cock while he ate her out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ש

 

I slept late on Saturday afternoon at Akila’s. When I woke up Donny and Izzy were gone. Akila says that the seniors are having a graduation keg party in the financial district and that it will cheer me up to go. I doubt it.

 

Our day went something like this. First, we prepared a pitcher of Screw Drivers, drank half and put the rest in a camel pack. Then we met up with these two guys, Karl Krauswitz and Ari Wilner, who watched me write “Roxy, I love you” and her apartment number in huge letters on a bench outside of her house. Then the four of us drank several 22s of Heineken and headed down to the West Village to see about a party. While the three of them waited outside to see if Kelly could get us in I went into the back room of a Ray’s Pizza place across the street. I ended up in the back office while I was looking for the bathroom. I found a huge envelope filled with bills as I rummaged through some drawers. I pocketed them quietly. Just a big envelope of $5’s and $10’s. There had to be a couple hundred dollars in that envelope.

 

After we couldn’t get into the Stuy Village Party, Akila and I went to a Bronx Science Senior party in the Financial District, where I did keg stands aided by a couple Bronx Science seniors and proceeded to drink myself into oblivion. Around 4 am we met up with Zivia and Julia Shoot and returned to Akila’s house; but not before drinking a Ballentines 40 with a homeless Black crack head in some Hell’s Kitchen lobby.

 

It’s 5:30 in the morning, just before the purple dawn. The City hasn’t gotten its great wheels spinning, but it rumbles. It never sleeps. I can hear the supply trucks rolling in on the West Side highway, provisioning the City for daybreak. And I think I’m ready to kill myself. I think I finally have it in me. If it’s taken as a cry for attention, the joke’s on me because I won’t be around to bask in it.

 

Ain’t even going to leave a note.

 

I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I’m not entirely convinced that I’m truly alive. If I am, I am certainly not of the same disposition as my compatriots. I don’t act right. It is debatable that this world is any more or less frightening than the one I see when I go to sleep. At least in the Pale City I play a hero of sorts. I am a petty criminal, a petty rapist, and a vile ungrateful son in this City. The reason I’m going to take my own life is that I have nothing to live for. Nothing to hope for or hold out for. I’m tired of drinking myself stupid every weekend to silence the friends in my head. I’m tired of the vicious fights with my parents who I should love and honor like a normal child. I’m tired of people putting trust in me that I betray. I try to think about what I’ve done with the fifteen years of my life and all I can remember is being unhappy and waiting for things to get better.  They never do. I’m just going to walk off the 7th floor balcony of Akila’s apartment. The jump ought to do the trick.

 

I climb over to the other side of the railing. The girls, Akila, Julia Shoot and Zivia Lubetkin are all in the next room still awake. They keep playing songs over and over again. Different songs. Slow and fast, mostly EMO, Punk and SKA, a bit of drum and bass.

 

I look up into the dark night sky and say,

 

“I don’t believe in You, but if You’re down here, give me some sign. If the next song the girls play is fast, I’m jumping off this ledge. No more grind. If it’s a slow song I’ll climb back down to do your will completely. I put this ball in your court, my God.”

 

There is a great pause, perhaps not for the world, but inside my mind. The pigeons freeze in mid-flight. The highway traffic falls silent as the truckers and cabby’s turn off the vehicles on the West Side highway. The wind stops rustling through the towers of the city. All the lights turn off. The stars we never see are already off. And suddenly the music stops too. The whole jungle grinds to a halt.

 

Karma Police by Radiohead could be heard over the small sound system next door, the only song or sound in this whole damn city of many lights.

 

That’s a slow song for those of you who don’t know.

 

In my head I suddenly hear a voice. It is the first one I’d ever heard quite like it. It’s a voice that speaks words enunciated with an endless collection of images.

 

You will suffer far more before you are truly ready to do my will. You must be made righteous.

 

I drop down on my knees. I put my head to the wet concrete of the terrace facing the south of the City. I am conscious of that entire grind approaching the City with its many, many lights burning through the darkness, an hour before the breaking of dawn. I clutch my hands over my heart lying on that cold, damp balcony praying that It will tell me what to do next. I cry and cry. Bellow with no sound. My tears fall on the pavement. I’m begging. Not for forgiveness or direction.

 

 

Only for a worthy punishment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ת

 

Everyone wants to believe they’re hard. They want to show people they won’t take shit from anybody.

 

There’s a wine bottle in my bag. I drank it last night in the stairwell. There’s a wine bottle in my bag because I’m going to smash Vance in the head with it. I’m going show that cocksucker that he can’t intimidate me. Can’t rough me up. Can’t put me in trashcans without a price. I guess what’s different about this little revenge story is the motive. You might say I got pushed to the edge a long time ago and I’m just trying to find the jump off with the scenic view. This isn’t about a vendetta. I don’t feel any hate for Vance, believe it or not. Maybe in twenty minutes when the police bring me in, someone will suggest I drank the bottle before I hit him with it. I’ve never been more sober in my life. It seems like everyone knows I have the bottle. It seems that even Vance suspects I’m going to try something. The whole day went by slowly. I could hear the clock ticking in class and knew it was a count down.

 

I’m going to hit him because I have something to prove. I’m going to hit him because it seems like a fitting way to put our relationship in order. I’m going to hit him because I’ve been taught that when you’re hard you don’t take any shit from anyone.

 

I see him walking with two girls on the main drag after school. There are people everywhere. They’re all going to go home today and tell their parents about what I’m about to do. I take the bottle out of my red bag. Out of the corner of my eye I see Hubert O’Domhnaill s running down the hill to stop me. Too late for that.

 

I’m standing just fifteen feet behind him. I get right behind him and in my moment of righteous rage, my moment of sweet public revenge. I come up behind him and bring the bottle down on his head with the epic battle cry.

 

“YOU. . .”

 

The glass of the bottle hits him and the girls next to him. BASHment. I never get the expletive out. I am caught up in the act.

 

I realize that I probably could have come up with something better to yell as he turns to see who hit him. He is dazed from the blow with little pieces of glass stuck in his head. I could have used a bigger bottle. Vance is bloody and dazed, but he’s a real big dude. Maybe I should have hit him in the temple? He’s twice my size and appears like he’s going to jump on me. There’s a huge crowd all around us. Hubert O’Domhnaill s is running down the hill to intervene but the damage has already been done.

 

Vance grabs me. The crowd wants more blood even if it won’t yell for it. I see cops running up the block. Vance doesn’t have long to retaliate. He’s got my shirtsleeve. My fists are up and then before he can get in a good punch, Olu Okonkwo fly tackles him. Olu, who isn’t a big guy, just leaps on him. That distracts him. He hesitates before he hits me. The cops jump on all of us. Then the cops put Vance, me and of course, Olu in cuffs. Everybody is yelling something different about what happened. I have some of Vance’s blood on my face and on my shirt. I’m smiling for the first time in forever as the cops drag me away.

 

 

 

32

 

 

 

 

48 hours later, on a Monday afternoon, the New York City Police Department sent two officers to pick me up from my 8th period bio class to escort me to the psychiatric unit of Mt. Sinai Hospital on 116th Street.

No one found my water guns funny after all. The gig was up.

 

 

Part Three:

Winter’s Dregs

I leant upon a coppice gateWhen frost was specter-gray,And winter’s dregs made desolateThe weakening eye of day.The tangled vine-stems scored the skyLike strings of broken lyres,And all mankind that haunted nighHad sought their household fires.

 

 

Excerpt from The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

 

א

May 1999

 

The cell is perfect in its cleanliness and sterility. The bare walls are a pale, baby blue. Every corner has been rounded so as not to pose a threat to the prisoner, excuse me, the patient. The windows are thick and double paned.  Any thoughts of shattering them are impossible because all the furniture is securely fastened to the floor with bolts. The sheets of the bed are clean and white. There is a small water closet with a toilet and sink, but no shower.

 

I am filled with an implacable rage. This perfect room in this perfect hospital is becoming harder to bear. I have been lying in this room since they brought me over from the adult ward on the other side of the building. I try to get up, all but forgetting that I am shackled to the bed. I am thoroughly drugged.

 

I’m not going anywhere.

 

I rack my brain to ascertain what I have done to be shackled up like this. I can’t remember for the life of me. My head aches. A dull throb really. It feels like someone has hit me with a padded pipe.

 

I’m in the Crazy Nut Bin.

 

The door to my cell is closed. There is no particular need to lock it because the entire unit is sealed tight with electronic doors with identity card readers and a dual release system. There are enough orderlies on the ward to put a swift end to any trouble.

 

The shackles are on tight. I must have put up a fight. The correct term for my shackles is the ‘four-point-restraint-system.’ The guards four-point the patients when they get out of control and needs to be sedated. I had been four-pointed once before; at least, I thought I had. Each extremity of the shackles connects to the frame of the bed. There are leather manacles and taught binding straps. They can add a webbed netting and head immobilizer if the patient is resistant to psychotropic drugs and chemical tranquilizers.

 

I attempt to roll around and to stretch myself out of these bonds, all to little avail.  The drugs have not yet faded from my system. The white neon lighting gives no indication of the time of day and there are no clocks. When you wake up after being injected with Thorazine, you are not quite unconscious, but never quite awake.

 

“It takes 72 hours to fully clear your system,” my inner dialogue tells me out of nowhere.

 

Everything has become a timeless moment fading slowly into delirium. The day after a ‘restrainment’ is a peculiar experience. The nurses act as though you are a clean slate everyday, as if you will not remember them sticking a needle into your lower leg the night before. But it’s a nervous calm. Eventually they will release me to eat. I try to remember the Patient’s Rights hanging on the wall. I think one of them is the right to a tuna fish sandwich at any time of day.

 

“Mr. Adon, if we take you out of the restraints, do you promise to behave yourself?” asks Dr. Zebulon.

 

That’s a real pristine lab coat the doctor has on.

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“Before we do, do I have your promise you’re going to take your medication and stop riling up the other patients?”

 

“I can refuse the medication. It’s my right as a patient.”

 

“Not as a minor. You’re fifteen years old, remember?”

 

“Is it nice to play a god, Dr. Zebulon?”

 

Had I asked that aloud or just in my own head. It came out like a mumble.

 

“What was that?”

 

“I said, let me up.”

 

Two orderlies in black scrubs enter the room and unfetter the restraints. There are welts on my wrists and ankles from my struggle to break free. It is difficult to stand with the drugs still in my system. The room is spinning. After a second groggy attempt I stumble back onto the bed.

 

“How long will the drugs remain in my system?” I ask.

 

“Another few hours,” says Dr. Zebulon scribbling notes in my chart.

 

“Can I get some lunch?”

 

“I’ll have someone check when I’m done with my paper work. There might be something left over. Tuna fish probably.”

 

He leaves the room and I try once again to stand up. How long have I been here? I have no conception of the time or date. All I can remember are brief clips. Nothing is clear. I try to recount what I did to get put in here, but I draw a blank.

 

“Start with things you know,” the inner dialogue tells me.

 

I look out the window. I see Harlem, maybe? What have they given me? I feel so tired and almost unable to form a concrete thought. I walk over to the dresser and it’s filled with hospital clothes and two pre-wrapped pairs of foam slippers. I find an empty sketchbook but can’t find any pens. The book has some photos in it. I know these people but I can’t remember anything about them, just their names, and a couple of images that seem like memories–Roxy, Donny, Case?

 

I push open the blue cell door and step out into the hallway, which is also illuminated in white neon light.

 

“What up, white bread,” says a skinny Black girl whom I don’t recognize.

 

“Hey. I have some questions. They’re gonna sound a little stupid, but I need to know them.”

 

“Aight, white bread, ask away.”

 

“What’s the date today?”

 

“May 3rd.”

 

“How long have I been here?”

 

“Sweetie, you just got here a week. They drug you good, didn’t they? Wuz yo name?”

 

I think for a second.

 

“Sebastian.”

 

“You was across the ward in the adult section but some alta’cation got you transferred. Thaz’ what the word is anyway.”

 

“Why am I here?”

 

“Now ain’t that just da question these days.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Thas what we all wanna know. Why we here?”

 

I walk down the corridor past a couple pay phones and can’t help but notice there are no sharp corners anywhere. There are some panoramic photos of waterfalls and sunsets attached to the wall behind a closed plastic frame cover for tranquility’s sake.

 

Everything is so somber you know right off the bat that you’re in the bin, the place they toss out the crazies.  I reach a lounge with a locked cabinet containing board games, coloring books, and other keep-ya-busy-esque activities. There are two kids in the lounge, a scrawny Black kid and a Latin kid who looks like he’s twelve. I sit down in one of the chairs and pick up a Choose Your Own Adventure Book someone’s left on the table.

 

“Yo. White bread. You okay? Sebastian right?” the Black kid asks me.

 

He doesn’t look familiar at all. How does he know my name, though?

 

“Don’t trust him,” the inner dialogue says to me.

 

“How do you know my name?”

 

“We talked last night after they drugged you and restrained yo ass to the bed.”

 

“You’ll have to pardon me. I don’t remember anything.”

 

“It’s cool,” the lanky Negro says to me.

 

“What’s your name again?”

 

“It’s Malik Little,” the Black kid says, “and dat’s Jesus.” He pronounces Jesus, Haysoos.

 

“What’s good,” the young-ass looking Spanish kid, Jesus says.

 

He reaches over and I give him a clumsy pound.

 

“You wuz on some crazy ‘ish last night,” says Jesus.

 

“I think they call it Thorazine,” I respond.

 

“Naw, he mean what you was saying,” says Malik.

 

“What was I saying?”

 

“You don’t rememba’ nothin’?” Jesus asks me.

 

“No. Not really.”

 

“Guess them drugs took you down hard,” says Malik.

 

“To be absolutely honest with you I have no idea how I got here and until you just introduced yourself, I could swear I’d never met you before.”

 

“This cracka’s real fuckin’ crazy,” mutters Jesus.

 

“You really don’t remember our good conversation?” asks Malik again.

 

“Naw,” I say looking away.

 

“You were talking all night. You were talking to me, but you thought that I was–shit, iz crazy man, I got’s ta tell ya.”

 

“So go on and fuckin’ tell me.”

 

“You thought that I was a God.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“You called me ‘Yah-Ho-Vah.’ ”

 

“Stop fucking with me.”

 

“No joke. You wuz saying it on my word. Like one oh dem 5% cats.”

 

“So say, I thought you were God. Say the drugs hyped me up and I didn’t know what was going on and I rambled on about some shit. It don’t mean nothin’.”

 

“You told me you thought the world was coming to an end. You said that when it’s gone only the City will remain. I didn’t catch much else. You weren’t makin’ sense.”

 

“The City?”

 

“You tell me, white bread.”

 

“I don’t know, man. I don’t remember my dreams.”

 

“You weren’t dreaming. It was like you were ina psycho  trance.”

 

“I’d just write it off and blame the happy pills if I were a betting man,” something inside                   responds for me. I let my inner dialogue do the talking.

 

“Fine by me. I don’t wanna to be locked up in a hospital if the world really gonna end.”

 

“Now that you’ve shared that little gem with me. How do we get out of here?”

 

“You can’t get out,” says Jesus.

 

“Bullshit. Wills and ways, Jesus.”

 

“Seriously. All the doors is ‘lectronically locked and wit’ a press of a button they can bring as many guards as deh need onto the ward.”

 

“Who has the keys to the door?”

 

“All the staff do and then there’s a button behind the desk that let’s people in and out. But, there’s anothah problem.”

 

“What?”

 

“Once you get outside the ward you need anothah key for the elevator.”

 

“No you don’t,” says Jesus, “You just gotta clear the dual access door.”

 

“We iz in disagreement. And yes you do,” exclaims Malik.

 

“We can’t leave  no-ways,” Jesus says.

 

“Why the Hell not?” I ask.

 

“Cuz we sick,” Jesus says.

 

Malik now scowls at Jesus.

 

“I’m not sick. They just killin’ time before I get placed upstate. My days are motherfuckin’ numbered.”

 

“What did you do?” I ask.

 

“None of yo damn business,” Malik scowls at me, “what are they gonna do with you?”

 

“I don’t have a clue. I don’t even remember how I got here.”

 

“I know why you here,” interjects Jesus, “you here because you brought a bag full of guns into your school. They thought you was pullin’ a Columbine.”

 

“And I thought I did some shit,” said Malik obviously amused. “You an me might be gettin to know each other better than we thought. They gonna transfer you to Spawford, too!”

 

I wondered how that could possibly be true.

 

“It’s not,”  the inner dialogue says.

 

“Are you sure?” I ask Jesus.

 

“I heard the nurses talkin’ bout it.”

 

“I just don’t remember. Wouldn’t I be in jail if I had done that?”

 

“You ain’t in jail ‘cause you White. Guards said you is rich too. You member dat, rich boy?”

 

Malik says this with some out-of-the-blue, newfound hostility.

 

“I’m not rich.”

 

“Compared to us you probably are,” says Jesus.

 

“Why can’t I remember anything?”

 

“Iz cuz you crazy,” Malik says.

 

“How many people are on this ward?”

 

“Twelve including you. You got a lot of stupid questions, but whatcha gonna do ta get out of here?” Jesus yells at me.

 

I grab Jesus by the shoulders. He’s easily a head and a half shorter than me. Malik tries to pull me off him but I elbow him in the ribs and he falls back across the table.

 

“TELL ME WHAT YOU GODDAMN KNOW!” I bellow in rage.

 

“THIS CRACKAS GOIN CRAZY!” Malik yells to the guards.

 

A nurse hits an alarm and four more guards arrive within the minute. They drag me off Jesus as I flail my arms and kick them as hard as I can. I hadn’t realized I was choking him.

 

“Fuckin cracka’s goin’ nuts!” Malik yells to the girls in the Rec Room up the hall.

 

The four guards have me pinned down on the floor. I’m struggling to get up and one of them is pressing his weight down on my neck. I can’t breathe. They’re all bigger than me. Out of the corner of my eye I see the nurse prepping a needle.

 

“Hold him still so I can sedate him,” the nurse says calmly.

 

This all feels real familiar. I manage to kick a guard in the face. I notice my shoes are made of foam. The blow doesn’t stop him and he gives me a quick punch in the side.

 

“MOTHA FUCKAS!” yells Malik as he fly tackles two of the guards.

 

I manage to get free for a moment and grab the nurse’s needle and smash it against the wall. It shatters and the clear liquid Thorazine spills out onto the floor. Malik punches a guard in the ribs. Jesus is sitting huddled in the corner with his eyes closed and his hands over his ears. The girls from the next room are all watching from a safe distance.

 

I’m struggling to get out of a head choke one of the guards has me in. The other three are struggling to pin down Malik.

 

“WE NEED MORE ORDERLIES UP HERE, NOW!” the nurse yells into a guard’s radio.

 

She begins to refill another needle with more Thorazine. Five more guards run onto the unit from the adult side. One of them is huge. Like a nigger freight train.

 

“Get Malik sedated first!” the big guy yells.

 

Four guards now have me pinned to the floor of the Rec Room. Jesus and a group of colored girls are all watching from the classroom across the hall. Malik gets free for a second but gets tackled as he runs down the hall. He hits the ground hard. I can’t see anything but the floor. My head is pinned down. One of them is sitting on my legs; another has his knee on my neck.

 

Malik screams as the nurse sticks him in the left lower leg with the Thorazine. One minute later I get jabbed and sedated too. They make no effort to be gentle as they jam it in my leg. I suddenly feel a little drugged as they drag me still kicking into a “quiet room.” There are eight smaller, locked and padded quiet room cells in the bloc that runs between the youth and adult units. Malik is put into the room next to me. They bolt the doors. Everything gets slow and things seem to be slipping away. I feel sore all over. I’m lying on the dark blue mat under the glow of perpetual neon light.

 

“Sebastian!” I hear Malik yell out.

 

I mutter back something unintelligable.

 

“You aight?” he yells again.

 

I feel nauseous and can’t sit up.

 

“They drugged you?” he yells. I can tell he’s getting woozy too.

 

“…yeah…”

 

“We done gave um hell…didn’t we…?” I can hear him mutter slowly.

 

“……y…eah.”

 

I realize I’m trying to form words but can’t. My heart is beating quickly and I feel like I can’t breathe. I try to scream as everything fades to gray. And then the neon lights fade slowly to darkness. They put our bodies to sleep, but our minds are still screaming.

 

***

 

I can’t move. I can’t turn my head. I can only see the Old Man in the red leather ottoman chair directly in front of me. He’s smoking a pipe and the smoke seems to coil toward the ceiling like a slow-moving tornado or snake. The whole room is melting upwards with the smoke.

 

“What a mess you’re in now,” the Old Man says to me.

 

“Don’t I know it.”

 

“This is bigger than you, you know. Now all of us have to reap the repercussions of your madness.”

 

“I’d say, you are my madness,” I mutter.

 

“Whatever you have to tell yourself to help you sleep. Don’t hate the doctors for the disease. Listen. You have trouble listening but if you take in anything I have to say listen to this. You’re in a bad place, Mike.”

 

“Why are you calling me Mike?

 

“You’re not gonna walk away from this one completely.”

 

The whole room is dissolving in front of me.

 

“Whatever happens. Don’t trust them when they say they’ll make you better. Don’t trust your parents. Don’t trust your friends. Don’t trust the doctors. AND definitely don’t trust Sebastian Adon. We’ve wasted enough time on that little raggamuffin.”

 

The old man is a mess of squiggling lines and streaks of color. He sits up and reaches up to the one solid object in the room. The dirty light bulb. He pulls its cord. Darkness. And just like that the Old Man was gone and the game store itself swallowed down into the sands.

 

****

 

“Sebastian,” yells Malik, “Can you hear me?”

 

No response comes from the next cell. I can hear Malik yelling to me, but can’t see anything in the pitch-blackness of gloom that has enveloped me.

 

“I hate White people. I think yer all no good,” he yells.

 

I hear him, but am too drugged to respond. I’m drooling all over the floor. The Thorazine is completely overwhelming my central nervous system.

 

“Since we’re gonna be buddies. I just thought you should know.”

 

The neon light beats down twenty-four/seven. It makes it hard to tell what time it is or how long you’ve been in the room. I eventually stumble up and prop myself up against the one-way glass, looking into my own reflection. I know that behind the two-foot-by-two-foot panel lies the nurse’s station. They can see me through the one-way glass and they can see me through the little camera up in the corner of the ceiling.

 

Malik tries to sleep, content with his confession.

 

***

 

I’m lying on a long black table and I can’t move. There is no ceiling. All I see is the black night sky. I think I’m in a roofless barn.

 

“You’re all tied up,” says a voice.

 

The voice belongs to a little girl.

 

“I can do anything I want to you. I could give you a hand job or I could cut out your liver,” says the little girl.

 

“You don’t want my liver,” I respond.

 

“So you’re saying you want a hand job from another twelve-year old?”

 

“That’s not what I’m saying.”

 

“They took my Father because of you!” she spits at me.

 

“I wish they’d take you, too, then. How many of them are you? You little fucking demons always running about.”

 

“We’ve told you that before.”

 

“You’ll have to forgive me. My memory is fleeting as of late.”

 

“Mike, I’m really worried about the boy pilgrim.”

 

“My names not Mike, it’s….”

 

“Of course it is,” she cuts me off.

 

“I’m worried that he’s trying to forget about us, to block us out.”

 

“Somehow I doubt he’ll’ manage.”

 

“You think after they experiment on him he’ll still want to play with us all? They plan to fix him you realize.”

 

An uneasy silence.

 

“Sweety dear, you wanna let me loose?”

 

I am bound with slimy black ropes, thin like twizzlers, more like tentacles than rope. The girl climbs onto me and sits down on my chest. She is incredibly heavy.

 

“No silly. You’re still the pilgram, remember? I get you both mixed up.”

 

“You can’t win, you little fucking terrorist,” says a deeper voice from behind me.

 

It’s Mr. Washington. A trench coat flutters and I smell burning tobacco. But that’s just the old memory, the 3-D residual projected image. They chopped him up good. Real horror show.

 

“They plan to rid him of us,” says the little girl.

 

I crane my head to see him. I see his silhouette on the wall and he’s wearing a gray fedora hat. His severed head is in a vice. Someone, probably the girl, put a hat on him. His body is slumped on the table next to me. The trench coat is soaked in gore.

 

“It’s not as if it’s his fault. He’s barely in control anymore,” says the head of Mike Washington.

 

“So now who is?” asks a second girl coming out of the doorway. Like infernal, inverted little Catholic school girls.

 

“Our maker is gone,” says a third.

 

“Who’s to blame?” says another. “Who’s to blame?” says another.

 

“Who’s to blame?” says another still.

 

We are completely surrounded. Just like old times, except no guns blazing, no pithy comments, no legs to stand on.  In seconds thousands of the little girls surround the barn and pack the room, each with a dirty white dress, each identical. She’s a doppelganger, she is legion and she swarms.

 

“I’m not gonna pretend you don’t have the upper hand,” the head says, the head of Mike Washington.

 

“We’re growing furious. He’s so fucked he doesn’t even understand the balance of the mission,” all the little girls say in unison.

 

“We don’t like you both,” they repeat and it echoes in my head a thousand times. The tentacles that bind my hands slither all over me choking me as they force me to sit up. There are thousands of little girls peering darkly into me, each identical in their hate.

 

“Let’s get rid of them before they can get rid of us,” a thousand little voices say.

 

I try to fight them off the tentacle ropes. They again quickly overpower me and the girls haul me onto the steel table next to Mike’s dismembered corpse. I guess I’m so crazy, my imaginary friends fight among themselves.

 

“IF YOU KILL HIM NOW, THIS WAS ALL FOR NOTHING,” shouts the head of Mike nWashington; and, for some reason, I feel a reciprocal relationship.

 

The tentacles slither their way around his torso. The girls tear the clothing off both of us.

 

I don’t see much of what happens next. They cut me right down the side from my left shoulder, across my chest, leaving me twitching violently on the table minus a leg, an arm, and half my torso. I should be bleeding everywhere, but I’m not. Their blades cauterize while slicing.

 

All I feel is the pain. I scream and cry. Mike doesn’t.

 

They’ve done the same thing to him. The tentacles recoil into the ground and the tables we lie on are pushed together. They begin stitching us together, binding us like Siamese twins. This little orgy of blood and mutilation drags on. They gouge out Mike’s right eye, perhaps to spite his face. He still doesn’t even wince. Blood is now dripping out of the socket where Mike’s eye once was. They back away from us and then Mike makes us stand up.

 

“We’re eliminating the confusion about who’s who, about who’s responsible for what, but more importantly whose controlling whom,” they say to us in shrieks.

 

They pick up wrist-thick canes from the ground and drive us out of the barn, lashing us as they go. The barn is in a cemetery of low-lying, broken gravestones each with the name of one of my compatriots. The little wailing girls beat us and beat us. We run as fast as we can. For once the gate of the Pale City has been left unlocked.  Down the bluff of dunes and into the desert we run. We don’t stop running until the Pale City is gone, swallowed up in the sands as we flee.

 

***

Good morning.

 

The night nurses finish their paperwork and turn the ward over to day-shift nurses, the day-shift orderlies, and the doctors, who never can be found at night. Breakfast is carted into the mess room as the nurse distributing the morning meds wakes up the nine girl patients and Jesus.

 

Malik and Sebastian are still in the quiet rooms at least partially sedated. Malik has awoken and is tapping on the door asking for water. Sebastian is still out cold.

 

“We should let them out for breakfast,” says Sid.

 

He’s a towering Black orderly built like a football player with a deep voice, like Ving Rhames, but less terrifying to White people. No, scratch that, just as terrifying to White people. Like Ving Rhames, but doesn’t act. He guards a psyche ward in Harlem.

 

“We need to wait for Dr. Zebulon to sign off on that,” says one of the interns, a Columbia University med student named Ronny. Orderlies can’t stand nurses. Nurses can’t stand interns. And the interns can’t do a damn thing that the unit doctor, Dr. Zebulon, doesn’t approve. Sid mediates a lot on this battlefield of class and ethnic strife that is the Mt. Sinai Hospital Adolescent Psychiatric ward.

 

“Let me bring them some tuna fish sandwiches and some juice,” Sid says in a gruff, deep voice.

 

He’s got easily two feet and change on Ronny the intern.

 

“I don’t think we can give them any food in the quiet rooms.”

 

“There are always tuna sandwiches and apple juices in the fridge. I can open it up and bring it to them myself. I’ll supervise um while they eat. I’ll do the paperwork.”

 

“Just as long as you do the paperwork and take full responsibility,” says Ronny the intern.

 

“Not a problem,” says Sid. “Sid done love paperwork.”

 

A young White female nurse with jet-black hair named Suzy smiles at him.  Sid has always been good to the kids on the ward, she thinks. She thinks she should ask him out one of these days. That would piss off her Dad for sure.

 

Sid uses his key card to open the electronic door leading from the youth ward to the quiet room cell bloc. The cell bloc is shared by the adult ward and is the only place teens and adults can interact. Most of the interaction involves begging, drooling, and cursing.  He opens the cell with where I lie barely conscious with thorazine shakes.

 

“Kid. Wake up.”

 

I’m mostly out cold.

 

Sid tapped him. “Wake up, kid. You want breakfast?”

 

“Why the fuck is your head on my shoulder?” mutters the inner voices of Sebastian Adon.

 

“What?” said Sid confused. He tries to shake the kid a little. The boy is rolled up in what healthcare providers call the recovery position, left lateral recumbent. No response.

 

According to the log Sebastian had been chemically tranquilized four times in the last three days. Log says Benedril has almost no affect, which means he drinks a lot and that he was extremely resilient to Thorizine as well. It took much longer to fully take affect at the protocol dose.

 

Tough little motherfucker, thinks Sid.

 

“Mike, I can’t run any further.”

 

The kid was talking crazy talk, babbling in his chemical stupor. Sid figured he was a tuna-fish- sandwich-kind-of-guy.  In a serious violation of quiet room policy, Sid left the juice and the sandwich by the door of the cell.

 

***

 

I have two heads. I’m standing out in the sand. The Pale City is nowhere in sight. One head is my own. I reach up and wipe the sweat and grime from my brow with the one hand I control. The other head belongs to Mike Washington. He is missing an eye.

 

“Stop running,” he says.

 

I try to walk, but he controls the other leg and we stumble to a halt.

 

“Where are we?” I ask.

 

“Out in the wilderness. You’ve been making us run all night.”

 

“How the fuck did this happen?”

 

“I don’t know. I was sleeping and then I woke up out here on your shoulder.”

 

“So here we are.”

 

So, here we are.”

 

“I have to level with you, Mike,” I finally say.

 

“Yeah?”

 

I struggle to get a better look at him, but it’s anatomically difficult.

 

“I’m having a lot of trouble telling what’s real anymore.”

 

“Yeah. Me too, but the fact that we’ve been sewn together alive testifies that perhaps someone is still dreaming.”

 

“Did I dream you up or did you dream me up?”

 

“It is not of terrible concern to me. All I have is a certain duty to my orders.”

 

“Your orders?” I ask.

 

“I’ve been ordered by the management to get you out of this desert in one piece. It seems I’ve failed miserably.”

 

“So now what?”

 

“We wait for dawn.”

“What happens then,” I ask him.

 

“Reconstitution.”

Dr. Zebulon is at a staff meeting with key nurses, security staff, and interns doing evaluations of each patient’s progress and condition. These evaluations place the patient on a treatment level ranging from “1” to “4” with each ascending rank earning the patient more privileges. “1” meant that you had to go to bed early, couldn’t watch movies, and couldn’t wear civilian clothing on the ward. Level  “2 “ got your normal clothing back, let you watch movies, and make outgoing phone calls. “3” meant you could play Nintendo 64.  “4” meant you could be discharged. Malik and I are both on level 1.

 

I am clad in aquamarine hospital clothing with metal snap buttons and wearing green foam slippers sitting with Malik in the Rec Room. Malik wears the same hospital pants as me, but had found a striped white gown that resembled a thin trench coat for the mentally ill. I am drawing a picture of us fighting the guards. It was inaccurate as a depiction of our capacity for resistance. In the picture we are winning and have handguns.

 

I say to Malik a few days later:

 

“Fightin’ wit’ um ain’t getting’ us nowhere. All they do is drug us up and throw our asses in the quiet room.”

 

“Duly noted,” I concur. “What about trying to get out through the ceiling?”

 

“That shit only done work in movies, white bread,” he responds.

 

“The ceiling panels won’t support our weight anyway,” he adds. He’d obviously seen the movie Aliens also.

 

“Is your memory working yet?” he asks out of the blue.

 

“They have me so loaded up on Seroquel that I can’t yet make sense of anything.”

 

I am embarrassed at the extent to which I cannot remember what had gone on in the last week that I had, supposedly, been here. Long-term memory is returning. I know why I am here. I just cann’t believe I did the things on the outside that got me committed. Those bad, degenerate things. Had I really done those things or are they all the dreams of Mr. Washington? Is he dreaming now?

 

“So you was a bad dude out there, Sebastian?” he asks me.

 

“I don’t have much as a basis for comparison.”

 

“You waived some guns around school.”

 

“I think not. Where’d you hear that?”

 

“It was a rumor I had heard.”

 

“From who? Jesus?”

 

“Naw. Don’t worry ‘bout it. I believe you if you say that’s bullshit. You still don’t remember what got you in here?”

 

“No. I don’t remember anything,” I respond.

 

“You evah considah that we both be actually crazy?” he asks.

 

“Sometimes.”

 

“I mean, you have all this blank memory and I just wanna box up every motha fucka I see.”

 

“The more I remember, the more crazy I think I am. If these memories that I have are real, then I was a pretty bad person, a person that maybe needed to be locked away.”

 

“Fuck dat. You couldn’t have been worse than some of the cats I grew up with. I knew some mean niggas.”

 

Enough bonding.

 

“So let’s think. How do we get out?”

 

“I’m drawing blank,” he says, “Look. Maybe you ain’t worried ‘bout where they gonna send you, but I is. I ain’t tryin’ to do some time and iz looking like I might. Juz help me get off dis ward and I’ll owe you fo life.”

 

“I need more time to think.”

 

There’s an announcement over the speaker, “Line up for meds.”

 

It is almost lunchtime and they are gonna dope us up again. I get there first and am at the head of the line. When my turn comes I look down at the cocktail they have assembled for me. There are four pills of various shapes, colors, and textures. They sit in a tiny paper cup along with a glass of water. I can see the staff eyeing me nervously. Have I done something before?

 

“What are all these pills for?” I ask.

 

The nurse lists off three types of meds and what they do. As far as I’m concerned she’s speaking to me in Cantonese.

 

“I don’t want any.”

 

“Please don’t be disruptive, Sebastian. Please just take your medication.”

 

“I choose to refuse. I don’t want to be drugged up anymore.”

 

“Just take the meds, Sebastian,” the nurse says sharply.

 

I see Dr. Zebulon come out from his office in the nurse’s station. Fuck this, here we go again. Here comes the pop off.

 

“HEY DOCTOR!” I yell.

 

I grab the tray from the nurse and the pills go flying through the air as I chuck the tray like a boomerang right at Dr. Zebulon. He throws up his arms and it bounces off him scattering an entire ward’s lunchtime meds all over the ground. The cups of water are all over him.

 

“SECURITY!!!!” he bellows.

 

Two guards come running from the adult ward. One of them is fucking huge. The name Sid comes to mind.

 

I run down to the end of the ward near my room. Malik is right behind me.

 

“Wuz the plan?” he asks.

 

“I don’t have one. I just didn’t want to take the pills.”

 

Another three guards arrive. Malik and I have our backs to the wall and the five guards advance with a nurse behind them, once again preparing a syringe full of Thorazine chemical- sleepy-time.

 

“Sebastian. Malik. We can do this the easy way or the hard way,” says the huge guard that I thought was named Sid.

 

“We just don’t want to be doped up,” I yell.

 

“The drugs aren’t to dope you up. They’re to help you remain in control,” he responds.

 

I don’t really believe him. Dr. Zebulon is nowhere in sight. Apparently he has a certain aversion to the dirty work of mental health and hygiene.

 

“SUCK. MY. DICK!” yells Malik.

 

Then, it all happens very quickly. Check. The five guards pounce on us. We are quickly subdued and sedated and then hauled back into the quiet room cellblock. I got bruised, welted and winded and I am starting to feel the affects of the drugs, but am not ready to give in. I start kicking the one-way window. I kick it as hard as I can over and over again. I throw my body weight against the door, slamming into it again and again. Eventually I hear the outer cell bloc door open and I know they were coming to put me in restraints.

 

When the cell door open I run at them. I manage to knock down one of the smallest of the three guards, but am quickly yanked off him. It took four of them to hold me down while the nurse jams another needle in my leg.

 

It’s like a rape. My vein gets penetrated. As the chemicals rush through my bloodstream I fight desperately to hold on. I flail my limbs trying to break free, but they hold me tight.

 

Still flailing, I am carried back to my room. One guard sits on each of my limbs, as the shackles are prepared. First my legs are clamped down. Then the shackles are attached to the bed frame with thick, flat blue rope. Shackles are placed around my wrists. These too, are fastened to the bed.

 

My body spasms. I desperately keep fighting to keep some clarity, but the drugs are beginning to take effect. Everything seems to be moving slower and slower. I blank out for a minute and then everyone in the room is gone except for one big guard seated in the chair next to the bed. I slam my head against the back of the bed.

 

“Easy buddy,” says the huge orderly. “Take it easy.”

 

Now I’m crying. Tears flow down my face and I feel like I am trapped. Images of old friends and old times flash before me. I deserve this, don’t I? If half these memories are true. They come in bursts. I deserve this because I am a criminal piece of shit. I’m a self-centered, manic scumbag that no one wants to deal with anymore. And here I am, strapped to a bed in a mental hospital in the Crazy Nut Bin.

 

I am about to lose consciousness. I hang on to reality by hitting my head again and again against the bed frame. The guard tries to stop me and I spit in his face. I’m screaming and crying, but I can’t hear it. Everyone else can, though.

 

The guards return. I can see them but everything gets blurry. When they undo my cuffs I barely have the strength to even try to break free. A straight jacket is put around me. It fastens me down so I can’t move at all, immobilizing my head. A net comes over me pinning me further down, smothering me. The shackles are reapplied and as I lose consciousness I realize that I’m getting what I deserve. And then everything goes slowly gray. It feels like a meandering oblivion.

 

***

 

I wake up some time later. It’s nighttime. I’m still in four-point restraints. I’m not alone in the room. They have me on constant supervision now, one-to-one as they call it in hospital-speak. I feel like crying some more, but I can’t make myself do it. An overwhelming weight is pushing down on me and I don’t think that I can bear it. I’m smothered in drugs.

 

“Who’s there? Mike?” I mumble.

 

“It’s Sid. Who the hell is Mike? You don’t remember me, do you?”

 

“You’ll have,” I pause feeling winded, “to refresh, my memory.”

 

“I’m the guy that keeps having to hold you down when you go nuts and start attacking the patients or staff. I honestly, prefer coloring.”

 

“I’ve attacked the staff?”

 

“A couple times now. I guess you can’t really help it.”

 

“I’m not crazy,” I mutter, but don’t completely believe it.

 

“Maybe not. But you are sick.”

 

“Sid?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Do you have a cigarette?”

 

Sid chuckles at the absurdity of the request.

 

“I don’t smoke.”

 

“Oh.”

 

We don’t say anything for a while. I feel out of breath.

 

“How long, am I gonna be here?”

 

“Not much longer. The doctors and your parents are looking for a better facility for you. Mt. Sinai isn’t equipped to deal with a patient like you.”

 

“What, is that supposed, to mean?”

 

“It means that it isn’t good for the other patients if you’re running around riling everybody up all the time.”

 

“I wasn’t always like this, Sid.”

 

“I know.”

 

“I used to be good sort of.”

 

“What happened to you, kid?”

 

“For the life of me, Sid,” I pause, “I have no idea. Maybe it’s a short story. I brought this upon myself didn’t I?”

 

“Yeah kid. You did.”

 

“Sid?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“My head hurts.”

 

“That’s because you kept hitting it against the bed frame.”

 

“That’ll do it.”

 

“That’ll do it,” he responds.

 

“Can I have some water?”

 

“Sure.”

 

Sid walks over to the adjoining bathroom and fills up a small, white plastic cup.

 

“I’m gonna have to pour it for you.”

 

As I struggle to sit up, he pours cold water down my throat.

 

“Thanks.”

 

“No problem, kid.”

 

“Sid?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Can you get me a cigarette?”

 

“Naw son, your fire’s burning hot enough.”

 

***

 

I believe that it is time for a change of tactics. The odds are not in our favor. Malik and I have been wrestled down and sedated six times according to my last count. He normally cuts the fight at the tranquilizers, but I push on until the restraints get busted out. Six incidents. Six futile attempts to flee to nowhere on this stupid locked-up youth unit.

 

Sid kept me company the last two times on overnight “one-to-one.”  He says I’m creating overtime. I’m awake now and my last memory is of him reading to me from my global studies text as I drifted into a medicated slumber. Herodotus was describing the subjugated national make up of Xerses’ million-plus expeditionary forces during the second stage of the Persian war. The only nations I can remember are the Spartans and the Medes.

 

I’m still wearing aquamarine hospital scrubs. The legs on the pants are too short and fall something close to high waters. I ripped the arms off the hospital gown that I’m wearing and made it into a vest. They still won’t let me have my clothing back, not until I prove that I can behave and take my meds.

 

Donny tried to visit me, but they wouldn’t let him because he’s only fifteen. Donny and Izzy are the only people that call anymore. Izzy says he’d been pouring over legal books looking for a way to get me out. I’d like to believe him, but I don’t. Donny keeps me updated as to what’s been going on. This one’s rumored to be pregnant; that one had an overdose. It’s all very uplifting news. My conversations with them are my only contact to my immediate past. I feel shattered, incomplete.

 

Between the Happy Pills, the lack of sleep, the hospital and more Happy Pills, I can’t be sure what is real and what is still a dream. My world has become disjointed. I can’t remember my world of dreams at all since I have been on the Happy Pills.

 

Mike Washington and I, as a mutilated, bleeding Siamese twin, half-thing, had finally wandered beyond the city limits out into the dunes. Out in the badlands he wilted away, withered and became ash as I reformed. The winds had carried him away in the darkness. I was alone, a broken half, left in the wilderness.

 

The pills make me tired, not sleepy, just generally malaised. I do a bit of drooling on myself from time to time.  I try to take naps, to sleep the whole thing off. I’m never hungry except after a restrainment. It takes me longer to make decisions and I am physically slower. I think they’ve upped the dosage. I try real hard to not take them voluntarily, but there isn’t much you can do when three guys have you pinned to the ground and they drive a needle into your upper leg.

 

Now it’s lunchtime and I’m slowly digging into a tuna sandwich covered in mayo. I look out the window of the small mess hall and down at the parking lot right below us. The hospital is connected to it and it is only a one-story drop to where the cars are parked. I think hard about how I could get down. I could make a rope out of torn strips of hospital clothes. I could tie the rope to the base of the table, which is bolted to the floor. I could shatter the window with a chair and rappel down the side of the building to the garage and then run to freedom.

 

Yeah, and maybe I’m a Chinese jet pilot. I know the rope won’t hold me. I know the window won’t break. There is no way out. I finish my sandwich staring out the window watching the pigeons perched on the outer sill.

 

ג

The have started running tests on me. I have to assemble puzzles and read off animals that begin with the letter ‘A.’ I have to fill in word bubbles of diagrams on flash cards and say what I see looking at inkblots. The tests are an amusement. I do not believe these doctors know what to do with the results even if I take them seriously. There is suddenly all this talk of me having a mental condition. I haven’t shared with anyone that I heard the voice of God, our celestial management, and that he prevented me from killing myself. That would pretty much assure that I’m here all summer. It’s not really as if I have anything better to do. School will be over pretty soon.

 

The social stigma of being in a mental hospital is great. Sickness of the mind is not understood in Western society. Since it’s not physical, people just don’t believe it’s real.

 

My memories are hazy. I remember two officers of the NYPD asking me to come with them to the guidance councilor’s office. I remember the guidance councilor, a fat Latin woman, telling me that I was very unstable. This and the wine bottle incident were more than they could afford to ignore given my proclivity to violence. The Columbine incident has raised consciousness about mental illness and violence. They said I needed to be evaluated. The next thing I knew, I was strapped to a bed at Mt. Sinai Hospital bouncing off the fucking walls.

 

I wonder if Roxy thinks of me, fondly or ever. She took this opportunity to call to curse me out for vandalizing the green bench outside her house. I vaguely remembered that incident from talking on the phone to Nadia. Everything else that is going on in my life seems secondary to the vile pain inflicted by Roxy’s rejection of me.

 

I view the world through a black and muddied lens. Absolutely nothing is in focus.

 

I sit in my cell and wait as head shrinkers, nurses, doctors, and orderlies create mounds of paperwork determining my fate and ultimately my sanity. I have no concept of the date or the time or anything that is going on outside of the hospital. I feel like I’m in a prison for my mind. Nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. I can’t dream anymore. My last dream a week ago was of running out of water then exploding to ash at sunrise.

 

I occasionally do something violent like hit somebody or throw something at a window. I end up in the quiet room over and over and over again. I keep repeating the same pattern, complete with Thorazine and four-point restraints, like some kind of exercise in futility. I try to tell myself that it will be alright.

 

It won’t.

 

If Roxy says I’m not a good person, if that’s what they all say, then my morals and my mind need some fixing. They can send me anywhere or load me up high on whatever drugs they want. I don’t even bother cheeking the Happy Pills anymore. Roxy cut my heart out.  There are no more feelings in my chest, but I ache in my gut. I am sick of myself.

 

I am sitting on one of the blue couches in the Rec Room staring aimlessly at the green and bluelines on the floor. It is after dinner and I have been given a heavy dose of happy pills. My perception is slightly off. It’s not like I’m high. It’s more like I’m tranquilized. It would not be a stretch to act out again, to run, to hit someone. It’s not that the energy is not there. It’s that the will to act has been taken away. I melt into the couch with a big Kool-Aid smile on my face and unbeknownst to me a little drool hangs off my lips. My eyes are glazed over and there is not a thought in my head.  There is just the sickness and my lack of connection to the impending and uncertain future.

ד

“Has anyone ever accused you of being an extremely violent young man?” asks the English shrink.

 

He’s a real fuddy-duddy. That is the first term that comes to mind when I look at him. I wonder if he might be faking his English accent to sound cultured and professional so people pay him more. We’re sitting in my cell. I am restrained to the bed and the shrink is on a blue plush chair firmly secured to the floor.

 

“I’m not violent,” I state.

 

“You bashed a young man in the head with a wine bottle. Stabbed another with a pencil.”

 

“They had it coming. I’ll have you know that I’m also, not crazy.”

 

“I don’t think you’re crazy.”

 

“So why are we still in this hospital having this conversation for the fourth time?” I ask.

 

“Do you know how many times you’ve been in restraints since you’ve been here in the last two weeks?”

 

“I haven’t the faintest idea. A thousand and one times?” I add sarcastically.

 

“Eleven times. That’s really quite a lot. All resulting from physical attacks on either the staff or other patients. Your perception of time is a little off, isn’t it?”

 

“I don’t have a clue what time it is or even what the date is, if that’s what you mean.”

 

“You seem proud of that. Think its fun in here?”

 

“I don’t know if I made it clear, but I don’t give a shit what you all decide to do to me.”

 

“Do, you even know where you are?”

 

“France.” I say.

 

“But of course. And how did you get to France.”

 

“The hospital moved itself there while I was sleeping. It walked on enormous metal pontoon legs.”

 

“You really believe that you are in France, then? Why not England or Spain?”

 

“Why not? I get to see Hell every time I went to sleep. I have imaginary friends that battle demons with golden handguns; and about two weeks ago, I heard God tell me that I was going to me made to suffer. That the hospital moved to Europe in the middle of the night is not hard for me to believe at all.”

 

“You, have a very tenuous grip on reality.”

 

“Ain’t that the truth.”

 

“So why is your reality so violent?”

 

“I never did anything to a person who didn’t have it coming. Everyone used to pick on me for whatever reason at the UN School where I was in grade school. There was this little fucker by the name of Hans who always harassed me. He was the son of the Consul General of South Africa. One day he got on my nerves, so I stabbed him in the thigh with a pencil. I’d do it all over again if I got the chance,” I explained to the English shrink.

 

“It’s statements like that, which make the people around you very nervous about releasing you from this hospital. You hit someone else over the head with a wine bottle and brought water guns painted black to your school. You don’t seem to have a very clear grasp of the appropriate behavior necessary to live in this society.”

 

“What society?” I ask.

 

“American society,” he responds.

 

“But we’re in France.”

 

“No. We’re in America. I don’t believe that you actually think we’re in France. You love your little mind games. You like confusing people with these games to keep them from advancing your treatment.”

 

“I’m bored, Desmond Heath. Are we almost finished with this session?”

 

“Ah, you remember my name this time. Fourth time’s the charm, is it. This is not the right hospital for someone with your condition. You require long term treatment in a more structured environment.”

 

“So where will I be sent?”

 

“We’re thinking that the San Marcos Treatment Center in Texas is the most appropriate place.”

 

“I mean, that’s what they pay you for,” I say derisively.

 

“Your indifference is a little alarming.”

 

“You have to look at it from my perspective. Nothing your prattling junk science has to offer me comes close to what my God can do. So do your worst. I will be made righteous one way or another.”

 

“You need to stop looking at me and the staff here as your enemies. You are very sick and we’re trying to help you. A healthy spirituality is important to your recovery, but you have to accept that God doesn’t talk to people. What you heard were manic voices in your head. You act like a deviant, Mr. Adon, and you’ve hurt every single person you’ve come in contact with in the past few years. A person like you is a little despot. I told your parents that you just need an island to run as your fiefdom. But as there are no islands available that are seeking tyrants, we must send you to a treatment facility. Do you accept that you have mental illness, Mr. Adon? Or do you want to hide behind your megalomania, your delusions of grandeur you refer to as the voice of God?”

 

“Nope, you’re a quack. I heard God, daddy. Do your damn worst. I got all summer.” I say defiantly.

ה

Dr. Maskin keeps sending me the readings and assignments for class. I guess he thinks I’ll be out of here soon. I have stopped even pretending to do class work and fixate on Sparta. When the drugs make me too dopey to study, I draw. I draw pictures of Leonidas with a black flowing beard and a twelve-foot long spear. I only have three sources: Introduction to Global Studies, Volume 1, Herodotus and the Frank Miller novel 300.

 

The so-called teacher in the hospital is an older Black man with glasses who wanders around the classroom making sure we are doing something. This is just another way to occupy our time. There is nothing structured about it whatsoever. There is absolutely nothing educational about it. It’s a joke that this is an accredited New York City public school.

 

Having no options and no future, I revel in my daydreams about the near past.

ו

How long have I been in this blue room? I’m not sure. It feels like we might be approaching a month. I heard Dr. Zebulon telling the English headshrinker Dr. Desmond Heath that I’m a “disruption to the unit at large.”

 

Then one day I’m told to gather my things. I’m being transferred. Transferred to Texas. Sid has been assigned to escort my parents and me down to San Marcos to a treatment center operated by an organization called The Brown Schools. I can go calmly with Sid and my parents. My other option is to go shackled in a patient transport van. An ambulance ride to Texas is a long-ass time to be chained up in an ambulance. After thirteen restrainments in a month I’m not feeling particularly fond of a forty-hour van ride doped up and in a straight jacket.

 

We fly out of LaGuardia with nobody saying much.

 

The last time I’d seen my parents I had gotten dragged across the conference table and shackled to my bed. Sid and I talk throughout most of the flight. I like Sid and I wonder if I can out run him when we set down in Texas. I wonder why I didn’t try to run in New York. I don’t say a word to my parents. There is nothing to talk about. I am going to spend the summer in a concentration camp for deviant youth, the San Marcos Treatment Center. Not a terribly fun prospect.

 

A large dose of Happy Pills makes me not feel. It also hinders my coordination and tampers with my energy level. One month in the Bin and I had turned off as a person. I don’t hate the orderlies, my parents or Doctors Heath and Zebulon. I am, after all, the only enemy I need. I have myself to hate. It’s hard to understand that you can prefer physical restraint to rotting in one’s cell doped up on god-only-knows-how-many psychotropic drugs all day staring at the wall and wishing you were a Spartan. Mental prisons are the most infinite and total in their captivity.

 

Looking over at Sid I remember all those nights he’d loosened my restraints or got me a glass of water or talked with me about how shitty it was to be a Black man in America. Right now, I’m not on an airplane. I am running through a field on the Peloponnesus with a red tunic and spear. I’m chasing the English shrink who I plan to impale, the yellow rat bastard.

 

“What are you thinkin’ about kid?” asks Sid.

 

God he’s huge, I think looking at Sid.

 

“How shit my summer is gonna be.”

 

“The brochure looks nice. I have a maxim for you though.”

 

“What’s your maxim?”

 

“At least it’s not prison. Repeat that every time you think these institutions are rough.

There are two million people who have it a whole lot worse then you. God willing, your friend Malik won’t be joining them.”

 

“I had it pretty good growing up, Sid. How the fuck did this happen to me?” I asked him.

 

“Well, according to the hospital, you have a mental condition.”

 

“And what do you think?”

 

He glances over the seats behind us to make sure my parents don’t hear.

 

“I think God is giving you a taste of the wretched. I think it might be in your future to learn quite a bit more about how nasty this country can be. I see a lot of kids come through the hospital, mostly poor and colored; but from time to time we’ll get someone from your class. The poor ones come in because they just can’t stand life anymore. It gets you down to know you don’t have a future. Fanon says that the mental disorders of the impoverished and oppressed are many and severe.”

 

“Who’s Fanon?” I ask.

 

“Someone you should read one day.”

 

“The doctors tell me to ignore the voices and visions. They have me on so many pills I can hardly think straight.”

 

“What is it you think you’re seeing?”

 

“Nothing coherent. A reoccurring dream about a Pale City in a sea of sand. The house of my misery. Imaginary friends that like to suffer less than silently in mixed company. Horror. When I sleep I see a shit load of horror.”

 

“Do you believe in a God, Sebastian? Something to play a counter balance to your horror?”

 

“I ought to. For all intents and purposes, I think It spoke to me.”

 

“And what did It say?” Sid asks.

 

“Who?”

 

“Your God.”

 

“It told me I’m going to suffer.”

 

“Do you know who the Buddha was, Sebastian?”

 

“A peaceful Chinaman who never ate.” I answer flippantly.

 

“Only if Christ was a Jew who liked fishing.”

ז

On the way to the San Marcos Treatment Center near Austin, Texas, we pass an enormous poster of George Bush Jr. for President. He grins at me pasted three stories tall on a blue and yellow background with an American flag in the background. We’re passing through what looks like a business district.

 

“Who’s George W. Bush?” I ask.

 

“He’s the Governor of Texas,” says my father.

 

“Is he going to win the Presidency?” I ask.

 

“He doesn’t stand a cowboy’s chance,” my father tells me.

ח

I spent the first 48 hours at the San Marcos Treatment Center under constant surveillance. They have me on something called elopement watch, which means that I have to sleep in the hall and have to stay in full view of the guards. The lights hum, so I stay up talking to a guard named Jim Camden. He tells me not to call him by his first name in front of the other guards or other patients. They discourage patients from knowing the guards’ first names for some stupid reason. Its all part of the behavior modification process I am about to under go. Sounds like a blast.

 

Eventually they let me move into one of the tiny cells on the unit. The room has a wire mesh bed with a blue mattress, white sheets and a blue, disposable pillow. There is an old desk covered in faded graffiti and a chair bolted to the floor in front of it. The room is incredibly bland. Unlike the Mt. Sinai cells, which one could call sterile, I would call these earthy. The walls are painted beige and the cell doors are red. My roommate is a little kid named Junior. He asks me a million questions and seems to always be plotting something. Right away I knew I wanted to beat him very badly, if only I had the energy.

 

It seems like we’re in our cells for most of the day. There is very little to do. I can’t draw and I can’t read because you can’t draw or read until you move up to Blue Level. I am on the first level, which is the Pink Level. There are about eight color levels in all with more privileges and responsibilities as you move up the proverbial sanity ladder. It seems overly complicated, but I guess that’s just what’s necessary when you’re young and crazy and out of control.

 

I’m sitting in my cell with Junior staring at my pink behavior mod card wondering if the plan is to bore us all to death. You never go very far in places like this. Minimization of movement is all a part of the behavior modification process. There is an exercise regimen, however meager, involving a real beat-up swimming pool and a big gymnasium with a basketball court. Junior is working on one of the ward’s 3-D puzzles, assembling what looks like the White House in our cell. He says I can help him if I want even though I’m still not allowed to play with puzzles. Come to think of it, I’m not allowed to do much.

 

Several times a day, depending on how crazy they think you are, you line up at the med counter in the Rec Room and receive your poison in a little paper cup along with a separate cup of either water or juice. I take my Happy Pills without any problems. You don’t feel differently; you just think differently. No more lucid dreams and, certainly, no more voices. Your perspective becomes different. You are no longer unique. You are, indeed, crazy. Looking back at the short fifteen years of my life, I see very little to be proud of. And this feels very much like the end.

 

I stand at the edge of the cell and yell out into the hall,

 

“Adon requesting permission to come out into the hall.”

 

“For what purpose?” asks a guard named Smith.

 

“To break the tedious monotony of spending hours on end in this cell, sir.”

 

We were told to refer to the guards as sir or m’aam.

 

“Smith informing Adon that monotony is just as tedious in hall. Please return to your cell.”

 

And so it went. Rather than get to know Junior, I devoted my time to doing push ups, sit ups, and drawing on the down low. We have markers to write our sanctions. Every hour a guard cals out that sanctions are due on a particular subject. Every hour, on the hour, we have to turn in one hand written page on anything and everything. I doubt that anyone really reads the sanctions. If we want to earn our checkmark for the hour on our mod cards, we have to do them.

 

I don’t know why my unit is on a lockdown. No one has elaborated. I am no fan of all these rules or of being with only guys. I don’t have the faintest idea what to do with my time. SO I draw and I draw and I draw. There are pictures all over the walls of our cell. Junior and I never talk. Over the course of the lockdown, which lasted about a week, Junior finished his 3-D White House puzzle. For that entire week we didn’t go anywhere. We took our meals in our cells off Styrofoam trays. The meals are always lukewarm by the time they reach us. We eat powdered eggs every morning in one form or another and basic cafeteria stuff for the other meals. The overall quality is somewhere between summer camp and a bad school cafeteria.

 

The day before the lockdown ended, a guard named Kelso took a look around our cell and decided that my drawings are negative. Since I was on the Pink Level, he decided that I shouldn’t have been drawing in the first place. He took down all of my drawings and informed me that I was no longer allowed to make “negative” art. I’m not sure what he was talking about.

 

There are so many rules that I can’t be bothered to attempt to remember them. The guards vary extremely on what they choose to enforce. Some of them are regular college kids trying to make money, albeit in a rather unorthodox profession. Only Kelso and a female guard named Salinas are real tight with things. That doesn’t make it any better though. A desperation has set in.

 

Mental hospitals give you a lot of time to simmer in your sins. This is not a very positive activity. You spend most of your time alone in your head trying to trace the course of events leading to your current incarceration. You think in circles, passing out blame to society, to God, and to circumstances. Anything to keep prevent you from believing that you may, in fact, be crazy.

 

There is a ventilation panel on the ceiling. In a dream which requires no sleeping, I pry it off and find myself crawling through a vast network of tiny metallic tunnels that lead to an enormous cavern. The metal fuses into a grand rock catacomb in which a great underwater lake of black water sits undisturbed for centuries. The water looks freezing and I dare not jump in, but I know if I swim deep enough I will emerge on the other side and be free. But I’m actually still sitting in my sweaty cell. Like I said, the mind runs amuck when left unoccupied. My grasp on reality is already tenuous without the monotony and the Seroquel.

 

“Why are you staring at me?” I ask Junior.

 

“I’m bored. And you’ve been staring at the ceiling for like an hour.”

 

“Don’t you have a puzzle to work on or a coloring book to fuck with?” I ask trying to distract him.

 

“I’ve built them all. There are only two in the game closet.”

 

“Junior, what are you so glum about?”

 

“I bet you’ve gotten with a lot of girls.” Junior speculates.

 

“A few.”

 

“What’s the trick to it? I’ve never had a girl even talk to me besides my Mom.”

 

“How old are you?”

 

“Twelve.”

 

“You’re making bad time, but it isn’t over for you yet. You gotta figure out your game as we call it in the City.”

 

“SO where do I learn game?” he asks.

 

“You gotta have confidence and you gotta be bad. And I find that drinking a lot of booze with a girl seems to make things easier, too.”

 

“Neither of us is that smooth if we’re here in this mental house.”

 

“There’s some truth to that.”

 

“Anyway, I can’t drink. Alcoholism runs in my family,” Junior admits.

 

“I don’t believe in alcoholism. It’s a fairy tale they made for the Irish.”

 

“What’s there to believe in? My father gets stinking drunk and beats up me and my Mom. Most people just go out and get drunk, but he can’t hold a job and he’s a real scumbag. And we’re all Irish anyway, whatever the fuck you mean by that.”

 

“Sorry to hear that shit, Junior. And was grandpa a bad drunk too?”

 

“Yeah, far back as anyone can remember, the men in my family have had serious problems with the sauce.”

 

“You ever hit your Dad back?”

 

“No. Of course, I never hit him back.”

 

“I’d fucking crack him next time you’re in that situation.” I say.

 

“You talk a big game, Adon, but when you’re in that situation, when you live it; it’s too fucked up to deal with. It’s the person that brought you into this world. It’s the person you’re supposed to look up to.”

 

“So you’d never fight back?” I ask incredulously.

 

“Nope, faced with that you just can’t. You freeze up.” he shudders slightly remembering something. “You can’t do nothin’. You don’t know that. It’s never happened to you. You have to experience it to comprehend how terrible it is.”

 

“I guess I’ve been lucky. My parents never hit me growing up. They probably should have though,” I tell him.

 

“What exactly did you do to get in here?” asks Junior, obviously trying to change the subject.

 

“I didn’t do shit. But why are you here if your father is the drunken asshole?”

 

“I have a condition. I’m manic depressive.”

 

“So they put that on you. What does that even mean?” I ask.

 

“The doctors say I fluctuate between highs and lows and that I manipulate my parents against each other. They call it cycling,” Junior explains.

 

“Maybe they’re the crazy ones. Maybe we work just fine.” I suggest.

 

“I heard Smith mention you hit someone with a wine bottle.”

 

I look at him a little crazy.

 

“You gonna believe what that frat boy shit kicker says?” I ask.

 

“I think we are probably right where we belong,” Junior declares.

 

“The fuck I hit with the bottle had it coming. Your father fucked you up. Don’t sit here and try to tell me we are the ones to blame. Don’t try and call an apple an orange ‘cause you can’t place the fruits.”

 

“You gonna blame society your whole life? You gonna tell me we are innocent? That we’re victims, Sebastian?!”

 

“We’re all victims of something, Junior.”

 

***

It’s three in the morning.  I’ve been reading the Herodotus.

 

I decide to peak outside the cell and see who’s on duty. They don’t lock the individual cells because we’re locked on a unit amidst a highly fortified compound in the middle of god-knows-where.

 

“I can’t sleep,” I tell the skinny guard with black glasses and a goatee.

 

He’s wearing a brown button-up shirt with jeans. His jeans are too tight for a Texan.

 

“I wish there was something I could tell you that would enable you to find the peace necessary to get some shut eye, but you are, of course, a patient in a mental hospital.”

 

“If I had lived in ancient Greece, would they have put me away like this?”

 

“Maybe. Or they might have made you the Oracle.”

 

“Don’t ya gotta be a skirt to be the Oracle.”

 

“You may be right, kid. I know a lot of people that feel they would have been better off at some other point in history. Truth is, being a product of your times you are, in fact, particularly suited for exactly when you happen to be living. You perceive things differently because of what’s wrong with your brain. Perception is what makes you so-called crazy, not surroundings. The ancient Greeks were as confused as you are. Odds are they looked back to earlier times and imagined things were better. Everyone needs to have their golden age.”

 

“What’s your name, sir?”

 

“Winter. Not sir.”

 

“I’m Sebastian.”

 

“I know who you are, kid, but nice to meet you.”

 

I take a seat on the floor next to where he’s sitting.

 

“It’s not ancient Greece you know,” he says.

 

“What isn’t?”

 

“That place in your head that you’re trying to get to.”

 

“Huh?”

 

Was he talking about the dreams of the desert and the Pale City?

 

“Your Dystopia.”

 

“What’s Dystopia?”

 

“It means twisted nowhere. It is the term for the bad places of the future and past.”

 

“I didn’t say it would be ideal if I were born in ancient Greece. I said I’d be better suited for it.”

 

“I’m a student of history. I’ve studied numerous civilizations across time. They all make terrible mistakes, fight needless wars, fall victim to the gross enabling of human suffering.”

 

“Didn’t we get better with time? People say things are fucking amazing now.” I say.

 

“In the last hundred years we’ve almost wiped ourselves out twice via war alone. What does that tell you? How do you quantify human suffering?”

 

“So since Utopia is nowhere, where can I go? I flee the world in my head as much as this flaming shit I’ve been interred in.”

 

“You don’t have to go anywhere. Wherever you go, you will continue to find suffering. You cannot change this.”

 

“But there are places I’d suffer less than others, right?” I ask hopefully.

 

“What does it matter where you go when the horror stays with you inside your little head?”

 

“No. There is a place I can run to where the process of flight will redeem me. What I will do is make a list of those places I know to be a horror and put a big fat black line on the side of the map to mark off where I’m likely to suffer more.”

 

“What kinds of suffering are you trying to avoid?” he asks.

 

“The ones that make me act like a devil.”

 

“That would be all places on your map is what I’d guess. You’re not talking about physical suffering. I mean you come from a comfortable New York family. You went to a private school. I’m gonna presume nothing too traumatic has happened to you. Ever experience rape or witness murder?”

 

I stare at him in anger. There must be something to justify my madness, my devilish behavior. An inner dialogue that has made not a whisper since Harlem now speaks up.

 

Inside me a noire voice utters, “Pathfinders.”

 

When I was about six years old I made a crayon condolence card to a young boy’s parents, a boy my age who died for no good reason at all. They ran out of stationary. I had to make it on a pink piece of construction paper. I was very young, but I knew pink wasn’t a color for dead things.

 

“I saw a boy die once in the waters where I was swimming. I didn’t remember until just recently. Harlem and the Happy Pills jogged my memory. I hadn’t thought about it in years. It’s one of two childhood memories I can recall in some detail now. Besides these, I remember nothing with clarity before I turned 13.”

 

“Do you think that boy’s death has made you act as you do?”

 

“No. I don’t blame my asocial behavior on past traumas that I have to grope in the darkness to recollect.”

 

“Your file says you think you can talk to God. Says you stabbed a boy with a pencil, hit another with a wine bottle.  Says you’re suicidal, possibly manic-depressive, suffer from insomnia, as well as chronic alcoholism.”

 

“Don’t forget night terrors and lucid dreams,” I remind Winter.

 

“When you do manage to sleep, what is it that you see?”

 

“More horror.”

 

“Do you tell the doctors the specifics?”

 

“It will just prolong my time here.”

 

“Then you’re never gonna get better. There are demons in your head, Sebastian Adon. They will torment you anywhere you run to on that little map of yours.”

 

“You actually think this camp helps people?”

 

“No, not really. But we can’t just euthanize the mentally ill now, can we?” Winter responds.

 

“I suppose not while there is still money to be made. Just camp concentrate us and put our minds to sleep with sedatives and Happy Pills.”

 

“Welcome, Mr. Adon, to the mental health and hygiene gulag archipelago.”

 

“What the Hell is a gulag?”

 

“It was term for a Russian prisoner camp,” Winter explains.

 

“Like a concentration camp?”

 

“Similar in lay out, but intention is everything. Jews were sent to concentration camps to be exterminated. It takes a wild ambivalence to ones national resources to wipe out 6 million people. Lenin, then Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev had camps built for thought criminals, political prisoners opposed to the Soviet State. This group of over a thousand camps across the Steppes of Siberia was dubbed the ‘Gulag Archipelago’.”

 

“So I’m a thought criminal is what you’re saying?”

 

“Not in the Orwellian connotation of such a label.”

 

“Orwell-a-who?” I ask.

 

“George Orwell. He wrote the seminal work of political fiction, 1984.”

 

“Or’owell was a Soviet?”

 

“No. An Englishman.”

 

“And this Englishman was locked up in some Soviet, gulag?”

 

“No. He wrote the most definitive piece of literature on the state’s ability to dominate and crush the free will of the citizen.”

 

“Well if I’m not a so-called ‘thought criminal’ what the Hell does any of that have to do with my internment in this crazy nut camp? You think you’re so fuckin’ intellectual, but you don’t even make sense.”

 

“Don’t lash out at me. I never told you to put down books for girls and the bottle.”

 

“Don’t throw stupid cliché diagnostics in my face and play God to insects, Winter.”

 

“You’re an insect are you?”

 

“Figure of fuckin’ speech.”

 

“Well you’re not an insect. An insect would lay its life down without a second thought for the good of its kind. Not for your family surely, not for a cause, what do you know of a cause? You’d lay your life for what? For your rep? Your goddamn, silly rep?”

 

“For my crew.” I answer.

 

“For your crew or for your friends?”

 

“My friends are my crew.”

 

“They’ll come for you, then?”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“They’re gonna find a way for you to escape the Hospital Camps of the Gulag Archipelago?”

 

I feel my pale face gape at his question. We simmer in silence for what seems like a very long but can’t be more than ten seconds.

 

“I’ll talk to my friends when I get phone privileges in a day or two.”

 

“You won’t be honest with them.”

 

“And why not?”

 

“Because you’re the kind of person who has his game face on with just about everyone.”

 

“What the fuck is my game face?”

 

“The person you put up to hide who you are to the rest of the world.”

 

“Are you like the undercover doctor they disguise as a guard to get the insomniac to jabber?”

 

“No. I assure you I’m just a college student engaging in just-above-minimum-wage voyeurism.”

 

“Does working in a hospital camp pay good emotional dividends?”

 

“It’s more rewarding then serving coffee, how bout that? But, back to the point at hand. I believe people are more honest with total strangers because there isn’t any long term investment in an expectation.”

 

“Expectation?”

 

“Yeah. Your game face is what you want people to know you as. You like being the rude boy who they call crazy. That’s the rep back in your City.”

 

Once again I meet his question with a pale face.

 

“My rep is infamy. In so much as a 15 year-old can be such a thing—infamous—then I am that. The world has strong feelings about me and I have more enemies than friends. As for being ‘crazy’? Better crazy than bored.”

 

“A sane man in an insane world is what?” Winter asks.

 

The inner dialogue whispers that been we’ve asked such a question before and will be asked it again.

 

“A sane man in an insane world ought to act insane or face imprisonment?”

 

“You’re exactly as fucking smart as the files and tests claim you are,” Winter responds.

 

“Then I am sane and you are all mad?”

 

“Well I haven’t raped any pre-pubescent girls or assaulted peers with a wine bottle. I suppose you missed my point entirely.”

 

“Rape is a very strong word,” I respond.

 

“And I suppose if I gave your daughter a liquid poison to cloud her judgment then had forced her to perform felatio in an altered mental state that would strike you as romantic?”

 

“Are you trying to get a rise out of me?”  I ask and then continue, “you can read my file all day long and play head-shrinker all night, but just come out and make your point. I know I’m shit. You want me to say it? I’M SHIT. I raped and robbed and cracked a fucker in the head with a wine bottle! What do you want me to say?!”

 

I am screaming now.

 

My outburst suddenly ends. I stare at him in a dead rage.

 

“War.” Winter responds.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“A sane man, in an insane world is a man at war. First with himself and his irreconcilable surroundings, second with those around him in the strange land he encounters. What I’m trying to get at is that events and places such as your new obsession with ancient Greece has nothing to do with your condition. You are indeed a product of your sufferings but are also struggling with something inside of you. Inside your mind you are at war. Spiritual warfare refers to the battle you wage outside the physical realm of the waking life for all those things that can’t be explained by science and technology. What makes a rich boy evil when raised in luxury and taught only good? I assure you, you’d feel very similar in ancient Greece. And thus we have to ask. Are you really crazy? Are you really a criminal, a rapist? Or are you coming free? In the world of the Pale City that you and Michael flee across those sands in ancient Greece or somewhere else, is there something you can’t describe?”

 

“How do you know about Mike Washington and the Pale City?” I ask.

 

“Because I am paid to watch you while you sleep.”

 

“I’ve never talked with you before.”

 

“Are you sure of that?”

 

A pause and the feeling of déjà vu. He sees it in my eyes.

 

“They say what the French call déjà vu is actually the mind processing information it can’t totally understand. A glitch. We’ve talked about déjà vu several times before,” Winter tells me.

 

“I don’t remember. The pills….I don’t want to be free. I just want to be happy.”

 

“Given the opportunity, nearly every person on earth would substitute freedom for happiness, or at the very least, wealth. Although the vast majority will die with not even a third of that trinity.”

 

“I’m not really sure what you mean by free?” I ask him.

 

“The insane world you live in built vast camps in Russia for the revolutionists that opposed the evils of the party. Millions of souls disappeared into them. Freedom dashed under an iron heel, contained in the steppes behind barbed wire in Siberia. In America, wealth made most too fat to want freedom, wealth was enough. But there are criminals, millions of people shut out from the wealth or tempted too much by profit. There are also millions whose minds became sick from unknown causes across class, ethnicity, and religion. What was our government to do with millions and millions of so-called crazy people and criminals?”

 

He pauses.

 

“They built camps.”

 

I stare. He’s got eyes like a jackknife to a swan.

 

“The criminals go into dirty concrete gulags and the ones with the illness of the mind go into hospital camps with high fences, electronic doors, and a cornucopia of chemical tranquilizers for mind and soul alike.”

 

“WHAT’S YOUR FUCKING POINT?!!” I bellow at him.

 

I see his hand grip the radio. Code green will swarm this unit with a dozen guards. Code yellow will light up the compound in floodlights. Green: Fight. Yellow: Escape.

 

“You’re crazy and a criminal, so what should be done with you?” he asks.

 

“Shoot me, I guess. Or lock me up.”

 

“You’d trade freedom for death only because you’re too weak to struggle.”

 

“Well I’m not free anyhow so I have nothing to barter with.”

 

“The doctors generally write off most of what you experience as psychosis, but I believe that you, so-called criminally insane, see something that I do not. You are violent. You have raped young girls, robbed people close to you, destroyed your brother.”

 

“How deep is the file, Winter?”

 

“The amazing thing is that you remember none of our previous talks.”

 

“I just met you tonight,” I say, again.

 

“You say that every time. I’m not even allowed to read your file, Sebastian Adon. I know about your brother Benjamin, about Pathfinders, about your life in New York and about Mike Washington and the Pale City because you can’t sleep and you come talk with me.”

 

“I didn’t destroy my brother,” I say fiercely.

 

“You will find a very different city when you return, when your ‘crew’ comes to liberate you.”

 

“I love my brother more than anything in the world. Don’t play games with me, you fuck.”

 

“Rage. Great. It’s good to be angry. Who’s gonna raise him when you’re gone? Your crew I bet.”

 

“My boys will take care of him.”

 

“Grow him up just like you?” he goads me further.

 

“I’m gonna break your faggot jaw.”

 

“Do it.  Prison is less boring than this hospital camp, but you’re more bark than bite. They’ll toss you in the big chill and then transfer you to a more remote camp. You’re rich after all. The gulags have a bit of a race/class hierarchy-of-needs thing going on.”

 

“My brother isn’t gonna be like me.” I stammer.

 

“Your condition is hereditary, so if it isn’t in the genetics alone, you’ll have your crew to blame.”

 

“Do these doctors say I am sick? That my mind is not a normal mind?”  I ask.

 

“A doctor in an insane world must think of maintaining the whole. The world is insane because it is not just. But this sanity, this thing I call free is a wild, scary thing to those that have lived forever with insanity. The doctor must treat the aberration as an aberration, not make an exception that might crumble a great house of cards.”

 

“So I’m sane?” Now I’m really confused.

 

“A doctor will tell you an objective standard of the health of the human body. That it is x, is y or is z. That doctor knows what maintains a body. But they don’t have a way to say what is going on in your mind. When your actions are not normal, your actions are in fact criminal, and then you become insane. Your sanity is purely in relation to the whole.”

 

“Then, Dr. Winter, what condition is my condition in?”

 

“You see something that I do not and it makes you the special person you are.”

 

“Everyone around me seems to be looking at the world from a much safer perspective. I get the impression my condition isn’t good for much. All it does is make me miserable and get me in trouble. But, I don’t care what happens anymore. When I went to sleep I saw a personal Hell that carried over into my waking life as realistically as if I were there.”

 

“You are not a villain, but name a good thing you’ve ever done.”

 

And for the life of me, I could not.

 

 

ט

 

There are a variety of things that are illegal to have in this place. Some things are deemed negative and thus, prohibited. An example of a negative item might be a comic book with graphic violence, anything that would trigger an emotion or an idea contrary to the goals of the behavior modification. There are other things they call contraband, anything that could be used as a weapon or some kind of substance to abuse. They’d found quite a bit of it on this unit a week before I arrived and had locked the unit down tight.

 

The lockdown ends the first week of June. I am sitting in the Rec Room of my unit, Sugar Hill, with several other patients–Asher, Junior, and Corncob Duran. Asher is a little taller then me, a Black kid with pimples who has been here for over two years. Asher is good humored. He cracks jokes and fools around with the guards, and endlessly tries to steal things. He’s like Idi Amin with a slight southern drawl. He totters between being the charming joker and a brutal, violent thug. And he’s just fifteen. Smith says he’ll be here forever.

 

“I’ve been here a very long time,” Asher says, matter of factly.

 

“How long is that?” I ask him.

 

“Long enough, to not know much else. I have severe memory loss. It is as if I was born and raised in this place. I remember nothing but it.”

 

“So you can’t remember anything before the hospital?”

 

“I just know I’ve been here a very long time,” he repeats.

 

“I’ve been here a little over a week and that feels like forever.”

 

“I think I’ve gotten used to being here.”

 

“How the Hell could you get used to this shit? You apparently don’t have much of a basis for comparison. Let me be the first to tell you that being free beats the shit out of this.”

 

“I doubt it.”

 

“Asher, we aren’t even allowed to talk to girls here. That in itself stands as a glaring motivation for flight or recovery.”

 

“Maybe. Girls are trouble,” he states emphatically.

 

“No, not ‘maybe.’ Getting with girls is fucking great. It’s a reason to leave your house. You must remember kissing a girl once in your life before you came here, right?”

 

“No, not really. I mean, I may have, but I just don’t remember.”

 

“It’s a good time Asher and you can’t do it here.”

 

“Well the food is good. You get three meals a day.”

 

“The food is not good. You get three meals a day on the outside.”

 

“I didn’t. The only memory I have, or half a memory is always being hungry.”

 

“You remember how many meals you ate but not if you kissed a girl?”

 

“Asher is full of shit, Sebastian. He remembers everything just fine,” says Corncob Duran, a skinny farm boy from Boise, Idaho whose voice is nasal and shit kicking.

 

“Why don’t you shut up,” snaps Asher.

 

Smith and Asher call him ‘Corncob’ because he shits bricks in the shower. The size and shape looks like an ear of corn, which Asher explains to me means that he was repeatedly anally raped. Duran’s high-pitched voice is obnoxious and he looks like a junkie, which he was on the outside. He’s only seventeen but has, apparently, fathered a child with some girl on the outside who is fifteen. He is now a ward of the state of Idaho. They sent him to the gulag down in Texas. He won’t see his son for quite some time. He’s got track mark scars on both of his arms. He’s a junkie, a father and a near total mess.

 

“He’s in denial. Believe it or not Asher’s life has been much for the better since he checked in here,” whines Duran.

 

“Shut up, you skinny little faggot,” shouts Asher.

 

“Asher got raped by his father,” whispers Duran in a hushed tone. “I’m in the incest group with him. That’s how I know.”

 

Asher flies across the Rec Room table and begins choking Corncob Duran. He’s pencil thin, might break easily, but he’s actually already broken. He gags. His eyes bug out. A medication nurse yells for the guards. I don’t get in anyone’s way. Little horses, soldiers, more horses, and cannons fly everywhere as the Risk board crashes to the ground. Junior and I scramble out of the way. Both of us hope that Duran gets hurt while knowing that the guards will break it up before anything happens. Asher is much stronger than Duran and has him pinned to the ground for about twenty seconds without air before the guards Smith and Salinas drag him off. Salinas calls a code green, which indicates that they need more guards to come to our unit. But Smith almost single-handedly drags Asher to the tiny Quiet Room on our unit and locks him in. Salinas yells for us to go back over to our cells.

 

An hour later and change, Corncob Duran goes into some kind of psychotic seizure that leaves him howling at the moon all night. He fucks up his whole room, tearing open the mattress and drooling all over himself. I saw four guards carrying him off the unit as he flailed his arms wildly. He spit all over the place and pissed himself judging from the smell.

 

Asher is up in the Big Chill, the large central lock-up known for its freezing temperature. They tossed Duran into the Quiet Room at first, but then took him off the unit on a stretcher sedated and in four-point restraints.

 

My cellmate Junior slept through the whole ordeal.

 

Doctors say that a good way to keep mentally ill patients on their meds is to videotape their psychotic episodes. Seeing Duran, I remember of how I acted at Mt. Sinai. I remember what it feels like to be carried into seclusion. I remember the needle going into my upper thigh. I remember the fade-to-nothingness, and how unquiet the Quiet Room can be.

 

I feel the dry Texas plain’s heat seeping into my skin. I realize that it has been several weeks since I have had a dream. I meander in a surreality that is the sad merger of my fractured reality and an imagined future. I look out my window hoping to see a burning giraffe, which will reveal to me as much as it apparently revealed to Winter. The giraffe probably appears in a different form to each person.

 

How many times will Corncob Duran flip out and what is it that he sees? Does he see something similar to Winter’s homeless man? Is Winter really a doctor in disguise? I thought I only spoke with him once before. He says we have talked many more times.  But why don’t I remember anything accurately?

 

Maybe I’m accomplishing the worthy feat of completely dissolving my wretched past. Maybe one day someone will ask me what it was like being in mental hospital. It is surreality incorporated. I won’t be able to tell them anything of substance. My days here are for containment. The treatment is a total illusion.

 

י

There is a small enclosed swimming pool across from these interlocking buildings on the bottom of the compound basin. We get to go swimming when we have achieved the right color level designation in our treatment.  I have worked my way up to the Green Level as I always get my sanction checkmarks for the hour and I never cause problems. It’s hard to understand what caused this transition from my previous bellicose behavior. It might be because I came here as a stranger. I can start with a new, clean slate and act better at this new camp. But that isn’t it. The Happy Pills take most of the fight out of me. The violence has moved from my body to my drawings. It comes out in my underground marker, pencil and stolen-pen cartoons of the ancient Greek Spartans, time travel and the philosopher king rebels. They fight not only the Persian invaders but their own oligarchies, and the men who murdered Socrates and called the Republic a treatise for anarchy.

I finally get it out of Asher that no one knows where his parents are. The state of Louisiana is paying for him to be here. I don’t know what I’m bitching about. He’ll be here forever. Although I guess on a long enough timeline, he’ll turn 18. Or go to prison.

 

I spent all of Tuesday in another part of the compound undergoing endless tests: catscans, EKGs, IQ and general intelligence evaluations. I put together colored blocs into various shapes as quickly as I could while they timed me. Then I had to rattle off all the words I know that begin with “A.” I was asked to repeat this pattern all the way through the alphabet. I had to look at cartoon images and fill in the quotation bubbles. I had to interpret ink blots. They really all do look like bats. The testing went on forever. I guess these absurd exercises mean something to someone. I gather that cumulatively, these tests will piece together an image of how my mind works. At least this broke the monotony.

 

The camp psychiatrists ask me tons of questions. Some sit with a pad and take notes just like the Hollywood stereotypes, while others ask me to break down specific events and motives. They ask me a lot about the wine bottle incident as if that is the most blatantly deviant thing I have done. I tell them what I think they want to hear.

 

It came out during these sessions that I witnessed a boy at my summer camp die in the swimming pool right next to me when I was little.  He cracked his head on the bottom. They’re making a big deal about how traumatic that must have been for me. I play along because we all need a root cause for our madness, at least in the minds of the so-called professionals. I actually don’t even remember this incident very well. In their version I think I’m somehow responsible for the kid’s death. Why not? They’re the experts, right? They all wear white lab coats that make me feel like I’m being experimented on. I remain cooperative. We must, after all, determine what condition my condition is in.

 

A couple of days after the interviews and the tests they change my drugs again.

כ

A bunch of silly little bitches I have no relationship with wrote me letters because little Asian Michelle Tagomi who I had passed notes to in my biology class gave them my new address. Julia Shoot and Zivia Lubetkin from Stuyvesant co-authored a letter as well as mailed me some photos of people from Stuy. One was of Roxy. It gives me something to pine over. They write mindless pleasantries and I figure they’ll only write once. My parents send me several letters a week, which I don’t really read at all. Various relatives send their love, but my brother doesn’t write, but then again, he doesn’t have to.

 

The only letters that I really wait for are the ones from Michelle, who is now the only person who corresponds with me as if nothing changed. The utter sympathy in her letters and the degree to which she has refused to accept my insanity is the only comfort I can feel. It seems like everyone else is writing because they think they should. Michelle writes as if she wants to understand what has happened to me. She had seen one side of me at Bronx. She hadn’t known the destructive, vile drunk, or the thief or the womanizer rapist. She had seen me at my moments of carefree charm and casual flirtation. She imagined me fondly. To think she had not heard rumors of my deviancy would of course be inaccurate. Through her letters she has become the only person in whom I can confide. And what can I say? I’m shocked by sincerity.

 

I have grown to think of myself as abandoned by my parents, obviously to the care of the hospital camps, but also by all the people who called themselves my friends. Not a single one of my guy friends, except Case, write or call. Not Donny, not Izzy, not Trikhovitch or Nike Brickman. Maybe guys don’t write letters. Maybe I should be happy so many people even take the time to halfway care. I just really need my boys to be with me on this and they are not. Winter is right. My crew isn’t ever coming for me.

 

The worst feeling is that I have been completely forgotten.

 

Each day feels very, very long. Minutes pass quite slowly. I have entirely too much time to sit around in my head and figure out what went wrong. The poor, dead kid in the Pathfinder Camp swimming pool didn’t hunt me, haunt me and make me steal. I don’t even remember his name. I just remember how I felt when I was making the stupid pink condolence card. There is no way to keep track of time except every hour on the hour when the sanction cards get signed. Blue card. Red card. The staff is paranoid over our possible confiscation of pens. We might make a shiv, a homemade knife; or we might alter boxes on the mod cards.

 

I don’t completely believe Mr. Winter’s theories.

 

The events that put this all into motion elude me completely. My condition is something that happened to me along the way, not traceable to a specific event. I wish I could trace it to something, find something to blame. I don’t come from the same place as Corncob Duran, or sad little Junior, or Asher, the battered Negro. There has not been even close to a comparable level of trauma in my case as compared to theirs. I haven’t been raped. I don’t have abusive parents. And I’m not poor. But my sad pain is very real.

 

The Crazy Nut Bin lets the mad sit and simmer. Lying here on my cot staring at the ceiling of my cell, I realize I have regrets about nearly every major decision in my life. It’s a real bad state of mind when you think too hard about what could have been or should have been. So here I am in Texas. You are supposed to learn from your mistakes. This is the mark of a rational man. I have learned nothing. Surely I am lost.

 

What was I doing out on that balcony ready to throw myself off over a song? I hear murmurs from the doctors about a condition, a chemical imbalance in my brain. I don’t even know what that means. That’s what society needs to hear when rich kids start acting crazy.

 

Poor kids are just criminals, but rich kids have chemical imbalances in the brain.

 

ל

Contraband gets brought in three ways. First, there is contraband that comes in with an internee, normally stuffed up their ass. Second, there is contraband the guards bring in. This type is hard to get a hold of unless you’ve been locked up here for a long time. The third type is what we steal or make like the prescription pills traded among the internees, weapons made out of sharpened metal or wood, and finally, things the guards leave lying around.

 

Asher has a whole cache of pens that he has stolen, but he never uses them to change his card. To him the card is something sacred, constant and true. He’s been living under its rule for close to three years. That’s how long it’s been since he was free. I got a pen off Asher so I could draw. I had always drawn on the outside starting as far back as Hebrew school when I started making Spaceman Adon comics for my friends. Since there really isn’t much to do sitting in my cell all day, drawing seems like a good way to pass the time.

 

There are shakedowns every time something goes missing. That means you have to hide your contraband really carefully. Asher taught me to put things in the radiator. You have to first unscrew the cover and then place your stuff inside. The guards never look inside. It is just one of those secrets Asher has learned from being locked up for so long. The secret is that they underestimate us all completely. They associate the mentally ill with the mentally retarded.

 

The guards tear your room apart based on how much they like you. Asher and I get pretty descent treatment and they only really ruffle the sheets and look in the dressers. Corncob Duran always throws his psychotic tantrums all night and flips out frequently.  His room looks like a hurricane swept through it. The guards really hate Duran and he knows it. They search his stuff hardcore even though he never steals that much. There are exceptions. Kelso and Salinas for instance are guards that are strict but fair. Even though you can’t get away with anything with them on the job, everyone is guaranteed equal treatment. This doesn’t sit well with Asher and me who are used to getting away with everything.

 

Some of the guards warmed up to me quickly, especially ones that pull the night shifts. Since I hardly ever sleep, I stay up all night having conversations about everything. I think some of them find me entertaining. Wild, fratty Smith is built like a fire fighter. Camden is a West Coast stoner. Jeremy Winter finally told me his first name against the hospital camp protocols. They are the ones I am closest to. They all bend the rules in little ways to help me out. Camden lets me read books that are obviously negative that he brings in when he works the graveyard shift. He lets me borrow his pen to draw under supervision. Winter is strict about negative behavior, but he lets me stay up all night talking philosophy and he gives me good behavior marks on my card. Smith just never shuts up about negative shit. He talks on and on about drugs and booze and sex with ‘loose and whorish women.’ He is more than happy to completely hear you out and then top you with a war story. What he is doing working here is beyond me. He’s just a Texas frat boy. Just the other day he had been telling Junior how crack can be used recreationally.

 

“You’re a popular little fucker,” he says handing me another letter from Michelle.

 

“What’s your point, Smith?” I ask.

 

“There’s no need for attitude. Just be grateful people give enough of a shit to write you at all.”

 

“You’re right, but it doesn’t change the facts.”

 

“The facts that what, kid? That you have to spend your summer locked up? Maybe not, but you could be somewhere worse. You could be dead.”

 

“What would be so terrible about that?”

 

He looks at me real funny, mostly like I’m stupid.

 

“You see. It’s those comments. It’s those wanna-kill-yourself, talking-to-God, and hitting-people-with-wine-bottle nonsense, crazy talk that keeps you here. It’s called crazy talk. When you stop acting crazy and get your shit together you can fuck all these little girlies that write you letters. You can drink beer in parks and do fun shit. If your IQ is so fucking high, how hard is it to figure out that if you just take your pills and do what they tell you’ll be out by August and you can go home.”

 

“That’s just it. It isn’t actually that simple,” I tell him.

 

“Oh? Why not? We’ve had a bunch of conversations. You act like you’re on top of your game. You haven’t flipped out once and you’re moving up through the card system faster than usual.”

 

“Nothing that got me here has been dealt with. These drugs take all my energy away so I act tranquil and content. I might not flip out, or cry, or break the rules; but I’m fucking miserable.”

 

“Who’s Roxy?” he asks.

 

“Where the Hell did that come from?”

 

“You call her name out when you sleep.”

 

“So what?” I say.

 

“Who is she?”

 

“She’s a girl.”

 

“Did she break your little teenage heart?”

 

“As a matter of fact she did.”

 

“Fuck her.” Smith comments.

 

“Fuck me. She didn’t love me because I acted like a piece of shit.”

 

“Don’t buy into that mentality of completely demonizing yourself as a frame of reference for your recovery.”

 

“What is that supposed to mean?” I ask.

 

“It means that when it comes down to it, only three categories of things will get you sent to Hell– raping, robbing, and murder. You don’t do those things. You’re in the clear with God.”

 

“That’s a pretty bold statement there, Smith.”

 

“I digressed from the main point however. What I meant to say is that if you were so fucking bad, why aren’t you in one of the criminal units? They want you to think everything about you was shitty so you’ll do this mystical one-eighty and emerge from this place a shiny new example of behavior modification. Life isn’t that simple and what you did wasn’t even that bad. You’re on Sugar Hill, my little nigger.”

 

“Says you. She thought I was a piece of shit.”  I say.

 

“Have you ever considered that your behavior may not have been the decisive factor? Maybe she didn’t like your stupid haircut or maybe she didn’t think your jokes were funny.”

 

“I don’t tell jokes.”

 

“What I’m getting at, kid, is that sometimes girls just aren’t that into us for whatever reason. You get over it.”

 

“I love her, Smith.”

 

“A fifteen year-old in love is absolute chicken shit to grownups. What kind of silly broads did you mostly get with before this special lady?”

 

“I don’t know. Stupid ones. Ones that drank and never had intelligent things to say.”

 

“I’m not trying to tell you what you feel isn’t real because if it’s real to you, who am I to argue? Then again, you are in a mental hospital. So maybe I will make the bold statement that what you feel is just you being imbalanced.”

 

“Fuck you.” I tell him.

 

“Fine, but that doesn’t change anything.”

 

“I think you only talk to me to rub this shit in my face,” I tell him.

 

“Listen to yourself. Here I am trying to encourage you not to drown in self pity and you turn this into another reason to be sour about your situation.”

 

“I sit in my cell all day with not a shit to do while doctors do tests to see what level of crazy I am.”

 

“Well, cry me a river. The world’s smallest violin is playing just for you. At least no one tries to rape you in the ass on this unit.  At least all your personal shit isn’t being stolen every time the guards turn around. Boo fuckin hoo. You’ll be out of here by August. Some of these motherfuckers will be here for years. Put things in perspective.”

 

“A least I’m not in prison you mean?”

 

“To say the least.”

 

“I’m in a prison for my mind,” I declare.

 

“Yeah, well the real ones are a shit load worse.”

 

“Says you.”

 

“Says me indeed. You wouldn’t last a minute. You’d be some little nigger’s bitch. Every time your parents send you something they’d take it. They’d beat you. They’d fuck you and you couldn’t do shit. You couldn’t do shit because you’re a scrawny, White boy from Manhattan. You should thank God you got sent to this veritable Hilton of mental health.”

 

“I’ll run when I get a chance,” I say.

 

“And where will you go? You’re in the middle of fucking Texas.”

 

 

***

 

Another kid joined our unit later this afternoon. He is a blonde and handsome Alaskan named Eugene. He looks really young and won’t talk to anyone. He sits in the corner staring off into space while we all play Risk in the Rec Room. I tried talking to him but there is no response. He stares out into space with cold, dead eyes. The massive doses of Seroquel they give him enhance his already positive outlook on life and social interaction. Even Smith refuses to divulge what has befallen him. Smith sits in the office reading the file with a serious look on his face. There will be no smart remarks or self-amusements with this new one. Eugene’s past is too terrible, even for Smith.

 

מ

 

The cafeteria suddenly exploded. One person shouted at someone else and suddenly, I find myself trapped in the middle of a brawl in a sea of flailing arms, of bites, kicks, and strangles. I throw my plastic tray at a Black kid fighting with Asher and then dive on top of a pile of bodies striking at each other on the ground. I don’t hesitate for a moment. I don’t even stop to think about how this trouble began. I am eager to involve myself in the chaos of it all. Someone hits me in the side. Then I bite someone’s arm as hard as I can and kick someone else in the balls. I feel an elbow strike my chin.

 

It hadn’t been over anything important. This mêlée went on for sometime, but it was not long before the guards dragged all the principal combatants to the ground and restrained them. I realize as I lay there on the dirty cafeteria floor with Kelso’s knee against my neck that there is no reason for me to have joined this fight. There is no reason except my own boredom.

 

All the other combatants are Black. After additional security arrived they decided to bring nine kids, including Asher, to the big chill. The dozen or so that are left, including me, are taken back to our units to be locked in quiet rooms there. The hundred or so other internees were made to line up in columns and marched back to their cells to be put on a general lockdown for the rest of the day. With my arm twisted behind my back and nose dripping with blood, Kelso marches me back to Sugar Hill and locks me in the quiet room right next to the phone.

 

 

נ

 

“Now what was the point of that?” asks Winter peering through the quiet room window.

 

I’m lying on the blue mat that sits on the floor. I’ve been lying in here for several hours since one of the nurses gave me a sedative. I’m still sore from the take down.

 

“Just trying to break the monotony I suppose.”

 

“You’re like a week away from Level One.”

 

“I was just trying to protect Asher. I didn’t start that fight. I don’t even know how it began.”

 

“You’re not in any serious trouble,” Winter informs me.

 

“How do you know?” I asked.

 

“Because the doctors said so during the shift change report.”

 

“So can I get the hell out of this room?”

 

“Another forty minutes and I’ll let you out. If you want I’ll unlock the door.”

 

“That would be cool.”

 

Winter unlatches the quiet room and drags his chair into the entranceway.

 

“Can I use the phone?” I asked, pushing my luck.

 

“You’re joking, right?”

 

“Just seeing what I can get away with.”

 

“You can use the phone when I let you out.”

 

“I think I bit someone.”

 

“You may want to keep that to yourself,” Winter advises.

 

“Probably.”

 

He looks as if he means to say something and is trying to phrase it just right.

 

“Wanna hear something funny?” I say.

 

“Sure.”

 

“When I was wiling out in Mt. Sinai I started writing poetry. I apparently composed this one poem and kept reciting it over an over again while drooling on myself in the quiet room. Know what it was called?”

 

“What?” he asks.

 

“Winter’s Dregs. I don’t think I even know what a dreg is.”

 

“It’s the refuse and waste.”

 

“Like how we’re the dregs of society all locked up in this place under your guard?”

 

“That is in fact the common usage. Do you remember how the poem went?”

 

I think for a moment. Of course I do.

 

“As ambiguous as ever, the ethics of the mind; a twisted backwards clockwork, you surely are to find: that nothing ever makes much sense, no black and white just grey, and Winter’s Dregs lay desolate as logic slips away.”

 

“You rip that off from somewhere? Thomas Hardy maybe.”

 

“Nope, I made it up myself while teetering on the brink of insanity.”

 

“What a strange coincidence,” Winter observes.

 

ס

 

Give a man JUST a little power and he’ll think he’s something of a god. People don’t take jobs as guards for their health. It’s the fringe benefits. It’s the control over the lives of others they’re after. The guards spend more time with us than anyone else. They tell us when we can leave our cells. They tell us when we can shit and piss, when we can eat and if we can make a phone call. They have absolute control over us in a way that the doctors don’t. We are victim to their follies and amusements.

 

Things are tense on the unit. The compound has been locked down for the last three days because of the fight in the mess hall. No one has been allowed to leave their cell and we are all writing sanctions every hour on whatever topic Kelso and Smith dream up for their own private amusement. It is just a way to kill time. I continue to work on my Taj Mahal 3-D puzzle that I got in the mail from my parents. Junior sits on his bed reading a Spiderman comic book. Every fifteen minutes before the hour Kelso announces that another sanction is due if we want to earn our behavioral mod points.

 

The guards are on edge. Two of them had to go to hospital as result of the mess hall incident. Nothing serious of course, just cuts and bruises. It had all happened so fast. Over what, no one could remember. No one from our unit had done much. Asher hit one of the kids from Cherry, but that had more to do with an old beef than any desire to fuel the riot. Most of our kids had run out of the hall and given themselves up when the shit hit the fan. I figure it is because most of our people are pussies. Winter told me that we were the easiest unit to work with because most of us are only mentally ill not criminally insane.

 

I hate being stuck on the Sugar Hill Unit. Anytime anyone interesting gets placed on the unit they’d get transferred to another area just as soon as I get close with them. Smith tells me I am  lucky, that on any other unit I’d just get beaten up and have my shit stolen. Sugar Hill is apparently safe, but I can’t stand the kids. Asher is okay, but the rest are fucking too much to deal with. Junior is a manipulative little shit. Duran is off his fucking rocker. I swear that if I have to hear him flipping out in the quiet room while I am trying to sleep one more time, I’ll kick the shit out of him myself.

 

Asher has been bounced around a lot in his three years of captivity. He has been on half the other units and has enemies on most of them. I can’t figure out what is up with him. He just seems to like to steal and fight, like it is all he knows. He has been here since he was twelve and it isn’t likely that he’d be leaving soon.  Three days later, he still isn’t back on the unit.

 

The guards Smith and Kelso are an odd mix. Smith can’t give two shits about protocol. As far as he is concerned this is just the best job he can get. It supplies him with endless opportunities to amuse himself at our expense. Once and a while I get the feeling he is my friend, like the time when he woke me up at 4 in the morning and took me outside to smoke a cigarette. His kindness is deceptive. As much as one might think he is being friendly, Smith is the most sadistic of all the guards when it comes down to it. He often tells me that the best part of his day is putting kids down when they get physical with him.

 

The thing that amuses Smith the most is to aggravate the internees and get them to fight each other. Just last week he was telling Asher that if he beat up Junior, Smith would give him a four second lead before he called it in. We’re all real restless. It just seems to get hotter and hotter around here.

 

 

***

 

June is finally over.

 

Everything’s back to normal on the compound, at least as normal as deviants under lock and key can be. Because all of our levels are high enough, they take Duran, Asher, Junior and me down to the pool. Eugene can’t go because he’s still on Blue. The pool is down by the schoolhouse and the library. It’s small and a little run down. The water is chock full of chlorine to the point where it feels like it’s seeping into your skin. The water is cold and refreshing even though it reeks of chemicals. We’re splashing around and Smith is lounging in a deck chair. Salinas, the other guard, has just responded to a code green on the radio and has taken off up the hill. Green means fights and yellow means escape attempts. Smith normally jumps all over those, but he looks exhausted. I climb out of the pool and sit on the ground next to Smith.

 

“What’s your first name?” I asked.

 

“We’re not supposed to tell you.”

 

“Come on. Tell me your name.”

 

“I feel like the level of respect would decrease. Let’s keep this formal shall we?”  Smith responds.

 

“What would I have to do to get you to tell me your name?” I continue.

 

“You’d have to go back in the pool and hit Duran in his stupid head.”

 

“Done. You ever get the feeling you work here because we remind you of yourself. Like how we just act out on your impulses, but we’re crazy and you’re the guard?”

 

“That’s a little too profound for me. I work here because it’s easy money. If I was a smart motherfucker, I wouldn’t be making my money guarding crazy people now, would I?” Smith responds.

 

“You work here because you get to be the authority not the deviant.”

 

“Want to know my name or not?” he asked.

 

I jumped back in the pool. The chlorine soup is making me sick. The others are horsing around. There’s no good reason to do what I’m going to do. I mean, Corncob Duran is really annoying, but he’s been through some sick shit. But why not? I wasn’t going to get in trouble. I wanted to know Smith’s name so we’d finally be on even footing. Knowing a man’s name gives you power over him. I read that once. An old Indian squaw saying I picked up in Missouri.

 

I swim up to Duran and I sock him in the side of the head. My knuckles connect with his scalp as he yells out in surprise. Smith starts laughing from the side.

 

“Why the fuck did you hit me?” Duran yells clutching the side of his head.

 

“I didn’t hit you,” I say.

 

“Smith! Sebastian hit me!”

 

“I didn’t see anything. Asher, what just happened?”

 

“I didn’t see anything,” says Asher treading water.

 

“Neither did I,” said Junior with a smirk.

 

Duran is really scrawny. I’m less then three feet from him and he doesn’t do anything.

 

“Why the fuck did you hit me!”

 

“I didn’t hit you.”

 

“He didn’t hit you, Duran,” says Smith.

 

Duran looks real confused with a painful look on his face as if humiliated. No one cares what happens to Duran. I could beat him to death and no one would stop me. Maybe Smith would eventually because it would look bad if one kid killed another on his watch. He’d have to think over if saving Duran was worth getting wet. I realize then and there, looking right at Duran who I’d just punched in the head for nothing, that I am a cruel person. So I punch him again, this time in his face. There are several dull thuds of fist hitting flesh amid water splashing. He tries to hit me back, but I’m a bit bigger than he is. I grab him pulling him under the water as I hit him. I’ve killed someone in a pool before, haven’t I? Duran struggles to breathe as I choke him under the water. No. I’ve never killed a person. That kid whose name I don’t remember, that kid who the doctors think I take responsibility for, I never had anything to do with that. Why am I choking Corncob Duran? My hands clamp against his throat.

 

“Sebastian! Let him go!” yells Smith, getting up suddenly.

 

There is absolutely no point to this. Just as suddenly I let him go and shove him away from me. He heaves a huge breath gasping for air.

 

“Pool times over boys!”

 

Asher and Junior jump out of the pool and grab their towels. Duran is left alone in the pool still trying to catch his breath.

 

“What the fuck, Smith?!” he yells.

 

“Listen to me very carefully. You were all horsing around in the pool and it got a little out of hand. That’s all,” Smith replies.

 

“I’m gonna tell Salinas,” says Duran.

 

“That would be both unnecessary and inadvisable. Because, Duran, who are they going to believe?”

 

“Asher and Junior saw him attack me!”

 

“I didn’t see shit,” says Asher.

 

“Neither did I,” says Junior.

 

“Fuck you both!” yells Duran.

 

“As I stated, Duran, it would be highly inadvisable for you to make up stories. You were all fooling around and were unclear about each other’s strength. Don’t be a crybaby, Duran. Are we clear on what just happened?” Smith states.

Duran looks around the pool and realizes no one will believe anything he has to say anyway. He looks like he’s going to cry as he gets out and gets his towel.

 

“You’re such a bitch,” says Asher.

 

Duran doesn’t respond at all. Far worse things have happened to him in his short miserable life. This would just be the latest insult in a life of injury. I no longer care whether I have a condition or if it is my society that has made me this way. I have just contributed, once again, to the suffering of others. I am right where I deserve to be.

ע

 

It’s the Fourth of July in Texas.

 

I’m looking out the window and I see the fireworks. I remember when I was younger my parents took us out to East Hampton and we’d watch fireworks on the beach every 4th of July. We’d have these big family picnics with our neighbors. Their daughters were terribly boring though you could tell the younger one was going to be cute and fuckable one day and the older one would venture into something idealistic. To think I used to complain about having to spend my weekend out there.

 

Now I’m watching these fireworks out of the Crazy Nut Bin window. I never took in the significance of the day, America free from British tyranny and all that jazz. I watch the red, blue and gold explosions illuminate the night sky and I realize that as America celebrates freedom here I am locked away. I am just missing the party.

 

 

Time moves sinisterly slowly. I fill half this time with reading and half with mind games. These games are subtle manipulations. Sometimes they set Duran off. Sometimes they make Duran and Asher fight. I might try to convince myself that I am being rehabilitated by the books and by the conversations with Winter, but my deeds belie the truth. Kurtz’s words were profound even if his actions were just a psychotic outburst. Yet with all this time on my hands and with the dulling of my emotions via psychotropic drugs, no sensation is very real, including the voice of my conscience.

 

Another letter from Michelle came earlier today. I wanted to savor each word once my head had cleared; but when was my head ever going to do that? I abandon Kurtz’s words and the fireworks for my cell. The letter reads:

 

Dear Sebastian,

 

I can’t tell you how much your letter meant to me. I truly think that you are one of the greatest and deepest friends I ever had. Your advice and telling me you care really touches me and I cry whenever I think how far away you are to me, and how I can’t see or touch you. Last night I watched this movie “A Clockwork Orange”, about these four guys in the future and how their life was a game, just like you said in your letter. They did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted and did some messed up shit. One day, his friends betrayed him. He was arrested and put in some freaky jail. They did weird experiments on him where they forced his eyes open and made him watch movies of murder and rape until he felt sick and nauseated. They messed up his life. When he got out, everything was different. This strange guy had taken his place in his family and his friends were now cops and beat him up and shit. It was a pretty scary movie; it kind of reminded me of you, and what they’re doing to you in that place. It’s sickening. Not seeing sunlight for a whole month is the most messed up fucking thing I’ve ever heard. But I know his story is different than yours. When you come out there are always gonna be people there for you. I guarantee it okay? I know I’m not the only who cares about you. You’ve made an impact on many lives and whether they be negative or positive, those people are who they are today because of you.

 

Me and Matt have this really weird thing going on now. After we broke up, it was really hard for me. I thought it was gonna be really easy to just stay close friends, but it doesn’t work that way. Last Thursday I got really drunk and me and Matt ended up having sex. Now we chill like we never broke up. We’re not together or anything but we’re closer and it’s cool. It’s kind of hard to explain. Like seeing other people and shit is not a problem. If you haven’t heard Donny and Alana broke up a little after we did. They’re still mad close though.

 

Things are weird without you. Life’s going on, it’s just really different. Especially for me. Two days ago I tried weed for the first time, definitely not something to be proud of. But I guess there’s a first for everything. By the way, we got an A plus on the whole teenage depression survey thing. It turns out, the thing that makes people the most depressed is their friends and the people they go to when they’re depressed is their friends; pretty ironic eh? Well that’s life for you. I really hope you come out soon. I don’t know what else there is to say.

 

I miss you, I cry for you, I love you.

 

Always,

Michelle Kaku

 

 

***

 

It had to be close to 3 in the morning. Winter was seated on a chair at the end of the hall. I was in my boxers and a t-shirt. I kept rereading the letter without saying anything. I had been going over Michelle’s words for the past three hours.

 

“I swear, Winter, if not for this girl, I’d be ranting and raving like Duran does everyday. I’d be totally out of control.”

 

“I hear you are out of control anyway.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“I hear reports from the guards about the things you do. I hear you teach Junior all sorts of negative things. I hear you encourage Duran to flip out. I even heard something about you and Eugene getting caught snorting something. I know about the cafeteria and I heard about what happened at the pool,” Winter informs me.

 

“Smith has loose fucking lips. All that shit is only half-true anyway.”

 

“People sometimes lose track of what kind of kid you are because of how articulate you tend to be. You never get in any trouble because we all like you too much.”

 

“What can I say, I’m a likable guy, Jeremy,” I say using the forbidden first name.

 

“Winter. Back to Winter I’m thinking,” he says. “This girl Michelle, that you talk about all the time, she was your girlfriend?”

 

“It’s not even like that. She just is a good friend. I can’t figure out why she likes me that much. No one else has stuck with me like she has,” I tell him.

 

“What about your parents?”

 

“They put me here. What do you want me to say, ‘I’m cool with that?’ ”

 

“Do you take any accountability for the things you do?”

 

“Here or on the outside?” I ask.

 

“What the fuck does it matter?”

 

“Nothing I do here matters. This I know.” I say.

 

“The tests they do here determine where you get transferred.”

 

“Smith says I’ll be out by August.”

 

“Smith doesn’t give a shit about you.”

 

“And you do, Winter? You fucking care now?! Don’t lecture me about anything. You with your constant probing and your talk about philosophy haven’t gotten me anywhere.”

 

“What’s with the outbursts? I thought we were friends.” Winter says.

 

“We’re friends? Be a good friend an open the unit door so I can get the fuck out of here.”

 

“You know I can’t do that.”

 

“What can I say? I do shitty things. I didn’t do anything irreversible. I’m not like the rest of these fucking kids. There is no good explanation for why I did the things I did.” I tell him.

 

“The things you do, Sebastian. What about the things you do?” Winter asks emphatically.

 

“I’ve been in pain for a very long time.” I tell him.

 

“You and the rest of the species. What did you think, that everyone else is happy? Did you think that you were suffering alone?”

 

“What’s the point of it all!? Why the fuck am I in a mental hospital in Texas? What did I do that was any worse then all the other people I knew growing up?”

 

“We both know the answer to that.” Winter says.

 

“There are things files can’t report.” I tell him.

 

“Your lips are as loose as those of Mr. Smith. You’ve admitted to getting girls drunk to take advantage of them. You’ve told me how often you stole from people. You’ve told me stories of your drunken debauchery, of terrorizing your family, and of humiliating your brother. You’re not supposed to call your brother a fag every five minutes. And you’re not supposed to assault people with wine bottles. I know everyone rubs that one in your face, but come on.” Winter reminds me.

 

“Michelle doesn’t know about most of those things. I think that’s why she writes me while everyone else has stopped.”

 

“You’re the infamous Sebastian Adon. Of course she knows. I imagine that you do, in fact, find plenty of time between your misdeeds to have profound conversations with people. You might not remember these conversations, but believe me, your friends do.”

 

“Why is she the only one that writes?” I ask again.

 

“Other people write. You just don’t really hold them in the same regard.”

 

“My boys don’t write,” I say.

 

“Guys don’t write letters, hadn’t ya heard?”

 

“Sure other people write me. They write me to remind me of all the fucked up shit that I did or that is going on while I’m here. They say ‘get better’ while Michelle tells me she loves me. I don’t want to hear about their bullshit.”

 

“What is it that you want to hear about then?” Winter asks.

 

“There is something about the way Michelle writes that makes me think I might not have been all bad. I never had a girl say she loves me. I can’t figure out why she cries about me or even why she bothered to keep writing after that first letter. I got a first letter from a bunch of people.”

 

“From my count you have at least eight girls writing you,” Winter reminds me.

 

“They don’t write the same way she does. Bless um all, Marina, Julie, Nona, Emily, my little sis Zivia Belkin; they all sent a letter or two but they didn’t ask the questions Michelle asked. It wasn’t the same at all. And my boys could at least call.”

 

“Guys deal with this shit differently,” Winter says.

 

“Maybe they just never gave a shit.” I reflect painfully.

 

“If that’s what you want to tell yourself.”

 

“Why did this happen to me?”

 

“You keep asking that like I’m gonna be able to tell you.” Winter says.

 

“My ass, this was all due to a chemical imbalance.”

 

“What is it you want me to say, that you’re the victim? That society made you like this? That you aren’t accountable for the things you continue to do? You want me to absolve you of everything you’ve done? Tell me what you want.”

 

“I am a vile selfish person,” I admit.

 

“So change.” Winter responds.

 

“It’s not that simple, Winter.”

 

“But it is. You’re fifteen years old. I know it may seem like your life is over, but there are things to come that will make this hospital look like summer camp. There will be joy and sorrow like you have not yet imagined and there will be a moment when you will look at your life and be proud of the things you have done.”

 

“So says you. I look at the fifteen years I’ve been alive and I can’t think of one good thing I’ve done for the people around me.”

 

“And yet people write you letters. And yet you are still loved. Were you the villain you claim to be, this would not be the case.”

 

“My family is my family and we can all appreciate the misadventures of a charismatic villain.”

 

“So explain Michelle.” Winter challenges me.

 

“I can’t.”

 

“I want you to remember something. You wrote a poem about it and it stuck in my head. I know you don’t listen to the doctors and I believe that you do not even really comprehend what goes on around you with the amount of drugs they have you on, but try and listen anyway. Nothing in life is black and white. There is no pure evil or pure good. Everything is complicated. If you believe you have hurt people the only thing you can do is to change your ways. Some people touch the lives of the people around them. Maybe that’s the kind of person you are. Whether your impact was negative or not, you have contributed to the way they are today.” Winter tells me.

 

“Michelle said something just like that in her letter.”

 

“I’m not finished. You’re not a villain, Sebastian Adon, but the ways in which you pacify your demons leave much to be desired. Where your demons come from is as complicated as your actions. Maybe you didn’t have it as rough as the rest of these kids, but remember that suffering is subjective.”

 

“What the hell does that mean?” I ask.

 

“There is suffering everywhere and no one escapes it. Duran and Asher were raped and you weren’t, but you’ve all tried to end your lives and you all cry out in pain every time you try and go to sleep. Subjective suffering means that everyone suffers in a different way, but the pain cannot be measured one life against another. To a person in pain, their pain is absolute. ” Winter says.

 

“Their suffering is real and mine’s in my head. That’s the difference. At least they have a reason to act the way they do.” I say.

 

“The mind is the window through which we see reality.”

 

“You’re some kind of stupid fucking Buddhist, aren’t you?” I ask him.

 

“My spiritual practices are not relevant to this conversation. Just know this: One day you are going to die and on your deathbed you are going to have to ask yourself, are you proud of what you’ve done with your life.”

 

I stare at Winter for about a minute.

 

“Are you ready to die then?” he asks.

 

“No, Jeremy, I’m not.”

 

“Well the clock is ticking and you’d better get to work.”

פ

My parents look tired, perhaps ten years older. My father’s hair has turned from a dark grey to partly grey white and my mother looks like she hasn’t slept properly, not in weeks. My father is wearing khaki shorts and a white cotton polo shirt. He is optimistic and rotund as ever as he asks me questions about how I’m doing in his lighthearted way. My father is older, but emotionally unchanged, my mother has sunken eyes and doesn’t look at me as she did three years ago.

 

We’re sitting in a gazebo at the top of a small hill within the hospital camp compound. I’m not at Level 2 yet so they’re not supposed to take me off the facility. There was some miscommunication and my Mom is furious because they didn’t come all the way from New York for a two-hour visitation. We’re waiting for the doctors to see if a verdict can be reached signing off on the outing.

 

“We tried very hard with you, Sebastian,” my Mom says.

 

“I know.” I say quietly.

 

“We realize that this has been a rough summer,” my Dad starts.

 

“Hold on, Avi,” Mom says, cutting him off, “What you have to understand is that we love you and that we are very frightened of what you were doing to yourself.”

 

“I know,” I acknowledge.

 

“All the drinking, all the drugs…not to mention all the other things. We just think that right now going back to New York would not be very good for you,” she concludes.

 

“I never did that many drugs,” I say.

 

“That’s not really the point, Sebastian,” my Dad says.

 

“You were going to kill yourself. You might have killed that kid you attacked. In many ways it’s fortunate that most of this trauma has been emotional,” he says.

 

“I know.”

 

“The doctors are saying that you have a mood disorder. They’re advising long-term treatment.”

 

“Here in Texas?” I ask reaching for my water glass.

 

“No,” says my Mom, “We want to move you somewhere closer to New York.

 

“Where do you have in mind?” I ask.

 

“We’ve hired a consultant to help find a place. In a couple of weeks we’ll have some options,” she answers.

 

“What kind of place? Another hospital camp?” I ask.

 

“We’re looking into therapeutic boarding schools,” says my Dad.

 

“I don’t think I really know what that means. Sounds like a fancy word for another lock-up, another damn camp.”

 

“You could go to school and hang out with other kids your age coping with similar problems,” says my Mom.

 

“Would I still be under lock and key?”

 

“Probably. But not to the same extent as here,” she tells me.

 

They watch me closely for a reaction. I look at my Dad and then my Mom and then take another sip of water.

 

“Whatever you think is best,” I say.

 

“That’s it?” asks my Mom, surprised.

 

“That’s it. I mean I can’t go back to New York and I don’t wanna stay here. It’s too fucking hot all the time. So, I guess whatever gets decided on by these doctors is what I’ll go along with.”

 

“Do you want to get better?” she asks.

 

“I’d like not to hurt people all the time. I’d like our family to get back together. Pretty much I’ll do whatever makes that happen.”

 

“That’s really good to hear, Sebastian,” says my Dad.

 

“But then again, I’ve said things like this before,” I say.

 

“You certainly have,” says my Mom.

 

“Although not ever from a locked mental health compound in the middle of a state I wouldn’t be caught dead in otherwise.”

 

“I don’t understand how this all happened,” says my Mom, “This was such a happy family when you and Benjamin were growing up.”

 

“If you are waiting for me to say it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.” I say looking at her.

 

“This isn’t about blame,” my Dad says.

 

“Well someone has to be blamed eventually. Better to put it on myself,” I say.

 

I realize that they have both been minor characters in my life in the past few years. I associate my home with endless fights about curfew, or smelling like smoke, or sneaking out, or being accused of being on drugs when I very rarely was. The terrible things my mother and I have said to each other made being at home uncomfortable at best and emotionally draining at worst. I hate being yelled at. I would have preferred it if they hit me. Izzy used to ask me if I hated my Mom for the things she said to me. Hate is a pretty strong word and it is not a word I can attribute to anyone in my own family, even my Mom. I had initiated all these fights anyway by doing stupid, miserable things. Then again, it’s a little over the top when your mother tells you that you are the source of all her misery and that she wishes you had died in the womb. I don’t hate her though because hate really can only be focused strongly in one particular direction. I hate myself too much to bother hating my Mom.

 

“Who can say why things turned out like they did? All I know is that it won’t help anyone to keep worrying about the past. You have your whole future in front of you and if this mess leads to you finally being happier, then it was a blessing in disguise,” says my Dad.

 

Ever the optimist. I guess he has to be.

 

“You’re our son. There’s nothing you can do that could make your Mother and me not love you and wish the best for you.”

 

I take another sip of water.

 

“I could sit here and tell you both that things are gonna get better like I’ve done a million times before. It’s more a question these days of what I’m going to do.” I tell them.

 

“What are you going to do?” asks my Mom.

 

“There’s one part of me that wants to flee into those woods and then hitchhike back to New York. There’s another part of me that’s too terrified of what I might become if I don’t get better. I know I don’t want to die feeling like this.” I tell her.

 

“You might hate us for putting you here, but there weren’t any other options. You were way over the edge,” she says.

 

“I don’t hate you. I don’t hate you at all.”

 

“I wish I knew what made you like this,” says my Mom.

 

“Got to stop running and finally confront your demons,” my Dad says.

 

“I think that’s a terrible idea,” I tell him.

צ

Someone took a shit in the shower on the second of August. Two and a half big brown logs lie in the first stall I open. I guess that they are Corncob Duran’s because of his sexual history. I know this because in his latest all night ravings. Duran loudly proclaims that he was tied to a tree and butt fucked by a friend of his father. He’ll scream all night in the Quiet Room, throw himself against the walls, and scream some more, assuring that no one on our unit gets any sleep.

 

Winter is right on a certain level. I might tell myself that suicide will put an end to this madness; but, I do know that right before the lights go out, I will be ashamed at how little I have done for my fellow man. This is not idealism. This is a moral inventory that doesn’t rate me very high on the doing-things-to-help-your-friends list.

 

There are religions that say you should be stoned to death for disrespecting your father. I can’t even imagine what God must think about some of the things I’ve said to my Mom. There has been so much trouble in my life. There are so many things I probably shouldn’t have done, but that I did anyway only to keep life interesting.

 

Sitting in this cell amid my drawings and books is definitely not interesting. I feel nothing on these terrible pills. The doctors increase the dosage each week. There are drool stains on my pillow every morning. I lack the energy to conclude anything decisive. The doctors tell me that by the end of August I’ll be ready to be transferred back to New York to a therapeutic boarding school. I wonder if this whole summer has been spent just to make the diagnosis of “mood-disorder.” Prolonged confinement has prevented me from doing further social damage, stopped my abuse of substances and stabilized my mind. It has not addressed any root cause of my actions.

 

I get up out from my cot and walk over to the hallway alcove. I see a guard who I don’t recognize sleeping in the chair. Eugene, who has not said a word, is sitting in the entrance to his cell. He motions for me to come across the hall. What the fuck? I figure I got nothing else to do. I dart across.

 

We sit in silence in the dark.

 

“You finally gonna say something? Gonna drop some life lesson that will blow me away and put all this shit in perspective?” I ask in a whisper.

 

He shakes his head.

 

“So why am I over here if you aren’t gonna say anything?”

 

He shrugs.

 

“What is it you want?” I whisper.

 

He doesn’t respond at all.

 

“I’m going back to my cell.”

 

He grabs my arm.

 

“What happened to you that made you not speak? What terrible thing came over you that words can’t describe? Or maybe you just don’t have anything useful to say. I pity you regardless.”

 

I see him scribble something on a piece of paper. It says: ESCAPE?.

 

“What is that supposed to mean?” I ask.

 

He shrugs with a sneer on his face.

 

From under his mattress he produces a small bag of what looks like mushrooms.

 

“How did you smuggle those in here?”

 

I realize he just isn’t going to talk.

 

“I’ve never eaten mushrooms before.”

 

He hands me the bag.

 

I have heard stories about magic mushrooms. I heard they open your mind and let you look right into your soul. I know that if I eat them, I’ll see things I don’t want to see. Something tells me that I’m not the kind of cat that will converse with the closet or stare blankly at flashing lights. Why does this kid want to give me these drugs and where did he get them?

 

“Why are you giving me these mushrooms? What do you want? I keep thinking that if I ask you enough questions you’ll answer me.”

 

But he’s not going to. So I’d better just swallow these mushrooms and take it from there. I try to think what to do. I don’t have any role models except Mr. Smith and Mr. Winter. Winter would say not to, and Smith would say ‘swallow the fuckers whole.’ So there we go.

 

“How much should I take?”

 

He motions that I should eat all of them. And down the rabbit hole I go.

ק

One moment I am sitting here telling Eugene that these magical mushrooms had no effect on me. . . .

 

And now, here I am splashing in a pool. The pool is on the top of a hill. The water is cold and fresh, not chlorinated like the pool back in that place in Texas. I’m smaller than usual. I can’t be any older than six or seven. Everyone’s splashing around and having a good time. A short green mesh fence encloses the pool. There are lush and green trees all around us. We’re at summer camp.

 

I’m in the pool with lots of other kids. Some are on the deck and some are in the water. A man in a beige trench coat sits conspicuously next to the pool. He’s smoking a Marlboro Red. I don’t have a care in the world. I’m splashing around and having a good time. The man has his eyes on the ridge above us looking out for zombies. And if he sees them coming? Well, that’s why he carries a pistol. We aren’t looking at each other. In fact it doesn’t even seem natural that we inhabit the same time or space. Why is he looking out for zombies at a summer camp in Montauk? That’s where I must be, and I know for a fact that there are no zombies in Montauk. I have to focus to remember who I am.

 

Who’s real? Who is the figment of my imagination? How long can you tread water before you just give up and drown? I think I recognize the man, but he’s from a later point in my life. I am just a six-year old at summer camp.

 

As I turn in the water I see Donny. What’s Donny doing at my summer camp? I haven’t met him yet.

 

“Remember when you brought Case and me out here right after you got out of the mental hospital for the first time?” he asks.

 

“Donny what are you doing here?” I ask him.

 

“Do you remember what you told us?”

 

“Hold on, Donny. What are you doing here? Aren’t you in New York?” I ask.

 

“You were upset I never called. So here I am making it up to you. Sebastian, do you remember what you told us?” Donny asks.

 

I’m treading water not saying anything.

 

“You said you were responsible for some kid’s death,” Donny says.

 

“Did you believe me?”

 

“No, not really.”

 

“Well, was I?” I ask.

 

A kid in a red bathing suit standing by the side of the pool waves in my direction.

 

“Hey there, Sebastian. In about ten minutes I’m gonna jump in the water, crack my skull and drown. It’s gonna traumatize everybody!” he says excitedly in high-pitched voice before running off to play with some kids on the other side of the deck.

 

“What’s your name?” I yell.

 

He turns from playing with the other kids.

 

“How important could I possibly be to you?” he asks.

 

“See that,” says Donny, “You had nothing to do with his death.”

 

“Donny…”

 

“Yeah?” Donny responds.

 

“Where’s Case?”

 

“He’s learning to fire a rifle.”

 

“Why is he doing that?” I ask.

 

“Because Mike Washington can only take out six zombies before his pistol runs out of ammunition.”

 

I point to the man sitting by the pool looking out over the surrounding hills from the lifeguard chair.

 

“Is that Mike Washington?” I ask Donny.

 

“Well who else could it possibly be?”

 

“I’m pretty sure I’m responsible for that kid’s death,” I say again.

 

“No, that’s just something you tell yourself to justify your insanity. You had nothing to do with it. You don’t even know his name.”

 

“So, you think I’m insane, Donny?” I ask him.

 

“Hey, look! That duck has a blunt in his beak!” he says climbing out of the water.

 

“Donny! I’m not crazy!” I yell at him.

 

“And I don’t love weed…” he says, “Come here, little ducky.”

 

I look at Mike Washington and he shrugs. Donny follows the duck as it waddles along the side of the pool. Case enters the pool area with a hunting rifle slung across his shoulder. He squats by the water’s edge. He’s wearing the blue baseball cap he always wears.

 

“When you told us the story about that kid dying we played along because we knew the hospital had been rough for you. It was just too convenient of an explanation. You’re a complicated guy,” Case tells me.

 

“A part of me believes that I had something to do with it.” I repeat.

 

“And that’s why we’re all here to watch it go down and judge for ourselves.” Case tells me.

 

There’s a pause.

 

“You’re really a funny guy. Do you have any idea how much I’ve missed you this summer?” I ask Case.

 

“We’ve missed you too.” Case reassures me.

 

“Was I real bad on the outside? Do I really deserve to be here?” I ask Case.

 

“Yeah. About that. I like you a lot, Sebastian, but you are way out of control.”

 

“You and Donny were my best friends. How come you never stopped me or told me that I was doing bad shit.”

 

“Because we never realized how sick you were until it was too late. We never really understood that you had a condition,” Case explains.

 

“What does that mean?” I ask.

 

“It means you’re different from the rest of us, Sebastian. Your brain is doing something screwy. You’re wired different.”

 

Mike Washington yells for Donny to stop chasing the duck and to guard the entrance to the pool. Donny grabs the blunt from the duck’s beak and throws the duck over the chain link fence. Mike Washington checks his watch.

 

“Five minutes,” he yells to Donny.

 

Donny jumps back in the pool.

 

“I want you to know that no matter what happens, I’m going to continue to smoke my brains out everyday until my emotions are gone and I can no longer hold an intelligent conversation,” says Donny.

 

“I’m probably going to move to Israel and fruitlessly pursue peace in the region until I lose a son to a suicide bomber and completely harden myself against the Palestinian cause,” says Case.

 

“Why are you telling me this?” I ask them.

 

“Because in less than five minutes, the only thing between us and an army of undead, flesh eating cannibals are the six rounds in Mike Washington’s pistol and the sixteen bullets in this bolt rifle,” says Case.

 

“Donny doesn’t get a gun?” I ask.

 

“I’m too high to shoot straight,” says Donny.

 

“Four of Mike’s six rounds are to put ourselves out of our misery before we get eaten alive, if it comes to that,” says Case.

 

I realize that since they’ve been talking about our last stand, I’ve aged to about fifteen.

 

“Looking more like yourself every minute,” Donny says with a smile.

 

“So, what’s the plan then?” my fifteen year-old self asks.

 

“Mike is going to get you to safety, like he always does, while Donny and I die a violent, horrible death.”

 

“What’s the symbolism of the zombies? I don’t really get it,” I ask.

 

“There isn’t symbolism, Sebastian. These are real zombies.” Donny answers.

 

“Oh. Why can’t we all get away?” I ask.

 

“Because my jet pack will only carry two people. Now stop asking so many pointless questions,” interjects Mike Washington, “You have to focus on that little kid. You have to understand how unaccountable you are for this particular tragedy.”

 

“I’ll be jumping any moment now. Gonna die young and pointlessly. Just another joke’s-on-us from God,” says the kid from the sidelines.

 

“Is there anything else you want to ask us?” says Case.

 

“Why do you think Roxanne doesn’t love me?” I return to this tired old theme.

 

“Stop obsessing over that stupid girl,” says Donny.

 

“What would I have to do to change her mind?” I plead with him.

 

“I said, stop. Your two best friends will be dead in about a minute and a half and you’re asking us girl questions?!! She wasn’t even that cute,” says Donny.

 

“She is the most beautiful woman I will ever know,” I say.

 

There is a faint roar coming from behind the ridge. We all know what it means. Only my friends real and imaginary seem to hear it. The kids and camp counselors play on like nothing is wrong.

 

Case stands up and shoulders the bolt rifle. Mike Washington sits up and cocks his golden pistol. The jet pack is sitting on the ground. It looks like a rocket with backpack straps and interlocking buckles on two sides. The cone of the rocket is bright red and the rest is silver.

 

The roar slowly increases. Donny and I get out of the water and find to my surprise, but not to his, that we are not wet at all.

 

“Do you know how much I love the two of you? I say two, because Mike is obviously not real,” I tell Case and Donny.

 

“I resent that,” Mike says.

 

“Whatever. You two have been my best friends in the whole world. There’s no way in hell that I’m going to let you die while Mike and I blast off to safety.”

 

“We know what we’re doing. You had better take your one ticket out of this mess and go,” says Case, “I should also bring to your attention another dynamic to this whole mess.”

 

“Which is?” I ask.

 

“Look down there,” he says passing me binoculars and pointing down the slope of the hill. I see Roxanne tied to a tree. She’s struggling to get free.

 

“You have thirty seconds,” says Mike Washington, “You ought to make some pretty quick decisions about who lives and who dies. Jet pack holds two and I go where you go.”

 

“I do have a question for the two of you,” I say to Donny and Case.

 

“Yeah?” says Donny.

 

“Why would you die for me?”

 

“Because this isn’t real,” answers Donny.

 

“In real life we probably wouldn’t,” says Case.

 

“Will the imaginary versions of you suffer?”” I ask.

 

“Yeah, we’re gonna get eaten alive,” says Donny, “That’s gonna hurt like hell.”

 

“I’m going to free Roxanne and then we can all plan accordingly.”

 

“Make this quick, Sebastian. Oh, and she DOESN’T LOVE YOU AT ALL,” says Case.

 

I jump the chain link fence and run down the grassy hill as fast as I can. The roar of the undead is growing. I can’t see it but there are thousands of them running toward the summer camp. Roxanne is wearing a red t-shirt and white short shorts. Her wrists are tied tight to a board which is nailed into the tree. Her arms are hyper-extended as she hangs down the trunk.

 

“Not you…”she says.

 

“Let me help you down,” I say to her.

 

She spits on me.

 

“I’d rather die horribly then be saved by you,” she responds sharply.

 

“Roxy, I love you! Please don’t say that. We have to get out of here.”

 

I hear a very undead moan coming over the hills. I try to untie her wrist and she tries to kick me, but her legs are tied to the tree.

 

“There’s a jet pack on the hill by the pool. My friend can save you. If you stay here you’re going to be eaten alive!”

 

“So be it. That is how much contempt I have for you. I can’t bear to think that I would owe you my life,” Roxanne taunts me.

 

“Please,” I say as tears role down my cheek, “Please, let me get you down!”

 

“Sebastian,” she says, “Nothing you could do will make me love you. I have never cared about you and I never will.” She spits on me again.

 

“You don’t hate me this much in real life do you?” I ask.

 

“You’re not worth hate. That’s too strong an emotion. That’s too much time spent on you. You’re a distasteful after thought is what you are,” she responds derisively.

 

“Harsh words, Roxy. I am sorry about the vandalism thing though.”

 

“Get away from me. I’m done talking to you.”

 

She struggles as I cut the ropes that bind her. I’m cutting them with a shard of glass I’ve found on the ground in front of us.  I try to help her down but she takes a swing at me. Finally down on the ground, she refuses to move.

 

“Come on, Roxy, let’s go!” I yell at her as the ground shakes from the coming onslaught.

 

“Nope. Not coming with you,” she states emphatically.

 

I think for a second. Then I punch her in the stomach. She doubles over and I throw her over my shoulder. She’s a skinny little Jewish girl and can’t be much over a buck-fifty. I race up the hill.

 

“That was rash,” says Donny as I pull Roxy through the gate.

 

“Come on, Sebastian. This isn’t part of the plan,” says Case.

 

“We need a new fucking plan then,” I say.

 

Still dazed from me hitting her, Roxy doesn’t say much as I strap her into one of the two jet pack seats.

 

“Whatever happens, I just want you to know that by the time you get out of being locked up I’ll be a completely different person and the innocence you see in me will be gone,” she says.

 

“You hear that?” says Donny, “NOT WORTH YOUR TIME.”

 

I run across the deck and grab the boy with the red bathing suit and drag him to the where the jet pack sits. He’s light as a feather and doesn’t struggle at all.

 

“Whatever happens, I just want you to know I’ll still be dead by the time this story is over and you still won’t know my name,” says the little kid.

 

“You’re no super hero, Sebastian. These gestures don’t change anything,” says Case.

 

I pull the ripcord and Roxy and the boy fly into the air with a roar. I smell burning jet fuel. Up into the clouds and they’re gone.

 

“Pointless,” says Donny.

 

“Well, he’s made his decision,” says Mike Washington throwing his cigarette on the ground and crushing it with his brown leather boot. “Now it’s just a question of bullet accountability.”

 

The roar and rumble increase.

 

“18 bullets total,” says Mike Washington.

 

“How many zombies?” I ask.

 

“Quite a few more,” says Case.

 

“What will they do when they overwhelm our position,” I ask.

 

“They’ll eat us alive. That’s what zombies do.”

 

“Well then we should shoot all these people and then shoot ourselves because that sounds very painful,” I say.

 

“Very pragmatic of you, for once,” says Donny.

 

“Give me the guns,” I say.

 

“Do you really have it in you to kill these little kids?” asks Mike Washington.

 

“Should I alert them to what’s coming?” I ask.

 

“They won’t understand,” says Case, “Just get it over with.”

 

There are fourteen kids playing, half are boys, half girls. There are two camp counselors. Both female. There are terrible things bearing down on us. 16 bullets to end the lives of these civilians and two for Donny and Case. Mike Washington and I will share the remaining terrible fate.  With an eerie calm that I never thought I could muster, I pull back the safety. There is a look of smug understanding on the faces of the kids as I shoot them in the head one by one. When the rifle clicks empty, I use the pistol. Finally, standing over bodies in the pool and on the deck, I turn to my two closest friends.

 

“You sure you’re up for this?” asks Case.

 

“I am if you are,” I respond.

 

“Let’s end it then.”

 

BLAM. I shoot Case in the head with Mike’s gold handgun. It bucks in my hand.

 

“Peace, Sebastian,” says Donny.

 

I shoot him next. It’s just Mike Washington and me standing over a bunch of bodies. Thousands of zombies spill over the ridge running towards us, decomposed jaws exposing torn ligaments and putrid flesh. They make a noise like a deafening hiss-slash-growl. They will be on top of us in a matter of seconds.

 

Mike lights another cigarette.

 

“Was there a plan B?” I ask.

 

“Nope. It was either fly away on that jet pack or die a horrible death. You made your bed I’m afraid.”

 

“Jump in the pool,” he says.

 

“I don’t like getting wet.”

 

“Do you like getting eaten alive?”

 

We both jump into the water. One of the camp counselors has big tits and I’m disgusted that I admire her breasts even after just having blown her brains out. The zombies tear down the fence and howl at us from the edge of the pool. Mike Washington and I are standing back to back in the bloody pool water with bodies floating all around us. The zombies don’t enter the pool. There are so many of them.

 

I see a handle with a sign that says “Flush” on one of the pool walls. Mike Washington nods his head. I pull the handle and down we go. A huge vent opens on the bottom of the pool and the two of us are sucked through it. Wish we’d known about that before we shot everyone, I think as we get sucked into some subterranean drainage system.

 

After holding our breath for what seems like an endless amount of time, Mike and I emerge in a cave. The walls have white glowing letters written in a language I don’t recognize. The whole cavern is lit up by floating paper balls.

 

“We safe from the Zombies?” I ask gulping for air.

 

“At least for a little while,” he tells me.

 

“So what’s going on? We’re not in the Pale City and we’re not in the desert. This has to be the most realistic dream I’ve ever had.”

 

“Now that you’ve saved your lady love and killed your two best friends, I figure you’re more inclined to put all the pieces together.”

 

“But that wasn’t real. I know that I’m dreaming whenever I see you. You’re my imaginary friend Mike Washington and everyone knows there’s no such thing as zombies.”

 

“Do you know that right now, you’re screaming your head off in a quiet room because you just flipped out in the mental hospital where you have been locked up all summer?”

 

“Sorry, what did you say, Mike? I was staring at the writing on the walls. It’s beautiful,”

 

He hits me in the head.

 

“Listen to me, god damn it. These dreams are here for a reason. We’re on the brink of oblivion right now. I’ve been trying to tell you something all along. You just don’t ever hear me.”

 

Mike is screaming at me, finally losing his composure.

 

“So what is it then?” I demand.

 

“Do you know what I am?” Mike continues yelling.

 

“An imaginary friend?” I ask, still not knowing what else to say.

 

“Not exactly,” he says more calmly.

 

The tunnel we are walking through opens onto an enormous strawberry field that goes on for miles. The sun is bright above us and there are fluffy white clouds in the clear azure sky.

 

“This is my earliest memory,” I say.

 

In the middle of the field there is an operating table. A doctor and some orderlies are desperately trying to keep a woman alive. The woman looks like my mother.

 

“Is that my Mom?” I ask slightly detached.

 

“Yep. She almost died giving birth to you.”

 

I pick an enormous strawberry and eat it.

 

“Would that have been such a huge loss?” I say casually.

 

“No me and no you.”

 

“I could live with that.” I say taking it all in.

 

“This wishing-for-death shit is getting old. If you had died, your Mom would have died, your Dad would then have killed himself; and, a whole cycle of events that needed to happen would not have reached fruition.”

 

“And the world goes on,” I say sarcastically.

 

“You know the saying that when a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the world, a tsunami wipes out a village on the other?” Mike says.

 

“I’m sure that’s not a real saying.”

 

“I assure you that it is,” Mike affirms.

 

“So what, then?” I continue cavalierly.

 

“You’re a big fucking butterfly,” he states.

 

A fleet of rotary crop duster planes soars by above us in perfect formation spraying a liquid gel over the strawberry fields. I realize they are spraying napalm. Suddenly the field erupts into fire. Mike grabs me and we run through a burning wasteland of fire and smoke. There is a stairwell that leads underground. Down the stairs is a bunker with a pool table in it.

 

The doctor, the orderlies, and my mother are all down here still in the process of trying to deliver a baby. She’s thrashing around, cursing and sweating. Everyone’s nervous because of the napalm and because the baby’s head is stuck in the birth canal.

 

It’s real hot in this bunker. Less then fifteen feet above us, the earth is on fire. Smoke finds its way down into the bunker. For once Mike Washington isn’t smoking a cigarette.

 

“We have to go deeper,” he says.

 

“Deeper than this?” I ask.

 

“Deeper than this.”

 

The doctor has cut my mother wide open. Mike Washington leads me over to the pool table.

 

“I’m sorry I said the things I did, Mom,” I say as I see her in horrible pain.

 

“It’s alright, Sebastian. You’d better move quickly or you’ll suffocate down here,” she says gently.

 

She motions for me to climb inside her, to step into the now gaping cavity. One of the orderlies helps me onto the pool table. I follow Mike Washington into my mother’s belly and inside of her we crawl through a slimy dark passage. It gets wider and wider as we squirm through. Eventually we are in a metal tube or tunnel, which leads to an opening. As we twist open the metal door we arrive at a train station.

 

“This is getting weird,” I say.

 

“This will be over soon enough,” Mike assures me.

 

“You say that now, but I don’t believe you.”

 

The train pulls into the station. It is a carbon copy of the #4 train. Mike Washington and I get on in the last car.

 

“We’ll take this to the end of the line and then we’re done.”

 

“Whatever,” I say exhausted and mildly confused.

 

We start walking through the cars. Everyone is looking at me but their eyes have all been cut out.

 

“What’s this supposed to mean?” I ask.

 

The train is plowing full speed ahead and we have to hold on to the handrails to keep from falling over.

 

“Why are all their eyes gone?” I ask.

 

“We’re gonna let you come to conclusions on the symbolism on your own from this point on,” Mike tells me.

 

“This dreams is fucked,” I mention.

 

“This isn’t a dream,” Mike says.

 

“Sure as shit isn’t real.” I tell him.

 

“There is a lot of very sound reasoning on the tenuous nature of your reality,” he says as we continue to walk through the train cars crossing between them.

 

“Where is this train going?” I ask.

 

“To Wakefield,” He tells me.

 

“What’s at Wakefield?” I ask.

 

“A partial conclusion.”

 

“A partial conclusion to what?”

 

“To our perilous journey across your mind,” Mike says.

 

Someone clutches my arm.

 

“They took my eyes,” says a slightly more brow beaten Izzy Vitz.

 

“Who took your eyes,” I ask.

 

“Pigs in blue uniforms, men in white lab coats, and glowing gods with many faces. I fucked a Catholic school girl in the ass before they could do it though.”

 

“Well at least there was that,” I say squeezing his arm gently.

 

“Is that you, Sebastian?”

 

“Yeah, buddy. It’s me,” I tell him.

 

“They got us all pretty good didn’t they? They pulled the wool over our eyes and then, when we weren’t expecting it, they took the eyes themselves.”

 

“Why did they take your eyes, Izzy?”

 

“They needed to make sure we didn’t see…” he stops suddenly.

 

“Didn’t see what?!” I ask.

 

Blood is running from the gaping sockets where his eyes once were.

 

“They got us all.”

 

“Do you know where this train in going, Izzy?” I ask frantically.

 

“At least we’ll all be together, right? At least the old clique never gets broken up. Have I ever told you the story of how I got high with my principal?”

 

Seeing him lying still, even like this, is the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen. Even with his eyes cut out he still has to make up stories.

 

“Why do you lie so often, Izzy?” I ask him.

 

He pauses a moment.

 

“They aren’t lies to me,” he says softly.

 

“Let’s keep moving,” Mike Washington says.

 

“I don’t want to leave him like this. He always put me up when I had no where else to go.”

 

“You can put him out of his misery, if you are so inclined.” He says, offering me his pistol.

 

“You should go kid,” Izzy says, “At this point it’s too late to do anything for me anyway.”

 

“You and me were a good team,” I tell Izzy.

 

“But now you’re locked in a hospital camp and I have no eyes. Try starting a dynamic duo with that combination.”

 

“Thank you for trying to help me all those times,” I say.

 

“That’s what a crew is for.”

 

We leave Izzy slumped over bleeding on himself. We continue moving on through this massive train. In each car I see more and more people I know. It seems that there is not a single person who I have interacted with that isn’t here. And there we all are speeding along these tracks heading to a place called Wakefield.

 

We finally reach the front car. It is the only car, which does not look like a New York City subway car. The ceilings are twice as high and the walls are covered with varnished wood and ornate metal work. There is a bar staffed by a broad in a red cocktail dress with a green beret. There are two soldiers standing in front of the door to the control room. They wear dirty khaki uniforms stained with grease, blood, and sweat. They wear black balaclavas, which cover their faces and they have green berets held onto their left shoulders with a strap. They carry rifles.

 

“Who’s driving this train?” I demand.

 

“Please remain where you are, sir. We’ll be arriving in Wakefield shortly,” says one of the soldiers.

 

“I want to know who’s in charge!” I scream at him.

 

“You’re in charge, sir. You and Mr. Washington,” says the second soldier.

 

“I’m having a drink,” says Mike as he takes a seat at the bar.

 

“I order you to let me in that control room,” I say.

 

“It’s not that kind of army. Please take a seat at the bar. We have strict orders to beat you to near pulp with our rifles if you try to gain access to the control room,” the soldier tells me.

 

“Boy does that sound painful,” says the attractive female bartender wearing a white veil that partially conceals her face.

 

“She’s right,” says Mike Washington.

 

“What are you drinkin,’ sweetie,” asks the masked bartender.

 

“Whiskey,” says Mike Washington, “Jamison straight if ya got it. Johnny Walker Red if you don’t.”

 

“Everything for the two of you has been arranged compliments of the management,” she says.

 

Mike Washington leans over the bar and looks her dead in the eyes to say, “Let’s keep it cheap anyway.”

 

I keep at it with the soldiers.

 

“If we’re in charge then don’t we give the orders?” I demand.

 

“There are no orders given after final consensus has been reached in this army, sir.”

 

“What happens when we get to Wakefield?” I ask.

 

“Do you believe we would tell you something like that?” the soldier responds.

 

“I guess not.”

 

I back down and sit next to Mike at the bar.

 

“What you drinking, sweetie?” asks the bartender.

 

“Brueklin Tap if you have it.”

 

“We do indeed.”

 

“She told me that she never cared and that she never will.” I tell Mike.

 

“No, Sebastian. That’s a line from a Reel Big Fish song,” says Mike Washington feeling around in his coat pocket for a pack of cigarettes.

 

“I think we can take these guys. You with me?” I ask.

 

“Sit tight. There are some answers that just never get revealed no matter what happens. You shouldn’t feel so entitled,” he tells me.

 

“They don’t look so tough,” I say.

 

“That’s what they said about the Israeli army.”

 

The bartender is smiling at us intently from behind her mask. She could be anyone, depending on the angle of the light. She’s a skinny, pretty non-descript brunette. When the light changes, she’s sort of shaped like Michelle. She keeps smiling.

 

“In about five minutes you’ll have to make a decision affecting every single person you know. No pressure, of course,” says Mike Washington.

 

“It makes me a little nervous that everyone I know is on one train.”

 

“That’s the least of it,” says Mike.

 

“Why do you do the things you do?” the bartender asks me.

 

“I guess I was always trying to lead an eventful life,” I say.

 

“To what end?” she asks.

 

“That’s a damn good question,” says Mike Washington.

 

“To be proud of what I have done with myself I suppose.”

 

“Well are you?” she asks.

 

“This girls on point,” says Mike Washington.

 

“What the hell do you want me to say?” I ask them both.

 

“That not once in your entire goddamn life have you done a single thing to help someone other than yourself,” says the girl.

 

“I’m not all bad,” I say defensively.

 

“No one ever said you were,” says Mike Washington, “The reason we’re in this situation is because the world is composed of people just like you’.

 

The train rumbles to a stop.

 

“I’ll be rootin’ for ya, sweetie,” says the bartender who looks just like Michelle wearing an Islamic face covering.

 

A door just past the bar slides open. One of the soldiers stands at attention while the other one removes his balaclava. As the mask is pulled off his face, I realize that it is my best friend Nicolas Trikhovitch.

 

“You need to be careful, buddy. There’s a war going on,” is all he says as Mike Washington ushers me out the door.

 

Wakefield is in the middle of a forest. A cavernous bunker complex of white marble, like Petra in a depression. The station is an empty plaza. As we cross the plaza I turn to see the train entering a tunnel bringing my whole world down under the ground.

 

“Very few people in Wakefield,” I mention.

 

“That’s just on the surface.”

 

“Where’s that train going?” I ask.

 

He does not respond.

 

We have exited the plaza and are walking into the pine woods. I hear laughter from the brush ahead of us. Seated on the ground with a bottle of vodka is Roxanne drunk completely out of her mind.

 

“I thought you didn’t drink,” I say.

 

She looks at me and rolls her eyes. She tries to get up, but falls over drunk.

 

“Who are you again?” she asks slurring her words.

 

“You know who I am Roxy.”

 

“Oh yeah. You don’t kiss so good.” she slurs.

 

“That’s all you remember me by?!”

 

“Yeah, that’s all,” she says as she takes another swig from the bottle. “Now leave me to my drinkin.”

 

A bloody teardrop falls from my left eye and hits the ground. I smell the scent of pine trees and realize that we have to keep going. I have to see this to the end.

 

Mike Washington and I walk on deeper into the woods. Hanging from a tree is the little boy in the red bathing suit. He’s bleeding from his head and has a note pinned to his chest with a safety pin Cambodian style, which reads, ‘See.’

 

Another bloody teardrop falls from my face. There is a clearing ahead of us. Standing in a clearing is an enormous wooden guillotine.

 

“Do you know what we’ve come to Wakefield to do?” asks Mike Washington.

 

“I have a guess.”

 

“Are you aware what the stakes are?” Mike asks.

 

“As aware as I will be for now.”

 

“So then. What has to be done to put us on the right side of things?” he asks.

 

I think hard about what he is and about what I am. I have a moment where I see the faces of every person on that train.

 

“We have to put my head on your shoulders,” I utter out.

 

“Presto,” he says and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen Mike Washington smile.

 

Next thing I know I’m strapped into a guillotine. The blade comes down and my head comes off into a basket. I don’t see a white light. No angels singing. The lights in my eyes go out and everything fades to grey. It takes a very long time for me to tell myself that I am finally, maybe just hoping, quite possibly dead.

ר

What a mess the last few nights had been on Sugar Hill. Something happened to Sebastian and no one knows what. He attacked Junior and caused quite a disturbance. Junior is in the hospital with scratches on his face. The decision has been made to isolate Sebastian completely. It is as if he snapped one night and lost all conception of reality. To outside observers it seems like he is acting out some perverse alternate reality on the internees around him. It had taken three hours to restore order to the unit. For two long days and nights he screamed out the name Roxanne and thrashed in his shackles until the nurses repeatedly sedated him.

 

He lay on the floor of his cell in silence. The door is locked. The guards have been instructed to not communicate with him nor respond to his attempts to manipulate them. All his notebooks and personal possessions have been removed from the cell. No letters. No phone calls. All meals to be taken in confinement. The doctors told the guards that another facility has been found for Adon. The transfer will take place in two weeks. Now it’s just a waiting game.

ש

It’s after dark when someone opens the door to my cell. It’s Mr. Smith. He puts his finger to his mouth illustrating the universal sign for ‘shut the fuck up’ and tosses a letter into my cell.

 

It’s from Michelle postmarked August 23rd, 1999. I tear it open.

 

Dear Sebastian,

 

I don’t know if this letter will reach you in time, but here’s hoping. Another school year starts in 2 weeks. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get through it without you. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so close to someone who could be so far. Every letter I receive from you is a present in itself, just like the love in our friendship. Your letters have made me laugh, made me cry, made me hurt. I don’t think I’ll be able to survive without your letters of comfort and knowing I can’t still talk to you. Please find a way to write me. I don’t mind so much that people read our letters as long as they get to us. Tell me what day you bust out. I’ll be counting down. If this transfer is one step closer to us seeing each other again, let it come. I love you with all my heart.

 

If she never again felt the warmth of his touch,

Nor the soft brush of his hair on her skin,

She promised herself that with all her strength,

She would overcome the pain and loss within.

 

Michelle Tagomi

 

 

What made Michelle write poetry? Maybe it was trying to express love outside the limits of language. I know I can’t write her back. I can’t pass a message or make a phone call. I can’t even thank Smith for giving me the letter because I’m not allowed to talk. There is moisture dripping from my right eye, but with a flinch it is gone. A hard flinch with my eyes clenched shut. Tears are a worthless display only for women.

 

I know this might be the last contact I have with her. The doctors came to tell me that I would soon be transferred to a place called the Family School. I was only half listening to what they were saying, but Smith told me about the place. It is a religious work camp. He said that it is a school only in as much as it has classrooms. It is in an isolated part of the gulag in the Catskill Mountains.

 

I slowly beat my head against the wall of my cell because she is the one thing that has held me together all summer. Despite the Happy Pills, the ultra violence and endless days of heat and sterility, I have kept going because I know she is still thinking about me.

ת

I spent my last night in Texas in isolated boredom. I’d been under lock and key for two weeks. With little to do I engage in what one might call quiet meditation, but which I refer to as sitting on the ground talking to oneself. Not out loud. That’s what crazy people do. Just tossing over what I had been seeing in my head.

 

Mr. Smith is the only guard that violates the ban on talking to me. He told me what had happened. He says that I wigged out, started yelling, attacked Junior, ran over to the girl’s side and freaked out some pregnant girl. Then I wrapped it all up by brawling with the guards in the Rec Room. By brawling he meant that I had been tackled, pinned to the ground and sedated. There are bruises on my forehead and knees. He says I wouldn’t stop yelling the name Roxanne. I didn’t tell Smith I had eaten mushrooms, though he would have probably been  amused.

 

I gave Smith my parents’ address. He says he will send me a post card after I’m transferred. That way when I get out of the Family School in two years I can drop him a line. He had looked the facility up online and found out that two years is the minimum stay. He told me that it is located in upstate New York. Smith says that I probably still belong here in Texas with the way I had acted. Since my parents have money, I am bound for slightly better climes.

 

My last night in Texas was spent thinking about how much I miss the soft words of Michelle Tagomi.

 

Michelle has stood by me throughout the summer and her letters are the only things that eased the tortures of this long, hot summer of imprisonment. This transfer means that I am two years away from seeing her again or two years closer depending on how one reads the glass. Mine appears to be pretty fucking empty. I resisted the behavior mod because of her. Now I can only try and live up to the friendship she has shown me. She is the only person who still sees some good in me.

 

I had not acted very sane the other night. I am glad she will never see me like this.

 

A little after midnight Mr. Winter opens the door to my cell and stands in the doorway.

 

“Have you learned anything this summer?” he asks.

 

“Nothing of note, Mr. Winter.”

 

“You’re being shipped out in the morning. Back to New York and then upstate to the next camp. Thought I’d break the blackout and say good bye.”

 

“I’ve fallen down, Winter. I can’t get up again,” I tell him.

 

“You have the will. You’ll run free again some day, better after all of this.”

 

“How can I be redeemed for the sick fucking things I’ve done? These camps have taken me out of my city and cut something out of me.”

 

“You say that now, but your mettle has not even begun to be tested. Cull the sad little boy from your routine. Your malicious little Holden is pleasing to no one. You mock yourself, Sebastian.”

 

“I wanted at some point not to be great but just good. That kid with the quarters and the whale- saving idealism.”

 

“That’s pretty trite seeing as how you made yourself a thief, a rapist and a great coward.”

 

“They’ll break me upstate. I dreamed of it.”

 

“Things always get much worse, before they get a little better.”

 

“I find no comfort in that.”

 

“There is no comfort, no sanctuary and no encouragement on the brutal road you’ve apparently chosen. Your eyes, once lean and hungry, have the zeal of a fighter behind them. You were told to suffer hard on the road of the righteous, right?”

 

“That was the message of the vision on the terrace that night.”

 

“Then one more lesson and we will part forever.”

 

“Go on.”

 

“Whatever happens to you in the darkness of that gulag they will ship you to in the morning, you accepted the deal when you didn’t throw yourself to your death that cold, cold night. Never forget that you sold your soul to a greater thing. Traded away an easy death to be made righteous. This was the wage of the transaction was it not?”

 

“To what end?” I ask.

 

“Proof of the light outside that terrible cave. You’re to be a demonstration.”

 

“Of what, Mr. Winter?”

 

“That help is coming.” Winter assures me, “You’re here to give us something to believe.”

 

PART FOUR:

Camp Concentrated

 

 

“Young people need to be educated – that is, ‘led from darkness into light.’  So, several years ago, pressed for the need to provide an education, we decided to start a school. In the beginning, it was literally in the basement of our little brown ranch house. Now, it has grown into a spreading campus of dorms, classrooms, athletic fields, dining areas, and a chapel.”

 

Tony & Betty

Family Foundation School Founders

 

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the Camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget those moments, which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.”

 

Night

Elie Wiesel

 

 

א

 

I am driven through an unguarded metal gate into a large farm compound about three hours northwest of New York City in upstate New York in the Catskill Mountains on the crisp, early autumn day of September 2nd, 1999.

 

I have seen a small brochure describing the facility.  It looks like a desolate, Russian farm on a small ranch of brown, rocky earth cut from the mountains and forests of the surrounding badlands.  It is a farm where nothing grows easily. The surrounding area is awash in economic depression. There are jagged hulls of useless, broken farm equipment that is a bone yard of rusted iron and steel.

 

The camp compound is built into the side of a big, deforested hill. The main administrative building is on3 story and sprawls over a plateau that haw been cut at the base of the hill. It forms the shape of a cross with a red tin roof. A 500-foot, enclosed glass tunnel connects the main building to another structure that looks like a deteriorated three-story, wooden ark that has run aground. The brochure had described this wooden building as the Family Area, the place where all the healing begins.  These two buildings appear to be the only permanent structures on the compound, though the brochure had described a stone chapel. Some twenty fixed-trailer, barracks in earth tones dot the hill above the main administration building.  I assume this is where the internees lived.

 

Welcome to Camp #3, the Family Foundation also called the Family School.

All my stuff has been carefully packed into a metal steamer trunk. A couple internees meet us in the lot to help carry my trunk up the sixty-plus concrete steps to the administrative office.

 

We pass by a pale, marble statue of the Virgin Mary at the entrance of the building. This stone rendition of the mother of has been chiseled to endow it with a merciless, cold indifference. I catch a brief glimpse of the internees walking by in the halls. They appear normal enough. They are dressed in GAP and Abercrombie. They peer intently at me as they walk by.

 

We carry the steel trunk into the office. A tall man with silvery hair and glasses orders two kids to take the trunk into the back room. He introduces himself as Terry Quimper.

 

Terry tells me to follow him into the back room. He reminds me of an evil Mr. Rogers.  I am told to stand in the corner as they search my trunk. I watch as each piece of clothing is searched and sorted. One kid, with olive skin and curly black hair reads off each item while the other kid marks an inventory sheet. I watch quietly wondering what they hope to find.

 

“Those pants are too baggy,” says Terry.

 

The Volcom cargo pants are put aside.

 

“That shirt is bright red,” he says.

 

The work shirt is added to the pile.

 

“That shirt says Porn Star, need I say more.”

 

“That shirt has a naked woman on it.”

 

“Too baggy.”

 

“Too bright.”

 

“That’s a raver visor.”

 

Roughly two-thirds of my clothing is deemed unacceptable. I am left with the new preppy dress clothing my parents had the foresight to buy on the way up.

 

They move on to other items.

 

“I notice you like to read,” says Terry.

 

He leafs through my worn copy of Plato’s Republic.

 

“Yes sir.” I answer.

 

“Don’t call me sir. My name is Terry.”

 

“Yes, Terry.”

 

“You have quite a collection here. It’s a shame they are all on secular topics. They’ll have to go into storage,” Terry tells me.

 

“But…why?” I ask.

 

“No secular books for your first three months here. Those are the rules. We need you focused on your treatment. Moral, respectful children are reared here, not philosopher kings.”

 

The search team finally arrives at my most treasured possession nestled in the bottom of the trunk, Volume One of my archives, the photo, sketch and written journal of my stay in Texas. It contains months of work and my practice sketches and collage.  I watch as Terry pages through it. He shakes his head slowly, in some mental halfway house between contempt and fascination.

 

“Rubin, make a note. Sebastian Adon, Family 4, first sanction.”

 

The kid with curly black hair writes this down on a clipboard.

 

“First sanction. No drawing.”

 

I don’t even know what to say.

 

“You’ll come to see the logic behind this sanction, believe me.”

 

Volume One of the archives is placed on top of all my forbidden possessions.

 

“Rubin. Vincent. Be so kind as to bring Mr. Adon’s trunk to the Family Building, Family 4. I don’t know what a Mustard Plug or a Reel Big Fish is, but surely they can’t be good if they were affixed to young Adon’s trunk containing all these things he can’t have. Scrape those stickers off the his trunk!,” Terry says, deliberately mispronouncing my name again.

 

“Sure thing, Terry,” the taller kid named Vincent Alba says with a stupid grin.

 

“Mr. Adon, follow me,” says Terry.

 

“What happens to all the stuff that isn’t allowed?” I ask.

 

“It will be put in storage until your parents can pick it up.”

 

He leads me into a small room connected to the back room of the office.

 

“Strip down.”  Terry orders me.

 

I’m half used to this by now.

 

He puts on a plastic glove. I remember this from Texas all too well. The things you can stuff in an asshole.

 

“Place your hands on the wall, bend over and cough.”

 

I do as I’m told. I feel two fingers work their way into my asshole. I grind my teeth. It is over very quickly.

 

“Fold your clothing, Adon, and change into the blue work suit on the table,” Terry commands.

 

I do as I’m told. My clothing is placed with the rest of the restricted items.

 

“Stand up straight. Follow me.”

 

We walk into the outer office and out into the hall. The enormous sprawling cross building is lined with dark blue lockers, near enough to the color of Mt. Sinai’s psyche ward. Everything always looks so sterile in these camps. Terry calls out to a student on his way to class. He looks like a dirty-blonde, preppy jock dressed in a blue crew neck, button-down.

 

“Erik Blaire, this is Sebastian Adon,” Terry says.

 

The kid sticks out his hand.

 

“Adon will be the newest member of Family 4. I’d like you to bring his screened personal effects and paper work over to the Family Building with Rubin so Mr. Alba can give him a quick tour.”

 

“No problem, Terry,” this kid Erik says. He looks wholesome and British.

 

The two of them head off toward the tunnel with my stuff. The kid named Vincent Alba is tall and lanky, olive-skinned and Middle Eastern looking with black hair parted in the center. I doubt he is really Middle Eastern. Probably a mutt of I-Ty and some kind of Latin.

 

“Vincent, Mr. Adon will be in your family unit. Please escort him down to the barbershop. I find the blond streaks all sorts of negative, faggoty and generally unbecoming,” says Terry in a one more final insult.

 

“Sure thing, Terry. Am I going to be his shadow?” says an eager Vincent Alba, lanky also in his movements and a whole head taller than me.

 

“It hasn’t been decided yet. That’s ultimately up to Tom and Mary.” Terry gave the orders and Vincent follows them.

 

Vincent Alba is real chatty. He asks me questions. Loads of them. Where am I from? Why am I here? How did my parents hear about the Family School? He only provides the vaguest of answers to my incessant questions. We walk out the front door, down the concrete stairs, past the steely Virgin Mary, and into a large red wooden barn across the gravel road near the parking lot that is empty except for two large, unmarked vans. The barn has the same red tin roof as the cross-shaped administration building. Maybe when this was just a farm and not a camp there was just this old ark of a home and the barn, before the barracks, chapel and compound center changed the nature of the place. As we walk to the barn I notice what looks like six or seven people up on top of an adjacent hill picking up something from the ground.

 

“What are they doing?” I ask Vincent Alba not really expecting a real answer.

 

“Don’t worry about it, buddy. Let’s just concentrate on your haircut. Everything’s going to be just fine. It all gets explained in the end.”

 

Now it’s my turn for questions.

 

“Why do I need a haircut?” I ask.

 

“Because your hair is bleached partially blond.”

 

“So?”

 

“Listen. I know this all seems real weird, but like I said, it all makes sense in the end,” Vincent tries to reassure me.

 

“Okay.” You jaded, goofball motherfucker.

 

We enter the red-roofed barn. My blue work clothing is too baggy. Without a belt, I have to hold up my pants with one hand.

 

A fat black woman with blond hair waits in what looks like makeshift, two-chair barbershop. She looks like she digs on chicken and waffles. She tells Vincent to head back to class and that she’ll bring me to my family when she is done. I sit in the barber chair and she drapes a blue cover cloth over my work suit and puts a towel around my neck so the cut hair won’t get under my shirt.

 

“How are you doing, honey? What’s your name?” she says sweetly.

 

“Sebastian.”

 

“Sebastian, what a nice name. I’m Lafonda. I do the haircuts. Do you know what family unit you’re in?”

 

“Family 4 I think, but I’m not sure what that means.”

 

“I’m from Family 5. We’re right next door to you.”

 

“What’s a Family Unit?”

 

“You really don’t know?” she asks as she starts clipping.

 

“No one has told me anything.”

 

“Yeah, people are like that around here. Cagey at first. Sometimes, no one knows who’s supposed to know what or who they’re allowed to talk to.”

 

“Why is that?” I ask Lafonda.

 

“There is anonymity for every family. What gets talked about. Who is on what sanctions. Who’s on blackout and for how long. You’re not allowed to share Family information except to tell another student how to enforce your sanctions.”

 

“What’s a sanction? I think I have one.”

 

“Yup, you can’t draw. Normally new kids go a few days before the sanctions start piling up. A sanction is a personal regulation, which governs the way you are allowed to live while at the Family.”

 

“What’s the point of them?”

 

“They help bring you away from your own self-destructive disease.”

 

“Disease?”

 

“The sickness that got in our heads to bring us here to Hancock. Now, let’s cut your hair.”

 

“Just a little off the top, okay?”

 

“Sure thing, darling,” Lafonda chuckles.

 

Ten minutes later my head has been shaved bald.

 

***

 

After that fat bitch Lafonda cut off all my hair with a buzz razor, she turned me back over to Vincent Alba who had been philandering about outside the barn.  He is supposed to give me a tour.

 

Apparently there are six families with roughly fifty kids each. Each family has two barracks up on the hill above the main buildings. The cross-shaped building is the school building where the students attend classes. It also contains an auditorium that doubles as a basketball court. As we walk outside from a door in the auditorium, I hear shrieking and banging coming from somewhere in the theatre.

 

“What the fuck was that?”

 

“Watch your language, buddy. Cursing is not allowed,” Vincent tells me.

 

“Where is that damn noise coming from?”

 

“Don’t worry about it. It isn’t any of our business.”

 

“Look here, my dude, someone is definitely screaming bloody murder and you’re acting like you don’t hear anything!”

 

Again I hear the soulful wail. It sounds like an animal dying in a trap. I had made sounds like that before. It is the sound of the quiet room.

 

“But I don’t hear anything.”

 

“Listen, Mr. Vinny. I’ve been in places like this long enough to know the sound people make when they’re drugged up and confined in a small room!”

 

“You should lower your voice.”

 

I wave my hand in front of his face.

 

“Anyone in there, Vinny? Where are the quiet rooms? In the main building?”

 

“They’re behind the stage.”

 

“Was that so hard, Vinny?”

 

“It’s Vincent buddy, let’s just get on with the tour, alright?”

 

You silly brainwashed piece of shit.

 

Vincent leads me down the enclosed glass tunnel connecting the Main Building to the Family Building. There are three family units on each of the first two floors. The third floor is divided in half. One part is a small screening room with a digital projector; the other is an extra barrack used by Family 4 due to male over-population within the Camp. A large room on the north side of the building facing the barracks and the hill houses the kitchen facilities and a supply room.

 

“Why am I getting sent to a family that already has too many guys?”

 

“Each family focuses on a different area of treatment.”

 

“What does Family 4 focus on?”

 

“I really don’t know,” says Vincent.

 

I am starting to get annoyed.

 

“Does anyone here actually know what’s going on?”

 

“Everyone knows what they need to know. You’re new, but it all gets explained eventually.”

 

“I bet,” I say in exasperation.

 

I am told there will be religious services twice a day at the chapel on the top of the hill. The first is at 06:30. The second is at 19:00. Vincent tells me they alternate religious faiths each day. Tuesday is ‘Jew day’ as he calls it. The Jewish population of the Camp is less than twenty internees. Only one girl in the whole camp is Muslim so they don’t feel the need for a day of Islamic devotion. The other six days are different sects of Christianity, which in my honest opinion are all the same. Catholicism on Sunday. Protestant on Monday. Non-denominational Christian devotion Wednesday through Saturday. That the ‘Jew Day’ is Tuesday, not say, Friday or Saturday, rubs me wrong enough, but conscription prayer hadn’t been in the brochure.

 

There is a small lake to the south of the family building at the base of the hill. A little wooden dock floats in the center of the lake. Vincent Alba won’t tell me what it’s for. Across from the lake, there is another distant structure. It isn’t red. It looks like a derelict farmhouse, three stories tall, built right into the base of the hill. Vincent tells me that it is off limits for students to enter that building. It is where all of our ‘negative’ processions are stored. A thick brick chimney vents smoke into the clear mountain sky.

 

“So how long have you been here, Vincent?”

 

“Fourteen months and 23 days.”

 

“What are you here for?” I ask, “If you’re allowed to tell me.”

 

He seems real nervous talking about anything that isn’t related to the tour.

 

“I’m a raging alcoholic.”

 

“How long since you had a drink?”

 

“Fourteen months and 23 days.”

 

Small, simple questions.

 

“How many people are there?”

 

“You mean students? Roughly 300.”

 

“All drug addicts and alcoholics?”

 

“You have all sorts of people up here. Nymphos, bulimics, kids with extreme ADD. The Family School is a place for young people of many different backgrounds who exhibited asocial behavior on the outside.”

 

“Nymphos? Like girls who love to fuck?”

 

“Woo, you gotta stop with the cursing,” he mutters, “I don’t want to have to bring you up your first day here.”

 

“Bring me up?”

 

“Report on asocial behaviors to your family. That’s how you get on the sanctions.”

 

“What sanctions are you on?”

 

“I’m on blackout with girls.”

 

“What does ‘blackout’ mean?”

 

“It means that as far as I’m concerned girls don’t exist. I can’t talk to them. I can’t look at them. For me, they just aren’t there.”

 

“What do you mean ‘They aren’t there?’ You’re a guy. Thinking about females is where you spend half your time.”

 

“And that’s why I’m on this sanction.”

 

“Cause you think about girls too often?” I ask incredulously.

 

“Yeah, basically. Yeah.”

 

“This place gets a little weirder the more I talk to you people.”

 

“All I can tell you is that you’ll get used to it pretty quickly,” Vincent assures me.

 

We hike up the hill so I can see the chapel, the pray house on the mount. From up on this hill I can see a densely forested valley with rough and rocky, rolling hills. These are the mountain hills of the Western Catskills. The ground gets hard up here in the winter.

 

The Chapel is relatively small and I wonder if it can really accommodate 300-plus people praying each morning. The Chapel wasn’t built in the red style of the main building and it wasn’t here before the Camp like the Family Building and the barn. It is a new stone chapel with stained glass windows depicting the Christian Nativity, decked out in aged ornate wood.

 

We enter the empty chapel through two sturdy, wooden arched doors. Two rows of pews are set up in two long columns, one side for girls and one side for boys. Each row has a buttress for some limited comfort for kneeling for prayer. On the left of the arched front entrance is a small confession room. On the right is a small classroom with a board where the theology class is irregularly taught. A big old, life-sized, more-Caucasian-than-normal, crucified Jesus hangs from the rear wall behind a pulpit. There is a life-sized icon of the Virgin Mary in the left rear corner.  An icon of Saint Francis of Assisi is in the right rear corner. I had learned who he was back at the United Nations School.

 

“Do you have to go to church on the six Christian days if you’re a Jew?”

 

“You’re Jewish?” Vincent asks. Nobody ever suspects.

 

“Indeed.”

 

“Of course you have to go. It’s all the same God.”

 

“Where is the synagogue?”

 

“On Tuesdays this is the synagogue.”

 

“How can it be the synagogue with the Christ-man hangin’ from the wall?”  I demand.

 

“On Tuesday the statue gets covered over with a drape. As do the icons.”

 

“Does a rabbi run the services?”

 

“No. The services are led by a kid named Rubin Carter.”

 

“That kid that did the intake with you and Terry Quimper?”

 

“The self-same Jew.”

 

“Are these Christian services led by a priest?”

 

“Father McMullins runs the Catholic services and Pastor Palmer runs the Protestant services. Students lead the services the rest of the days. These are non-denominational prayer days. As for Tuesday Rubin does his thing with a kid named Ian from our Family.”

 

“Do you have to go to this church if you don’t believe in God?”

 

I keep trying to find some way out of this part of the treatment.

 

“Of course. Everyone says they’re an atheist when they first get here. The Program teaches us the definitive need for a higher power. Once you accept your higher power the prayer stuff becomes quite natural.”

 

“Don’t you think it’s a little unfair to have one Jewish day and six Christian days?”

 

“There really aren’t a lot of Jews here.”

 

“How many are there?” I ask.

 

“Out of 300 students, maybe twelve. I think a few are only half-Jewish and doing a sort of closet-rebel thing with it. Once a month, the Jewish kids take a bus to a synagogue in Liberty to keep shabbos with this guy Rabbi Donny.”

 

“They stay in Liberty over night?”

 

“Of course not, where would they stay?” Vincent laughs.

 

“Traveling by bus during shabbos is against Jewish law.”

 

“Rabbi Donny says since the bus driver isn’t a Jew, it’s alright. It doesn’t affect you. You don’t believe in God remember?”

 

“Isn’t that a little hypocritical?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“That the Family School puts a lot of focus on religion but doesn’t let its Jews keep their laws.”

 

“Like I said, it’s a small Jewish population and no one seems to be complaining so far.”

 

I ask to see a barrack. I wanted to know where I’d be sleeping. Vincent Alba says we aren’t allowed in them during the day. I ask if the barracks are locked at night.

 

“Thinking about making a break for it?”

 

“No, just curious.”

 

“Alarmed not locked. Opening the door sets off an air raid siren.” Vincent tells me.

 

“Do a lot of people try to escape?”

 

“We get maybe five or six attempts each month.”

 

“Do they make it?”

 

“Never. Most don’t even clear the perimeter fence.”

 

The so-called perimeter fence is a low wooden property demarcated with a flood lamp irregularly spaced. I could leap right over it.

 

“Did you ever try?”

 

“I tried once my third month here.”

 

“What happened?”

 

“I got picked up on the highway trying to hitchhike to Binghamton. You learn to accept being here, to accept your treatment. After that you understand that escape will lead back to the disease.”

 

“What disease?”

 

“The disease they call alcoholism.”

 

“That isn’t a real disease.”

 

“But it is. If you put a drink in front of me, I don’t know that even now, I wouldn’t drink it. If I let the disease win it will destroy my life. Or worse, kill me. So I stay put and get better.”

 

“You still want a drink even after being here as long as you have?”

 

“I’ll always want a drink. That’s the curse of the disease.”

 

“You’re confusing the medication with the disease.”

 

“The disease made us wanton, the Blue Book says, it made us creatures of gross excess. We turned on others and then upon ourselves.”

 

“What the fuck is the Blue Book?”

 

“Don’t curse, Sebastian. I’m serious now. It’s an AA thing. This place is part religion, part school, part AA, part, I don’t know, part recovery I suppose.”

 

“You’re not recovered yet, Alba?”

 

“No, not yet.”

 

The trouble with letting us guard ourselves is that you could get a well-meaning pushover as a guard. I like him. I plan to ply him full of questions, extract some logistics, and then make a good break.

 

***

 

Everyone’s attention is on the teenage girl with the big tits. She is standing in front of the table. She has long brown hair and hazel eyes. Her face is dotted with a few freckles. She is wearing jeans that are not tight or revealing, and a t-shirt, which, while modest, hides little when a young girl has C-plus breasts. She is wearing glasses, but they make her look more like a sexy schoolteacher than a Thelma. Her name is Angelika Vine. And she’s taking inventory before dinner in Family 4. The other guys call her sister, but I know they’d all tit fuck their sister six ways to Sunday and would like to dump a bucket of water over that loose grey shirt.

 

Angelika Vine has been in this Camp for almost two years. She is a ‘senior member’ who is trusted enough to go home on her own once in awhile and come right back. She plays the cute Catholic schoolgirl. She is the senior editor of the Family School’s monthly internal rag, but she’d look like a stripper with the right pout and some red lipstick. I haven’t seen a girl my age in three months. She rambles on sweetly to us all and I just keep thinking about fucking her on a pool table. Sister.

 

“As you know, I just returned from a home visit over the weekend. I stayed with my Dad and we went out to the movies on Saturday.”

 

“What movie?” a woman with black hair sitting at the head of the table asks.

 

She had told me her name was Mary Thénardier. Some movies are considered too negative for the internees to view and it is a treatment violation to watch them. The Family Leaders aren’t too concerned however. Angelika has been thoroughly indoctrinated.

 

“The new Star Wars movie.”

 

“Was it any good?” asked a man with a thick black beard who had introduced himself to me earlier as Tom Thénardier. Tom and Mary are married. They live in a house within the compound up the road from the school building. They have two little bouncing boys that always follow the senior members around. No need for a babysitter with 300 surfs.

 

“It was just okay,” Angelika responds.

 

“What else did you guys do?” Mary asks.

 

“We went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant.”

 

“What did you order?”

 

“Pasta Alfredo.”

 

“Tell us about your interaction with your Father.”

 

“He was really happy to see me. He went out of his way to make sure I would avoid any negative situations. He told me that my Mother would have liked to come, but was on a business trip in New York City.”

 

“How did that make you feel?” Mary asks.

 

“A little sad, I guess. I really wanted to see her.”

 

“Understandably.”

 

“It was a relatively uneventful weekend.”

 

“Before you sit down I want you tell the family what we discussed earlier. Your encounter with your ex-boyfriend.” Mary says.

 

“Certainly, Mary. As many of you may know from my story, I thought that I was in love with a boy named Anthony. We had been going out for close to a year and it was Anthony that I ultimately lost my virginity to when I was sixteen. He was a bit older, in his twenties. My Father hated Anthony because he thought Anthony brought out negative characteristics in me. It was with Anthony that I drank my fist beer and smoked my first joint, did my first bit of coke. Because my disease makes me want to have a lot of casual sex I found myself sleeping with Anthony a few times a day. Anthony was an aspiring filmmaker. Sometimes we’d film ourselves having sex. He started bringing me to sex parties in the City, you know, Swingers Parties. I deluded myself to thinking I was in love him. Soon enough he was making films of me sexing up three sometimes seven other men. Sometimes they’d hit me, tie me up, piss on me,” Angelika relates.

 

A scan about the room shows faces awash with empathy, but no judgment or shock. I‘d like to pee on you, I thought to myself.

 

“I now know that our entire relationship was based around sex. I realized he preyed on me. He exploited me and sold these tapes on the Web, ruined me emotionally. It got pretty bad in the weeks leading up to my being brought here with the heroin and all.”

 

“Anthony came to visit me when I was with my Father. I hadn’t seen him or heard from him in over two years. He came drunk as hell to my father’s home and started banging on the door, told my father he’d turned me out like a whore. Yelled, ‘he wanted his little bitch back.’ My Father called the cops and he fled before they got here. My Father cried a lot. Anthony was all coked up. I wasn’t sure what to do. I just froze up terrified in my bedroom as he raved and raged at my Father like a maniac through the door.”

 

“You did the right thing, Angelika,” says Mary solemnly.

 

“This is an important example that we all should learn. People from our past are negative influences. Old friends. Old lovers. These are the people that make us return to our disease,” states Tom.

 

“You may sit down, Angelika. You certainly have come a long way.”

 

Angelika Vine takes a seat at the U-shaped table and returns to her meal of peas, carrots and an undeterminable type of meat.

 

“Would Marius and Cosette please stand,” says family leader Tom.

 

A boyish looking girl with short blond hair and a lanky guy with brown unkempt hair stand up and walk to the front of the table. They look surprised to have been called. The girl wonders who has informed on them. Someone always informed. It was only a matter of time.

 

“I’m bringing you guys up because of the negative contract you’ve formed with each other. I have watched you carefully over the past few weeks. I’ve watched you walk together going and coming from chapel. I’ve seen you talk together whenever you can. I even saw you hold hands one night when the power went out in this building. I feel it is my obligation as a member of this family to stop you two from ruining all that you’ve managed to accomplish and give in to your disease,” said a fat ugly, slob of a half-girl, half-cow named Faith.

 

“This is quite disturbing. You are both senior members of the Family having been here for over a year,” sneers Mary sternly. “This is the kind of shit people pull when they first get here,” she shouts.

 

“How long has this been going on?” Mary asks.

 

“I don’t know what Faith is talking about, Mary. I swear I do not have a negative contract with Marius.”

 

“Are you calling Faith a liar?”

 

She pauses for a moment obviously weighing the options.

 

“Not a liar, but she is seeing something that isn’t there.”

 

“Is she really?” Mary stands up.

 

“Why would she lie,” asks her husband Tom.

 

“She would lie because she thinks bringing people up will make her seem more responsible in the family. Come on Mary, Marius and I know the rules. Why would we violate them now?”

 

“Why is it that I don’t believe you,” sneers Mary again.

 

Marius put his hand to his face covering his eyes. When he looks up he has a look of hatred in his eyes.

 

“Fuck this,” says Marius. “We shouldn’t be ashamed that we’re in love. You’re all a bunch of fucking hypocrites. This place is filled with liars and you’re all lying to yourselves.”

 

“You insolent little shit. Better shut up or we’ll have someone shut you up,” screams Mary in her shrill voice.

 

Cosette gives Marius a look communicating how stupid she thinks it is that he admitted the contract.

 

“What you guys demand is not natural! Who’s to say two people aren’t allowed to fall in love. You people think you’re gods playing around with us like this.”

 

“Get in the corner, Marius!” yells Tom.

 

“Fucking make me!” Marius yells back.

 

Around the table all the boys stood up.

 

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way, Marius.”

 

In a situation like this a man measures his odds. Fight, flee or submit. Slowly and defiantly Marius pulls a chair to the corner, removes his shoes, and sits down facing the wall.

 

“As of now, you’re both on blackout with each other. I’m tempted to put you in the corner too, Cosette, but I have a better idea. You’re going to make a sign and wear it around your neck everywhere you go. The sign will say: ‘SLUT’. Marius, you’re on blackout with girls. Do you want to take some inventory?” says Mary taking her seat again.

 

“Not really,” Cosette mutters.

 

“Sit down. If you’re not ready to take inventory by breakfast you go to the corner too. Understand me?”

 

“Yes, Mary.”

 

Cosette sits down at the table casting a quick look at Marius. Their little romance has ended just like that. It will be impossible for them to communicate. From now on everyone will be watching them.

 

“Sebastian Adon, please stand up,” says the man named Big Bob who looks like someone who might start and finish a bar brawl.

 

He stinks of tobacco and smokes like a fiend. He is short, but looks as if he could snap at any moment. There is a wild look in his eyes. Apparently he is my Program Sponsor. Whatever the hell that means.

 

“Sebastian arrived today. He’s from Manhattan. Sebastian could you tell us a little about yourself? Why you’re here. What your impressions are,” the gruff little man named Big Bob says.

 

I want to tell them they are all insane. I want to tell them I will flee the first chance I get. Instead all I say is:

 

“I’m from New York, but I guess you knew that. I’m not sure really what to make of this place, but I guess everything will be explained to me eventually, at least that’s what everyone says.”

 

“Why are you really here, Sebastian?” asks a suddenly very calm Mary Thénardier .

 

“I’m not really sure.” I answer.

 

“I think you’re here because you have a drinking problem,” suggests Big Bob my sponsor.

 

“But I don’t think I do,” I say.

 

“No one ever does, dear. No one ever does,” says Mary.

 

I wonder if I could ask them a few questions, but opt to keep my mouth shut.

 

“Let’s see,” says Tom as he paws through a file.

 

“Apparently you’re on a no drawing sanction. Terry put him on it. Why is that, Sebastian? Most new arrivals go at least a day without getting on sanctions.”

 

“I suppose Terry thought my drawings were negative. I arrived with a sketchbook. It was taken away during the search.”

 

“Alright. You know what that means. You’re not allowed to draw. If anyone sees Sebastian drawing, be sure to bring him up,” says Mary to my brothers and sisters of Family 4.

 

“Do you have anything else to say before we move on?”

 

“Not really. This place seems nice enough and I look forward to meeting everyone.”

 

“Well isn’t he well mannered,” said Mary. “You may sit back down, Sebastian.”

 

I hope that is the last time I have to get up in front of the Family. I just have to keep under their radar like Red October.

 

***

 

My shadow’s name is Winston Smit. Your shadow goes literally everywhere with you, even to the bathroom. Winston is muscular and seems like he is both intelligent and athletic. He had been assigned to shadow me during dinner. I was also told he would be my Junior Sponsor. Winston is wearing a preppy red sweater, a blue tie, and khakis. I try to imagine what he was like before he came here. A wigro probably.

 

On the surface people go about like normal kids. Talking, laughing, playing board games, and hanging out. What I had heard at dinner scared me. They got right into little Angelika Vine’s head and programmed her to spill everything to us. I saw two people reprimanded for having a crush on each other. I listened to people tell a fat girl she had to eat less because no one likes fat people. Mt. Sinai had been about disjointed attempts at psychoanalyses coupled with periodic bouts of physical brutality to make you submit. Texas had been about behavior modification. This place is something new. They seem to be able to break peoples’ minds.

 

At some point Big Bob takes me aside to have a little mano a mano.

 

“So you know I’ll be your Sponsor, right?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“How do you feel about being here?” Big Bob asks.

 

“I mean I’m hardly ecstatic about the whole thing.”

 

“Of course you’re not. Your says you have tried to escape from every place your parents put you.”

 

“I don’t like being locked up.”

 

“No one does, but you’re here because you have a problem. Your intake file says that before you were sent away you had a serious drinking problem. It says you tried to kill yourself and that you assaulted someone with a wine bottle. It sounds to me like you have a problem.”

 

I’m not sure what to say to that.

 

“You were a messed up kid on the outside, Sebastian. You hurt a lot of people. Your brother and your parents especially. You’re here because you are sick. And we will cure you. You’re going to hate us, but in the end you will know we’ll have made you a better person. This place is about personal change. Every kid in here was an asocial little deviant in some way or another but we make ‘um better. I’m not gonna beat around the bush. Your parents signed you over to us. You’re in our custody. You’re gonna be here for a while. Minimum stay is a year and a half. Most people stay here longer.”

 

So it was true what the guard Smith in Texas had told me about the minimum stay here. Well, that’s for sure not going to be me.

 

“The file says you’re manipulative. It says you know how to make people do you favors and give you things. It may have worked in Texas. It won’t work here. Your IQ scores are really high, but that doesn’t mean anything. Smart people are harder to break, but by the time we’re done, you’ll make a 180-degree turn in a new direction. You’ll be happy, healthy and successful, and you’ll thank us.”

 

“I just don’t think I have a problem,” I tell him.

 

“You do and the sooner you learn that, the sooner we can help you. It will take time. You’re going to have to hit bottom first.”

 

“What’s hitting bottom?” I ask.

 

“It’s when you finally accept that you aren’t in control, that your life has become unmanageable, and you’re ready to change in a positive direction.”

 

“How do I know when I’ve hit bottom?”

 

“Oh you’ll know.”

 

***

 

After evening Adoration–they go all-out Catholic on Sunday apparently–Winston leads me down the hill from the chapel to the upstairs barrack on the third floor of the Family building. It is the only residential area in all of the Family Building containing two rooms with eight metal bunk beds. Tim says goodnight to us then seals the door activating the alarm system.

 

There are several other boys in the barrack. The rooms are small and painted. There are two rooms with two double-decker bunk beds in each. There are two bathrooms, each connecting to one of the rooms. I meet the other boys. Winston Smit, my ‘shadow’; a quiet Russian kid named Vesiely Pavieda, who everyone calls ‘Vessy’ who sleeps below me; and an over-the-top kid named  ‘Fat Mike,’who is over-weight with extremely Semitic features. Winston is the bunk leader. Erik Blaire is the leader of the adjacent room. He’s the same kid who had earlier helped the Jew Rubin Carter move my stuff over. Erik is clean cut and a natural prep. He has short brown hair and could easily be the poster child of the Foundation. He is one of the top senior members of the Family. The goofy kid Vincent Alba, who I had met earlier, is in the other room. The two others are named Colin and Scotty. Colin has lots of acne and severe ADD. He can’t really follow a conversation or put together a complete thought. Scotty is blonde with glasses and looks like a skater dressed up like a jock. These are my new bunkmates. The newer kids sleep on the top bunk so we have to wake up the person below us if we try to escape.

 

After putting my things in a drawer I ask if I can take a shower. Winston escorts me to the bathroom and tells me I can only shower for four minutes. He then takes a seat on a chair in the bathroom and starts reading a book.

 

“Don’t I get any privacy,” I ask.

 

“Not here you don’t,” Winston Smit responds.

 

I strip down and get in the shower. The water is so cold I begin shivering attempting to get out of the way of the flow.

 

“How do I make the water hot!” I yell in shock.

 

“You can’t. We only get cold water. It keeps people from jerking off in the shower.”

 

I do my best to stand clear of the water while soaping myself up. I rub Pert Plus into my hair and hold my head under the freezing torrent to wash it out.

 

Will checks the stopwatch.

 

“You have two minutes.”

 

I am freezing and decide to end the shower prematurely.

 

Erik Blaire leads the eight of us in prayer before bed. He recites the Lord’s Prayer and thanks God for another day of sobriety. We all get into our beds and Winston kills the lights.

 

An hour later I find that I can’t sleep. The bed is shaking because Vessy is jerking off. The frame shakes just enough to give him away. This is my first night in the Camp outside of Hancock, New York on 431 Chapel Hill Road. I look into the darkness outside my window. I see nothing but the uncertainty of endless night.

 

The next day we awaken before the sunrise. I head to the bathroom to brush my teeth half dazed. I look at my reflection hardly recognizing the kid in the mirror. I look like a leukemia victim. My eyes sunken. All my brown hair gone. When I begin to put on my clothes I find that they all seem to be too small, too tight, as if they aren’t my own clothes. I dress in khaki slacks and a button-down shirt with a green tie the color of pine.

 

Dressed and ready, we march up the hill towards the chapel. The hill is quite steep, treacherous when icy I suppose. Hundreds of internees move together, all drifting slowly. We shuffle in columns up the hill to the chapel.

 

The chapel has been built at the highest point in the compound. From the top of the hill I can look down upon the compound. This is apparently to be my world for two more years, a veritable eternity in the life of a young man.

 

It is still relatively dark and lampposts light the way along the hill. As we walk I wonder why no one uses this time to flee. We enter the wooden and stone chapel through the main entrance. The female internees enter from the rear. Some internees pick up rosaries from off a rack that holds dozens of them. I choose not to partake in any gratuitous displays of worship. When the pews fill up, the kids begin opening folding metal chairs and take their places on the edge of the row. It all happens like clockwork, taught through repetition, carried out in pious silence to the hum of organ music.

 

Nothing is quite as stupid as religion, organized or otherwise. It is difficult for me to get used to the fact I will have to sit in a chapel twice a day. Up until this point I have only entered a religious building a handful of times. My parents used to drag us to the high holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. The only churches I had ever entered were as a tourist in England and France. Stained glass windows, high ceilings, flying buttresses, take a few pictures and then I was done.

 

A middle-aged priest named Father McMullins with a crew cut and clerical robes enters and assumes the pulpit. He leads us in a solemn chant of the Lord’s Prayer followed by a slew of Hail Marys. Catholicism is such a drole and scary thing. I begin to wonder how such a backwards religion is still so widely practiced. I wonder if any of these kids actually pray or if they do what I’m doing now, letting my eyes wander to the left of the chapel and imagining myself banging out one of my so-called sisters. This is all such incredible bullshit. I can’t believe they make the Jews go through with this. I close my eyes and try to sleep, tired yet caught in a wonderful lust fantasy. I feel someone nudging me.

 

“Say the words,” Winston Smit whispers.

 

“I don’t believe in this,” I whisper back.

 

“Say the words anyway.”

 

“I’m not a Christian.”

 

“Just do it.”

 

I start mumbling the Lord’s Prayer. I wonder how many of my people have been killed in the name of Jesus. Quite a damn few. So many deaths at the hands of pious fanatics convinced their man was the right god-made man and their god, the only God. The prayers drone on. I wonder how long I can last in a place like this.

 

***

Breakfast consists of two pieces of sausage and some runny scrambled eggs, powdered quite likely. A glass of something trying to pass itself off as orange juice sits in front of my place at the table. We set the table the evening before and seats are not assigned. A large, three-part hot plate is plugged into the wall. Our food is in it when we got back from church. Everyone lines up as the girl named Cosette and some chick whose name I don’t know serve us. The Camp is run almost entirely by our labor. Unlike the other places I’d been, there seems to be far more internees than administrators, doctors and guards. Mt. Sinai had three staff members for every patient and the ward was sealed off in a locked hospital wing. The San Marcos Treatment Center had a response team of fifteen guards that could get there within three minutes of a code yellow or green should an incident occur. It was a locked walled, and barbed compound lit with floodlights.

 

I contemplate the elements of the equation as I eat: number of students, number of staff, locality, and the overall probability of escape. I watch Winston Smit more closely than he watches me. He is about twice my size and quite capable of taking me down if he has to. Sudden flight did not seem to be the best option. Winston is never less than five feet away from me.  I had examined the lock and alarm device that sealed me and the seven others into the top floor of the family building. Knowing nothing about electronics, tampering with it does not seem to be the wisest of ideas. The door is physically open, but turning the knob alerts the whole compound. Then it would be run, run, run, but to where?

 

While I think about escape, in reality, it isn’t my highest priority. It isn’t as if I have anywhere to go. At least this place was far better than Mt. Sinai Hospital or San Marcos Treatment Center. At least here the kids seem relatively high functioning. At least here I can attend class and actually accumulate high school credits. A least here there are girls. One way or another, I am going to have to find a way to get rid of Will. The best way seems to be to feign cooperation with the treatment program while I get my bearings.

 

I can tell powdered eggs whenever I eat them. Powdered eggs are a staple food item for almost every lockup. They look like real eggs, sometimes they even taste like real eggs, but I know the truth. It boils down to add water and cook. It would be too much of an expense to serve out that many real eggs each morning. I scoop up the last bit of eggs and place them in my mouth. I wash them down with the orange juice wondering why you have to be eighteen to have a cup of coffee in this place. You can’t smoke at age eighteen, just drink coffee. Tom and Mary tell everyone to ‘hush up and be quiet.’ It’s time to start bringing people up again.

 

***

 

There are no classes because it is Sunday. After the students clean and vacuum the family building, a sign up sheet goes around telling us we can play soccer or watch a movie. Figuring that soccer will allow me to meet kids from other families I sign up.

 

There are way too many kids on each team. With only two facility guards on the field, mass escape would have been easy. Why don’t they all just run, I wonder? There are seven people waiting around sixty-feet out from the goal and two goalies, a kid with no shoes and me.  Everyone else is running around after the ball. I notice again that the kid closest to me isn’t wearing any shoes. His socks are wrapped with garbage bags and duct tape. He seems like a good person to start with. He has on a name tag which says, ‘HELLO MY NAME IS KURTZ’. I remember the pyromaniac Buddhist from LA who was locked up down in Texas with the same name.

 

“Nice shoes, Kurtz. How long ya been here?”

 

“This is my third day,” he answers not making eye contact.

 

“I got here last night,” I mutter not looking at him either.

 

“What family are you in?”

 

“Family Four.”

 

He doesn’t respond.

 

“How do we get out of this chicken-shit outfit?”

 

“That might be a little hard.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Have you talked to these kids? They’re all fucking insane. It’s like they believe that they are really sick and that this place helps them. It’s like everyone’s watching everybody else to make sure they do what they’re supposed to do.”

 

“There aren’t too many guards.”

 

“They don’t need guards because the students guard each other. Everyone wants to get out of here and they connote compliance with progression. They get brownie points for ratting people out so everyone and their sister is an informant.”

 

“Well I’m not,” I say emphatically.

 

“You say that now. We’ll see in a week.”

 

“What do you know about the surrounding area, Kurtz?”

 

“Not a whole lot besides a town called Hancock and a whole lot of forest. My shadow is watching us so we gotta stop talking. Otherwise they’ll put us on blackout. It isn’t safe to talk about shit like this out loud. Pass me a note on a work detail when you think you have a good enough plan,” Kurtz says.

 

A blond kid with short hair crew cut and glasses approaches us covered in sweat.

 

“You two shouldn’t be talking unsupervised. Kurtz, get out on the field. How many times have I told you not to talk to new kids?”

 

“Sorry, Seigfried Sassoon.”

 

I watch Kurtz head out to midfield where an unceasing pursuit of the soccer ball seems to be getting nowhere. A few dozen kids are chasing the ball around with little to no direction or cooperation.

 

“What’s your name?” asks Seigfried Sassoon, a senior member.

 

“Sebastian Adon.”

 

“You shouldn’t talk to other new kids. All you’ll end up doing is talking about negative things that will complicate your treatment.”

 

“We were just talking about the game.”

 

“Maybe so, but watch yourself. The first few months are the hardest and you should try to get off to a good start.”

 

“Are you Kurtz’s shadow?”

 

“Only while we play soccer. I’m from Family 3. He’s from Family 5. It just happens his shadow isn’t much of a soccer player.”

 

“How long have you been here?”

 

“Fourteen months and 27 days.”

 

“So you’ll be leaving soon?”

 

“Probably not until the summer. I’m court-ordered into the program, so at this point I’m just doing time.”

 

“If you don’t mind me asking, what did you do?”

 

“I stabbed my old man.”

 

“Oh.”

 

There really isn’t much one can say to that.

 

“Some people follow the program right off the bat. People like that normally get out of here after 18 months.”

 

“That’s the minimum time?”

 

“Generally. Most stay for closer to two years.”

 

“No one gets out sooner?”

 

“There’s really only four ways you get out of the Family School. Either you finish the program, which is how most kids leave, your parents take you out, or you turn 18 and can walk.”

 

“What’s the fourth way?”

 

“It’s pretty inconsequential ‘cause few really make it,” he tells me.

 

“Make what?” I ask.

 

“An escape.”

 

“You ever try to escape, Ben?”

 

“If I leave the program, I do jail time. It was never in my interest to escape.”

 

“How come Kurtz doesn’t have shoes?”

 

“He tried to run on his second day.”

 

“So his family took his shoes?”

 

“It’s a standard protocol here.”

 

“He isn’t on blackout is he?”

 

“Not yet, but mark my words, he will be if I see you two talking again. New people always think they can sneak around and lay low. It doesn’t take the family leaders long to spot it. Terry Quimper has us constantly analyzing the system in order to improve it. That’s why Family 3 is tight as a drum.”

 

“It was your family my parents visited when they came here to see the school.”

 

“Almost all first time parents visit our family. Terry is one of the primary architects of the system here. Family 3 a show piece.”

 

“That guy scares the shit out of me.”

 

“You learn to understand him.”

 

“I’m sure.”

 

“Like I’m sure you’ve heard, everything makes sense in the end.”

 

Up on the hill on the ridge above the field, three figures move slowly back and forth. They seem to be carrying something heavy in buckets. A fourth figure is watching them. I wonder what they are doing. Seigfried Sassoon rejoins the game.

 

***

 

There are four people in the corner when I get back to Family 4. Marius is still there from last night. Apparently the other three have been put in over the course of the day. Two are seated without shoes and two are standing without shoes.

 

“Why are they in the corner?” I ask Winston Smit.

 

“Fred Hampton cursed out a kid while playing soccer. Marius got put in last night for that thing with Cosette. Cosette got put in after she ripped up her sign and Vessy has been in the corner for the last three weeks.”

 

“Oh. Why do Fred Hampton and Vessy have to stand?”

 

“Standing in the corner is common protocol for anyone who’s been here more than six months and still resists treatment.”

 

“How long has Fred been here?”

 

“I don’t know, maybe seven months and some change. Cosette and Marius are senior members. Some people just try to lie their way through the program, but they get found out in the end. That’s why Vessy is on all these sanctions. He’s been here for like three years and still won’t follow the program.”

 

You lying your way through the program too, Will? I wonder to myself.

 

 

***

 

Negative contract is the term used to describe any joint activity against the treatment plan. Anytime two people help each other cheat on a test, sing a negative song (All rap and techno), make physical contact, plot escape, cursed together or do anything that goes against Family School regulations, it is deemed a negative contract.

 

Negative contracts happen all the time and the Family leaders are always devising new ways to root out people who are secretly conspiring to avoid treatment. The informant system is extremely successful. With most of the students constantly bringing each other up to appear more responsible, negative contracts are sometimes real and sometimes invented. Sometimes a student brings someone up because that person has brought him or her up previously. It is a subtle and brilliant system. Terry had realized a long time ago that using guards would be not only expensive, but that it might encourage more active resistance.

 

It is brilliant. The students guard each other.

 

This means that to get out of here a person has to deceive his peers. Students prevent most of the escapes. Students inform on each other. Students chase down runners. Students pile into vans and are driven to where a runner has been last seen then proceed to chase them down. Since the entire town of Hancock is more than willing to help apprehend runners, call-ins are frequent. If a runner makes it past the perimeter fence they often try to hitchhike through Hancock to Binghamton. Many times the driver will just bring them back to the compound and they are dragged out of the vehicle by students and taken to the quiet room. On other occasions a chase team is assembled, put into one of the three Family School vans, and driven to the area where a runner has been spotted. The chase team is always made up of the boys on the school football team. The team runs down the escaped student and returns them to the school.

 

Anyone who actually makes it out of the area and gets back to their own town or city often finds police waiting to bring them back to the compound. Many families are convinced by the school to hire snatch squads, professional transporters that move deviant young people to holding facilities. It is quite possible that there have been more than three successful escapes. The problem is that no one talks about it. Everyone remembers the date they arrived at the Family School. They always know how many days it has been since they were brought in. All other events are but a dream. We are taught to live in the day. Slowly but surely people stop remembering what they did yesterday and what they are going to do tomorrow. Isolation, division, confusion and conditioning. These are the four real principals of the Family School.

 

Home visits are not allowed for close to a year and a half. The initial meetings between students and their parents are supervised sessions that Terry almost always facilitates. Parents come up to attend workshops on their children’s manipulations. They are warned of the lies their children will tell them to try to be taken out of the school. It is a flawless system in the mind of its creators, turning the dregs of modern society’s youth into productive citizens. It is a holy war they are waging turning lost souls into keepers of the faith.

 

Religion is integrally rooted into the Program. They call it a higher power, but they might as well call it Jesus. With enough bombardment even the most resilient individual begins to lose sight of what he truly believes. Suppression of the individual is what this is all about. You are not unique. You are merely a societal anomaly. You are being taught to behave.  If a student is to re-enter society they have to be broken down and rebuilt with new values and new ways of thinking.

 

***

 

Winston Smit, who is sitting across from me, gives me a kick under the table.

 

“Pay attention,” he whispers sharply.

 

“I am,” I whisper back.

 

Mary gives us an evil look.

 

Angelika Vine, who is sitting next to Mary, whispers something in her ear.

 

“I’d like to bring up Sebastian,” says Angelika.

 

I rise, a bit confused, and stand in front of the table.

 

“A girl in family 5 says you were staring at her during church.”

 

“Staring?” I ask.

 

“Let her finish,” yells Mary.

 

“Because you’re new, we feel it isn’t necessary to make a huge deal out of this, but we wanted you to know the policy here when it comes to relationships within the school.”

 

“I wasn’t…” I try to interject.

 

“Shut up and listen!” Mary bursts out again in a manic rage.

 

“All the girls here are your sisters. You are to treat them as such. Your sisters are not sexual objects. None of your sisters want to kiss you and none of your sisters are keen to your advances. It may be difficult for you to understand this at first, but you will end up in the corner quickly if you continue to behave in this manner. Do you have any questions?” Angelika asks me after her lecture.

 

“Yeah. So say, I think you’re cute. Am I supposed to actually pretend you’re my sister and not feel attracted to you?” I ask.

 

“Precisely,” says Mary.

 

“So you’re telling me not to feel?”

 

“We’re telling you not to lust.” Mary clarifies.

 

“Lust?”

 

“One of the seven sins.”

 

“Lust?” I ask again.

 

“Are you fucking stupid?” asks Big Bob.

 

“No, I just don’t understand why I’m supposed to pretend I’m not attracted to a girl?”

 

“You are not here to form sexual relationships. People like you are too fucked up to actually grasp what it means to love another person. You are sick and you are here to get better. Staring at girls like you want to rape them is not only bad for your treatment, it is a sin and an obvious reflection of you asocial behavior,” explains Big Bob like a tough guy.

 

“I wasn’t…” I try again.

 

“If you don’t understand maybe some time in the corner will help it sink in,” Big Bob says.

 

“Maybe that’s a little premature,” says Tom, the mustached second Family leader who never really yells at anybody.

 

“Do you get anything we’re saying?” asks his wife Mary.

 

“I do, but I just don’t feel that being attracted to a girl is wrong.”

 

“It’s not the attraction that’s wrong, it’s the lust. It’s the objectification of women that needs to stop. People form healthy relationships here based upon a mutual desire to get better. Sexual relationships will only distract you from the program,” Mary explains.

 

“We won’t put you in the corner, but we better not get any more reports that you’re acting out. Alright?” Mary says.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I didn’t get that. Yeah isn’t a word.” Mary tells me.

 

“I understand.”

 

“Now sit down.”

 

***

 

Everyone is sitting in the Family 4 living room ready to watch a video. My sponsor is in the storeroom behind our unit yelling at one of the other kids. I can’t hear what he’s saying, but his face is bright red and he’s up in the kid’s face. I’m playing chess with Winston Smit and losing like usual. Most of the kids in my family are doing their homework or playing board games. Movie at 10 and then back to the barracks by midnight. A fat woman with red hair who I saw for the first time tonight at dinner motions for me to come over.

 

“Sebastian, my name is Susan Galliford. I’m one of your family leaders. This is your second day here correct?”

 

“Yes m’aam.”

 

“Just call me Susan. You can drop the m’aams and sirs.”

 

“Sure thing, Susan.”

 

“Sebastian, let’s go for a little walk.”

 

“Okay.”

 

She leads me to the administrative office in the main building. It’s the same room I was searched in when I arrived. She asks me to sit down and then removes a thick file from one of the green cabinets.

 

“So let’s get down to business,” she says.

 

“Is this an interview or something?”

 

“Something like that. I just have to ask you a few questions to better frame your treatment. First off, tell me why you’re here.”

 

“I’m not sure exactly.”

 

“Your file says you were transferred here from the San Marcos Treatment Center. What were you doing there?”

 

“They were trying to figure out if I have a mental condition.”

 

“Do you think you have a mental condition?” she asks me.

 

“Not really,” I answer.

 

“Neither do we.”

 

“So why am I here?”

 

“That’s what we’re here to talk about,” Susan says.

 

She pauses to look over the file.

 

“Where were you before San Marcos?”

 

“I was locked up in a mental hospital in New York.”

 

“For how long?”

 

“About a month.”

 

“Why were you hospitalized?”

 

“I tried to kill myself.”

 

“Why would you do a thing like that?”

 

“I was depressed.”

 

“About what?”

 

“About my life.”

 

“Your parents put you in there?” Susan asks.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Do you resent them for doing that?”

 

“No. Not really,” I say remembering the agony I have been through in the past half year.

 

“Do you have any idea what you put them through?” Susan asks me.

 

“Something terrible. But I think the places I’ve been in mess people up worse,” I tell her emphatically.

 

“I doubt it. Do you think people like you can just run free and do whatever you feel like? Do you even comprehend all the hell you put your family through?”

 

“They didn’t want me around so they had me locked up. That’s what it really comes down to.”

 

“You don’t really care about them do you?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“You don’t even love your own Mother and Father.”

 

“I don’t feel anything.”

 

“What about what you’ve done? What about all the people you’ve hurt?”

 

“That’s why I’m here isn’t it?”

 

“You don’t really believe you have a problem do you?” Susan says.

 

I think about it for a second.

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“So maybe we should just let you leave. There’s just one problem,” Susan continues.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“You can’t seem to function in normal society.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“You do bad things, Sebastian. Horrible things. You hurt people. You lie and steal. You are an alcoholic. People have given up on you.”

 

“My friends haven’t given up on me,” I tell her.

 

“You don’t have any friends.”

 

She is staring at me across the table. Her red hair is bright under the neon lights of the office. She is wearing tacky gold earrings. I want to punch her in her fat, stupid face.

 

“Have you ever loved anyone in your entire pathetic life?” Susan asks me sarcastically.

 

“Yeah,” I respond.

 

“Who? Roxanne?” Susan asks.

 

How the hell did she know who Roxanne was? I felt a tear start to form in my left eye.

 

“Now I know you’re sick,” she says to me with a sneer.

 

“Fuck you.”

 

“You mean fuck yourself. It’s what you’re good at. You couldn’t even get Roxanne, the one person you ever cared about to love you.”

 

I brush the tear away. I feel rage and pain just at the mention of her name.

 

“I know you tried. All of us tried but in the end we had a disease and there was only one way to stop destroying our lives and relationships.”

 

“Fuck you,” I repeat quietly.

 

“She was disgusted by you. You made her sick. You know why?” Susan rails on.

 

I feel the tears running down my cheek.

 

“I’ll tell you. She was disgusted by you because let’s face it, who could ever love someone as self-centered and vile as you, Sebastian?”

 

“Leave me the fuck alone.”

 

I want to get up and leave. I want to be alone to feel shitty about what I have done with my life.

 

“You will not get better until you ask for help,” Susan tells me.

 

“I don’t want your fucking help!” I yell.

 

“You’ll fight the treatment hard, won’t you?”

 

“Stop fucking talking, you fat bitch!”

 

“Roxanne must regret ever having met you.”

 

“STOP SAYING HER NAME!”

 

“It makes you angry when I tell you about people you hurt?”

 

“I never hurt her.”

 

I am really crying now. My face is wet with tears. I want to crawl out into the woods somewhere to die. I hate myself for everything I have become.

 

“Yes you did. You’ve hurt everyone. And now it’s just the two of us. The two of us with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Nothing to do but get better,” Susan concludes.

 

ג

 

A new kid arrives at lunchtime. They introduce him as Robert Childen. He seems partially retarded and reminds me of a wigger Adam Sandler. When they ask him to get up in front of our family he tells everyone to fuck themselves. I like him right away. They sent him right to the corner. Then he refused to sit in the corner so they sent him to the Hole. The Hole is what I call the quiet rooms in the back of the gym. They are just like the quiet rooms of a mental hospital.

 

People expect mental hospitals to have padded cells. They get this idea from watching movies about mental institutions.  This is not the case. Most detention blocs, or at least the three places I have been, don’t use padded cells at all. Here at the Family School there are two cells roughly six feet by six feet with a floor pad and a camera inside. The walls are painted blue and are supposed to be scratch proof.

 

Unlike at Mt. Sinai or San Marcos you are not sedated when you act up at the Family School. This means that a person put in the Hole is likely to bash his head against the walls, punch and kick the door, and defecate in the cell. I heard from a loose-mouthed senior member that a person was not let out until they sat in silence for an entire day. Then they are sent back to the corner.

 

I want to see the holding cells so I volunteered to mop the gym when it came time to volunteer for work detail. We pick up the mops from the supply room and are sent over to the main complex building. My shadow won’t let me near the quiet rooms, but I can hear Robert yelling at the top of his lungs as he tries to kick in the door. The other kids on my crew act as if they don’t hear a thing.

 

***

 

Fred Hampton the soccer buff and I spend our work detail in the kitchen where we can steal a little extra food. Both of us are incredibly quick when it comes to doing the dishes and always work in the back room on the dish line. The kitchen has three separate chambers. One is the cooking area that holds enormous vats to boil soup in as well long stove tops for mass cooking. There is a huge walk-in refrigerator. The last chamber is the cleaning room, which contains a three-person dish line and a dishwasher for silverware, cups and plates. The dishwasher is a massive steel box and everything goes into it on plastic mesh trays. Someone has to feed the tray racks into the machine and manually open it with a large lever every three minutes to push in a new tray. Kitchen Crew is a twelve-person detail that never takes less than half an hour because the crew will forfeit their next meal if they don’t have the kitchen cleaned in that amount of time. There is a small office where a staff member sits to watch the detail. All knives and lighting implements are locked in the office for obvious reasons.

 

It takes six crews a day to operate the kitchen: a Prep Crew to prepare each meal and a Clean-Up Crew to do the dishes after each meal. The crew schedule changes each month. For the month of September, Family 4 is assigned to lunch cleanup.

 

***

 

Ruben ‘Bunchy’ Carter is certainly not a rabbi, but he teaches me the second round of my religion, that of the Jews. On the outside the half-Black, half-Hebrew Stuyvesant High School student had been an industrious coke dealer. Ruben Carter is one of the internees. He is the only senior member that leads a religious service.

 

He has a curly black Jewfro and is dressed well for a Family School student just barely pushing the limit of what might be considered a subculture negative look. As he said of himself, ‘I’m an affirmative action wet dream.’

 

Rubin was one of the first Jews interned in the Camp. It used to bother him how few of them there were, never more than fifteen at any given time. Eventually he got over it. It was Rubin that had won the one day of prayer for his Hebrew brothers and sisters. It was Rubin who had fought to get the bus that took the well-behaved Jews to the synagogue in Binghamton once a month. When he was told that he had to conduct services in the church, he had politely requested that they cover the crucifix and the statue of St. Francis Assisi and the Virgin Mary. They had granted his requests. Rubin has almost single-handedly created the Jewish community of the Family School aided by another senior member Ian Simeon and an Irish Jew in Family 4. They have fought for this minor freedom.

 

Rubin believed in the program because before he had been interred here he was heavy into drug dealing and all the negative implications that come along with that trade. That had almost gotten him killed. Yet as much as he trusts the Family leaders and retains his status as a senior member, in the back of his mind he resents the institution’s policies that undermine his religious beliefs.

 

Jews in the Family School are not allowed to keep shabbos. Everyone works on Saturday, Jew or not. Jews in the are not allowed to keep kosher. Everyone eats the same thing and there are no exceptions. Rosary beads are mandatory and Jews are expected to pray with them substituting Hail Mary for Baruch HaShem.

 

Rubin deosnt’ not believe the school’s policies were anti-Semitic. The Family School is predominantly Christian and the AA program is rooted in that faith. He knows not to push too hard too fast. Everything in this place is gradual. Gradual treatment and gradual change.

 

Rubin Carter heard that there is a new Jew in Family 4.  I had been in a week before he got to see me. There had been no way to substantiate this because he is on a six-month blackout for getting into an argument with Terry about the issue of keeping kosher. Rubin secretly believes that Terry has done this to spite him. The blackout prevents him from leading services and it prevents him from interacting with ¾ of his congregation. He has prayed to not be angry with Terry for putting him on these sanctions, but in the end there is a hatred that he cannot not suppress. Terry Quimper brought that out in people.

 

***

 

I can’t get over how easy the schoolwork is here. I’m sitting in a Global 1 history class with kids a year or two younger than me. I got stuck repeating freshman classes because I never got credit for any of my Bronx Science courses. The teacher is talking about the Second World War. At least it’s more interesting than any of my other classes.

 

Most of the kids in my class are new kids and aren’t from my family. The classroom can hold about fifteen kids and has two marker boards on the wall behind the teacher. The teacher has a desk with a computer, which is, of course, off limits to us. The textbooks we use are fairly new, but paint an even more candy-coated picture of US history than the ones we used at Bronx Science. There are two windows in the classroom that face out up the hill to the barracks. Sometimes Mr. West strays from the text and provides us with handouts from more in-depth sources. The book sums up the Holocaust in a single paragraph. I skipped ahead and it has half a chapter on the cold war and the Soviet Union adding up to sum total of six pages.

 

I’m convinced they don’t want us thinking too hard. From what I have observed it seems the entire system rests upon the presumption that we will inevitably trust them enough to be molded in their image. But what the hell are they? That’s the question. The staff are all recovered addicts and alcoholics, a bit right of center, patriotic and submissive to their narrow version of God.

 

I have not prayed sincerely since that first night. Whatever saved my life that night on Nadia’s terrace must have a cruel sense of justice. I offered my life or a lifetime of doing It’s will. And here I am locked up in a third camp, a facility far more sophisticated than either Mt. Sinai or San Marcos.

 

Kurtz passed me a note earlier today. He said we ought to escape as soon as possible, that the place is getting to him and that he needs my help. The problem is everything. Logistically Kurtz and I are never alone to come up with any sort of plan. It is difficult to even land the same work crew. When I said hello to him in the hall he said, “Blackout,” the magic word for non-existence.  We have study hall together twice a week. Besides that, we have no contact. There are other more substantial problems. There is no way I am going to outrun Winston Smit in fight or flight. He is easily twice my size. Like most of the senior members he is a straight A student and a jock. There is no way I can get the doors open without alerting the entire compound.

 

Even if I do make it off the compound,  I don’t have any idea where I am or how I can get back to New York. And once I get back to New York I have no idea how I can evade capture. The Family works over the parents as well as the internees. I am on blackout with my parents for another three weeks. They had attended an orientation with Terry and other parents of the internees. They call us students, but I know better. I don’t know what went on in the orientation but I have a feeling it was divide and conquer. I asked Will what they tell the parents and he says that Terry educates them about the things I’d try to say to get released from the program. The reason for the month long blackout with my parents is so they can work all of us over enough to insure that I am not going anywhere. According to Susan and Terry, I am stuck here until I turn eighteen. That gives them over two years to break me.

 

Perhaps this is my hard penance.

 

I am not so inclined to believe that someone up there likes me. I don’t believe in karma, reincarnation or the luck of the Irish. Come to think of it, the Irish have had pretty shit historical luck. And until that night on Nadia’s balcony I did not believe in God. Had I heard something divine or was that all in my head, more Mike Washington schitzo-babble? The doctors said something was wrong with my brain. I have no reason to doubt them. The drugs keep the nightmares away. They stop the voices. I haven’t had a dream I can distinctly remember since May. They have me on something called Tegratol. They kept me so doped up most of time in both Mt. Sinai and San Marcos that all I did was try to sleep them out of my system.

 

I can’t emember what Donny Gold looks like anymore. I try but all I see is just a blank face with a blue FR baseball cap. It makes me sad when I think about him. I talked with him on the phone in Texas. He told me that everyone was on drugs and that maybe it was for the best that I was away from it all. And then there’s Roxanne.

 

I think about her every day. I see her in flashes when I dream. I don’t remember what the dreams are about but I wake up feeling like I’ve spent some more time with her, time that I know she’d never allow in the real world. She has become a symbol of hope to me. For three weeks of my life I was with someone who made me feel happy and then I had destroyed it. I know she never cared about me the way I cared about her. I had devoted myself in the last weeks of my stay in San Marcos to filling three notebooks with poetry lamenting my one unrequited love. I know I don’t deserve a girl like her. All I deserve is everything bad that’s happened to me. But still a man can pine.

 

Stupid  prayers are uttered daily but surely unheard because they are empty. If this God did have a plan; albeit a plan that I did not fully comprehend, it would only be revealed if I played my part. There is no way I am going to escape and even if I do, where am I going to flee? Unless I change my ways they will destroy me, that is to say, I will destroy myself.  I would surely return to the nightmares and poison. To beat them and to beat my evil ways, I had to surrender to them like it or not.

 

In a complete about face of my double thinking, I decided I was going to bring up, inform them of my plot with Kurtz.

 

***

Bang. Bang. And then a shit ton more bellowing, I hear him yelling as I sweep the gymnasium.

 

“What the fuck do these stupid motherfuckers think that I can’t handle? Keep me locked in this fucking cell for weeks! When I get out I’ll break every fucking bone in that Terry faggot Quimper motherfucker’s face! I’ll burn this place to the fucking ground. FUCK!” yells Robert in a thick Jersey accent.

 

Robert Childen hits the door so hard his knuckles started bleeding. He had been pounding away at the door all day as if he might break it down and make flight to freedom.

 

“YOU COCKSUCKAS!” he yells as he continued his portal barrage.

 

He kicks the door. He punches the door. All they had given him to eat was a tuna sandwich and a cup of water. The tuna is dry and old and surely leaves a foul taste in his mouth.

 

“When I get out I’ll BEAT THE SHIT out of all of you Motherfuckas!”

 

Robert was apparently brought to the Family School from his home in North Jersey shackled in the back of a transport van escorted by two big Black guards. He tried to hit one of them so they doped him up and chained his ass down in the back of the van.

 

I learn later Robert is fifteen and part Italian. He smoked pot and drank profusely. He had gotten a girl pregnant and refused to admit it was his kid. The girl had been forced to get an abortion. Robert stole. Robert got into fights. A year ago he had broken the jaw of a student at his school because the kid wouldn’t let him copy his test. Robert was an angry kid and his parents, as they say in AA, were sick and tired of being sick and tired. Two years ago he stole the family car and crashed it into a neighbor’s yard. His father had disowned him and his mother wanted him locked up in a juvie. Because of his age there wasn’t much they could do.  The family met with a consultant whose job it was to place kids like Robert in a variety of programs around the country designed to straighten out delinquents. For a fee he referred Robert to the Family School. His parents read about its wholesome yet revolutionary approach to getting youth back on track and signed him over to the school. And here he was.

 

“YOU FUCKAS, YOU SMALL DICKED PUSSY ASS BITCHES! Let me out! I have to take a piss!”

 

Robert peers out the tiny window on the door. The student guarding him is gone. Sitting in the chair is a tall, lanky, elderly looking man with grey hair that looks like an evil Mr. Rogers. Robert recognizes the man.

 

I quietly sweep and eavesdrop.

 

“TERRY YOU FUCK! I’m gonna Kick YOUR FUCKIN’ ASS!”

 

“I heard you were calling for me so I decided to drop by,” says Terry Quimper.

 

“FUCK you.”

 

“I’ve decided I know what to do with you, Robert. Shall I share my plan with you now or would that just ruin the suspense?”

 

“Go fuck yourself, ya faggot.”

 

“We need to work on that vocabulary of yours, Bob. May I call you Bob?”

 

Terry didn’t wait for a response.

 

“So, here’s the plan, Bob. I’m gonna leave you in there for three days. You’ll get one tuna sandwich and one cup of water each meal. If you curse or even so much as hit the door, you won’t get fed. You’ve already lost tomorrow’s breakfast. If you remain quiet for three days I will let you out and you can meet your family. Sound fair?”

 

“Go fuck ya’self. How’s that for a plan?”

 

“I want to share something with you, Bob. I can be your friend. I can be the best friend you’ve ever had. I can get you off drugs and alcohol. I can get you into college. I can help you get your life back together. Or I can be an evil prick. Everyone gets a little leeway here so I’ll give you a couple days. I can make your life a living hell. Just remember that Bob.”

 

Robert looked directly into Terry’s eyes and banged as hard as he could at the glass.

 

“You’ll never fuckin’ change me, ya queer prick!”

 

“Using a popular cliché, that’s what they all say,” Terry says as he settles back in the chair for the evening.

 

***

 

Class is over. We are back in Family 4 doing homework while we wait for dinner. I decide that I should tell Winston Smit about my decision.

 

“Winston, I need to talk with you,” I say.

 

Winston put down his books and asked Big Bob if he could take me down to the pond for a chat. Big Bob reluctantly agreed only because he trusted Winston’s commitment to the program. There is very little a senior member couldn’t do in the name of helping his shadow. He can outrun me if I make a break for it.

 

We walk down to the ground level and head out to the pond and the picnic benches. It is still light out, but the day is quickly fading.

 

“You try and run, I’ll catch you,” Winston starts.

 

“I’m not gonna run. I was thinking a lot about my treatment today. I want to work the program. I want to take the first step.”

 

“Are you trying to bullshit me?”

 

“No. I realize that if I ever want to be happy I have to change.”

 

“What makes you think you’re ready to take the first step? You’ve been here a week.”

 

“I know. But, I know I need to make some serious changes in the way I live my life.”

 

“What made you come to this conclusion?”

 

“There is this girl named Roxanne on the outside. She is the only girl I ever in loved. She isn’t into drugs and alcohol. She is a good student. She is a sweet heart, everything that a nice guy could want. I won her over for a little while, but it didn’t take long for her to see through my shit. She had heard how I treated girls and was wise to my game. Only time I ever really liked a broad and I lost her over, well over being a sinner man.”

 

“You get healthy for your own damn self. You don’t do it to win back a broad,” Winston tells me.

 

“I know.”

 

“Can you really admit that there is a power greater than yourself? Are you ready to submit?”

 

“I believe in God, Winston. I didn’t want to admit it at first but I do believe. I believe that only through God will I be happy. Only through God will I be a better person.”

 

“I’m guessing you want to pursue your Jewish faith?” Winston asks.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I’m not gonna lie to you. Being Jewish is hard here. There isn’t a spiritual counselor like Father McMullins or Pastor Palmer. Rubin and Ian Simeon do most of the Jewish faith work on the compound. You know Ian right?”

 

“Blonde kid in our family? I thought he was Irish?”

 

“I think he’s half Irish. You should talk to him and find out about the services. You won’t be allowed to leave the compound for a few months, but there are services on Tuesday and Friday.”

 

“So what do I do now?”

 

“I’ll bring you up at dinner and you can tell the family what you told me.”

 

“Sounds like a plan. There’s something else I need to let you know about.”

 

“A negative contract? With who?”

 

“This kid named Kurtz from Family 5 passed me a note today telling me we should escape. I met him my second day here and we talked about fleeing back to New York. Until today I was really considering it.”

 

“You’ll have to tell the Family and then tomorrow go and bring this Kurtz kid up in Family 5.”

 

“Alright.”

 

“It’s getting dark. We should head back inside.”

 

ד

You can lie to a lot of people. If you’re good enough, you can even lie to yourself. People do it every day. They convince themselves that they are great lovers or fighters. They impress people with fancy clothing and tall tales of self-aggrandizement. My old friend Izzy Vitz is cut from this cloth.  Lying to other people is easy.  Lying to yourself takes time and repetition. To fool yourself you must first learn to detest something about yourself so much that you need a justification to keep on going.

 

When I was a little kid I got picked on in school viciously. The Depacote pills that they put me on to control my petit mal seizures made me eat too much. I got kind of chubby like my old man. Girls were never interested in me and I never got picked for anyone’s team in gym class. Every night I’d come home and feel real shitty about myself. One particularly sullen night my babysitter and surrogate sister, Natalie Desmond, asked me what was the matter. I told her that I was miserable in school and that all the other kids picked on me all the time. I was probably about ten at the time. Natalie told me that it was just a part of growing up and that it wouldn’t matter when I got older. I told her it was easy for her to say. And then she told me something that I’ll never forget. She told me how to control my dreams.

 

We were sitting in my parent’s apartment at Waterside Plaza. She had just snuck out for a cigarette and I could smell it on her clothing. She sat me down across from her at our four-person dining room table.

 

“You’re a good kid, Sebastian, but there’s an important lesson you have to learn.”

 

“What is it?”

 

“Life is hard. People are assholes, young and old. Sometimes you have to cling to your dreams and shut out all the negative shit that people want to put on you.”

 

“How?”

 

“With control over your own mind.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

“You can train yourself to forget painful memories. You can also create dreams that make you feel better and allow you to do whatever you want when you go to sleep. And that’s just the beginning of what you can learn.”

 

“That’s impossible. You can’t control your dreams.”

 

“You can and I can show you how. When you’re about to go to bed, close your eyes and concentrate on an image. Repeat it over and over in your head. Try to visualize whatever it is you want to dream about and focus your mind on it. Start small. As you get better at it you can create whole worlds and storylines, wind them all together.”

 

“Like meditating?”

 

“Yep. All it is, is breathing, meditation and regaining control of your mind.”

 

That night I went to work on blocking out memories and creating new ones. If I had been made fun of, I changed it to a memory about being popular. If I had done something particularly stupid or embarrassing, I reversed the situation in my mind. After months of practice I could begin to block things out and then came the risky process of rewriting my memories.

 

***

 

When Winston Smit and I are coming back from mowing the lawn I see four kids with buckets walking back and forth on the hill.

 

“What are they doing?” I ask Winston.

 

“It’s a work sanction. Pointless labor designed to break people who don’t work the program.”

 

“You ever get put on one?”

 

“Yeah once. They really get you back in line. I was on mine for like two weeks. They had me hauling cinder blocks towards the end. They set them up in rows and I just picked um up, carried them to the next one, picked up another and carried it on over and over and over again. You will never accept what they tell you until you hit bottom.”

 

“I hit bottom once and I accept what they tell me now,” I tell him trying to also convince myself.

 

“Nope, you don’t get it yet. You’re going through the motions just like every other kid does in their first few weeks. You believe in God. You pray at church. You go to class. But you haven’t truly come to terms with your disease. A part of you just wants to get out of here. You pretend like you’re gonna work the program, but trust me, your true colors will come out.”

 

“And then they’ll put me on a work sanction?”

 

“If you refuse to work the program.”

 

I watch the four kids carting rocks two buckets to a person. Two shadows are watching them yelling for them to move faster. Will brings me to the bottom of the hill and I suppose he wants me to get a good look at what’s apparently in store for troublemakers. This won’t happen to me I tell myself. I plan to work my program and get out of here as soon as I can. I try to lie to myself about wanting to change, but I knew the moment I sold out Kurtz in front of his family that I was becoming like them. I still can’t decide to what degree I buy what they are telling us. It’s like Christian fundamentalism mixed with behavior mod.

 

“Don’t you think it’s a little simplistic to blame everything we’ve done wrong on alcohol?”

 

“I think it makes perfect sense. What good could possibly come from wasting one’s life drinking poison?”

 

“Most of the real bad things I did, I did sober.”

 

“You did it with an alcoholic’s mentality.”

 

Whatever that means. I am really already beginning to go back into my old train of thought. As much as I want to believe this system will help me, my doubts are returning.

 

I have just gone to Family 5 with Winston Smit to bring up Kurtz. The look in his eyes was desperate as if he couldn’t believe I was selling him out. They took away his shoes and put him in the corner. It wasn’t so hard to bring someone up. One of the leaders of Family 5 complimented me on my decision and said that if I continued to work the program I’d be off shadow in no time.

 

What really bothers me is my art class on Friday.

 

The art teacher Mr. Yuri Yurimov speaks with a thick Russian accent. There is art on the walls of the classroom, all replications of old masters. It is surprising how good the students are at copying these famous paintings. Mr. Yurimov asked me go through a pile of famous paintings and pick one that I wanted to reproduce. I asked him if I could just do my own. He said that was not the object of the class. He looked me straight in the face and said he would fail me if I didn’t copy the work of the masters. Like a Stalinist Norman Rockwell he told me that nothing I could create would come close the work of previous artists until I fully understood the technical mastery that went into their pieces.

 

I find it strange coming from an art teacher that I’m not supposed to create my own art. I have looked forward to this class as a way to get around my no drawing sanction. I find it telling of the Program that we copy older works instead of creating our own. I chose a bleak picture of a Russian fief. The dark sky reminds me of the dreams I used to have. I haven’t had a dream in weeks. There are six other kids in the class all replicating work.

 

Then it dawned on me. To achieve sobriety we are supposed to abandon our free will. We are supposed to buy everything they tell us. They plan to remodel us in their image. The thought of it chills me to the core.

 

***

 

Vessy is going to turn 18 within the week. If he’s so inclined, he can walk he tells he one night before bed in the barracks. At the Family School people that leave the program when they become legal adults take what is referred to as the long walk. The compound is roughly three miles from the main road. A person who leaves the program before their treatment is finished takes that long walk up the hill, past the staff houses, up another hill and past the fields. The staff tells us that this long walk will be the short road back to relapse. It is called the long walk because every step you take away from the compound before you are ready means that you have consciously returned to the disease that will consume you if left untreated.

 

Vessy is firmly committed to the fact that in three days he is going to leave. Other senior members have had little one-on-ones with him at the behest of the family leaders but to no avail. He has spent three years of his life in the compound. Everything about it sickens him. The hypocrisy, the self-denial and the pious bullshit. He is ready to return to living like a real person. He has not seen the real world in three years. A part of him is unsure he will be able to adjust. That is what this place does to you more than anything else. It separates you from the sins of the world and tells you everything that isn’t embodied in its bold new doctrine is a road back to perdition.

 

Vessy should be a senior member. He has been here longer than nearly every other internee. He has had his lapses into believing the things they feed you. He has done the religious thing. He has done the hitting bottom thing. He has brought people up and he knows the ins and outs of bullshitting the other kids. But you can’t fool Terry. Terry always told Vessy he would walk. For over five months now Vessy has begun to slip. He shows up to work detail Jell-O Brained. He flirts with girls. He stopped praying. The closer he gets to being 18 the more he feels like it is time to leave. He has done his time. He paid for what he did. He is off coke and doesn’t really see a good reason to go back to it.

 

Whenever Terry thinks a senior member is going to walk he strips them of everything. He is determined to make their final weeks in the school as painful as possible. Many family leaders think this tactic is counter-productive and even contributes to some of the kids leaving.

 

Terry doesn’t care.

 

He wants them to get a taste of what awaits them if they leave and continue to use drugs. He wants them disgraced. That’s why Vessy is carting rocks up the hill with bags for shoes. That’s why Vessy is in the corner. That’s why Vessy is eating day-old tuna sandwiches and is on a poverty sanction that has resulted in most of his possessions being taken away from him. In the end it doesn’t matter. In three days this long dark chapter of his life will be over and he will be free.

 

***

 

Robert Childen, the huge wigger, is walking up the compound hill carrying two buckets of rocks. He’s out of the Hole. Supervised by two other students, his detail involves picking up rocks at the bottom of the hill and bringing them to the top. Then he dumps the rocks and brings two more buckets back down the hill. He is on a work sanction for three days before being integrated into Family 4. The plastic buckets are big and heavy but physical labor beast the quiet room in which he has been confined to eating tuna sandwiches for the past week.

 

Occasionally the two students guarding him ask him how he is doing, but he ignores them. They had taken him out to the hill at about 5:30 in the morning. It is real sunny out and Robert is sweating profusely. In theory he could drop the bucket and run. Eventually he’d get to the edge of the compound, jump the fence and head in the general direction of Jersey. The compound is large, but there aren’t any guards. Robert isn’t thinking about consequences in a particularly rational way. He’d come here in shackles and he knows he’ll probably leave the same way. Everyone keeps talking to him about juvie like he should be afraid of it. One way or another he know that’s where he is heading. At this point he really doesn’t care. He doesn’t rationalize what he has done nor does he have some abstract desire for punishment. There is just a dull pain that never fully subsides. It is only slightly pacified by instant gratification. So as he passes his two student guards he swings one of the buckets at the bigger of the two and hits him in the head with a bucket full of rocks. Then he takes off running down the hill and across the field.

 

***

Carlson is the only Black staff member. He never yells and just about everyone thinks he is a good guy. He works in Family 4 and has just announced that they needed volunteers to capture ‘a runner’ as they called it. Some new kid called Robert has just taken off. All the male members of the family not on shadow raise their hands, as not volunteering is always suspect and can result in getting brought up. Rick Best and Fred Hampton both raise their hands. Carlson selects ‘the Best’ but not Hampton because no one trusts him after he tried to escape three months ago. Along with several of the bigger, more athletic boys, Carlson and a handful of volunteers from Family 5 load up in a van from the parking lot and head off the compound to the road where they believe Robert is heading.

 

***

 

Vessy, Marius and Cosette are all still in the corner.

 

All three have had their shoes taken away. Marius and Cosette are seated, but Vessy has been made to stand. As he stands there staring at the wall he hopes Robert will be able to avoid the snatch squad and make it. It is real easy to run, but few get away. Vessy has seen quite a few successful runs in his day, but most of the time the cops pick the kid up and bring him back.

 

Vessy realizes that this place casts an invisible net over you and makes you believe you need it to stay sober and sane. People in the Family School are definitely changed by the Program, but is that really the right idea? Vessy realizes that in his three years here he has changed a great deal. But what is worse? The monster he had been or this thing he has become, which he believes to be incapable of surviving in this world or the one outside. For three years this stretch of farm has been his world. There have been a couple trips off for this or that but when you dream you are still here and the prospect of separation is causing anxiety.

 

Staring at the wall is tedious and he thinks that maybe he should just leave now, but he knnow that he has to wait. Three days and that will be that. He’ll probably drink and do drugs soon after but anything is better than this place. The disease makes more sense than attempts at defying human nature. “An unnatural place producing unnatural people, its fodder the broken torn,” is what he believes a sign above front gate should read. Soon he will be gone. The tuna fish sandwich coming for lunch just doesn’t hold the same allure.

 

***

 

Around 3:30pm, in the town of Hancock, New York, the local kids are coming home from school. They watch in amusement as a van pulls up, a group of guys jump out, and start chasing some kid down the street. The kids from the van tackle the kid who is running and escort him back to the van. And as if nothing has happened everyone goes right on about their business. This kind of thing happens from time to time in Hancock.

 

“Just the cult doing it’s housekeeping,” one of the local kids observes out loud.

 

ה

Until I discovered booze and young girls, school was easy. Low and behold I find it easy again.

 

I talk in all my classes and I know what I’m saying because for once, I do the readings. That’s not totally true. I used to be a good student at UNIS. The classroom takes up most of our time here at the Family School.

 

I feel uncomfortable with my shaved head and dress clothes that don’t fit. I just attended a lecture on presentable dressing. The instructor described how on the outside we tried to define ourselves with the bizarre and tasteless clothing we wore because we lacked real substance. He told us that one’s character is presented for the first time with one’s dress. The more tasteful the dress, the better we will be received.

 

They really cover the bases here. They are reinventing us. Since we all came here fairly broken from other institutions this is not as hard a feat as it might seem. However, every person holds onto memories of their friends and of those times on the outside. They tell us drugs and alcohol are to blame for the way we are. We begin to believe it after awhile because for every single good memory we have, there are many more bad ones.

 

I have arrived at a state of indifference. Each day one learns new lessons about our lives on the outside. Yesterday a Black kid, there were maybe a dozen here, got up and talked about how rap music poisons our generation.

 

My indifference stems from two places. First, I feel that fighting them will get me nowhere. Second, I finally realize that if I want to be happy, everything about me has to change.

 

***

Robert Childen has been eating a whole lot of tuna fish and is developing a keen awareness of geology. That is of is just a fancy way to say they have been making him pick up rocks all day. After being restrained in the quiet room for two more days, Terry has put him back on the work sanction, this time with four shadows not two. Robert’s job is to pick up rocks, put them in a wheelbarrow, and then run about a hundred feet with the filled wheelbarrow to build a rock pile on the other side of the field. It is hard work but actually doing it is Robert’s new fuck-you. He figures he’d better play it cool as Terry holds over his head the filing of assault charges for hitting his shadow with a bucket of rocks. His arms ache and his legs are tired. It is real hot outside. The dirt from the field cakes his hands and pants legs. He asks a shadow for some water, but the shadow shakes his head.

 

“Four more runs and we’ll bring you a cup.”

 

Robert figures he’ll try to run again pretty soon although that had certainly not ended well. Somewhere between the rocks, the tuna and quiet room he realizes hardship lies more in resistance than in just doing what you are told.

 

“Hang in there, Robert,” said another shadow cheering him on.

 

***

 

I am doing dishes. There is a three-person conveyer belt of Rick Best, Fred Hampton and me banging out the messy pots and pans that come from our very mediocre dinner.

 

Rick and Fred are theoretically both on blackout with me because Fred has been in the corner and Rick Best has a six-month blackout anyway. They act as if I do not exist at all. No eye contact even. I like these two a lot for some reason. I can tell that on a certain level they are defying the treatment. Of course they will not admit it to me for all they can say is “blackout,” but I know they’re up to something. There is a vibrancy in their eyes that shows they do not buy into this place completely. I can relate because neither do I. Sometimes Rick talks to Fred on the wash line, but he’s really addressing both of us.

 

Under the surface of all the piety and clean-cut values is a perversion of individualism. It is not just our vices that have gotten us here, it is as fundamental as who we are. The 180° turnaround that we are being asked to make relies on a rejection of absolutely everything we have been before. Texas had taught me that this was bigger than one person. Texas had made me realize that fighting symptoms does not cure the broader disease. The disease overtakes you in the end. Every single thing about the Family School is programmed to reorder the way you think about things.

 

Like America itself, a righteous intention has resulted in a deviant breed. This compound is a world unto itself. Inside its walls 200 students from across America are being re-socialized. This is a place to die and be reborn. The god they want me to accept is their god. Their call to admit powerlessness relies on my submission.

 

This is impossible for me. I have already died many times before, yet those experiences have not instilled in me a real sense of bottom. Every week someone tells about how they have “hit bottom.” Some of the stories are pretty bad. Giving hand jobs for drugs, being badly beaten, a rape here and there.  Like in Texas, these stories are much worse than mine. The 12-Step Program relies completely on surrender. When you do not surrender, you do not change. You only get the strength to beat your dependency on drugs, alcohol and other vices through faith.

 

So why don’t I just run? Are Rick Best and Fred Hampton going to chase after me if I slip out the screen door and run out across the field into the woods? They probably will because their ability not to be programmed relies on the others thinking that they are on the right track. Whatever illicit compromise is between them extends only to that particular partnership. They would chase me to protect themselves. Even if can escape I am still in limbo. I cannot go back to my friends and family like this. I would still be the same person as before. There is right thinking and there is right practice. The key to both is neither who I was or in what this place wants me to be.

 

Each week they reduce my meds. This means the dreams will return. In the absence of a vocal God I might just have to settle for a cryptic imaginary friend.  About two days after discontinuing my medications the dreams return.

 

***

I find myself in some sort of stone quarry. A massive excavation, a big dig. The dunes surround the quarry in all directions. Deep, cavernous trenches into a massive cave of a pit. I can’t move at all and I’m covered in white dust. I’ve been dumped here, partially buried and left to die.

 

A girl with red hair is digging in the trench. The two guards shadowing her had brought her to the bottom of the quarry and down a path to a flat dirt field. Her head had been shaved earlier and the blue overalls are too baggy. The fiery red hair is growing back. This dirt field had seen a lot of excavation. She flings the dirt aimlessly off to the side. She knows this isn’t a place to dig for treasure but a whole in which to be buried.

 

I am dressed in the same blue overalls. I spy on her from the ridge above.

 

She figures that she can go on like this as long as she has to. She will never give them the satisfaction of surrender. They are all hypocrites. This camp is just like everywhere else she’s been sent to. But there is nowhere else for her to go. The only thing that feels real is to defy them. The girl realizes that in trying to correct all these deviants they are creating a different extreme. The world is not black and white like they make it out to be. If only she knew what had gotten her here she might be able to formulate an alternative. In the meantime she longs for a cigarette knowing she is still pretty despite their alterations and brutality. It is getting very dark as the sun fades away behind the dunes surrounding the quarry. The girl keeps digging. There is, after all nothing else for her to do.

 

And I know this place. These pits of death. The prisoners dig and then the guards shoot them from behind. I want to save her, but Mr. Washington is nowhere in sight. And I’m just a limp body, good for nothing.

ו

They have added a girl to our family named Janis. She’s Hispanic and exotic, but hardly pretty. She refuses to eat. She’s an anorexic or a bulimic or whatever disorder helps our female population’s pursuit of Barbie slender. Her shadow has to watch her closely because she will try to throw up any food she eats. This isn’t a hunger strike. She wants food but is apparently terrified of obesity. It’s neurotic. Someone should put her onto exercise.  Winston Smit tells me that there are a lot of girls with these eating disorders. They don’t have chemical dependencies like the rest of us. Instead they hurt themselves with their diet or lack there of. The institution treats them the same as the rest of us, all just variations on a theme according to them.

 

The staff doesn’t blame society in the least. We are the deviants. We are abnormal, not them. And who is them? It is our society. It’s all those people stratified and subdivided who churn out an American culture that feeds our conditions. How many places like this are there? These insanity camps, mental sterilization facilities, these containment centers to prevent the madness from catching. How big is the population of stored away decadent youth?f

 

Janis won’t eat.  They are threatening to force feed her. That sounds pleasant. Winston Smit mentioned in passing that about a year ago, a negative contract had been exposed and all six participants went on a hunger strike. It got real ugly and two of them were sent to a local hospital after severe malnutrition set in. I feel that hunger strikes are very admirable, quite a statement to waste away to bring attention to a cause. Janis’s only statement is that she thinks she’s fat, hardly worth the effort. Hardly a cause.

 

Tom and Mary are yelling at her loudly but I’m not paying attention. The two of them would make incredible models for a New Age American Gothic painting. They are the grown-up, wholesome archetype of recovery via those twelve steps. Mary has a soft side and is White trash beautiful. Several staff members live inside the compound. I suppose they are redeeming themselves for past sins.

 

Janis has started to cry. One of my family members has called her pathetic and disgusting among other things in a harsh rebuke of her dietary noncompliance. I wonder where she got it into her head that food is so terrible. Had she been fat once, I wonder? Had she been picked on as a child because of her size and this was the result? Her misconceptions about her body had to come from somewhere.  Maybe it was Barbie’s huge tits and skinny waist, which is our conception of beauty. Some of these girls want to look just like her.

 

Janis’s whimpers are drowned out by a cacophony of taunts, threats and ridicule. Mary tells her in that shrill voice of hers that they will hold Janis down and force-feed her if she doesn’t finish her meal. Mary then graphically describes what that will be like. I wonder if any of the girls I know on the outside harbored covert diet abnormalities like Janis’.

 

What disease are they really talking about? It is broad in its symptoms. It makes one drink and smoke and fuck and disrespect people. Where does it come from? The 200 students here are predominantly middle class. It has infected all of us. Janis’ eating disorder is the same as my drinking. We have both sought negative cures for over-powering emotions.

 

Janis cries on as this spectacle continues. There is a psychotic empathy in the room at all times. All my Family members are convinced that the healing energy is flowing. Now Janis is screaming at the top of her lungs, a total breakdown. Mary is standing up and yelling for her to

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

 

Tom suggests that Janis cool out in the quiet room for a while. Four girls are volunteering to bring her over.

 

Janis is led away sobbing. One of the girls carries Janis’s plate because getting out of a meal is out of the question. This is tough love. This is the new way. This is the road to redemption. If we are unwilling to help ourselves they will drag us kicking and screaming toward their conception of salvation.

ז

I have sworn I will do everything in my power to prevent myself from getting brought back up to the head of the table for these moral inventories everyone seems so intent on taking, though it is rarely a choice. I have not forgotten my first call up by that beast of girl, Faith who accused me of having wandering eyes. And now that cow brings me up again.

 

“Aren’t you just the little rapist,” says Mary sneering.

 

“Excuse me?” I say.

 

“You’d rape your sisters if you could…no respect for women at all.”

 

“We’re being a little unfair aren’t we,” I say.

 

“You’re disgusting!” yells Faith.

 

“I wasn’t looking at you.” I respond.

 

“Stop talking,” snarls my sponsor Big Bob.

 

“And this is the second time isn’t it? The second time in two weeks. You must imagine how this must look. A little leeway in the beginning is acceptable, but I know your type, you’ll search out a negative contract with the first girl that will let you. You’ll retreat into your lusts,” says Mary with her tone rising.

 

“I hate it when you stare at me. You’re not supposed to look at your sisters like that. We’re all here to get better and selfishly you just keep on thinking with your penis! A real man can control himself and recover; but you aren’t a real man are you, Sebastian?” says Angelika Vine coldly.

 

She is probably the only person I may have in fact been checking out.

 

Different girls get up and relate how I make them feel like pieces of meat. I look them in their eyes when they talk and try to guess which ones actually believe what they’re saying. Maybe all or maybe none. It doesn’t matter. It is very hard to gauge how long this might continue. I am not allowed to speak. Various girls tell me how repulsive I am to them or keep repeating that rapist line. It may be hurting my pride a little, but I am certain that most of these girls are just playing off each other like they always do during these mock trials. It is as if the staff is making a calculation about how healed they are based on the things they are saying. It starts getting personal as they assault my style, my physique and my general demeanor. I am trying hard to tune them out. None of this is helpful to me. I am certainly no rapist.

 

“You should all be aware that on the outside Sebastian did some fairly reprehensible things to women,” says Mary.

 

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” says Angelika Vine.

 

I guess senior members don’t have to raise their hands.

 

“He gave girls booze to fuck them,” says Big Bob.

 

“You disgust me!” yells Faith mechanically.

 

“He disgusts all of us, Faith,” says Angelika harshly.

 

And it goes on and on. Now the guys start talking about how a so-called ‘real man’ treats women. Now they want me to take inventory. I fumble miserably and get sent to the corner. The interrogation and insults lasted a long time. It has been draining. It is not that I really care what these people think of me. It is more that I am unused to being ridiculed this thoroughly. They did not taunt me to build themselves up; they did it out some sick compassion. They have all been where I am.

 

When it’s all over, I take off my shoes and face the wall.

ח

Everything moves slowly when you’re in the corner. You stare at the wall isolated from the rest of the family. You’re out of the corner during class, but as soon as you reenter your Family unit it’s up against the wall, motherfucker. You’re ostracized and ignored. They take your shoes because people are twice as likely to run while they’re in the corner than out. There is a sullen understanding that in the corner you are a non-person. You are on blackout with everyone except staff and your junior sponsor.

 

Since I went in they have let Cosette out, albeit on blackout with boys indefinitely. Vessy has turned 18 and walked and Marius has managed to escape. Vessy and Marius are non-people, but at least they are free. When you leave the Family School in any way other than with their blessings, you cease to exist. A rumor is circulating that Marius will be recaptured soon. Every time someone escapes all of us who resist this place secretly wish them the best of luck.

 

After three days in the corner with too much time to think, I realize that I cannot be the person I have been before coming here. Things are changing radically in my head. Maybe this is the path to my salvation.

 

Good things will come if I just cooperate.

ט

It’s October.  The weather is cooler and the leaves are falling.

 

The family leaders decide that Family 4 is in dire straights. Three new students remain defiant, Vessy has walked and Marius has escaped. ‘Permissive flexibility’ can no longer be tolerated. Tom and Mary are devoting an entire Saturday to the crisis in our family. A marathon bring-up session is underway in a classroom in the main building that started after chapel. No one will escape criticism. One by one family members are interrogated on everything from deed to motive.

 

The opening round was for Janis.

 

This is more intense than anything I have seen before. Students are talking longer and are more inflamed. By the time it is over she swears she will eat whatever food they give her. They sanction her double rations to beef her up a bit.

 

We take a five-minute break for bathroom and water.

 

Robert is up next.

 

Family leader Tom opens with a story about getting anally raped in prison to get us off to the right start. Robert is just standing there staring into space with a smug look on his face, a defiant half-smile really. Janis had been lambasted for her diet and now Robert for his criminality.

 

He has managed to largely tune us out during his three-hour interrogation. Unlike Janis he has not broken. The only conclusion has been less food and more work sanctions. All that talk has not yielded much.

 

There is another break.

 

“Sebastian, please stand up,” says Mary.

 

“What are we going to do with him?” asks Tom.

 

“You’re all over the place, Sebastian,” says Mary, “One day you work the program. The next you go right back into that head of yours thinking of ways to cheat.”

 

“We don’t know very much about you. Most of your family members haven’t heard your story yet. They just know you like to look at girls,” says Tom.

 

“What got him here?” asks Mary.

 

“Drinking, fighting, and terrorizing his parents. Stabbing his friends in the back. His deviance is hidden behind his intellect. Sebastian wants us to think that he’s the victim in all this,” states Susan Galliford.

 

“Sebastian was in a couple mental hospitals. They tried to tell him his disease was a condition,” says Big Bob gruffly.

 

“You’re not crazy are you, Sebastian?” asks Mary.

 

“No,” I respond.

 

“So, what’s this all about? Why are you here with us at the Family then?”

 

“I don’t know how this whole mess started. I don’t know why there are so many kids like us all over this country. I do know that not everything about me is wrong. I do know that I had my good moments.” I continue.

 

“Few and far between, sweetheart,” says Susan Galliford. “You are a burden at best and at your worst you are a serious problem case.”

 

“I’ve tried to get through to him,” says Big Bob, “He’s almost unreachable. Whatever he might say, he doesn’t believe in anything we’re doing here.”

 

“You’re right. I don’t. I think it’s crazy to break people and remold them. I think you’re probably doing more harm than good.” I say in a rare moment of honesty.

 

“His disease speaks for him most of the time,” says my sponsor Winston Smit.

 

“Whatever that means,” I say.

 

“So you think you’re a normal kid then?” asks Mary.

 

“I never said that.”

 

“Well tell us what made you do all those things that got you here. Your parents found us remember. We didn’t kidnap you in the middle of the night,” says Mary.

 

“I made a few mistakes,” I admit.

 

“I’d say hitting someone with a wine bottle is pretty out of control. I’d say drinking all the time and doing drugs isn’t normal. And when exactly are you going to take inventory on the things you’ve done to your parents? You’re here ‘til you change,” says Tom.

 

Or until I escape, I think to myself.

 

“You remember what you were like on the outside?” he asks me. “ Things were so bad you tried to end your life. You drank and drank until you couldn’t feel anymore, but that didn’t stop the demons. You want to go back to being an ungrateful son and worthless friend? No one wants you around them,” says Susan Galliford.

 

“I know this Program won’t help me,” I tell them.

 

“You don’t have the faintest idea what our Program is about,” says Mary.

 

“It’s about admitting that everything about me is wrong. I can’t do that because I’m not convinced that your way is any better. There is more to me than my addiction and my vice.”

 

“No, not really. You’ve defined yourself via negative things. Whatever good there is left in you is blotted out by the string misdeeds you’ve committed,” says Tom, “You either change with our help or you’ll destroy yourself.”

 

“Did you like being in the mental hospital, Sebastian?” asks Tom.

 

“It was terrible.” I tell them.

 

“Did you like being treated like an animal? Has it dawned on you that your behavior was so irrational that people thought you were insane? This is not just alcoholism. Your disease has manifested itself over and over again. Time and again you have proven how out of control you are. All you have to do is admit it and you can begin to take charge of your life,” Tom continues.

 

“I can’t,” I admit.

 

“And why the hell not,” yells Mary. “Look at you. A disgusting pitiful mess. You are weak and sick and further accountable by your overall desire to do nothing about it. We’ve read the transcripts from the hospital. You cry out each night tormented. Yet you insist on escaping blame.”

 

“That’s the problem,” says Susan Galliford. “He thinks this is all emanating from somewhere else. You are the person to blame. It is you who have done something wrong.”

 

“Maybe. Or maybe it’s my sick fucked up country. How’ bout that?” I answer getting more agitated and aggressive.

 

“That’s a load of shit and you know it!” yells Big Bob.

 

The volume has just gone up a couple notches.

 

“You had the dream!” yells Tom.

 

“You went to a good school. You lived in a nice house and you had a good family. Everything was in your favor. And look what you are. You’re a mess. Your own family has cast you out for being out of control. We are the last line of defense between you and oblivion and you spit in our face with defiance!” yells Mary.

 

There are many eyes looking at me. I try to play it cool. I try to tell myself that this is what they do for a living, to change kids like me. I’m comforted to know I’m with professionals.

 

“Still playing it cool?” says Mr. Marlborough standing in the corner leaning against the wall.

 

“I don’t know what else to do,” I admit.

 

“You should surrender because that’s all you can do. Remember that night in Hell’s Kitchen when you wanted to jump off the balcony? You knew all along that your life had become unmanageable,” says Big Bob.

 

“This has nothing to do with my life. I wanted to die because this girl couldn’t love me. She was the only thing that ever made me happy.”

 

“His beloved Roxanne,” mentions Susan Galliford.

 

“You do not have the faintest idea even how to be in love,” says Big Bob.

 

“She was disgusted by you. Do you want to know why?” yells Tom.

 

“I know exactly why,” I mutter.

 

“No, you don’t get it at all. She was a good girl from your description. It wasn’t just that you were a punk. Even she could not believe a creature like you could make good on anything resembling love. How does that make you feel to be unworthy of the only thing you’ve claimed to love? We know you don’t know how to be a good son or brother! Why would this be different? You are not a good person at all!” Mary yells.

 

“Think long and hard about your life, Sebastian. Have you done a good thing for anyone in all those wasted years?” asks Susan Galliford.

 

“I have been a good friend to some people. That’s something isn’t it,” I blurt out.

 

“You’ve been a friend to fucked up people just like you,” says Big Bob coldly.

 

“If your friends were so good why did the best one you had rob your house? These weren’t friends. You couldn’t be a real friend. You don’t know what that would entail.”

 

“Could somebody put this is in language he’ll understand?” asks Tom.

 

“I can,” says Winston Smit my Junior Sponsor.

 

“You’re a fucked up, selfish half-person. You were a terror to your family and they’ve given up on you. Your so-called love couldn’t care less where you are if she even thinks of you at all. And all your friends are diving deeper into a pit of drugs and alcohol. You are alone and you are forgotten.”

 

My heart beats real fast. My eyes dart around the room looking for some sympathetic eyes. None are to be found. In the brief silence meant for this massive accusation to sink in, I feel something inside me twist.

 

I am a half-person. I am vile. I am right where I need to be. All I have to do is admit it. I am in agreement with the charges leveled against me. There is look of terror in my eyes. Everyone’s glaring at me. I’m finally not the kid I thought I was.

 

“He has nothing left to say,” says Tom.

 

He was right. I didn’t.

 

“We are at the edge, Sebastian. You can finally make your life right if you surrender. Are you ready to take inventory?”

 

I stare blankly out into their accusing eyes. I’ve abused a lot of girls. I’ve stolen from a lot of people. I drank too much and had nothing to show for it. So right here in the upper room of the Main Building in Hancock, New York, I know it is time to stop pretending I am a victim. My life is unmanageable. I can no longer hide this from anyone. I drop to me knees.

 

“I surrender.”

 

My family applauds. We’re all having a real moment together wallowing and basking in my defeat.

 

“Tell me how to get better,” I say wiping tears from my eyes fallen for my fifteen wasted years.

 

The applause is followed by a lot of hugs.

י

A condition for my getting out of the corner is that I have to join the school chorus. They feel that the chorus will instill discipline. I am not on blackout with girls, but they say if another sister brings me up for staring again, I will be. I wake up the day after my interrogation feeling open minded.

 

The leaves are starting to turn the colors of fall and the mountain air of upstate New York is refreshing in small doses.

 

Since getting out of the corner I begin to take my first step, the acceptance of a higher power. My conception of God is hard to place. They talk about how we needed to live like Jesus did. I pursue a Judaism of sorts. Our God and their god is like a watchful parent who keeps track of what you do, but more importantly of what you are thinking. I am being taught that intentions are everything. If I am to avoid a relapse into my self-serving delusions, I have to embrace this parent who judges everything I do.

 

I attend adoration on Sunday because I am assured that it is a deep spiritual experience. Sitting there on my knees I stare up at the Jesus statue and fumble around with a set of rosary beads. It doesn’t matter to me that this is all Christian stuff. It is the same God. It is the same religion. All can be forgiven as long as I work the program.

 

Days are passing by. I settle into this new routine. I go to school and do well in my classes, which are all very easy for me. I learn how to copy the masters in art class. I am almost done with some desolate Russian painting of a forgotten lonely road. I don’t have anything to distract me anymore. The girls have become my sisters. I have stopped masturbating and feel fresh everyday no longer affected by the Jell-O- brained after effect.. I try to not think about my friends or my life before this place. I have started a new life. On one day, God willing, I will be able to return to the world fresh and reborn. I have finally realized that I have a disease. And this place offers the cure.

 

***

The girl digs slowly in the dirt quarry knowing exactly what comes when her cavern is at a suitable depth. The guards don’t care. They’re paid by the hour and time is on their side. As the days go by I am less inclined to intervene. I still have no sensation below the eyebrows. I’m paralyzed completely.

 

I hide on the ridge above watching her work. Sometime after Wakefield I had arrived here. Sometime after they took my head. Said they put it on Mike’s shoulders, but I still act the part of a coward. They’ll kill her eventually. What control do I have?

 

Suddenly the devil clown waddles out the pits below.

 

He’s more jovial then ever and singing in some forgotten tongue. He is a fat man prancing around encouraging everyone to sing, grotesque and flamboyant. The two guards begin to to belt out chords along with him. The chorus is ruled by his iron discipline. For what seems like many hours, for days even, I sort of hide in the background as they torment her while belting out Germanic carols in the trench. The girl digs even slower. She is wasting away and it shows.

 

Her red hair is just starting to grow back. I finally realize that this is the girl I saw in the Pale City square years ago when they executed her hero husband. The clown strikes her with a whip and commands that she sings as she digs. Her guards and the demon clown fall silent.

 

She looks particularly tortured as she sings. Her voice is beautiful. Still I watch and do nothing.

 

***

 

After study hall, dinner and chapel we head back to the barracks. They are installing some new buildings to house Family 4 boys all in one place as they clear the upstairs area in the Family building for a new renovation. My shadow Winston Smit is helping another boy with a take home assignment. I’m in one of the barrack’s rooms with Vincent Alba, the funny Middle Eastern looking kid. He is trying to convince me that Judaism isn’t a race. The barracks are real run down. There are too many boys right on top of each other, metal bunk beds everywhere and a cheap linoleum floor. The whole place looks like it might fall in on itself.

 

“There’s no such thing as a Jewish race,” says Vincent Alba.

 

“Yeah there is. Jewish people are descendants of the twelve tribes,” I tell him.

 

“That isn’t correct. All the tribes were lost in Babylon or converted to Christianity.”

 

“That’s crazy talk. Where did you get that from?”

 

“Father McMullins told us so in theology class.”

 

“I know that isn’t true.”

 

“You’re not Jewish. You’re White. Jewish is a religion, dude,” says Winston Smit.

 

“It’s a culture and a race too. You can be Jewish and not believe in God,” I tell them.

 

“Now, that isn’t true at all,” says Vincent, “How can you be Jewish and an atheist?”

 

“I used to celebrate Hanukkah and never pray. I’m just saying that before I came here, I was culturally Jewish without believing in the religion.”

 

“Well, that doesn’t matter. You were all fucked up before you came here,” says Winston Smit.

 

“Do you have a problem going to church six days a week?” asks Vincent.

 

“No, not really. It’s all the same God, right?” I ask them.

 

“Exactly. You’re a smart guy, Sebastian,” says Vincent.

 

“Your Jewish race theory is your disease trying to make you different from us,” says Winston Smit.

 

“Yeah, he’s right,” says Vincent, “You need to stop trying to find ways to be different. I mean you’re only different in that you have a disease. Everything else needs to be directed toward working the Program.  The Jewish religion is fine but this Jewish race stuff is negative.”

 

“I don’t really see how. It’s like being Black. How can race be negative?” I ask them.

 

“You just need to focus on being like the rest of us. Stop looking for ways to stand out. That’s what got you here,” Vincent tells me.

 

“Standing out?” I ask.

 

“Yeah. Outside we rebelled from everything good in society to be different. Now we need to settle down in this positive community and fit in,” said Winston Smit.

 

“Isn’t it good to be around so many positive people?” asks Vincent.

 

“Yeah,” I say, “real good.”

כ

 

My painting for Mr. Yurimov’s art class is finished and I have started a second one of a train station. I am doing a good job of keeping my nose clean. You just had to get yourself to certain state of mind. All the idiosyncratic things about the people here fade away. You just have to constantly be on guard for negative thoughts and action.

 

But certain things give you slight doubts here and there.

 

Things like how Robert Childen the wigger is being worked to death everyday. He’s been in that corner a very long time. But you have to suppress doubt if you are going to get better. After all, if Robert just admitted defeat like I had, he’d be spared the work sanction. They’d welcome him with open arms.

 

***

The same reoccurring dream comes with night, freezing rain tap dances on our barrack’s linoleum roof. I eventually shiver into slumber.

 

The clown is gone. The girl is closing in on her target depth for optimal concealment. Some time in the night a few more guards brought a bag of lie and yellow earth moving plough to cover her all up when she finishes. Not much pretense anymore. My legs and body are still numb, I can’t do anything but blink my eyes.

 

“If you want to get closer, I’m not gonna tell anybody,” she whispers into my mind not looking up from her slaves pace dig.

 

I look down at her and she smiles.

 

“What’s your name,” she whispers into my mind not moving her lips.

 

The guards meander, reading instructions on the earth mover.

 

“Mike.”

 

“I’m Red. Do I tempt you?” she asks my mind.

 

“Awfully.”

 

“Shame to let them kill me here I’d think.”

 

“I’d help you if I could. They did a real number on me. I can’t even move,” I think to her.

 

“So you aren’t like them,” she asks.

 

“Like who?”

 

“Like these other brainwashed motherfuckers who let themselves become soap.”

 

“I woke up here,” I tell her.

 

“Why?”

 

“Because I don’t have any other answers for what has happened to me.”

 

“What happened to you, Mike?”

 

“I fell down and lost my head.”

 

“Well I’m done for unless you make it rain.”

 

“What sense does it make to fight them? They’re too strong.” I tell her in my mind.

 

“Don’t lie to yourself. It isn’t flattering. Just because we’ve been ground under their heel does not make us weak. They’re practiced in oppression.”

 

“I can’t get up, I’m sorry,” I tell her.

 

“Self doubt is a dangerous thing. It leaves us too obsessed with the self for our own good. That’s how they manipulate us. The constant introspection is all a part of them trying to regulate how we think.”

 

“I should stop watching you and just die,” I tell her.

 

“You should pick me up,” she says.

 

I think hard about what she’s saying.

 

“A sick fucked up world,” she mutters in my mind.

 

“I’d like to help you,” I whisper.

 

“You’ll just have to be more inventive if you want to keep me alive,” she whispers back, “I dig just a little deeper and I’m done.”

 

I feel an itch in my trigger finger, but it’s just an itch.

 

ל

Now it’s become November.

 

The conventional wisdom is that the more a student worked the program, the better his grades will be. Family leaders like to point to the academic miracles here as signs of progress. As far as I can figure the teachers are good enough. Educators rarely excite me. I have always wished that one day I could find a teacher that would mentor me and make learning enjoyable. Dr. Maskin was a teacher like that and surely I had proved myself a disappointment. The last time I had heard from him was a quick get well letter he’d written when I was in Mt. Sinai accompanying a homework assignment prior to my transfer to Texas.

 

I have begun to gain the confidence of my history teacher Mr. Wiley West. He is a young and bespectacled graduate of SUNY Binghamton. He dresses casually and is slightly out of shape. He is clean cut without being preppy and witty without making one laugh. This is his first teaching position. He is a history teacher. In my experience all my history teachers have been somewhat prone to the subversive.

 

He handed out copies of articles to supplement our learning. He asks us to look at patterns. He asks us to question each period and see how they reflect a continuum of trends. He likes me as most of my history professors have. It is a subject in which I shine.

 

There must be restraints on what he can teach but less so than other subjects. That’s the thing about history; it is subversive in its own right. History is mostly the history of war. There have been wars going on since humans could hold a spear and maybe before. As civilizations developed, the wars became more frightening in scope and destruction. I used to play violent war games with my brother using GI Joes, bombing cities, shooting people and making war.

 

I realize violence is a plaything in my country. We are highly desensitized to it by now. We have violent video games, violent movies and a violent culture. We love war movies and we think of soldiers as heroes, but history gives one a perspective of the realities of it all. There is nothing cool or funny about the Rape of Nanking. Just fifty years ago one of the most advanced, industrialized societies on Earth had fought the most wide-scale and destructive war of human history.

 

Mr. West doesn’t moralize or justify. He doesn’t blame this group or that. He says we have to come up with our own conclusions and that he can only teach us the facts. There is a pattern behind it all but it escapes me. History is the chronology of great human suffering. If the bloody events were to lead to great realizations or a lasting peace, then the death and destruction could be somehow forgiven. But it not an evolution; it is a cycle. It is the cycle that Dr. Maskin had taught me only a year ago. Think, build, preserve and destroy over and over again.

 

I am frustrated by the madness of it all. I wonder where I stand in the context of history. I wondere if there is something that binds me to some bigger picture. I want a context to explain why our history is so terrible. Sitting in that class I know for the first time that I have to look beyond the immediate pain of my life and realize it is all part of a broader ordeal. There is a connection somehow between what I am feeling, the things that got me here, the broader society and the historic self-destruction of mankind. I have no framework to deal with it all, just a vague notion in my head that things are not as they should be. I am experiencing the first pangs of a fleeting new idealism. Winter, the guard on Texas, had said that humans act in the interest of the group.

 

It’s getting colder up here. When we wake up at five every morning for the great shuffle up the hill to the chapel, there is a sharp breeze, which runs through you. The fallen leaves are everywhere. Kids on sanctions are doing lots of raking. I remember as a child playing in the big piles of leaves. That would not quite fly here. I am doing well at keeping out of trouble. The only dull protest in my bones is spending the turn of the millennium here. That’s a terribly depressing thought, missing the biggest, most negative party on Earth. Sobriety is a lot of things, but fun isn’t one of them. But had I actually had fun when I was free? All those house parties hadn’t gone anywhere productive. But that wasn’t the point. I missed friends that I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about, especially Michelle. The idea of another dance party in the gym on New Year’s is not an uplifting notion. But I am learning to suppress these thoughts because they can only lead me down the road to self-destruction.

 

I have come to learn that my friends are destructive from my numerous talks with my Sponsor Big Bob. When I try to explain my attachment to Roxy he calls it a foolish and obsessive love. He cheapens it completely and explains that a person like me is incapable of really loving at this stage in my life while my disease is in control. He says that I don’t even love my own parents. And he is quite right. I feel a vague sense of camaraderie with people like Andrew and Donny, a curious loyalty to Michelle, and a feeling of unending love toward Roxy. But toward my family I feel very little. I am sort of glad there have been no visits because I’m not even sure what to say to them. That’s quite a twisted notion. Tim tells me the best way to compensate for this is to get well. To prove to them that I am sober, healthy and doing well in school will speak more clearly than words. There is a visit scheduled for the end of the month.

 

A sick and twisted world produced us. The school teaches us that we are purely deviant. I am sure we are just the tip of the iceberg, that America can’t build enough places like this to contain the problem. The problem is an implosion of the youth. We are moving too quickly. We are too easily convinced of escapism and self- indulgence. We are acting out the drama of a generation raised on fast food and television. We are directionless except for some need to…to what? What the fuck are we after?

 

These inner monologues that used to run so frequently through my head now only come intermittently in violent bursts. And each time when I reach no conclusion, I just accept that I belong here.

 

***

 

And look at Robert. He’s out of the corner and off the work sanction and politely sitting at the table in Family 4 after coming clean and taking inventory. He’s fresh and ready to work the program. Everyone is out of the corner except Ryan O’Neil. Ryan got added to Family 4 three weeks ago. He keeps getting in fights with the Family Leaders, his shadow and just about everyone. Half the time he’s in the quiet room, half the time he’s out in the field doing something manual. And the funniest thing is to see him up before us now as Janis and Robert give him advice. Fucking hypocrites. I know Robert isn’t convinced. He just doesn’t want to work anymore. And I see Janis drop bits of food under the table while she eats.

 

November ticks by.

 

The routine is never-ending and one loses a real sense of what day it is. I paint more paintings of other people’s work. I read the Bible. I eat. I pray. But it’s all so surreal. There is this massive juxtaposition of happy healthy kids praying and going to class and fucked up delinquents being interrogated and doing hard labor. It would make quite a Magritte painting.

 

As it gets colder and more leaves fall, the surrounding area looks more and more like a wasteland. The vast, uncultivated fields at the base of the compound go out several miles to the woods. There is some talk of cultivating them after the winter. What a joy that will be. I wonder who will be doing this joyous work. A farming club perhaps. I can hardly wait.

 

***

 

One day they catch Janis dropping her food under the table. She goes ballistic and refuses to eat. Spitting and screaming and way out of control, they bring her to the quiet room. For days she refuses to eat. Kids in the gym can hear her wailing. Finally they take her out to the local hospital to have her force-fed. She comes back and they put her on a triple portion of food. A vicious cycle ensues and then she’s back in the quiet room. I overhear a discussion as to whether she should be transferred to a psychiatric hospital or kept here. The Family Leaders feel they can reach her eventually. The cycle goes on throughout the month.

 

***

Rubin Carter and I have started having after class chats about the material I picked up in Mr. West’s Global 1 Class. I ask him roundabout questions on the whys of history. He gives me roundabout answers on power, government and economics. Rubin attended Stuyvesant High School, the sister school to Bronx Science, so we like to intellectually spar after we light the Friday shabbos candles.

 

I have asked Mr. West if he can assign me extra reading for class because I still can’t read books on secular topics. He tells me he has to find out about that.

 

“I have to be careful with what I give you all to read,” he says.

 

“Who decides?”

 

“You mean on what’s negative or not?” Mr. West asks.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I have no idea. When they hired me they gave me a speech on so-called subversive history.”

 

“What’s subversive history?”

 

“It’s a generic term conservative people use to dub material that paints events in the past as being interconnected through the faults of a political or economic system. Basically, some historians think that if you study history it follows patterns, which move in a specific direction.”

 

“Well does it?”

 

“It really depends what school of political thought you adhere to.”

 

“I’m not sure what you’re even talking about. You mean like Democrat or Republican?”

 

“No. Those are parties, not ideologies.”

 

“What’s an ideology?”

 

“It’s a set of principles that explains how to order the political structure of a society.”

 

“Well what’s the one that America is?”

 

“It’s called liberal capitalism.”

 

“What’s the opposite of liberal capitalism?”

 

“Authoritarian socialism.”

 

“That’s the one that I believe in.”

 

“And you should just keep that to yourself and wait until we read about the ends and means of socialist societies.”

 

“Why? Is socialism subversive history?”

 

“Many people here would say that it is.”

 

“Well I can’t wait.”

מ

Suddenly it has gotten real fucking cold. I don’t have a heavy coat so I take to layering up and wearing the ridiculous black puffy North Face jacket they have as a loaner. One could flip it inside out and it was neon orange if you are so inclined. I am not.

 

Once dressed and coldly showered we march up the hill for the morning service.

 

I never pray for real. All this Christian shit makes me uncomfortable, though I stole some rosary beads because they might be a descent good luck charm. I’m thinking about breaking the crucifix off, on principle really. The religion stuff is way over the top. Coupled with the bring-up sessions, religion is the other staple of our recovery. But I hate being in the chapel. I hate having to repeat prayers I don’t mean to a god that is not my own. My conception of God doesn’t need daily worship. He’s quite secure in his self-esteem. After all he’s God. God does not need Sebastian to tell him he’s great and powerful. Yeah, I tell them that I believe to stay under the radar. And sure, I go to all the Jewish shit for the food, but the Family School and I have very different conceptions of how to please one’s maker. My God let’s me sleep in.

 

***

On Tuesday afternoon, the night before Christmas a new kid tries to hang himself in Family 2. They transfer him to a psyche ward down state.

 

Today we are celebrating Christmas. One by one our families open what is under the tree and we’re then told whose family has gotten us the present. I am right in expecting something I certainly don’t want. Like a mini-rain stick. What the hell am I going to do with a mini-rain stick? I also got a blue pair of corduroys, but they are immediately taken away because the brand name is Lithium. They can’t decide whether or not that is negative. No gloves of course. The girl who’s family bought my presents has never spoken more than a couple words to me, a real hippie space cadet. I look at the 7-inch Shamanic rain stick. Pray for rain I suppose.

 

When the Christmas ritual is over we lounge around the Family Unit. I look out the window at the snowy hills and dead hanging trees, barren fields, and the out-of-place suburban houses belonging to staff members. I see Ryan outside in a T-Shirt and shorts. Instead of presents they decide he should be kept outside to freeze under supervision. He’s shivering in the cold. If that isn’t torture, I don’t know what is. Hypothermia or work the program right? There are three kids guarding Ryan. Ryan would run, but he’d probably freeze out in the woods somewhere. Worse still is the prospect of juvie further upstate. He’s court-ordered which takes the run out of him. God he looks cold.

 

***

 

The winter break goes by quickly. I watch each day go by as the clock ticks towards us missing the greatest collective party night in the last 2000 years.

נ

Mr. West and I are sitting in the classroom after class. We have just studied the history of the Cold War. There was about a paragraph on communism, but the bulk of the history book outlined things like the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and a few other flash points of the Red conflict. The book had a chapter expounding on the failed Soviet regimes of Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev. I learned cool words like perestroika and glasnost, but I didn’t know what a proletarian was until about five minutes ago.

 

“So why did communism fail?” I ask him.

 

“There are a lot of theories, but the most simple explanation is that the communist revolutions were largely led by armed minorities that replicated the power structures they replaced, and the command economies set up faltered on inefficient production management and little worker incentive.”

 

“That wasn’t a simple answer.”

 

“Look, there is a real difference between what went on in the Soviet Union and China and what Marx envisioned.”

 

“Marx is the founder of communism?”

 

“He and a man named Engels codified the bulk of what is early socialist theory in a book called the Communist Manifesto.”

 

“What’s the basic idea of communism?”

 

“That all human history is the history of class struggle. They call it the dialectical materialism. Marx and Engels wrote that throughout our existence there have been two primary classes, the haves and have-nots. Though arranged in different formations and holding different names, these classes have always struggled to control what Marx calls the means of production. That is the economic resources of the given society.”

 

“That was lot to take in. First, what is class struggle?”

 

“It’s generally a violent conflict between the haves and the have nots over something called the means of production, revolutions to realign economic control of the society. Marx outlined five epochs of history where the economic structure has been radically altered. According to Marx we have been in the epoch of capitalism for the last hundred and fifty years. This is the final struggle between the two existing classes called the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.”

 

“And the proletariat is the working class?”

 

“That’s right. It is wage earners that do not see the ultimate fruits of their labor because they do not have any significant share in the means of production.”

 

“Proletarians are all communists?”

 

“Well, that’s kind of the problem. There has always been a huge disconnect between the Communist party’s calling for revolution and the actual workers. That is not to say many proletarians don’t like the idea of communism, but many are too busy working to survive to gamble on a revolution.”

 

“What is the objective of the communists?”

 

“A classless, stateless society where workers own the means of production. The manifesto outlines exactly where they stand and hundreds of other theoreticians have expanded the idea substantially.”

 

“Are there communists in America?”

 

“They are not a substantial political force, but there are several parties with a collective membership in the tens of thousands.”

 

“Can I join one of these parties when I get out of here?”

 

“Were you so inclined.”

 

“Are you a communist, Mr. West?”

 

“I’m a history teacher. We’ll leave it at that.”

 

“How come the history book doesn’t have all the stuff you just told me in it?”

 

“Because history is written by the winners. During the Cold War the U.S. was terrified of the global communist movement. Poor people all over the world were overthrowing their governments and establishing various socialist regimes. The fall of the Soviet Union meant the end of the Cold War, but America invested over a hundred years of foreign policy around putting down the Red Menace of the ‘Evil Empire.’ Calling yourself a communist in America puts you quite at odds with the winning team.”

 

“Well, I’m cool with that.”

 

“Sebastian, this isn’t a fad or a style. Before you call yourself a communist, you should spend time really studying the texts.”

 

“Can you get me the Manifesto?”

 

“You’ve been here three months?”

 

“Yeah. I can read whatever. Is it banned or something?”

 

“I don’t really know what’s banned and what’s not, but I see a little conflict between what this place teaches its kids and a revolutionary atheist ideology. This whole place is based around belief in a higher power, a higher power communism explicitly denies.”

 

“Can you get it for me or not?”

 

“I’ll have to ask.”

 

“Don’t ask. That’s what these capitalist pig exploiters would want.”

 

He chuckles.

 

“You’re my best student. You get A’s in all your classes. But I need to think about my job.”

 

“Why do you work in a place like this?”

 

“Because I need to supplement my adjunct professor salary at Binghamton and this is the most unorthodox teaching job I’ve ever had.”

 

“Well ain’t that the truth.”

 

“I’ll see what I can do. If I get you the book can you promise to be discreet about expressing your views on it in front of the other kids?”

 

“Wrap it in a Bible cover or something.”

 

“It’s funny, in the Soviet Union it was the other way around.”

ס

New Years Eve arrives not with a whimper, but with a BANG.

 

We’re as dressed up as we can be in the gym for a mixer without much mixing. Just about all of us are thinking the same thing,

 

“Best party on earth and here we are in this gym.”

 

I’m wearing khakis and a tie. They decided three weeks ago that I could only wear ties once a week. They felt I was trying to dress myself up. They almost put me on a poverty sanction when I denied that it had anything to do with anything other than style. I don’t look sharp, but it will do under the circumstances. They even have a DJ playing some music and some punch.

 

Just before midnight they cut the music and the fat choir instructor Paul Greer gives a speech about a new century and a new opportunity to change out lives. Everyone is seated on the floor. Suddenly people’s watches start beeping. Paul has rambled on into the new Century.

 

But because they control everything about this place, they also seem to control time. They reset the New Year for five minutes later. They even do a count down. It’s depressing to watch everyone count down aloud to something they just missed. And that was what I was thinking at the turn of the millennium.

 

***

Back in the bad land quarry I believe the girl with red hair doesn’t have much more rope.

 

“You realize in another life we might have made a cute couple,” she whispers up into my head.

 

“I think we make a cute one now,” I whisper in response.

 

“So you’ll rescue me?”

 

“Soon,” I say.

 

“Can you expedite that?” she asks.

 

“Just waiting for my hand to work.”

 

I see a guard turning on the earth mover.

 

“Better concentrate on that hand, Mike.”

 

“What would change about ourselves if we got out of here?”

 

“Nothing, but you can’t be a slave forever. And better a slave on the run then a dead girl in pit.”

 

“Every night I watch them do terrible things to people. I take part in it. I watch the ways they change us and how they break us down. But I have stopped believing that all blame for the past falls on my shoulders alone.”

 

“Where could we go,” she asks, “Santa Fe?”

 

“Back to New York, my friends will hide us for awhile.”

 

“I don’t know that place. Will your friends recognize you, Mike? Do you recognize yourself any longer?”

 

“We can’t stay here.”

 

“How’s that arm feeling?”

 

The guard tells her to drop the shovel and get on her knees. He cocks his rifle. The other guard whispers to him, he puts down his rifle and cocks his cock.

 

“I believe a great crime has been perpetrated against our kind. If I stay here I will walk away unable to decipher how all this misery has gone on for so long.”

 

“Given enough time, they change everyone. I’ll be here three more years. They will kill me you realize. I don’t hide like you do. Let’s run away tonight. Let’s flee into the dunes and watch the sunrise on the new millennium free,” she whispers into my head slightly frantic.

 

All my focus is on lifting my left hand. I’ve been paralyzed on my stomach watching them. I think they mean to rape her first. I twitch my wrist and the rein maker in it. The shamanic magic device makes quick work. A guard looks up as the heavens crack open. Down comes hard rain. Comes down as an ocean. The sky is falling. The guards have never seen rain. They see me. They hear the whir-whistle of the rain stick. I still can’t move.

 

One aims at me, and right then the girl named Red kicks his legs out from under him, grabs his pistol and puts two in his liver, one in his head, spins and empties the clip in the second guard’s heart. As the rain comes down eroding the quarry walls, she’s still lying on the ground squeezing an empty clip: CLICK. CLICK. CLICK.

 

The rain water carries me up and dumps me down the hill. I’m covered in mud.

 

“And what are you, Mike?” she asks me and picks me up.

 

“A person still too weak to face the world,” I say.

 

“Well then I’m wasting my time with you. I was under the impression you were strong. We are caught in quite a jam. Stay here and drown or flee to this ‘NuYurik’ that I’ve never heard of before. I’ll tell you this. The crimes committed against us here in this camp will last us our whole lives.”

 

“I can’t move. You’d better leave me.”

 

“I’d slap you so hard right now if you hadn’t just saved my life.”

 

“And that would be the least I deserve.”

 

“What the fuck are you waiting for, Mike? Some kind of realization about your life? You won’t find it here.”

 

“I can’t feel anything. I could barely shake that rain stick.”

 

“Here’s a little motivation to get it all up.”

 

She kisses me in the rain, mud and torrent. Her tongue gently caresses mine and her lips are soft. It was a passionate kiss and soon I’m erect. In all senses. Leaning on this red haired girl we take the guards’ weapons and climb through the muck out of this quarry camp. I realize they’ll never control a girl like Red and if I’m worthy of girls like her I should never let them control me.

 

Whatever we gotta do to get out of this hole we’re in, I’m up for it.

ע

Sometime in early January my English teacher turned over a short story I had written about a week earlier.

 

The descriptive language is quite good. I believe it is the most important thing I have ever written. When they read it aloud in Family 4 it takes quite some time for people to realize it is more than a beautiful description of some divine paradise.

 

A sinner man ends up in heaven by mistake. Everything is beautiful and people look dreamy and at peace. An angel gives him a tour on his way to meet God. Floating pleasure gardens, Greco-Roman architecture, fluffy fucking clouds, but something is missing. None of the people there have conversations about meaningful things. No one creates art or music, and no one is allowed to dance. The dead believing in God uphold the whole afterlife. Their belief buttresses the very pillars of heaven. Doing anything other than believing threatens the whole structure with collapse. Anything that averts attention from prayer and worship is not allowed.

 

The sinner finds this ridiculous. What’s eternal bliss without a good conversation he figures? Finally, he meets his maker. Billions of souls standing on metal disks around a great ball of light that projects everything you did with your life simultaneously. That is my conception of God. An old dude with a beard seems a little trite. So, every soul is stripped down to their purest essence. Their skin and bones burn away and they turn into something angelic and pure, ready to be reunited with God. The sinner does not submit. He is not sold on this kind of salvation.

 

The devil, always one to retrieve a lost sinner emerges from the gaping opening in the floor of this heavenly atrium amid smoke dancing on fire. In contrast to God the devil is just a Caucasian in a black pinstripe suit. The angel guide tells the sinner man that if he goes with the devil, paradise will be lost to him. The sinner needs to pick a side. The man pauses then jumps into the lake of smoke and fire, down into the cave of hell. Hell is, of course, uncertainty and terrible freedom, at the cost of pain and fire. Before he jumps he says, “I’d rather be a free man braving hell than a slave with chains of bliss in heaven.”

 

They took me right out of school after that one and put me to work in the fields.

פ

The winter is not a good time for forced labor. It’s bitterly cold and you get sick from sweating. Your muscles ache constantly and the snow ends up getting in your boots. The days are long and the work is futile. To compensate for shorter days they just make you work in the dark. One day you’re digging trenches. The ground is too hard and it takes forever to get anywhere. By the second or third day you have a little half trench of six or seven feet that runs maybe a foot or two down. They make you fill it in because a lasting change to the landscape is too much of an accomplishment. Then you’re running wheel barrel loads of rocks back and forth creating enormous piles and then moving them back. By the third or fourth day your delicate rich-kid hands have blisters between the thumb and the index finger.

 

Thanks to the story and the general defiance they seem committed to making my life miserable. It was inevitable really. I have watched tens other kids go through this. I had turned a blind eye hoping my day would never come.

 

They have decided to take away my clothing after I got into a fight with one of my guards. They dress me in dirty blue coveralls. They shave my head again in case I am thinking of trying to pick up any cute girls during my sanction. They cut my rations down to two tuna sandwiches a day. I am determined to resist everything they throw at me.

 

So it goes on. Digging trenches. Filling them in. Hauling buckets of rocks up hills. Building piles of rocks with the wheelbarrow. Moving cinder blocks back and forth. I’d run but there are always two shadows with me. By the second week I’m quite delirious. Time moves very slowly when you’re being worked to death. I feel dirty all the time. I feel weak and the only thing I can cling to is some abstract idea of making an exhibit of my own defiance. Or maybe I’m just proving it to myself. I’m preparing myself mentally for flight.

 

At night I shiver in the barracks knowing that the next day will bring more pointless work.

More back-breaking digging assignments. Less food. More interrogations in front of my Family unit. Less opportunity to surrender. More rocks. More dirt. More sweat. More blisters. A constant shiver and a dull ache in my bones. Less belief in anything they have to say to me.

 

But it all takes a toll. There is too much time to reflect. The camp itself becomes some kind of halfway house for the soul. I find myself beginning to doublethink once again, holding two contradictory beliefs in my head and believing in both of them with equal conviction simultaneously. Be wary of a man that double thinks for he is pliable.

 

I have lost the date. It must be my birthday soon. These three weeks have been timelessly miserable. Each day makes me weaker yet somehow I go on. Terry tells me I can stop if I just give in. I spit on the ground and tell Terry that with enough forced labor one can get anyone to admit anything without sincerity. Later that day I fall down on my work sanction so they stick me in the quiet room. Lying there dirty on the linoleum floor on the blue mat I bask in my misery, but I really do not know whom to blame any longer.

 

In the morning Terry Quimper and two kids from Family 3 that I don’t really know come to get me from the quiet room. They have a shovel with them and a tuna sandwich. I eat the sandwich like a refugee from Somalia and then follow them out into the woods down a trail in the southern section of the compound. It’s a rather ominously silent procession. The trail leads to a snow covered clearing. Terry tells me to sit on the ground and hands me the shovel.

 

“You’ve been on the work sanction three weeks,” says Terry.“You look like shit. You aren’t in school and everyone knows that you have no intention of working the program. So what are we gonna do?”

 

“You could let me go home,” I mutter.

 

“That as we all know is not a possibility. We decided last night that you are on a path of certain self-destruction. We decided that there is only one way to get you to realize what is in store for you. As you are so obsessed with self-destruction we have decided to let you dig your own grave and lie in it for a little while. For death is the only thing you intently strive for.”

 

I say nothing.

 

“You will die having accomplished nothing. You have led a wasted life and here is where you admit to yourself once and for all that you have run out of options and you are alone. So take that shovel and dig. You have paved the way to your own death.”

 

“I bet when I get to hell I’ll see your smiling face, Terry.”

 

My voice is hoarse because I’m sick, but it conveys the point. I pick up the shovel and start to dig. What other options do I really have? I’m too weak to run. I’m too confused to rationalize my plight, pick a savior or even save myself.

 

The ground is hard as rock. I’ve never dug a grave before. I shiver and I dig. It’s absolutely freezing and the coveralls weren’t made for winter. The two other internees watch in silence. At various points they’ve attempted to reach me about the rationale of the treatment. We’ve bonded and on certain levels, I love them like brothers. They don’t like watching me do this but they know that this place has run out of ways to get into my head.

 

I hack away at the ground. The brown black earth opens up as the day goes on to swallow me. Someone brings another tuna sandwich later in the day. I’m standing in a three-foot pit. On my last leg I work harder than before. I want my grave to be perfect before the hypothermia sets in. By nightfall I’m lying in the ground in a crude 4 by 5 by 6-foot deep grave. I’m ready to die. One of my collaborator guards takes the shovel from me before I begin to pass out.

 

I’m staring up at the night sky from my hole in the ground. Time has gone on without me. My body is broken and my mind is playing tricks on me. I think I see Michelle pass by with some daffodils.

 

“I’ll never forget you,” she whispers to me, her breathe like smoke in this cold.

 

My whole body is numb. I try to reach out for her but she’s gone. I hear the wind howling through the trees.

 

“Are you happy with what you’ve done with your life?” asks Jeremy Winter, my guard from the San Marcos treatment center in Texas.

 

He is seated on a chair where the Family School guard just was.

 

I try to respond but I’m too cold to speak.

 

“I think there may be ways for him to redeem himself.” I know that voice. I haven’t heard it in quite some time. What a definitive internal dialogue. I hear Mike Washington. Images swirl around in my head. Things I did wrong. Things I’ll never do again. Ways to be. Ways I once was and could be again.

 

“GET ME OUT OF THIS BASTARD HOLE!” I bellow.

 

A whisper is right next me, “The abyss inside the cave is deep. One easily loses their way.”

 

It is Mike talking. I jerk my head to see him, but no one’s there.

 

I try to climb out but I’m too weak.

 

“What did I do to deserve this?!”

 

I’m panicked and take quick, short breathes.

 

“Lot’s of things,” says Mike Washington.

 

“GET ME OUT OF THIS FUCKING HOLE!” I yell again rasping each word.

 

“Do you see it yet?” asks Mike.

 

“See what?!” I murmur.

 

“What you have to do.”

 

“GET ME OUT OF THIS FUCKING HOLE! PLEASE for THE LOVE OF GOD I WANT…”

 

“What do you want?” asks Mike.

 

“I want answers!”

 

“Answers are not available at this point in time.”

 

“I want to make up for what I’ve done!” I plead.

 

“On whose terms?”

 

“Mine, my fucking terms! GET ME OUT OF THIS FUCKING HOLE!”

 

“That’s not good enough. You need to remember how you got here.”

 

“What..do..I have…to..do,” I mumble between screams.

 

“Let go of everything that conspired to make you the way you are. Run from it all and along the way help carry the fallen caught behind enemy lines.”

 

Mike Washington is standing above me as I look up at the sky.

 

As I begin to black out I whisper, “Let me…out…of this fuckin’ hole.”

 

Everything is grey and I realize that I’m now screaming at the top of my lungs. All the healing energy and soul-searching life stories can’t reach me. All the corner time and all the sanctions were for nothing. That’s why they made me do this. But I have already died and become reborn in my dreams. The symbolism of it on the physical plane is more real and more frightening. It is the actualization of this realization that I must now accomplish. And I am so weak and so lost. This place has left me blinded as to what I really am. It has intermittently sold me on more false gods and prophets. I have dug this hole for fifteen years. This country has made me that kid that I am. No more conversations with the self as to the “why” only the discipline of the “how” holds interest.

 

I’m blacking out. I’m shivering. I smell the earth swallowing me up. But this is not how I go out. This is not how the story is going to end.

 

“GET ME OUT OF THIS FUCKING HOLE!!!”

 

Too weak to move, even my screams hold no real conviction. When you hit bottom two things can happen. You can cling to the first rope offered and fool yourself into a false salvation. Eventually that rope is just another noose. Or you keep digging until you reach the other side.

 

“There are no reinforcements coming,” says Mike, “You’re going to have to do this alone. Do you have the constitution to take this as far as it needs to go?”

 

A dull chill rattles my bones. I’m silent and broken. But the answer is,

 

“Yes.”

 

I possess that kind of grit.

 

***

 

Terry returns at about ten pm. Two kids from Family 3, the two shadows are nervously looking into the grave Sebastian Adon has dug.

 

“How long has he been in there?” asks Terry McCarthy.

 

“A couple hours. He was screaming his head off until about five minutes ago when he just went silent,” one of them says.

 

“A complete break down if you ask me,” says another.

 

“I didn’t ask you anything. Take him out of there and bring him to the quiet room. Make sure you get him a blanket.

צ

When they let Sebastian return to the family he did not look quite the same. The work sanction had broken him. They let him out of the corner and they let him return to school. He is quiet and can’t smile or joke the way he used to. There hasn’t been an inventory to get out of the corner. He can’t really bring himself to talk. Now that the upstairs renovations are done, there are plans to create two more Family Units. Rosters are being created as to who will be in the new families. Family 4 leaders decide to transfer Sebastian and Ryan O’Neil out to try and give them a clean slate after their weeks out in the fields.

 

ק

Sebastian has been moved to Family 2, Michael Wassabordo’s new family. Suddenly all his sanctions have been removed and he isn’t on shadow anymore. He is real quiet and just about everyone thinks he has been broken from all those weeks on the work sanction. He carries a Bible around with him everywhere and just sits intently reading it. The shuffle of students into new families has led to a temporary amnesty for many of the troublemakers who have been moved, but everyone knows that by the end of the week, anyone not working the Program will be penalized anew.

 

Sebastian is keeping a real low profile because Sebastian is getting ready to run.

 

The school wraps itself around the internees putting up a certain barrier between them and an attempted flight. Sebastian is waiting until he finishes it, the thing that is wrapped in his Bible. Once he knows what a proletarian is he’ll be ready to shake, rattle and roll.

ר

I turned 16 on January 30, 2000.

 

Because Mr. Wassabordo feels discipline is lax in the new family, we’re spending my birthday weekend cleaning the floor with toothbrushes. Its tedious work and I zone off fantasizing about getting out of here.

 

The other day I was assigned to the breakfast crew as the juice bitch. It’s the worst job on breakfast crew involving filling up hundreds of cups of juice and carrying them out on trays to the different families. But this job provides the potential for flight. I am alone for fifteen minutes between when the alarms go off and when I have to show up to the crew. In those fifteen minutes one might take it upon themselves to flee into the woods.

 

I continue to scrub the floor with my little green toothbrush contemplating how shitty a birthday this is. I have also continued reading my subversive history understanding very little, yet enough to put my plight in context. I have continued filling up cups with juice every morning knowing that one day the whole assembly line breakfast would have a break down as the vital juice component went for a mad dash toward freedom. You might say I am biding my time for the great escape.

 

With the exception of Rubin Carter who gives me a curious glance every time I run into him, I am certain that no one is the wiser.

ש

It is really between you and God at the end of the day if you buy into anything this place preaches. Undoubtedly there are people who need to be here. You can’t just leave the bulimics, cutters, junkies, nymphos, drunks and anorexics to their own devices. But is the substitute better? If all these disorders, vices and conditions are the product of a sick capitalist society then a substitute that places the blame purely on the individual is wrong as well. Perhaps time will tell.

 

These last days at the Family School I am watching the perverse world, insulated from reality, breed people incapable of dealing with the larger issue. Kurtz had said there were thousands of places like this and I believed him. You had to put us deviants somewhere, anywhere that could displace the blame for our condition. Blame the TV, or the music, or the parenting, or the culture, or the friends, or the schools or anything else. Blame action movies. Flexible curfews and premarital sex. Easy access to cigarettes and liquor. Blame Kurt Cobain and rap music in general. Blame low moral standards and not enough Jesus in our lives. Blame the lack of a work ethic. Blame allowances that are too large. Blame daytime television.

 

I have blocked out all the distractions. I have honed my thinking into an ideology to explain what has happened. I hypothesize that a system has produced me. All the kids here, including me, are the natural product of American society. I am tuning out all the religion, chastity, brotherhood and self-reflecting, twelve-step nonsense. I will focus on my responsibility for my actions. I will right the wrongs I have committed. But I am dead sure that this country I live in is responsible for a great deal of human suffering.

 

With a sophomoric understanding that boils down to the idea that the proletariat is the people who get fucked over and the bourgeoisie are the ones that do the fucking, I declare myself a communist. I believe that a revolution can make the villains pay for their misdeeds and create equality for the have-nots.  I focus all the blame for the misery of the world, and my misery in particular, on the capitalist system.

ת

It’s St. Valentine’s Day.

 

I wake up for breakfast crew as usual. The snow is falling and when the door is unlocked at 5:45 am I take a long look at the compound and figure this is about as good a time as any to make a break for it. It is, of course, a bit more premeditated than that. I have smuggled my backpack up to the barracks in my laundry bag. I packed three books on communism, a change of clothing and a loaf of bread.  I will have until 6 am until they know that I am missing. That gives me fifteen minutes to get as far as humanly possible from the compound.

 

The snow is knee deep and the going is slower than I had hoped. Heading up the hill I keep getting stuck in the snow. All I can think about is Michelle. I know that, Marx willing, I will be back in time for Valentines Day. I keep running. Every so often I fall, pick myself back up and keep going. The snow is blowing past the electric light posts and it looks quite surreal. In my head I am playing out a simple scenario. I am a Jew escaping from Auschwitz and if I am caught I will be shot. It makes me move quickly. Twice more I fall on the icy pavement of the long road leading to the main gate.

 

They will kill me for sure if I am captured. Maybe not with a bullet to the back of the head, but they will do it spiritually. They will suck the artist out of me. They will make me forget about places where equality might have existed. They will take my identity, and they will put me back in the hole. Just a little bit longer and I’ll be at the road. I can hitch back to New York, back to the freedom of my concrete jungle.

 

The snow keeps blowing in my face. Finally I reach the road. I know to my left s Binghamton and to my right is further upstate. Remembering all the stories I’d heard I know that by heading to Binghamton I’d increase the likelihood of being captured. I need to evade the local police and potential vanloads of Family School zealots ready to bring me back to the fold.

 

I turn and run to the right. Up the hill I go. I look at my watch. 6:02 am means that now they will come looking. It still isn’t light out when I see a car coming up the road. It slowed down. Terry is inside smiling and waving. Maybe he thinks I’ll be recaptured and he can restart his regimen later that day. Or maybe he is just happy to be rid of a godless troublemaker like me. Who knows? It creeps me out and I quicken my jog to a full run.

 

In that desolate winter snowstorm I know I have finally arrived at a point in my life where a great road is to be crossed. For sixteen years I have lived in a daze and the culmination of the daze has been excruciating. I don’t know if I have fully taken in the significance of the book I carry in my bag. I would like to think that it offers me the perspective that can explain the troublesome last few years of my life. The over arching question that runs through my mind wi if I make it back to New York, what can I do about a country that produces people like me? What can I tell about what I have seen that might move my friends to take action? But these are the big questions. The little ones involve hitchhiking and putting fifty or sixty area codes between that fucking compound and me.

 

Within fifteen minutes I get a ride, a cigarette and thirty dollars from an old woman in a beat up Chevy. After giving me a life lesson on drugs, Christianity and premarital sex, she leaves me in the suburban tenement strip mall in Monticello, New York. After wandering the strip near the Greyhound bus stop I manage to raise the additional six bucks to take the bus to New York by cleaning a bathroom and doing some dishes. The place is a ghost town in the mountain badlands.

 

***

 

The rest all happens quickly. I arrive back in New York City at 1:30 pm. I hop the turnstile and ride the #4 train up to Bronx Science. I haven’t seen my friends and compatriots in over ten long months. I see everyone and all at once I am home. All is forgiven for now. Most of them are so shocked and half delighted to see me again that they temporarily forget the person I’d been. No apologies are in order, as if my debts have been paid.

 

Hubert O’Domhnaill  finds Michelle in the cafeteria and rushes her upstairs to see me. As soon as I see her my eyes light up. We embrace fiercely; passionately even like dear, dear friends forced apart for too long, as if ten months has been a decade in the life of a teenager. And by sundown Michelle and I are passionately kissing on Donny Gold’s roof in York Town. Happy Valentine’s Day to us. Michelle represents everything that is going to be right about my new life. She represents the side of Sebastian Adon that is worth knowing. Before we part she presses a long letter into my that contained six months of bottled up feelings for me, which I read later on the train savoring every goddamn word. By nightfall I am on the corner of 96th and West End calling Nicholas Trikhovitch on a pay phone to say,

 

“Brother, I’m back.”

 

Over the course of a single day my seemingly inescapable fate has been dramatically reversed. A great sense of possibility engulfed me on the Greyhound ride. But that idealism is tempered with a violent and heartfelt rage. By my own devices I have spirited myself away from that camp and made a great escape. And while perhaps I should be content with this draw of the cards, I see only red. Blood red rage at what has been carried out upon me lying in that freezing self dug cave. And while the joy of my reunion with friends, my taste of freedom and the soft caress of my Michelle ought to have filled me a new hope, I am still made blind with a wild and unyielding hate.

 

 

PART FIVE:

Movement Arm Thyself

“The characteristic of a genuine heroism is its persistency. All men have wandering impulses, fits and starts of generosity. But when you have resolved yourself to be great, abide by yourself, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself with the world. The heroic cannot be made common, nor the common the heroic.”

                              —Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

א

 

 

The infamous and quixotic Mr. Adon is back. There he is after a ten-month disappearance wearing a pine-green jumpsuit and a white beret. He is urging his compatriots to get organized. He proudly proclaims that he has become a communist. No one is entirely sure what that means. He says that drugs and alcohol keep us from our full potential and that we have to become a movement of young people dedicated to retaking our society. No one has really ever heard a person talk like that around school. He wants us to become revolutionaries.

 

Within three days of his reappearance he has made quick rounds of the NYC magnet high schools to organize a meeting. Trikhovitch certainly isn’t going to give up alcohol and become a communist, but he is intrigued by the concept of this ‘change by struggle and fight’ that Sebastian Adon has been preaching since his sudden return.

 

***

 

There are about forty kids sitting on the Rock on February 16th, 2000. They are mostly Sebastian’s old crew from the public magnet schools as well as his little brother Benjamin and a few of his friends. Everyone is milling around near the summit smoking cigarettes until Sebastian and Nick Trikhovitch arrive wearing black suits and dark sunglasses. The dress code was Trikhovitch’s idea.

 

Sebastian begins his call to arms.

 

“As many of you know I committed a string of vile and self serving acts in my previous life. I was sent away because of them. If I’ve put any of you through bullshit, hell or otherwise, I sincerely apologize. I’ve been locked up for ten months and I have learned only two things of any value from this trial. The first is that we have been deeply wronged by the forces, which govern our nation. The poverty, misery, and general oppression, which are the fruits of our American comfort, have raped the soul of our generation. Our dreams have been perverted and our ideals warped. We all used to think that we could the world. Now, all we want to do is get fucked up, shut down and drop out so we don’t have to acknowledge the fact that we once believed in things. All that is left is for us to make money, make babies and die.  The second thing I learned is that it is never too late to revive our lost hopes and dreams. We don’t yet have a plan. We don’t yet have points of unity or a list of concrete grievances. We just know something is wrong within this nation.”

 

Those assembled process his proclamation in different ways. To some it is a minstrel show from out the 1960’s, to others it is like witnessing their pent up frustrations and middle class rage being channeled into pieces of a dream.

 

“Mr. Trikhovitch and I want to create an organization, an association of young women and men ready to fight. We don’t even have a name yet. We just want to get ourselves organized and learn how to take our country back.”

 

Trikhovitch doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t have to. Those assembled know the boys worked out the particulars behind closed doors. This is Sebastian’s second attempt at making a speech. There is no applause this time like there had been when he ran for Freshman Rep. Just 40 youngsters in the February cold, hands stuffed in coat pockets, thinking with fire and breathing out smoke. No one says a word. No one walks away.

 

“We can use the copy machine in my Dad’s study to run off your little manifesto,” volunteered a husky and extremely wealthy Canadian named Belfy Andrews.

 

***

 

One of the first things I did as a free man was to go down to 23rd Street and 7th Avenue to the Communist Party USA Headquarters and sign up to join the party. The building looks run down. Everyone inside calls each other comrade, which for some reason seems a little silly. I have to be honest with myself. I’m still not exactly sure what dialectical materialism really means. I don’t have class-consciousness. My knowledge of communism is limited. My understanding is that capitalism is a system of competition that pits people against each other and benefits only a select few. This select few is a group called the bourgeoisie. They control something called the means of production. Throughout history there has been a constant struggle to take back the means of production. With each struggle a new group lands on top. Communism is about achieving equality. The group that is able to do that is called the proletariat.  Once the proletariat seizes the means of production in something called a revolution there will be freedom. There will be opportunity. And there will finally be true equality.

 

After haggling with an elder statesman on the fourth floor of the office, I receive a Red Card and become a 16-year old, card-carrying member of the Young Communist League.

 

***

 

I decided somewhere along the way home from the Family School that I will no longer drink alcohol or take drugs. It is not so much that I associate substance abuse with my previous condition. It is more to prove to myself that I did not need the Family School to be sober. I looked up some AA meetings in the City and have started going to a group called Midnight in the West Village. People are really shocked with my ability to give heartfelt survivor advice but I am used to the sharing rhetoric of AA from my time at the Family School. I found a sponsor at my second meeting. He is a gay news reporter from CNN.

 

I bounce around friends’ houses for the first few weeks. Then after a long dinner with my parents, they decide to let me move back in. I assure them that I am able to live in the City and not get into further trouble. We try to figure out what schools I can get into this late in the school year. They are nervous, but happy to see me. I guess a few people are.

 

***

 

Nick Trikhovitch has been reading the Communist literature I brought back from the national office. I have been trying to turn him commie red. We are attempting to put our ideals into writing.

 

“Largely from here on out it becomes an issue of good propaganda,” he observes. “The message is good, right? But we got to give um some quick victories, show them their time and energies yield dividends.”

 

“Go on,” I say watching Nick collect his thoughts.

 

“I’m not saying that I’m a theorist of any kind. I’m not even really convinced I get everything Marx is saying. But I understand enough. I understand that I live in a society with massive inequality and that one solution is rooted in this text. But we can’t call ourselves commies. If we do, we won’t get anywhere.”

 

“It’s always been like that, right? The lie that this society is better than the ones a couple hundred years before? The history books in school make you think it is,” I respond.

 

“The books are filled with lies. There may be no real way to quantify human suffering but like I said, if our manifesto smacks of socialist crazy talk no one will join.”

 

“So we’ll stick to the basics,” I say.

 

I pause smoking my Newport. We are sitting on his roof with a typewriter in the bitter cold.

 

The unpleasantries of life,” he says as he types, “are to be blamed first upon our own inaction.”

 

“I like that,” I tell him.

 

“What did you really learn in the camps Sebastian?” he asks me for the first time.

 

“Self reflection at gun point.”

 

“Fitting.”

 

My silence and perhaps hateful stare communicates to him that this is a subject I am not yet ready to talk about in depth. He types a few more notes. Feels like we’ve been up on this roof writing for days.

 

“This organization is being created to get our compatriots to understand that something must be done about the way we live?” he suggests.

 

“Not exactly. This organization is being created to train revolutionaries.”

 

“What is that fucking phrase? Don’t use words that set off red flashing lights. That phrase is used to sell cars and beauty products too, you know. No one knows what it means, not even you,” he tells me.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“Teenage angst is society’s way of marginalizing the confusion and breakdown of our ideals. We are all being changed living in this country. We are being force-fed conceptions of beauty, economic relationships and the necessity of material things. Our social circle is the perfect example of bourgeoisie youth reeling from the contradiction of what we know is right and what we are taught to accept. We grew up with everything in the world at our finger tips, but it is all based on this grotesque system exploiting other people for us to have our comforts,” he tells me, “Revolution means we’re gonna tear it all down and blow it all up and start from scratch.”

 

“Well isn’t that what we want, Nick?”

 

“It’s a stupid buzz word and a scary thought to the sane. You’re talking about different kinds of exploitation here, Sebastian. Are you saying American wealth is predicated on the suffering of the international working class or are you saying that we’re suffering because of our socialization to accept this reality?”

 

“I’m saying that we’re asking some pretty big questions for kids who are just sixteen. What I saw in those camps was the tip of the iceberg. We need to keep asking these questions and we need this organization to put these ideas in a format regular people can understand.”

 

Nick pauses looking at me intently for a moment while he flicks his Newport over the railing.

 

He reads as he types the second sentence of our treatise,

 

This organization is being created to absolve us of the horror our nation has unleashed upon this world.”

 

“That I can dig,” I say.

 

“What are we gonna call this little outfit?” he asks me.

 

“I’m not sure yet. Something militant.”

 

***

 

I’ve spent the whole day making out with Michelle Tagomi. I told her some stories from being locked up. There are others I keep to myself. We have been going out since I got back and we make time to hook up for lost time. The formation of this new organization is taking up a great deal of my time, but I want this relationship to work because I care so much for this girl. Part of me is more than aware of my previous dealings with females. We are watching a movie at her parent’s house on the border of Chinatown and Financial district. Her mom and dad are separated although friendly. The apartment I’m visiting her at is her mother’s. Her father is a well-known quantum physicist who is big in something called “string theory,” which is quite impressive were one to know about such things. I couldn’t understand a word when he tried to elaborate over dinner one time.

 

I like being around Michelle. She’s a sweetheart, and quite beautiful. Her style is not typically Asian. She is half-Chinese and half-Japanese, which despite the untrained Western eye are distinctly different ethnic groups. I know this relationship shouldn’t last too long. Sex usually complicates friendship. The love between us is the love of loyal friends not so much of a physical lust. I know that I am not uneasy on the eyes, but I recall something from the last time we hung out the day before. I remember her giving me a hand job and rushing through my head was the phrasing of a novel story I might recount later on getting a hand job from the daughter of the Einstein of Asia. I realize that such thoughts are a violation of the admiration I ought to show this girl. I am running the risk of destroying my most important friendship. It is a lot to think about, but in the mean time we just kiss and kiss and kiss, quite happy to be reunited after all this time.

 

But the Texas camp guard Mr. Smith proved right in the end. The passions of teenage romance are fast and fleeting. We broke it off on good terms about three weeks later lest I ruin a beautiful thing by not yet knowing how to be good man just yet. The only relationships I prove truly faithful to upon my return are those committed to my revolution, for better or for worse.

 

ב

 

Every day I jump on the #4 train and head up to the Bronx. Today 1 am handing out newly printed broadsheet flyers that hammer out our rough little call to arms. I am taking down numbers when a kid I don’t recognize approaches me. He introduces himself as Simcha. He is Chilean Jewish and his look is difficult to place. He wears neat clothing, formal but not preppy, and has an intense look about him. He isn’t tall in stature, nor is he incredibly articulate or easy on the eyes. He looks a little Latin and a little Gorski. Unbeknownst by me, I have just met one of the first great ideological influences of my blossoming political ideology.

 

“My name is Simcha Rathajzer. We’ve met before but you might not remember me.”

 

I extend my hand to give him a pound, but he shakes it firmly instead.

 

“Sebastian Adon.”

 

“I know exactly who you are, comrade. I want to talk to you about this club you’re putting together.”

 

“What do you want to know?”

 

“What is your intention by founding this organization? I understand you’ve recently become a member of the Young Communist League.”

 

“That’s true. I joined last week. How did you know that?”

 

“I was surprised to hear you had become a communist. Some people are saying the organization you want to found is a front group.”

 

“I don’t know what that means.”

 

“A front organization is an issue specific group funded by a larger communist organization to bring young people towards political action and then condition them to accept communism. You are somewhat familiar with the loaded nature of your new affiliation?”

 

“No. Not particularly.”

 

“You haven’t exactly picked the most beloved of ideologies to embrace for your new found desire to be political. There have been nearly a hundred years of government action against the party you are affiliated with, not mention assassination, imprisonment, and deportation of many of the more radical members,” Simcha continues.

 

“I’m hangin’ on your every word, but how do you know all this stuff? Everyone else is like ‘politics, yeah that sounds cool’ but you seem to have thought about a lot of this stuff before.”

 

“I’m a socialist. I’m not a member of any of the big organizations. It’s just something that my family has believed in and I grew up with.”

 

“Isn’t a socialist like a halfway communist?”

 

“I get the impression, and this is not meant as an insult, that your reading of the Communist Manifesto is your only real exploration into this school of thought. You’re telling everyone that you embrace the most hated of adversarial cultures in American society, an ideology our government fought a bloody hundred-year, international conflict to contain. You’re going to make a lot of people nervous with all this. I just want you to be aware of that.”

 

“I’m quite aware.”

 

“There’s another thing. Your own political ideas aside, once again, what is your intention by creating this new organization?”

 

“To build a fighting force for people’s struggle.”

 

“You need to pick your words carefully. Is your objective to spread Communism or is your objective to make apathetic high school students care about political issues?” Simcha continues to grill me.

 

“Well I hardly see those two ideas as mutually exclusive.”

 

“I thought as much. Did the YCL put you up to this or are you acting as a free agent?”

 

“They don’t even know I’m going to do this. We have a meeting tomorrow to request to use their meeting space on 23rd Street.”

 

“Do you have a name yet?”

 

“Youth Resistance Front.” I tell Simcha, proudly.

 

“You need a better name. That name connotes violence and no one will join.”

 

“Well, we have ‘til tomorrow to come up with something better.”

 

“I’ll join if you change the name.”

 

“Will you help me better understand my ideology so I can articulate more effectively to the kids around the City? I could use a person like you on my team.”

 

“Yeah, I’m down. I want to help you with this thing. Just remember that what you’re doing has a lot of baggage that comes with it. You really ought to read a bit more before you jump head on into organizing a project like this.”

 

“You can make me better informed as we go.”

 

“Yeah, have you talked with Isaac Zucker yet?”

 

“Who? Crack? No, why?” I ask remembering the friend I stole from before I was locked up.

 

“Zucker and his brother are both members of the International Socialist Organization. Hubert O’Domhnaill ’s brother is in the same organization you are. You gotta connect with all these kids that are already political to help you get the kids who don’t have a clue.”  Simcha advises.

 

“O’Domhnaill  and Crack are socialists?” I said incredulously.

 

“Isaac is and recently, Hubert has become highly sympathetic to certain working class ideals.”

“This is perfect! The four of us ought to sit down and work this out as a group.”

 

“I’m sure we could make that happen.”

 

 

***

 

Zivia Lubetkin is following this organization stuff with mounting interest. She and Sebastian had been very close before he was sent away. She is curious to see if the massive overhaul of each of their lives will allow them to continue the near-sibling relationship they once enjoyed. Sebastian is now sober and political. Zivia is not so sober and a platinum blonde, candy-raver girl.

 

Zivia has observed that kids end up getting involved in the new organization for a variety of reasons. There is the shock of Sebastian, this crazy kid everyone knew who has come back reformed, preaching a firebrand popery of communism, personal discipline and individualized reclamation of one’s purpose. It is not like Sebastian has a unique ability to make a political issue make sense. Zivia thinks that he is articulate but not always well informed. He does have charisma pouring out his ass.

 

Zivia knows that he is making all of this up as he goes along. Even though he openly admits to his communist leanings, his political rhetoric is acceptable because he knows that all of the kids he targets are united in their political ignorance. The first step is to educate the group about what is wrong with the system. Zivia sees that Sebastian recognizes that the real challenge is youth apathy. She has watched his sidekick Simcha chime in and list the things we should care about—problems like nearly perpetual war, worker exploitation and wide-scale global poverty. Then the potential recruit always says,

 

“Tell me more.”

 

Then Sebastian takes down the kid’s phone number. Sebastian and his crew are not pretending to have detailed explanations or pseudo-intellectual horseshit solutions. They just say that there are many problems. Then they invite the recruits to help get some resistance going.

 

That’s what they are calling it: a resistance movement.

 

***

 

There are fifteen minutes left before the scheduled meeting with Mr. Leban, who is the local Communist Party leader. We are meeting with him to negotiate getting the permission of the Communists to allow us to use one of their rooms as a meeting hall. Izzy Vitz, Nick Trikhovitch, Hubert O’Domhnaill , and I are all sitting on a stoop on 23rd Street trying to come up with a name. These are the kids who have really pledged to help me make this new organization happen. The only concrete thing we have decided is that there will be four cells that take on different jobs. The service cell will undertake grassroots, community projects. The publication cell will put out a political newspaper. The recruiting cell will agitate and get more members. And the activist cell will organize political actions. Each cell will have a leader. The four cell leaders will be the leadership of each chapter. The decision making body will be called the Executive Committee. It will be made up of two cell leaders per chapter. We plan to focus our recruiting at the magnet public high schools. The name everyone involved has unanimously shot down is my Youth Resistance Front.

 

“So what names are we still toying with?” asks Izzy.

 

“Youth Resist,” reads off Trikhovitch.

 

“Nope,” says Hubert.

 

“I don’t really like that either,” I say.

 

“Students for Change.”

 

“Definitely not,” says Izzy.

 

“Youth Protest League? That’s just retarded.”

 

“Next,” says Micky.

 

“Youth United for Justice.”

 

We sit on that one for a minute.

 

“These names fucking suck,” I say.

 

“Hold on, what’s the point of this whole thing, Sebastian,” asks Hubert O’Domhnaill .

 

I think on it.

 

“To put everyone on equal footing.”

 

“Then how ‘bout this for a name: Youth United for Equality?”

 

“The Y.U.F.E. Yeah. That could work,” I say.

 

“Is that pronounced yufe or yufee?” asks Trikhovitch.

ג

The founding meeting of Youth United for Equality took place on the fifth floor of the Communist Party Headquarters on a Tuesday afternoon at 4 pm around a wooden table in a sparsely furnished room. The YUFE organization was brought into being by 6 key organizers and me. Simcha Rathajzer, the Chilean socialist. Lauren Zivia and Zivia Ferenz, the girlfriends of Nick Trikhovitch and Izzy respectively. I was very annoyed that Trikhovitch and Izzy weren’t in attendance.  Hubert O’Domhnaill , who had always served more as a rowdy political muse, than as a party man; but his brother was a communist and his family owned an apartment on 34th Street not far from the CP HQ. Finally, Isaac Zucker, once dubbed Crack or Soul Train in another life arrived to assume responsibility for the new organization’s Information-Education Committee. My little brother Benjamin showed up 43 minutes late, but as usual supports me unconditionally.

 

I learned my first important lesson about political organizing at our first official meeting.  It is advice that is a given in all asymmetrical warfare. Make good with what you have and make small numbers feel valuable.

 

“So, down to brass tacks,” says Simcha.

 

While I talk big and radical, Simcha moderates the tactics and the girls give realistic feedback about what the kids in this City will and should not be getting into. They advise that political education must become the most paramount aspect of our initial development. In the words of Ms. Lauren Zivia,

 

“Without the ability to articulate our program and demands, we are but a rabble of angry school children.”

 

We established our command structure. Chapters will be student clubs at our schools. Each chapter will be lead by a Command Cell with four officers: a) the Activist Cell, for recruiting and operations, b) the Education-Information Cell for political training, c) the Service Cell for community projects, and d) the Literary Cell for articulating our message.  Zivia’s father, a German economist of some note told her that only terrorist groups have cells. In light of this and in our ongoing effort to be as inclusive as possible, we replaced the term cell with committee. I may have lifted the word from a book on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. It wasn’t a real sticking point.

 

Once we had more than three chapters, we’d activated an Executive Committee, a body of one delegate from each Chapter’s Command Cell. I mean Committee.

 

I lead the Activist Cell, which will carry out political actions to bring attention to capitalist institutions that cause human suffering. When Zivia asked what that actually meant and what tactics we’d be using, I saw a GAP Store’s windows explode in my mind’s eye.

 

“Tactical shut downs,” Hubert says, “We can create flyers about worker exploitation and give them out in front of stores, try and talk customers from going inside.”

 

“What will go on the flyer that’s so damn convincing?” asks Lauren Zivia. She is the person taking the notes.

 

“We’re not going be able to convince people of anything with slogans that don’t say anything,” Simcha explains. “We’re gonna have to give people enough facts and training to literally talk people out of going in.”

 

“I read that GAP and NIKE are notorious for making young Asian women work in sweatshops. We need to target our propaganda to specific companies that are directly responsible for exploitation,” I say.

 

“GAP?” asks Zivia.

 

“Yeah, GAP. And their subsidiaries Banana Republic and Old Navy and just about every other clothing company we get our threads from,” explains Simcha. “Mainstream brand name labels and counter culture stuff alike. Everything we wear is made with foreign blood and sweat.”

 

“We should personalize the suffering of the Asian workers,” Zivia suggests. “Let’s get a picture of a young, hot sweat shop worker and write, ‘My names so and so. I make your clothing for . . . we’ll insert some low-ass wage.”

 

“We can’t just hand that stuff out. We have to make each and every customer aware of what these exploiters do. We have hit up multiple stores simultaneously, and we have to make sure all our organizers are articulate, attractive and well dressed,” interjects Lauren.

 

We accept at face value the fact that these companies aren’t paying workers what they need to survive in their own countries. It has ceased to be a shock to me that the very fabric of my society is woven with the sweat of others. The rafters and support beams of the whole architecture drip in blood. Our desire to distance ourselves from this unfortunate fact begins with flyers. But that is not enough. Just telling people isn’t going to stop them from participating in this great crime.

 

“I like the principle,” says Isaac Zucker. “I can easily create fact sheets for our activists to drill off of from stuff on the Internet.

 

We set up a two-week deadline to produce the flyer and a fact sheet. In a simple vote we decided to target Disney, GAP, and Nike as flyer locations based on the fact that Simcha says all three chains are notorious exploiters. The initial action will be that over the course of a week. A YUFE cell will enter a target store each day and plant 250 flyers in the pockets of the clothing. On a Sunday afternoon we will mass our members outside the three Midtown flagship stores of the chains we are targeting and try to outtalk commerce.

ד

Irregularly medicated after my great escape, the dreams have returned.

 

Red and I are on the run.

 

I’ve on my feet for many days. The girl named Red is leading the way. We’ve changed our clothing at a tiny underground weigh station three days back. The blue overalls of slavery discarded, we’re clad now in the light grey shawl tunics of the desert pilgrims. The girl carries one of the dead guard’s pistols strapped under her tunic and bag that contains lord-knows-what, the size of a bowling ball, with a checkered stripe across it of the rude girl unity flag.

 

When I can’t walk anymore she nearly carries me across that desert. Ten thousand miles of off white dunes to clear. She never says much. Just harder, faster, stronger. Time is a little different now. Every time I go to sleep at dawn I find myself dreaming of the boy in AMrika. He is building an army.

 

Red is a woman possessed. She’s convinced we can clear this desert by sheer tenacity and reckless constitution. We ran out of water a few days ago. She says we’ll reach the depot soon. She is hiding something in her loose grey pilgrim’s shawl that she hs changed into after we had hot, naughty desert sex at the weigh station. It appears she’s a few months pregnant. I hadn’t noticed before.

 

She is holding me one night looking at the stitches around my neck. She keeps calling me Michael, but I know better. I’m just the boy pilgrim. Sometime before sunrise, easily a week into our death march I drop to the ground in spasms. We move at night mostly through vast, ever-changing dunes.

 

“It’s just a day’s journey further, Michael. We’ll rest a bit. We’ll reach the depot by dawn.  I’m parched and delirious. Never was a fan of exodus without manna and quail.

 

“Why. Do. You call me by his name,” I stammer on my knees.

 

“I guess it’s time to let the cat out of the bag,” Red says.

 

Gently she takes me in her arms, takes my head against her breasts.

 

“They just cast you as the knock-around guy,” she says as she breaks the stitches around my neck.

 

I don’t feel any pain. The quick sound of flesh ripping. Then the Grey’s Anatomy of dreams. My head is torn back and out of my neck I birth the body of a pilgrim boy without a head. In a jumble of blood, sand and slime this headless boy wriggles free.

 

I lie on the desert floor bleeding. Red takes Mike’s head and some surgical knives out of her checkered bag. How long and how often do I become Mr. Washington? How often does he speak for me in this place and back in AMrika?

 

Like a makeshift Bedouin surgeon she carefully implants my head back on the boy pilgrim’s body. The head of Mike Washington is stitched back on the body, which carried me thus far. Red sits between us running IV lines between our bodies filled with neon blue, glowing fluids. She jams a thick syringe in the heart of Mike’s body. With a great spasm and then shudder, the hero is reborn. There’s a lot of blood in the sand. Her tools are not so sterile. Her grey tunic is a dirty mess.

 

“Was it good for you two?” she asks us.

 

Dawn is coming. Mike and I are several days to ambulatory. Red places oxygen masks on both of us from a liter-sized tank with Acadian markings. Concentrated manna. There sure was quite a lot of crap in one little bag. I fade in and out of consciousness. She covers us in some organic micro quilt, which forms itself like a cocoon around both our bodies.

 

“I have to reach the depot. Come after me when you guys have regained your strength,” Red says.

 

Then she covers us with sand. The quilts and manna will sustain us from the elements.

 

“Sleep tight, pilgrim,” Mike Washington mutters under his quilt.

ה

The cells from Bronx Science and LaGuardia are putting our clandestine flyers in the pockets of GAP apparel at stores in Midtown. The flyers have a picture of Mi Yun, a young immigrant from Saipan. They state that her wage for making the garment is 23 cents an hour before directing the would be consumer to three leading union sites for further reading and self-substantiation.

 

Belfy Andrews, the jolly Canadian stopped helping us with flyer production in early April. His father had found a short manifesto he left on the copier and accused his son of ‘letting socialists manipulate him into economic tomfoolery.’ Belfy, who added little to the movement besides free copies apologized for the slip, but informed me he could no longer help us. Prior to this logistical break down he had helped us pump out 10,000 micro flyers. The end of this ‘in’ means we need for a new place to print propaganda. It’s hard to build a political movement with no money or experience nor control of a printing press.

 

If we have an enemy other than the land-of-do-nothing itself, it can only be ourselves. I have started to tell people that “the wool has been pulled over our eyes.” I have no idea where I lifted such an anachronistic phrase. I keep using it anyway just like I refuse to call our various units committees. I called them cells to the great consternation of Zivia and Lauren who work tirelessly to make us seem more moderate.

 

The majority of our members think that our core issues are police brutality, sweatshop labor and peace in the Middle East. They don’t make connections among the issues. There are only two or three of us that see these as systemic problems, somehow rooted in the economic order of capitalism. I’m not in a battle over an issue or a system. I am in a life or death struggle for the hearts and minds of the youth. The moral and spiritual slumber that defines my peer’s condition has become my obsession. The blood of this empire is all over my hands as long as I take no action.

 

I keep hearing the word revolution thrown around at the Communist party office. I bought a second copy of the Communist Manifesto and am relearning it with the guidance of Simcha and Isaac. I have started trying to read Leon Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, which I had stolen from the Family School Library along with another book called Marx and Marxism, an obviously anti-communist reader for precocious young kids. Even as poorly as I understand it, communism is my ideology. I am learning that, according to Trotsky, all communists are sworn to make revolution.

 

I am caught between a deep feeling of violent purpose and my gross personal limitations.

ו

Donny Gold’s long time girlfriend Tamar has a Russian cousin named Lisa Spiranski.

 

“Let me tell you something about your so-called communism,” says Lisa Spiranski with a smirk.

 

Izzy  brought me to her house because she grew up in the Soviet Union. I realize from body language alone that if Izzy isn’t cheating on Lara with Lisa currently it is only a matter of time.

 

“I don’t think you’ll associate the material deprivation the people of the USSR went through during the communist years as a positive thing because you’ll either do what left wing intellectuals do and claim it as a failed experiment vis-à-vis state capitalism or you’ll simply glorify material deprivation and the repression as a necessary road to classless, stateless society,” she tells me.

 

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t really know what you’re talking about. I’m really not very intellectual for someone who spends a lot of time in his own head.”

 

“Not to sell you short, Sebastian, but you’re tossing around loaded words and starting a political organization with only a partial idea of what Marxist theory even is. I’m not sure why you’re doing it.” Lisa says.

 

“Me neither, kid. Lots of people are joining YUFE over issue politics. More would probably join if they didn’t think you were a communist.” Izzy adds.

 

“So-called communist,” interjects Lisa.

 

“Excuse me?” I blurt out defensively.

 

“If I asked you to explain what communism is, I’m sure we’d arrive at an ideology called Sebastianism. I think you’ve put a communist brand name on your own increasingly radical, dissident and highly personalized politics. I’m not gonna sit here and begin a long conversation on what communism is and is not, but you are tossing around words that make people nervous. The question you have to ask yourself is why? There are long-term implications to having that ideology.”

 

“Like what?” I ask.

 

“Like how many gallons of blood come out of a communist revolution?” Lisa asks.

 

“I have no idea.” I answer.

 

“More blood than the means of production are worth,” she quickly responds.

 

***

 

By May the YUFE movement has small clusters of activists in about ten public high schools in New York. The largest chapters of 15-20 activists are at Bronx Science, Hunter High School, and Stuyvesant. There are weekly chapter meetings with education committee presentations on a variety of issues. Sweatshop labor dominates as the main issue with mentions of homelessness, the Amadou Diallo shooting and U.S. intervention in Colombia. There is some vague sense of outrage for continued sanctions on Cuba. YUFE is embracing activism piecemeal. Leftist student group isn’t the right term, but it’s the first one that comes to mind.

 

We have learned a key tactical maneuver. If after every large meeting there is a small party, then YUFE’s political agenda isn’t all that troublesome to anyone. People want to rock out and we give them a social avenue that supports a good cause. It is hard to gauge to what degree our general membership buys into the ideology that we are trying to formulate. For all I know this is sexier than the debate team and has cuter girls than Amnesty or AA. It is Karl Marx meets the Sebastian Adon show. Simcha and Isaac infuse healthy doses of socialism while Izzy and Nick Trikhovitch insure big turnouts for any event that involves socializing. It doesn’t matter. Person by person I am bringing most of our social circle into the YUFE fold by hook or crook.

 

In the immortal words of Hubert O’Domhnaill s,

 

“It’s gettin’ hard to know ya and not get pulled into your political enterprises.”

 

And that is precisely the idea.

ז

 

Red, Mike and I are sitting on a bench in a grey concrete bus depot along a black asphalt highway that looks like an airport tarmac. It has taken me six days to recover. On the seventh we haul ass across the barren dunes to reach the depot. We’d barely spoken since the Transmogrification. There has been no strength for more words.

 

The potential means of transport can vary incredibly in this place. Not another vehicle in sight. Enormous deep desert sand dunes surround us although the sands are now rocky and red. A change of wind and the highway depot will be gone. Mike Washington and I are wearing the black pinstripe suits we took from a locker in the depot. The funny hats and implanted jerry curls mean that we’re both dressed as Orthodox Jews.

 

Mike hands me a lunch box. It says Molly’s Escort Service on it. There’s an image of a stripper in lace with handcuffs on it painted black and red. Something inside it is rather heavy.

 

“What’s this?” I ask Mike.

 

“Open it.”

 

“I think I’d rather not.” I say.

 

“What advice do you give a soldier too afraid to pull the trigger?” asks Mike.

 

Mike Washington leans against the bus stop wall and pulls a green pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He flips open a gold Zippo lighter and lights it up. He takes a pair of scissors out of his pocket and cuts off his jerry curls. He throws the black hat into the sand.

 

“You’re the Mr. Pinstripe Suit. You’re the fuckin’ killer,” I respond.

 

“You said it, not me.” Mike says.

 

A bus pulls up with Acadian writing on the side. I don’t know what it says. Mike Washington motions for me to get on the bus. The fare card reader is broken and the driver points to sign that has the number 40 and a Mesopotamian letter next to it. Mike hands the driver a wad of various coins in different currencies and the driver shakes his head in annoyance and waves us through with his hand. The bus is packed with people all speaking in different languages. I move to take an open seat in the front of the bus. Mike stops me.

 

“The Blacks didn’t bleed to sit in the back bus for Jews to get lazy and die near the front.”

 

“What are you talking about?” I ask Mike

 

“Always sit in the back of the bus.” Mike states emphatically.

 

“If you say so.” I respond.

 

The bus driver shrugs as we cram our way through a wide aisle obstructed by blocking limbs and bags probably best consigned to the bottom of the bus. There’s the redheaded girl taking up several seats stretched out and a bunch of what look like guards around her. She’s even more pregnant. Four guards in brown suits are standing while everyone else is sitting. She’s dead asleep and Mike tells me with his eyes to keep moving. We find two seats in the last row. I put the lunch box on my lap.

 

“Don’t you wanna know what’s inside?” Mike asks me.

 

“I already know what’s inside,” I say.

 

The bus chugs to a start. It drives for a few miles and then clunks to a stop. In a jarring lurch the front of the bus elevates itself on hydraulics. There’s a pause and clank. The bus rockets into the upper atmosphere. Clouds fly by the windows. Not even the children cry out. I see metal steam punk wings extend out the sides of the bus.

 

“Let go of your nose. You look like an idiot,” he says. He takes out his cigarettes. They were inside my suit pocket.

 

“You probably can’t….” I begin to say.

 

He’s already smoking on the omnibus.

 

“That isn’t just a pregnant girl,” Mike says.

 

“Huh?” I ask.

 

“That isn’t a girl at all anymore. If I told you that that wasn’t a pregnant shiela but a ticking time bomb inside a pregnant woman hiding itself? How would you deal with the situation?” Mike says.

 

“Only you ask questions like that.” I tell him

 

“It’s a valid question. Think the kid’s yours?”

 

“Huh? Here’s a better question. Why would I ‘deal with’ anyone? Why would I deal with a pregnant girl in the first place? And it definitely isn’t mine,” I tell Mike.

 

“She’s the kind of woman that has the potential to spread confusion up and down the aisles,” Mike says.

 

“Why?”

 

“Because that’s the kind of broad she is.” Mike says.

 

I feel a cold sweat and clammy palms. I feel the fear of something too impending to plan properly for.

 

“I’m not into this today,” I tell Mike.

 

“And I’m not a reincarnated Warsaw Ghetto fighter babysitting an insolent boy pilgrim either.”

 

“What?

 

“What kind of name is Mike Washington?”

 

“It’s a generic American hero name,” I respond.

 

“Remember when you used to stay up all night letting me write stories for you? Stories about me for Mr. Van Kirk.”

 

“Yeah…” I stammer.

 

“You made up a name for me. For the guy you wanted to be. What name was that?” Mike asks me.

 

“Mike Washington,” I say.

 

“Yeah. Do you think that’s my name?”

 

“Probably not.”

 

“Who carried you through your ten years of prison hospitals when all you wanted to do was let them program you or die? When you were screaming down in that hole, who did you call out to when you needed to be strong? Me, motherfucker. Me. When the devil whispers your name do you tell yourself it’s the voice of God? Are you having trouble picking sides?”

 

“You are the fuckin devil!” I spit out.

 

“Don’t cheapen yourself by thinking that the spiritual dichotomy is as simple as two guys in a room playing chess. And don’t paint a saint a sinner simply because you haven’t read the right books, or know the rules to the great game.”

 

“Where is this bus going?” I ask, tired of his tirade.

 

“Someplace the little time bomb inside that woman shouldn’t go. They think they have a virgin but what they really have is a sad and sorry whore from Babylon. The men guarding her don’t even know who they serve. Someone ordered them to seize the mother just like someone ordered me to protect you. We all have our orders, little pilgrim, but that don’t change the fact that you’re still Mr. Pinstripe Suit on a mission.”

 

“What the fuck does that mean?”

 

“It’s a lyric from a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy song.”

 

“I know it is. What does it mean in relation to me?!” I demand.

 

Mr. Always-on-the-go,” he sings, “I know you got the answer, and we all wanna know.”

 

The men in the suits look in our direction. When they talk it sounds like nails scraping across a black board.

 

“I can’t kill the beast, pilgrim. You may have the answer, but you still don’t know how to fire your weapon and we’re seriously running out of time.”

 

The eyes of the four men go pitch black. The children on the bus start screaming. One of the bodyguards picks up a small girl who is yelling loudest of all and flings her across the bus. Her head cracks against the windshield. Her dead body hits the ground.

 

“If I told you we were gonna soon engage in actions that sacrifice innocents for a greater good would you be willing to do it? Some people are gonna have to die to save the whole. You and me, too if necessary.”

 

I stare at the men with the black eyes and look at my hand. My hand is shaking. I don’t dare open the box.

 

“Open the box, boy. We don’t have much time,” Mike mutters under his breath.

 

The other passengers have moved as far away from the four men in the brown suits as they possibly can and are cowering in the back of the omnibus near us.

 

“Are you still a communist, boy? Are you still one guided by your belief in some collective good?” Mike continues.

 

I give him a dead blank look.

 

“The greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people right? Individuals have to sacrifice for the greater good. Sacrifice or be willing to sacrifice others cause we ain’t leaving without her means of production.”

 

He slaps me on the back and stands up.

 

“Just remember that you’re the fuckin’ omelet,” Mike yells at me.

 

The rest happens very quickly. Mike’s cigarette hits the ground. He reaches into his suit pocket and pulls out a golden handgun and takes off down the wide aisle running. Whenever this happens I think in onomatopoeia. Too much Adam West when I was little.

 

He pushes his way through the crowd and bum rushes one of the brown suits giving a flying kick to one as he shoots another in the face. BLAM! As he lands on top of the man he kicked, he carefully fires quickly point blank at the head of second. BLAM!  It explodes like a firecracker in a watermelon. Blood gets on everybody and everything. The passengers are screaming as he darts up the wide aisle, he catches the arm of the third as he reaches for his own gun and turns around and shoots the fourth. BLAM! Mike swings the gun around and brings the barrel down on the face of the third suit he’s caught the arm of. Shit brown blood is all over the place. The last man standing manages to get his pistol out, a German Lugar, and tries to fire at Mike. Mike twists his arm and the man fires haphazardly all over the bus. Several shots hit the driver and the controls. The omnibus lurches into a dive. Mike manages to overpower him and shoots the final bodyguard in the back of the head. BLAM! In less then five seconds my imaginary friend has shot four brown-suited men and his face is covered in their blood. So is the pregnant woman. This is Mike at his most decisive. The pregnant girl is pale and silent. There’s blood splattered running down her face. Her hair is colored with the cheap red die Eastern European women seem to love. Like Jessica Rabbit. The color crimson. I run up to the front. The control panel is covered in the blood and brains of the dead driver. We’re now in free fall.

 

“If the bus gets to ZION, so help me God, we’ll be in trouble!” Mike yells.

 

“ZION? Is that where we’ve been going?”

 

“Open the lunch box and end this situation. Those were not men of flesh. This is not just some frivolous girl. We cannot let this bus get to the City of Lights in one piece,” Mike continues.

 

“What’s in the box?” I ask again.

 

“You know what’s in the fucking box.”

 

I think to myself that my imaginary friend wants me to shoot this pregnant red haired girl and I wonder what that says about my mental health. The holes in the heads of the four brown shirts close up. Slightly groggy they start to get up.  Mike, still looking at me, shoots them again quickly without batting an eye. He slides the magazine out of his handgun and drops the empty clip to the floor.

 

I open the box. There’s a silver plated stethoscope inside.

 

“You thought there’d be a gun in there?” he smirks. “You don’t know how to shoot. What makes you think I’d give you a gun? Go listen to her heart.”

 

I place the stethoscope on her right side above the breast.

 

“Left side, pilgrim.”

 

I replace it. I hear the rapid thud of a panicked girl’s heart.

 

The beating heart becomes like a vibration. The heartbeat is transmitting a code. I interpret the code mentally like a black and white comic book. I see Mike, the girl named Red and myself on the flying omnibus. It’s very Roy Lichtenstein.

 

“What’s your name?” I watch myself say.

 

“I told you my name is Red. I’m scared. Please don’t kill my child and me. They got inside without my permission and they’ll enter someone else as soon as you kill us,” I watch her say.

 

“What do you want me to do?”

 

“Don’t trust anything you hear me say without that stethoscope. It will try and get you two to bring me to Zion. You need to get him out of me before we get there or you’re going to have to kill us both. I trusted him and he got inside me. Please help us.”

 

“Who got inside you?”

 

“The laughing devil Clown. Please don’t let your friend kill me and my baby just to stop the beast.”

 

“Bring…down….the….bus,” she whispers in my ear.

 

I remove the stethoscope.

 

“There’s gotta be some other option,” I watch myself say.

 

“Those things will be up in a minute. Ammunition is finite even in dreams. If you think drinking is bad while pregnant you can be sure sky diving is worse,” Mike says.

 

“With what fucking parachute?!”

 

“With the parachutes in our goddamn suits.” Mike yells.

 

“What about her? What about the other passengers?”

 

“In AMrika a crisis decision is between Coke and Pepsi. For everyone else it’s about the least worst option.”

 

“And what’s our least worst option, Mr. Washington!?”

 

“I shoot out a window and we dive out of a plane with the woman tied to me because if the shoot doesn’t support two people you’re the only person who’s absolutely not expendable for the time being.”

 

“That sounds like a terrible idea,” the pregnant redhead says.

 

“All of us dying a flaming, horrible death in a flying bus accident is not exactly on my agenda, sweetheart,” Mike tells her.

 

“So here’s a better idea. I change out of this suit and she gets her own parachute. You and I can share.”

 

“I’m under strict orders to keep your altruism from getting us killed,” Mike says.

 

“I order you to let me give her my parachute.”

 

“What makes you think I take my orders from you?” He snaps.

 

The omnibus dips vertically and I nearly fall over and careen down the aisle.

 

“Time is of the essence boys,” the girl moans.

 

“This isn’t Terminator, Sebastian. Just because I protect you doesn’t mean I have to listen to you. You have less then a minute to keep some of us alive. Changes of wardrobe are absolutely out of the question.”

 

With reflexes faster than I’ve ever seen the four men are back up and on top of Mike tearing at his suit, their fingers extending multiple joints wrapping around his body with their screeching screams piercing our ears. Mike struggles to pick up his gun that has been knocked from his hand. Mike kicks the gun in my direction. The four suits strike his face and wrap tentacle fingers around him like a ball of suited male violence. They crash up the aisle and smash directly against the front windshield. The glass strains and cracks.

 

He lets out a terrific yell. Like a war cry.

 

The windshield breaks and the five of them fly out the window.

 

The air sucks through the bus. A passenger tumbles down the aisle and out the window, too. I manage to grab the girl’s arm. I’ve been socialized to grab onto attractive young women in the event of an emergency as if it were protocol. This can’t be very good for the baby. The thing inside her feels nothing. With one hand clutching the girl I empty a few rounds of Mike’s pistol at a side window. The air pressure sucks the shattered glass outside. Holding the little Red head tight I mutter a prayer to a vague conception of a higher power and jump out the window.

 

There’s a deafening rush of air. I’ve never seen the sky this blue. The bus disappears below me. Out of the corner of my eye I see Mike’s parachute inflated like a great, grey balloon, a brown suited figure hanging off him. A kick sends the brown suit tumbling toward the ground miles below. Where the fuck is the ripcord, I wonder afraid to let go of the girl who has wrapped herself around me with all her strength as we plummet to our deaths. It doesn’t matter, soon enough the blue balloon parachute inflates on its own with a RIP and POP and BANG. Red is wide-eyed and holding onto me still for dear life. I’ve lost my hat. Least of my concerns, I reckon. It’s automated-action adventure time and I’m a good three miles above the desert with Red wrapped around me tight. I wonder what she’ll name the baby.

ח

Nick Trikhovitch and I just bought his manual on guerrilla warfare from St. Marks books in the East Village. Simcha says a lot of what we’re organizing is playing out now in South America. The Cuban revolution, the FARC-EP rebels in Columbia, Shining Path in Peru. The Allende Regime in Chile, which the US toppled in 1973. Salvador Allende was neither guilty of having communists in his cabinet, nor of coming to power via the armed overthrow of the Chilean government. He was something more intolerable still; he was a democratically elected Marxist.

 

On September 11th, 1973 Allende’s socialist experiment came to an end. The military seized power and General Augusto Pinochet took power with the direct backing of the CIA. A brutal crackdown followed. The day after the coup the head of the air force proclaimed the need to exterminate “the cancer of Marxism.” Members of the Allende government were rounded up and placed under detention. Thousands of alleged leftists were detained, questioned, and tortured in the national soccer stadium. At least 3,000 Chileans were killed or disappeared in the aftermath of the coup-and this is by a conservative count. Simcha’s father had been one of them. In the place of a democratically elected socialist government Chile received a military dictatorship that would rule with an iron fist until 1990.

 

The guerrilla warfare manual teaches us how to convert a shotgun into a rocket launcher. It demonstrates how to ambush enemy columns and illustrates the best way to make Molotov cocktails. It makes me recognize something that wasn’t entirely clear in the beginning. Having a revolution may entail killing a whole lot of people. I don’t know how I feel about that.

 

Being that New York isn’t exactly known for its jungles, I suggest a trip out to Long Island, the closest thing to jungle light. Nick wants to fuck Lauren in my parent’s hot tub and I want to terrorize rich people in the woods. The irony of guerrilla warfare in the Hamptons escapes no one.

***

Nick Trikhovitch and Lauren Zivia, Izzy Vitz and his girlfriend Zivia, Simcha, Zoe Zapata and I take the LI Double R to East Hampton early Saturday morning. Zoe is a busty Chilean with a huge crush on me. Benjamin and my parents are already out there. It never ceases to amaze me how much Zivia has changed. She used to be a quiet, somewhat bookish girl with glasses and now she’s a Raver with platinum blonde hair and neon bright clothes. Zivia got hot while I was away. How she and Izzy ended up together is a mystery to me. By evening we’re all in the hot tub. Izzy is joking about an orgy, but he and I know he’s not really joking. Izzy and I are the kind of guys that can’t get into a hot tub without thinking about group sex.

 

“It really stands for ‘Y U Fuckin’ Everybody,” Izzy whispers to Zoe about my organization and I jokingly elbow him in the ribs.

 

Everyone’s been drinking Coronas and Red Stripe all day and I have to remind the crew that we’re not just out here for recreation. We, after all, have to learn how to kill the capitalists.

 

“So who’s a capitalist? Besides your parents I mean,” Nick asks laughing.

 

“My Dad isn’t a capitalist,” I retort. “These books would lead us to believe that a capitalist is anyone who exploits their workers.”

 

“So we’re supposed to kill all these capitalists?” Izzy laughs.

 

“All the ones that won’t come over to our side,” I say.

 

Izzy Vitz has read more about communism than any of us but doesn’t believe in any of it.

 

“In America that would mean killing a whole lot of people. Too many, if you ask me. By the time the revolution is over you’re talking Hitler-Stalin proportions,” argues Zivia.

 

“But you have to admit that there are a good chunk of people that profit extensively from the majority of the world being poor,” says Nick as he slaps the side of the hot tub, “like Sebastian’s parents.”

 

“Doesn’t mean you have to kill anybody,” says Lauren Zivia.

 

“Well what is it that you think a revolution is?” demands Izzy.

 

“That’s exactly what a revolution is, and that’s why I don’t believe in revolution,” says Zivia.

 

“It doesn’t have to go down like that,” I tell them.

 

“Oh, and what do you have in mind Mr. Wants-to-run-around-in-the-woods-to-practice-guerrilla- warfare?” asks Lauren.

 

“With Sebastian you have to separate his reckless adventurism from his politics every once in a while,” says Nick as he lights up a Newport.

 

“No, you don’t. If I have to kill a capitalist or two to free my people I’d do it. I’m just not about genocide,” I state.

 

“Who are ‘your people,’ Sebastian? Why do we have to kill anybody?” asks Zoe suddenly interested.

 

Zoe is the whitest Chilean I know and I want to fuck her brains out. Her orange bikini fits her nicely. She’s liked me for a while and Izzy is trying to get me laid. There’s something intense about these Chileans. Ronnie Lestor who robbed my house, Simcha the socialist and now this cute thing.

 

“Ah, the difficult questions. What will it be, Sebastian? How much do you want that omelet?” asks Simcha channeling Fidel Castro with a Coheba cigar in his mouth.

 

“Sebastian doesn’t want blood, he wants social justice,” interrupts Lauren.

 

“Let him answer for himself,” says Izzy.

 

“Let’s be clear with these terms first,” Simcha says, “If a capitalist is an exploiter, well fuck it then, they’re our enemy. If a communist is a freedom fighter for the workers and oppressed then that’s the side we want to be on. And if a revolution is the right means to end exploitation and suffering, then that’s what we want. If we have to kill a lot of people, then we didn’t do something right during the planning stage.”

 

“I’m well with that,” I say.

 

“Is YUFE the planning stage to a commie revolution?” laughs Nick Trikhovitch.

 

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” I say.

 

“Planning the revolution from a hot tub in the Hamptons. I love the irony,” says Simcha.

 

Two hours later Simcha, my brother Benny, Trikhovitch, Lauren Zivia, Zoe Zapata, and I are dressed in olive and black fatigues stalking through the woods with water guns and two dangerously realistic toy shot guns. We’ve played this game before. We call it Operation Reinhardt. In this game of vandalism and make believe, we are all transported back to Poland in 1943 as Jewish partisans behind Nazi lines. In the past we’ve dug up road signs, stolen flags, destroyed property and incinerated the local high school football goal posts. This time we’d be ambushing cars. Zivia and Izzy Vitz aren’t really into the whole game as much as they are into doggy style in the hot tub. They wish us luck and tell us not to get arrested. After crossing through several other properties placing many a chair into a pool, we arrive at a highway intersection. Using caution tape and orange neon rope we section off three sides of the intersection. With two Super Soaker 2000’s and several water balloons our objective is to lie in wait until a car stops at our blockade. When a person gets out to move it we’ll hit them with everything we’ve got.

 

I am crouching with Zoe and my brother in the woods, Super Soaker rifles ready. There isn’t any wind so the trees don’t rustle. Whoever stops at the blockade is going to get drenched. That in itself is a harmless teenage prank, a bunch of drunken kids fucking around on a Saturday night. Only I am somewhere else. To me, when that person stops they aren’t just some Hamptonite about to get soaked. I am suddenly in the middle of a great revolt and I am going to kill someone for the first time. I am engaging in political violence. Once I do this I can do it over and over again, kill as many people as I have to. I hear the car before I see it. I am in a trance. My enemy uses violence. I must use violence against my enemy. My enemy causes suffering. I must make my enemy suffer. I pump my water gun. It’s heavy like the biggest water gun ever made. 3000 won’t be out ‘til summer. In my mind it goes “click clack.”

 

Caught somewhere between the Holocaust and a violent future that I can see inevitably coming, I get ready to shoot.

 

In dreams I have seen buildings burning, I have had front row seats at an execution and I’ve seen children beaten with rifle butts. I’ve seen them in my mind, but what the mind makes real forms the basis of conviction. I see Nick ready to fire and I see Lauren and Simcha readying the water balloon launcher. And I hear the car coming. Maybe it’s a troop transport. Maybe it’s a tank. Don’t shoot ‘til you see the whites of their eyes. That one always stuck with me. It’s a black Escalade. The driver slows down, stops, and then gets out. It’s a dude in a sweater. It’s a soldier. It’s a capitalist. Don’t shoot ‘til you see the whites of his eyes.

 

I yell, “Fire!”

 

My brother Benjamin and I fire the opening salvo. He jumps in the air and yells out. The girls hit his car with water balloons and a girl yelps from inside. It all happens real fast. We don’t wait around to see what happens. All six of us tear ass back into the woods to meet up at the rendezvous point. I snap out of whatever fucked-up fantasy land I’m in and hightail after my brother deep into the tree line.

 

We repeat the process two more times at different intersections. Finally someone calls the cops on us and we have to hide in the woods for what seems like an unusually long amount of time as some cops walk around with a flashlight looking for us. The column gets back to base without any casualties.

 

I climb into bed next to Zoe and she starts rubbing my cock. Soon we’re going at. Zoe has enormous Chilean breasts. I lose my virginity to her about three hours later. It is exactly as special as I thought it would be. Believe me when I say I won’t be the first, nor the last high-minded rebel leader to cum on a girl’s face.

ט

 

Right before school ends for the summer YUFE has organized its first citywide strike against GAP Sweatshop Labor. It takes place on the same day as the Puerto Rican Day Parade. All seven chapters are assigned a major GAP retail location and we decided we would try to dissuade people from shopping there for a day. Our activists descend on seven different stores with signs and flags and pamphlets. We learned about some ordinance that states that as long as we have less than twenty people with no sound amplification outside a given store and aren’t blocking pedestrians, there is very little the authorities can do besides lecture us. Maybe it is a real ordinance; maybe it’s not. The cops find it convincing enough. The idea of all-American, GAP clothing being produced via shadow contracts and indentured labor in so-called free trade gulags enrages us. Here was a clothing line we all grew up with. Here is another American symbol soaked in blood. So we get real loud this Saturday. For every hundred people who won’t take a flyer, there is some person, generally a woman, that encourages us to keep on protesting. People tell us that we remind them of things they used to do in the 1960’s. That was a time when all the students were on the march. It is something in the back of our minds that needs to be replicated.

 

Something is changing within my mind. I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat unable to sleep, convinced my name is Mike Washington. I go for late night Camel smoke rambles evaluating what direction we are taking the YUFE. I reflect constantly on matching my YUFE rhetoric with my daily life. The need for discipline is becoming pronounced. The desire to focus all my time toward advancing our goals is central to my thinking. And then there are the false memories. I have talks with my compatriots making reference to things that I have dreamt about thinking they are real.  It is idiosyncratic, but not blatant enough for anyone to think anything other than that I am slightly confused. I dream a conversation or event and think it is real.

 

I have started wearing a brown work jacket with a Mike nametag that I boutght at a Less Than Jake Ska show. I have accumulated several Mike work shirts and wear them whenever the mood comes over me. Sometimes I introduce myself as Mike Washington at a house party. From the outside this may look like some bizarre obsession or an identity issue. It is both. Since the start of June I am becoming more and more like Mike Washington. I feel like there is a strong disciplined revolutionary inside me that I am learning to let speak and act for me. There is an inherent weakness in Sebastian Adon. Still rep obsessed, self-aggrandizing and putting my dick in the cookie jars of too many bright-eyed recruits, I feel that I am certain to fail unless I rely on Mike for discipline. My sanity is stretched. I am certain normal people don’t let imaginary friends do the talking.

 

I spend long nights confiding in my friend and lieutenant Lauren Zivia. She has become a sister to me, a girl I’m not trying to kiss with whom I can share the mounting madness. She does her best to give advice. At times I talk about the various YUFE girls I hook up with. Other times I tell her about the Family School and why I can no longer slept. We traveled to Boston together for an Amnesty International Conference. After attending a few workshops, I discover I have the signs and symptoms of PTSD.

 

I seek to testify to Lauren Zivia what has happened to me. I have hidden it from my brother, my comrades and certainly from my parents. Beyond the YUFE rhetoric and the great sense of mission I try to instill in everyone around me, I still feel the madness slowly taking hold.

 

Lauren is very active in the YUFE organization, more so than my best friends Trikhovitch and Izzy. My boys are my boys and they come out to benefit parties and film screenings, but it is their girlfriends Lauren and Zivia that do most of the work for the organization. Simcha and Isaac handle political education, but the girls keep it marketable to the growing number of students involved.

 

I have shared my fears of insanity with Lauren Zivia. She says I am working too hard and have watched Fight Club too many times. She says I need a vacation or I am going to get burnt out. I have achieved straight A’s at the Smith School. YUFE is growing quickly with more and more students opening chapters in their schools. I never stop recruiting. I look out at our enormous social circle and have found ways for as many people to be involved as possible. I have been the after-school special at a different New York high school each week convincing my fellow students of their obligation to our struggle. I rarely sleep more than a couple hours a night before a nightmare wakes me up and I start scribbling YUFE manifestos or notes to speeches.

 

Lauren Zivia accuses me of becoming a zealot. She has advised me to spend more time with the boys, my best outlet for non-political hedonism (other than the chest of Zoe Lubov) or to go out to the Hamptons for a few weeks now that school is over to sit by the beach. I have other plans. I am off to look at Nazi Death Camps in Poland.

 

There are all kinds of Zionist trips one can go on to learn about Jewish heritage via Death Camps and Israel. Since an early age I have been obsessed with the Holocaust. I stole tons of books from the library on camps like Treblinka and Auschwitz. I know how to sketch the camp layouts from memory.

 

It all goes back to my Bar Mitzvah, back when I was a rather unwilling Jew. I remember around the age of eleven being told that I would have to attend Hebrew school on 23rd and Third at East End Temple to learn Jewish history and a new language. I was less than thrilled. My grandparents on my father’s side are the Jewish ones. My mother is a convert from something called the Unitarian-Universalist Church. In a rabbinical sense that doesn’t make me all that Jewish since it gets to children passed on the mother’s side.

 

My grandmother Adon was always dying.

 

From as far back as I can remember she’d come down with a critical condition and we’d promptly cancel a vacation and go to Florida. For a while I was convinced that only the elderly populated the state of Florida. Later on I learned about the Cubans and the neo-Nazis. It was important to her that I become Bar Mitzvahed. She was willing to hold off dying despite incredible predictions to the contrary until I made that happen.

 

I found out that Hebrew School wasn’t all about learning Hebrew and Jewish history. Most of it was about remembering the Holocaust. The unwilling Jew that I was hadn’t any idea the extent of the whole thing. My teachers filled in some details. Stolen textbooks from the East Hampton Library added more.

 

The reason that I stole the library books had to do with how much I mark up a copy. I could have asked my Dad to buy me any book on the subject, but I was keeping my obsession on the low. That is to say that I didn’t want anyone to realize how truly disturbed I was by the subject. The Nazis had wiped out virtually half the Jewish population on earth in less than five years. By in large the Jews did nothing to stop them. My research was to document Jewish resistance in the Holocaust. This was at the heart of my intellectual obsession. Warsaw and the Treblinka death camp were what I knew the most about. There had been a takeover of the Sobibor camp by Russian Jewish POW’s and minor fighting in Lodz. A few women blew up a crematory in Auschwitz. The gas chambers seemed like a better target in retrospect. There were isolated incidents generally launched by the young and quickly crushed, except in Warsaw, which lasted about a month and change and killed several hundred Nazis. My interest increased after escaping from the Family School. I began collecting research material. Before getting locked up I thought about the subject frequently, but didn’t proactively seek out books. Now I was proactively seeking out survivors and had convinced my parents to send me to see the camps.

 

“You’re kidding, right?” says Lauren Zivia with a not so amused look upon her face. “That sounds like the worst idea I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth.”

 

But the trip has been planned for months. I am going to fly to Warsaw, look at camps around Poland, take a train to Prague and then fly to Tel Aviv. The whole trip is going to take the month of July.

 

“That trip is gonna make whatever you’re dealing with far worse,” Lauren predicts.

 

I feel like I am going to a vast and terrible place, a heart of darkness. In the decidedly grandiose and epic way in which I think, I equate learning about the imprisonment and murder of people as a way to understand my own demons. I empathize in an impossible and perhaps psychotic way with the victims of this great and evil crime. This has been quite exacerbated by my imprisonment in the hospital camp upstate. I realized that my dreams reflect the camps. The barbwire fences, the caravans of people off to the slaughter. The Holocaust was a time when my nightmares were in the waking life. The Holocaust was humanity at its worst, the systematic murder of six million of my people. I feel that by going there I can connect to something. Or maybe it will just make me crazier like Lauren Zivia says. But if you don’t take dangerous chances, you just won’t learn anything worth knowing.

י

A whole long plane ride without peanuts later, I am in a crappy hotel in Warsaw with about forty Jewish kids from around the country. The kids are bright-eyed and terrified. I play it cool for about a day sketching in my black sketchbook without being very social. We spend the day checking out synagogues that have been used as stables and hear about the creation of the Warsaw ghetto. They put 450,000 people in an area the size of Harlem.  The ones that didn’t die of disease and starvation were loaded on trains to get gassed at the Treblinka death camp.

 

The kids on the trip can’t decide whether to laugh or cry. They can’t seem to figure out if we are on vacation and should horse around or do the whole thing real stoic. I figure they’ll be a bigger mess when we get to a camp. The Polish guide keeps calling me the “tough New York shtarker.” I wonder how tough I’d have been back in 1943. I’d like to think I would have not died like the rest of these sheep.

 

People ask me a bunch of questions that I’m not prepared to answer. Some confide they wished they could have skipped the camps and gone straight to Israel. I don’t tell them that Israel isn’t why I am on this trip. I know nothing about the place. I have a vague sense of it as the Jewish homeland but beyond that I don’t feel much of a connection.

 

The trip has been designed to show the horrors of Holocaust era Europe and the magic of the Holy Land. Most of these young Zionists want to come to terms with the past. I want to dwell in it. I would have stayed in Poland longer than two weeks if I could have.

 

***

 

I am real friendly with two guys named Er and Onan. Er Gerblich has a girlfriend he intends to be loyal to. Onan Weinstein wants to hook up with as many Jewish girls as he can, and some Polish ones too if they don’t all hate Jews. During the tours of the ghetto I am dead serious about doing sketches and taking notes. I want to do a graphic novel like Art Spiegalman’s Mauz about Jewish resistance to the Holocaust. I photograph everything I don’t have time to sketch. I ask a ton of questions. Anytime we get introduced to one authority or another I break out my tape recorder like an investigative journalist and ask more questions when the kids are on break. If you were to watch me during the supervised tour you’d think I am writing a book or something. But as soon as we get free time, I am off fucking around with Er and Onan.  We get the impression Poles still don’t like Jews much. Maybe they just don’t like obnoxious American tourists, but I rationalize that they also don’t like Jews.

 

Sometimes the boys and I play cards in the back of the bus on the way to some site of mass execution or group killing. When no one else is paying attention I tell Onan to put his mouth around the exhaust pipe of the bus for the full Holocaust experience.

 

There is old death all around me. And we keep on digging it up and playing with it.

 

 

***

 

 

Warsaw looks like it is still stuck in the Soviet Bloc. The weather is dark and dreary. It rains the first few days we are here. The boys and I go into store after store of Polish hardcore porn that line the strip they let us wander on. I toy with the idea of purchasing an electric, vibrating post-Soviet vagina. It is only about sixty zlotys. That doesn’t seem like all that much.

 

I didn’t know too much about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising before I got to Warsaw. I know that some Jews made a stand. Being Johnny-ten-billion-questions when I’m interested in something, I leave Warsaw with tons of archival photos and a reading list. Most of my research had been about the Jews that took over and burned down Treblinka and those that had escaped en masse from Sobibor. Warsaw was a battle. It took longer to crush the ghetto rebellion than it took for the Nazis to take over Europe. Less than eight hundred students with pistols and Molotov cocktails held an area the size of Harlem. Hundreds of Nazis died. They had to burn the whole ghetto to the ground and it still went on for nearly two months.

 

In the middle of Warsaw, we come to a green hill with a small monument on top. The hill is on 18 Mila Street. Under this very hill had been the enormous command bunker from which the Jewish resistance fighters called the ZOB (Zybotso Organizatia Bejudeoa or the Jewish Fighting Organization) had directed its guerrilla attacks against the Nazis. On May 8th of 1943, on the twentieth day of the uprising, the Nazis surrounded the bunker and dynamited each of its four exits. The Nazis pumped Zyclon B into the bunker through holes they drilled in the ground where Commander Mordechai Anielewicz, about 120 other fighters and several hundred civilians were trapped inside. Most of the fighters killed themselves before the gas took hold. We only know this to be true because two or three got out through the sewers. Under this hill are the bones of my heroes. I pick up a rock from the ground and place it on the memorial stone. I’m not sure why, but that’s what we Jews do to commemorate our fallen.

 

 

***

 

We are journeying deeper into the darkness.  I had barely understood Joseph Conrad’s book, which described his trip up the Congo River into the violence, rape and destruction of colonial Africa. Our shitty metal Polish greyhound is taking us deeper and deeper up that metaphorical river of our own people. A Polish contract security guard with a pistol follows us around. When we first arrived we toured the cities. We had traveled to ghettos, the streets paved with Jewish tombstones, the synagogues saved because they’d been made into a stable and remnants here or there of an old Ghetto wall. Up next is the mass graves the Nazis had the Jews dig out in the woods before they lined them up and shot their families.

 

I don’t know who to hate more, the Nazis who built the camps or the Poles who allowed it to happen in their own backyards. I have started keeping a list of which kids on the trip would have survived the Holocaust. Not very many I figure.

 

Kids keep breaking down all over the place. A good deal of hugging it out stabilizes our little crew. I convince myself that these emotionally concentrated moments aren’t taking a toll on me. I’m not going to cry about something I can’t change. These people have been dead for fifty years.  These stories aren’t shocking to me anymore. There was unprecedented human misery in the war years and one more story about another raped Jewish girl, or another baby impaled on a soldier’s baton isn’t going to change my worldview.

 

I am only in Poland to find out about the Jews that fought back.

 

***

 

After a long bus ride we arrive at the site where the Treblinka death camp once swallowed up 800,000 of my people. I hadn’t imagined it like this. I know what happened here. A book I stole from the Hampton’s library painted the whole picture. There isn’t a camp anymore. It looks a whole lot more like a cemetery. There are over ten thousand tombstones, but they don’t mark bodies. They mark villages, whole villages wiped out with carbon monoxide in a building that must have looked like a barn. The double layer barbed wire fence is gone. So is the barn. At the epicenter of the slaughter site is an enormous monolith. Screaming faces are carved at the top. The tombstones are small jagged projections upon which are inscribed the names of Polish towns.

 

The Polish guides asks me to tell the story of the camp uprising because they know I’ve studied it. In the spring of 1943 the camp knew its days were numbered. The great experiment of Operation Reinhardt, which had created the camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka was near its end. The mega camps Auschwitz and Birkenow were fully capable of murdering Europe’s Jewry at the rate of 40,000 a day with Zyclon B.  The camp leaders had formed a committee to escape and destroy the camp before they too were liquidated.  On August 2nd they covered the camp in petrol, set it on fire and fled into the woods. About 40 made it out alive. A couple wrote books about it. All of the leaders of the uprising were killed. They managed to kill a Nazi and two Ukrainians. I couldn’t decide what about the story of Treblinka was particularly amazing to me. The results of the uprising were not miraculous, so instead it must be the miracle that it happened at all. Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust usually seems like a myth. But if you set about the kill 6 million, I guess a couple would have fought back.

 

Why had so few fought back? They had truly gone like sheep to the slaughter. They had put the patches on their arms. They had moved into the ghettos.  They had helped load each other on the trains to these camps. If a people will not fight to save itself, does it even deserve to be a people?

 

I have wandered quite far from the group amid the vast graveyard of names I can’t pronounce or remember. And what arguments can I make for the goodness of humanity when such a crime was carried out in the heart of Europe. Where was the Allied bombardment of the camps or the railroad tracks? Why had countries like the U.S. turned back refugees even after it knew what Hitler was doing?

 

Two things in this graveyard terrify me. First, I can no longer sympathize with the Jews that didn’t fight. Second, I am unsure that our nature was truly good. I don’t hate Poles or Germans anymore. They had done what they said they were going to do. I hate the scared Ghetto Jew that let the Nazis kill his family. I hate Anne Frank for hiding in some attic while her people were being killed. There has always been slaughter going on somewhere. People with bullets and bombs or machetes have done the job just as well as the Nazis did with gas chambers and Zyclon B. The Jew was not killed because he was a Jew; he was killed because he made the perfect scapegoat for the darker forces of Europe. He was picked to die not for religious but for sociological reasons. There is no Jewish race. It is some kind of construct created in exile. My people are the most reviled of any group in Western civilization.  Not even fit to be slaves. I realize right here and now that while it may have been Hitler and Eichmann that had the final solution, the nations of Europe didn’t protest all that much. The miserable Ghetto Jew had been nearly eradicated by Western civilization. Hitler was the architect cheerleader but the devil was indifference.

 

These thoughts come to me quickly and spin in my head. There is something very wrong with humanity. I have only scratched the surface of the ice. How much human suffering remains frozen below? If I were to tear apart my many society-created identities, like Jew or communist or New Yorker, then I am just a man. And the evils, the injustices and the weight of human suffering falls on my shoulders like those of every person who came before me.

 

I am crying. I weep amid tombstones of obliterated towns and at the foot of one of the great pyres where they burned the bodies where no one can see me but my God.

 

After awhile I wipe my tears knowing they are a waste of my water.

 

I realize I am not a great fighter, but perhaps one only knows how to fight in the face of one’s own destruction. I’m the kind of guy who can get a hand job on the bus ride to Auschwitz. I’m the kind of guy that jokes around constantly in the face of tragedy. My connection to being Jewish has more to do with mass graves in Eastern Europe than with faith in God. But during these two weeks in Poland surrounded by the monuments to the destruction of my people, I have realized that when I die, I’ll die fighting as a Jewish revolutionary.

 

I have no discipline, no organizational abilities and up to now, I have squandered my leadership skills in vain self-aggrandizement. The context of my struggle is different than those born Jewish in Poland or Black in Africa. Mine is a struggle that I am under no pressure to join. The West is, of course, the Aryan side and the rest of the world is the ghetto marked for differing degrees of degradation or destruction. If I choose not to fight, if I return to America to my parents loft in the Financial District, their house in the Hamptons, to college and then law school, I am as guilty as the Poles. The phrases Nazi and Holocaust are loaded and extreme as is their parable. But East New York is every bit as much a ghetto as Warsaw. The poverty in Newark, NJ kills as many as Treblinka. My tribe was chosen to be the radical example of our of our human darkness. This is the moment of my greatest realization.

 

I have to fight or I am an accomplice to human suffering and slaughter.

 

Squatting down in that cemetery I vow before my God, to whom I have not reached out since the day of my great escape from the Family School, that I will give my life to make sure this will never happen again. Now my struggle is universal. The only event that can change this reality is the revolution. I am going to do whatever I have to do to help my people, which is to say all people who are the victims of the whims of oppressive governments, even if it cost me my life. In the bone yard of Treblinka I am making a palaver with my God, Mike Washington and whatever unseen powers of the universe choose to listen. My quiet tears water the bone yard and I take a rock from this place of death to hold as a token of my pledge.

 

***

 

We have seen most of the big camps in all their rusty, barb-wired glory with their gas-chambered bunkers and forests of death and ash.  Madjanek. Auschwitz. Treblinka. Birkinow. The Israeli guide tells us that Madjanek could be up and running in a day. The guides jam the 40 of us into one corner of the gas chamber at one of the camps.  All the kids start screaming and crying. To me it is more tasteless than moving. I came here to take pictures and hear a story, not to role-play. Never had a taste for Dungeons and Dragons. Bunkers and Gas Chambers isn’t a game I have too much time for either. Everyone has a good cry. I don’t need the reenactment with dreams like mine. In all the flailing crying mess I think about reaching for the security guard’s pistol just to prove a point. If Trikhovitch were here he’d call this a bad idea.

 

Nothing is worse to me than the parade of photography. I hate the moments where we have to wait for the guides to snap photos with the forty cameras in a pile. That might fly with me at the Sea of Galilee, but not so much in front of Schindler’s factory or the memorial stone at Mila 18.

 

After seeing most of the camps and enough sites of hapless horror to last me lifetime, we are back in a cheap Warsaw hotel about to board a train for the Czech Republic. It is a midnight bullet train. We are leaving for the next leg of the trip that will be more picturesque than meaningful, an interlude before our flight to Israel for the last leg.

 

“Nothing that we’ve seen makes you cry? None of this goddamn horror has any effect on you?” this broad Amy Niseman from Ohio demands of me.

 

“I just don’t get emotionally loud anymore,” I explained.

 

“What’s your point?” she demands.

 

“We have to stop thinking of ourselves as Americans of Jewish descent above all other things. What happened here goes on all over the world,” I coldly explain.

 

“If we extend our sense of identity too far we will lose our ability to know ourselves as a people.”

 

“Or we will finally realize that our identity is a false construction designed to divide us from the only identity that really matters, that we are one people.”

 

“I would be curious to see if you still believe this in ten years.”

 

“In ten years I’ll be dead and the only thing that will matter is if you believe it,” I tell her coldly.

 

כ

 

When the El Al flight touches down in Lod International airport I begin a tradition I swear I will always continue. I said the Sh’mah (the main Jewish prayer, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One”) to myself and kiss the tarmac as soon as we disembark from the plane. I have finally arrived in the land of my Hebrew people. Jewish people not just Zionists are always talking about a connection to the land. I feel it as soon as I land. The juxtaposition of the land of the camps in Europe and the land of the Jews in Israel is most likely a calculation made by the Zionist agencies that run these kinds of trips. I cannot escape the contrast. The hatred of Poland and the love of Israel crystallizes over the next two weeks. I fall victim to the very mentality I have preached so adamantly against–a nationalist identity.

 

We pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I tuck a simple note into the cracks asking God for the next sign to let me know what to do with the YUFE. We party in Tel Aviv, which to me is not unlike New York City on a Mediterranean beach. We watch Russian hustlers take hundreds upon thousands of tourist shekels in the three-card game where they keep moving cards and make the mark guess the ace.  A gorgeous blonde insider keeps betting, winning and losing all night, luring in men to lose their cash. We swim in the Sea of Galilee where my new summer Zionist trip love, Amy and I make out on a beach. I wander off to make new late night friends. I lost my Father’s watch while swimming. We go to Safat and learn about the Kabala. I cut myself climbing the Masada in the middle of the night and then burn my wounds badly floating in the Dead Sea. We go to Ben Gurion’s grave in Sde Boker and look out over the Negev desert.

 

There are beautiful women everywhere we go. Racial mixing makes you hot would be a good slogan for the country. There are Jews from every corner of the earth fighting hard and making babies. I am overtaken with pride of place. It has the effect of tying our identity to this land. I’m not even really aware of the subtle packaging that produces this effect. Of the forty kids on the trip only one or two might make Alliaya (immigrate to Israel) but the rest will keep coming back on vacation and send checks for life. Israel’s existence depends equally on American military aid as it does on international Jewish solidarity.

 

I am convinced I am home. In a country that takes eight hours to travel north to south and about two hours east to west, there is every type of diversity and every type of climate. I stand by the Sea of Galilee and in the peaks of the Golan Heights looking down on Damascus figuratively and literally. The deserts of the Negev enthrall me. Tel Aviv is an underground clubbing boomtown. All the darkness of the country has been locked away beyond the reach of the scheduled tour. If there is such a thing as a Palestinian, I would never know it. Nothing quite simplifies a socio-political situation quite like a guided tour. I can’t tell a Druze from a Bedouin, or an Arab Israeli from a Palestinian. It just doesn’t seem relevant. This country is ours. Israel from the perspective of a Zionist Youth trip is a only a question of Arabs vs. Jews. You ultimately miss the subtleties if you take the three-hour tour over a two-week period.

 

***

 

The trip allows kids with Israeli relatives to visit for the weekend. I want to tag along to get a less supervised picture of the country. Onan invites me to go with him to see his relatives on a settlement southeast of Jerusalem. The term settlement doesn’t mean anything to me. Onan’s Israeli relatives are Orthodox. I have never experienced an Orthodox Sabbath or shabbos. We were picked up in Tel Aviv and driven into a region of Israel called the West Bank.

 

We arrive at a fortified settlement amid the meandering red hills of Judea. All of the men wear the black suits and hats of the Orthodox. The culture and practices of their particular sect are lost on me. Children play everywhere. Ten or eleven kids per family is normal. We get there before dusk and attend to shuel with Onan’s male relatives. I watch the shabbos ritual with keen interest. I have seen the lighting of candles before, but never in the company of the religious. My Dad’s grandfather was an Orthodox Jew. My grandfather had downgraded to the Conservative movement. I was raised in the liberal Reform tradition. It had taken three generations to achieve the American Dream. So within four generations I guess you forget where you came from.

 

Unusual for me, I stayed quiet. There are twenty people gathered for the shabbos dinner. There is a lot more praying than I have ever seen in New York. I’d grumbled at the Conservative Bar Mitzvahs I had attended. All my Hebrew is gone and the prayers mean nothing to me, but I understand the basics–the woman of the household lighting the shabbos candles, the prayers for the bread and the wine. What is new to me was the set of regulations delineating exactly how much rest you are to engage in. It was explained that from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, the period of the shabbos, no one is to do any work.

 

All the food has been prepared in advance because you cannot cook during the shabbos. Lights cannot be turned on. You can’t carry or use money. You can’t drive or take the bus anywhere. You can’t smoke or draw or a million other little things. Sleep, eat, fuck and hang out with your family is the idea. It takes a little getting used to. I am to infer later in my life that because of this ritual the Jews had actually laid the groundwork for the modern weekend. It is my guess that before the Hebrew faith, people just worked (normally as slaves) seven days a week.

 

When I tired of asking 300 questions about Judaism, I decide to go for a little walk. I jump a low concrete barrier and start walking through a valley, a desolate barren stretch dotted with small trees that don’t offer much shade. There are other settlements in the distance. And if the hushed warnings of the Jewish community I am staying in are to be believed, the inhabitants are a violent, warlike people known as the Palestinians. Because I never believe in a one-sided argument, I feel it is my duty to meet a real Palestinian so I can offer a halfway descent rebuttal.

 

The Zionist trips never mention the grey area that is the green line. It is always portrayed as the Jews versus the faceless Arabs, the ‘snarling horde’ held back by the valiant IDF. It is a carefully packaged simplification for the young and foreign. You end up believing in it if you just stay for the three-hour tour.

 

I want to know about the reality that has been hidden from me by the national monuments and the attractive, olive-skinned soldiers clad in tan and green. I want to know what a Palestinian is. I had looked down from the Golan Heights and wondered what heart of darkness lay in Damascus. The notion that snipers lurk in the olive trees and that they’ll kill me just for being a Jew seems too simplistic. I am walking into that valley to make contact with the other side of this state.

 

I see three figures smoking a hookah surrounded by a herd of black billy goats at the other end of the valley. I can’t tell because of the glare whether they are Israelis or Palestinians or Bedouin or Arabs or Druze or any of the complicated mix of Arab sub-groups that live in this place. As I get closer, one of them stands up and points. They are very young.

 

They are yelling to me in what sounds like Hebrew, but it isn’t. It is distinctively sharper, more melodic perhaps. It’s Arabic. They try Hebrew, but I only know a few words of my own language. I walk up and sit down next to them. There is novelty on both sides. I don’t quite dress like anything they’ve ever seen before. I point to myself and extend out my hand.

 

“Sebastian. From New York.”

 

They have great big smiles when they hear this. Convinced that I must speak some Hebrew they ask a thousand and one questions all at once, right over each other. They wear ratty jeans and plain faded T-shirts. They keep smiling, laughing and I guess not knowing what to do.

 

The oldest looking kid points to the youngest and says, “Amir Ishma’ieli.”

 

Then to the other and says, “Mustafa.”

 

Finally after looking at me for what seems too long to be casual, he points to himself and says, “Kareem.”

 

Something is said in Arabic and the youngest kid, Amir, starts pouring four cups of black tea from a small pot on a low burning ember fire. He pours it into four plastic cups that look like they’ll melt from the heat of the brew, scalding being the operative word. I sip on it and then for about two hours as the sun beats down we fumble and meander though Heeb-Anglish phrases and Arabrew miscommunications. We drink all the tea they brought and smoke grape-mint tasting ‘sheesha,’ the Arabic word for hookah. Finally I make it clear that New York is in America. They hesitate a minute, as if that goes against something they thought they knew. Then Mustafa jumps in the air and starts air machine-gunning in pantomime.

 

“RAMBO! RAMBO!” he yells as he machine guns, half Waltz of Bashir, half air guitar.

 

The other two laugh hysterically. I smile and rat-tat-tat an invisible machine gun into the desert in no particular direction for comedic affect. In the middle of some Judean desert wadi, the empire that I had grown up believing was a champion of freedom across the globe, is being reduced to a Palestinian impromptu performance art piece of a muscle-bound, Italian guido in a B-Movie filmed to make us feel better about losing Vietnam. I suppose the depth of this is a few years away from my understanding.

 

“You,” Mustafa stutters in broken English pointing to me, “You Rambo.”

 

He pauses a second thinking.

 

“Me,” he points to himself, “Palestinian.”

 

A million Zionist youth trips a year might assure you that before the Jews came to make the desert bloom there was nothing here, but dust, sand and poorly irrigated olive trees. You could talk about nations and say this was a Roman province, then the protectorate of various great Islamic empires and finally an English mandate. Just desert, sand and olive trees. Always a backwater of some foreign occupier’s great empire. Could you really be a people without a nation? A people without a country or some land? Well, the Jews had been proving this was a rational idea for about 2,000 years. That the Palestinians might hold a similar view is not so unthinkable.

 

After a few more hours of pantomime, sheesha smoking, and whatever else we may have been trying to communicate, Mustafa, Amir, and Kareem wave goodbye and begin herding their goats out of the valley. Before he leaves Kareem paints with his index finger a wide circle in every direction, then at his own heart. He utters something with hard, but quiet dignity.

 

“Palestine,” he says to me.

 

I shake their hands and head back to the settlement soon to be admonished for my ‘foolish adventurism’. I am telling this story to a large group of Orthodox kids when Onan’s cousin Moshe interrupts me sternly.

 

“They could have killed you,” one of Onan’s Orthodox cousins tells me, “They’re a bunch of bloody savages. They’d kill us all if the Defense Forces didn’t protect us.”

 

It’s all about enforcing the national myths when the kids are young. I have spent my first Orthodox shabbos finding Palestinians. I feel that God knows my heart is in the right place.

 

Shabbos ends and Onan and I return to the three-hour tour.

 

***

 

And this is how I came to see Israel 1.

 

Israel 1 is a term I coined later life for the first alehya, the first time one goes to the Israel. The dinner with the Druze, the camel ride, Ein Gedi, the Oasis near the Dead Sea, the Tel Aviv night life and of course the Wailing Wall photo op. We have finally arrived in Jerusalem. I wrap tffilin for the first time and place my first message in the wall.

 

The Wailing Wall or Ha Kotel is the western-most wall of the Second Temple that Herod built after the Babylonian exile, which the Romans razed to the ground. The Muslims built the Dome of the Rock on the temple mount where Mohammed ascended to heaven. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher down the street is where Jesus ate his last supper. It’s an Abrahamic madhouse on the weekends, a virtual cornucopia of devotion packed within the Old City walls. You can sense the religious fervor. It tastes like blood and smells like falafel.

 

I try to see as much as I can. I miss nothing. Israel had retaken the Old City and East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights of Syria in 1967 in just six days of war. I think they nabbed the Sinai Peninsula too. Everyone was happy to have our little wall back. In just six days the landmass of the country had virtually doubled and Israel inherited roughly a million-plus Palestinian people, those that didn’t flee into a second mass exile abroad. The cost of the Wall was the need to continue a military occupation, which has lasted for 33 years. Two subsequent wars in 1973 and 1982 and an uprising called the Intifada in 1994 has changed precious little about anything. Egypt normalized relations in 1982 in exchange for becoming the world’s largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel. Jordan did so in 1994, always less than eager to battle the ‘Zionist Entity’ to begin with. But, what’s in a history?

 

There’s a great picture of me in an orange vest with ‘Rudeboy’ emblazoned on the left breast, with a multi colored yamulka-kufi, white UFO raver pants with tfillin on my yad and roshe as I stand in front of the Wailing Wall. So that’s what Israel 1 has been about–keeping history simple for the photo-op. And so it seems I have cast my lot with the Jewish State on this trip, in irreconcilable contradiction to the political views I now cling to.

 

I fly back to New York four days after the Western Wall photo-op.

 

ל

Over the course of the summer with the help of my parents and a civil rights lawyer specialized in educational issues, I have been readmitted to Bronx Science in September to begin my sophomore year.

 

If change has typically been made by small, idealistic groups of people organized for a common good then YUFE chapters have been created by small, idealistic groups of hot girls and young men with silver tongues and spoons.

 

Zivia Ferenz helped set up YUFE at the prestigious Stuyvesant High School as a club. She and Lauren Zivia are the real go-to people that help me get all the other chapters properly functioning. They moderate my rhetoric, are generally charming and sooth all concern. Unlike Lauren Zivia, Zivia is not much of an organizer, more of a connector really.

 

There are now cells of YUFE activists at Horace Man, Chapin, Hunter High School, Sacred Heart Academy for Girls, Fieldston, Brooklyn Tech, the Lab School, Beacon, and Smith. My little brother even started a small one at LaGuardia with an old UNIS classmate of mine named Katrina Shah. The movement is growing because it is an easy to sell. Change is not only possible, it’s sexy. We are the new radical-chic.

ם

Lauren Zivia tells me about a Bronx Science trip to Italy and France to look at art and party in Europe. My old buddy Case Yadger, Ari Wilner, Lauren and a few of our other friends have already signed up. She says I need a vacation ‘without any dead Jews’ and that it will be good for my art. I convince my parents that it is a good birthday present. The trip is supposed to leave sometime in early February and come back after two weeks abroad.

מ

Sweatshop labor continues to be the cause célèbre of YUFE. This is a logical jump from a blanket fight against apathy to an international struggle on behalf of the developing world’s working class. The picketing turns to flyering with our guerrilla runs into all the major chain stores. We carried out one ‘city-wide-strike’ covering three major stores simultaneously. Strike isn’t the right word. Simultaneous, erratic and un-permitted protest is more accurate. We stationed several hundred protesters with colorful signs and fact sheets over the eighteen largest GAP branch stores, out of maybe thirty in the whole city. Between noon and six pm we have tred to convince people not to buy nothing. Any person in and out of the stores is going to have to learn about sweatshop labor from our bright-eyed gang of cute idealists. Thanks to heavy recruiting organized by the lovely black Irish Julia Donahue we are thick with Catholic schoolgirls in plaid miniskirts. Believe me these mini-skirt brigades do more for the child workers of Saipan than any other card in our deck.

 

January 2001 will mark nearly one year of YUFE activism dating from the time I  escaped from the Family School and read the Communist Manifesto. We want to throw a huge Unity Concert in the Communist Party building on 23rd Street. We plan to get a few bands and DJs and celebrate one year of our movement’s work. We set the date for January 15th.

 

In the early fall a few of us had activated the first guerrilla unit of the YUFE movement, the Ghost Shirt Society. The name was derived from an underground group in a Kurt Vonnegut book, which was taken from the Rebel Indian Confederation of Black Elk. The fictional group had gotten their name from a group of Native Americans in the Dakotas that had organized a bunch of small tribes to hold off Federal seizure of Indian land. They were the ones who fought the losing battle. Before they made their last stand against the much larger Federal army, they put on special garments that symbolized the idea that they were sure to fight and perish. However, the ghosts of their resistance would insure the world would never forget that a small group had fought against incredible odds for their freedom, and one day another generation would pick up the torch. They were the Spartans at Thermopylae. They were the ghetto fighters of Warsaw. And they were all passing that torch to us.

 

Our objective, although not all the Ghost Shirts were privy to all the details, was to use a series of potassium phosphate bombs on remote detonators to fill several large GAP Stores with thick white, non-lethal smoke during the height of the holiday shopping season in November. All the bomb components were available to us in our chemistry classes at school. What we couldn’t snatch quantity-wise in class, we would get from an easy break into the school at night. The creation of the bombs was to take place in a makeshift lab in the elevator shaft above my building with burners and mixers we also stole from the school. The actual chemistry we downloaded from a White Power militant Web site from a public library. We were all to help in expropriating the chemical components. Three cells were formed to handle the rest of the logistics. One group was to build the electronic detonator component using the handsets for remote control airplanes. Another cell was charged with mixing the chemicals and pouring them into nine metal Coke cans we’d screwed the lids off of to work as casings. And the final cell was to disguise themselves with make-up and wigs to enter the stores, hide the apparatus inside and depart quickly to alert the detonation teams to trigger the smoke bombs. Entrance and exit was to take no more than five minutes. Each apparatus was to be created from three cans soldered together. The mixture was to be ignited by remote control and was supposed to smoke out a city block if the Web site was to be believed. No one would be hurt. The smoke was non-lethal. But three smoking chain stores connected to sweatshop labor would draw a great deal of media attention to the anti-sweatshop movement. We planned to leave a communiqué at each site and send one to the New York Times and another to the Village Voice.

 

Despite the fact that I attend an honors science magnet school, I don’t know anything about temperatures, proper storage or really anything one needed to know about chemistry to mix the bombs themselves. I am going to have to outsource this crucial job.

 

The YUFE Movement launched the second citywide strike against the GAP on December 8, 2000. Over 200 YUFE activists took positions at eighteen of the largest GAP Stores, Banana Republics, and Old Navies in Manhattan.

 

But all that day I wondered what really was being done. This was still agitation, not action.

ן

December rolls on by. A huge citywide march we take part in with the AFL-CIO against child labor gets YUFE into the Daily News. More YUFE meetings and actions and the first wave of UHO tables operated by the YUFE in the freezing New York cold unfold. A coat drive is coordinated across the City by our chapters yielding over thirty bags of warm winter clothing for the homeless. The snow comes down hard and it gets real, real cold. We’re organizing a workshop series on ‘Peace in the Middle East’ and I’m cuddled up with a foxy Egyptian.

 

There are a lot of bright-eyed broads getting down on the movement. Women are the crux of our organization most directly responsible for the wave of community projects being orchestrated under our auspices. I like female attention, but then there is Nina Yoh.

 

I have never met a Lesbian before. This bad sister is one of the key organizers on our Executive Committee from the YUFE chapter at Hunter High school. She is so brilliant that she already does college-level research as a part of an advanced science program. She is always dressed in black and has jet-black flowing hair. I believe she is at least part Chinese. She always makes her boyfriend bring her donuts in the middle of the night while perpetually denying him sex. I never met the boyfriend, but it’s all a cover. She is one of those people who know a great deal about many esoteric things that no one else knows well at her age. Like psychiatry, noire film and exotic Chinese dance. Or like biochemistry, breaking and entering and BSDM. She’d be a man-eater black widow spider if she didn’t have a thing for chicks.

 

“Men are violent monkeys,” she tells me one night over coffee at the Yaffa Café.

 

She wears dark black-framed sunglasses even at night and can pull it off without ridicule or the endless refrain from that terrible song ‘I wear my sun glasses at night’ by god-knows-how-many hipster scum. She looks like a Weatherman. She knows where the wind blows.

 

Nina is a bad chick. We have an extra-curricular breaking and entering hobby. We engage in long talks about training ourselves as philosopher kings. I talk with Zivia and Lauren Zivia about many of the same things. Although Lauren certainly cares about me her answers are less profound than Nina’s. Nina is the first person to make me break down logistics and infrastructure questions about the revolution from sanitation to corporate decision-making. She forces me to examine that I don’t come close to having suitable answers for how to run a country.

 

Breaking and entering isn’t quite the right term. More like casing and trespassing to be clear. We enter buildings like hotels, subway conduits or construction sites and see how far we can wander into the space without encountering a locked door. We know we can always feign we are lost or just looking for a place to ‘hook up.’ Our little escapades have escalated as time goes on. To casing, trespassing and pillaging.

 

Another destructive pastime was our car emblem and flag collection. We’d snap the hood ornaments off BMWs, Jags, Mercedes, and anything else that looked fancy on the Upper East Side where her belligerent stepfather owned a building on 68th Street. This is a few years before widespread use of eBay so we aren’t thinking about selling them. The flags are all over the place. We climb up fences and cut them down. She distracts doormen while I lower huge ones down central poles in an apartment block square. It is a low intensity protracted guerrilla campaign against boredom. Neither of us sleep. Neither of us are drinkers.  It is like beating tiny little fists against a great big machine. Like property destruction in the suburbs. Like a series of ‘only when with Sebastian’ moments that might go on indefinitely the rest of my life. But the box under her bed is filling up with hood ornaments and a growing collection of flags. The girl is a vamp and sharp as hell.

 

One January night Nina Yoh and I break into the Plaza Hotel and make off with just about everything that isn’t tied down in the kitchen. More unjustifiable reckless adventurism.

We sit by the statue across from the Plaza Hotel on the southeast corner of Central Park. You can see our exhalations like smoke. We have a duffle bag filled with silverware, liquor bottles, plates and assorted other paraphernalia. We have even expropriated a wedding cake.

 

“I finally figured out what’s up with you,” she says, wrapped in a black trench coat still wearing black sunglasses.

 

“Please tell, my dear.”

 

“Remember when you were talking about your birth? How you were a month late and how your head got stuck in the birth canal. You said you and your mother almost died and that they had to perform a C-section to get you out alive. During the time your head was stuck, the pressure could have damaged your frontal lobe. You may have received brain damage from the trauma. The front of the brain is where behavior, mood and inhibitions are regulated. Your behavior is generally out of control. Your moods swing wildly and you have few inhibitions. In the immortal words of economist Stephen J. Dubner, ‘you have an overdeveloped curiosity and an underdeveloped sense of fear’. This would lead me to believe that your so-called mental illness, as you refer to it, is a medical condition that evolved as a result of your traumatic birth. You went from petit mal epilepsies at ages 11-13 to nightmares and onset symptoms of bi-polar 1 from the age 13 until now. It may continue to evolve. Your imaginary friend’s increasing breakthrough into your waking life points toward another evolution.”

 

“Which is?” I ask.

 

“Bi-Polar 2, effectively maintained, early onset schizophrenia. The break of your psyche into competing parts followed by visions, voices and psychotic episodes,” she explains.

 

“So that’s the prognosis Dr. Yoh?” I ask her.

 

“Good as I can come up with,” she says.

 

“And the pills I take? The Zyprexa yellows?” I ask.

 

“May slow this evolution of the condition,” Nina responds.

 

“So I’m gonna lose my mind regardless?”

 

“Research doesn’t tell us much about how the human brain actually works. The pharmaceutical companies prescribe a cornucopia of drugs to offset the various symptoms, but you have to realize that it’s all just a business and a lot of money gets made off the one quarter of the youth population of the country diagnosed with various forms of mental illness.”

 

“What would happen if I stop taking my pills?”

 

“You’re mind would begin cycling and you’d quickly lose control without an alternative, say more holistic, Eastern means, to control your condition.”

 

“I’ve told you a lot about Mike Washington and about the dreams, but what do you think it all means?”

 

“I think you either have a serious mental illness or, you’re just seeing the world in a way that’s lost on the rest of us as you continue to teeter-totter between brilliance and insanity,” Nina concludes.

 

“I like that phrase.”

 

“It’s from a hip-hop song by King Latif and Lyrics Born.”

 

“So stay on the pills?”

 

“As your friend I’d say, yes. As an outside observer curious as to what you might do next I’d say go for it with this cautionary thinking in mind. You’re quite brilliant and I don’t pay compliments easily. As for your condition, you share it with some of the most influential people in history. If you go off the pills you might learn things the rest of us just can’t see. You might also just lose your mind and end up back in the Crazy Nut Bin.”

 

“That’s Izzy’s phrase.”

 

“No, he stole it from me,” she corrects me.

 

As neither of us drink, we pour the liquor we just nipped in a trashcan in Central Park, eat some cake and light the trash can on fire.

נ

I don’t really know what an anarchist is, except that they shop at Hot Topic. They don’t believe in having a government is about all I know. A bunch of them had rioted in Seattle last year before, lit McDonalds on fire and smashed up a few Starbucks at a protest against the IMF. They had called this the Battle of Seattle. To me it was college kids acting the fool.

 

But this girl is really cool. Hard like Nina, but still likes men from the vibe she is givin’ me. She is something called a vegan, which means she not only doesn’t eat meat, but she doesn’t use animal products like cheese or milk. It is supposed to be very healthy if you know how to do it. I met the girl recruiting for YUFE at Bronx Science through my old buddy Deleon, the funky straight edge, black Jew. Simcha and Isaac continue to school me politically. I have just arrived upon these radical theories that they have studied for years. This vegan, self-proclaimed anarchist girl is a junior with sexy dreadlocks. She has moved beyond Marx into the anarcho-communist ideas of a theorist named Peter Kropotkin. She rattles off a whole list of books I need to read to be taken seriously as a revolutionary by authors like Bakunin, Proudhon, and Emma Goldman.

 

The girl tells me that her mother is double Brahmin, the highest caste in India. With no higher prospects for marriage she had gone one caste higher, she’d married a New York Jew. I haven’t met her Mom. Maybe they are split. Maybe she is dead. The girl never says, but she lives with her old man in Hell’s Kitchen near Nadia.  She could have passed for White, this beautiful, dreadlocked, half-Indian, half-Hebrew anarchist broad, Soreiya Levy.

 

She is determined to make a real revolutionary out of me. I will hold all subsequent anarchists I meet up to her. She defies what is the common misconception about anarchists after Seattle, that they are young, White, dirty punk rockers who hate their parents more than the state and haven’t read a book in their lives. This is the ‘anarchism as a punk social scene’ that gets all the media attention because of actions like those in Seattle. They have some abstract notion of anarchism as anarchy–no laws, no rules. Soreiya explainse that anarchism, on the other hand, is the only revolutionary ideology that has never been tainted by the civilian bloodletting that tainted Communism. According to her once the revolutionary parties seize power, they replicate the same relationships upon the people the revolution had set out to supposedly abolish.

 

“The word revolution is grossly bastardized by the radical chic and by mass marketing,” she tells me over coffee in the Yaffa Café on St. Marks and Ave A, my new after hours haunt.

 

She says words have specific meanings as well as meanings conferred by society. All the words of the revolution are going to have to be redefined for it to succeed in America. She will never call herself an ‘anarchist’ to people outside or even within the movement. Like Simcha, Zivia and Lauren she agreeds that YUFE’s greatest victory is its utter dissociation with the New York leftist community.

 

“Hippies, hipsters, NYU students and armchair motherfuckers,” as she describes them.

 

“Anarchism is a lifestyle and philosophy, not just an economic theory like Marxism. The liberation of the working class will come from changing power relations not government structures and economies. Gender equality, racial equality and freedom of sexual orientation cannot take a back seat to the people’s war with the state. Sweep these under the table and you end up with another Soviet Union, a one party state constantly delaying the end of its proletarian dictatorship.”

 

I’m sure that the inclination to create the Ghost Shirts and write Socio-Economic Factors of the Second American Revolution (SEFSTAR) comes largely from my interactions with Sorieya, as well as those with Mr. Zucker and Mr. Rathajzer. She advises me never to talk about revolution in the context of YUFE.

 

“You can’t have a serious, above-ground revolutionary movement,” she explains.

 

Nor does she think that my friends and I are old enough or ‘life experienced enough’ to take that path just yet. She says it is bad enough to walk around openly telling people I am a communist.

 

“Most people will think you’re naïve and the remaining few will mark you as potentially dangerous.”

ס

Sorieya Levy and I are sitting under the World Trade Center towers on the plaza looking up. The whole YUFE crew is out getting twisted at MaoMao and Co, the bar on Chambers that is the latest no-ID-needed spot. It is really, really cold. I am wearing a thick brown cashmere trench coat I’d bought at Love Saves the Day and a grey corduroy scaly-cap I have taken to wearing nearly all the time. There is a Communist party emblem from the former Soviet Union affixed to one of the upper buttonholes on the jacket. She is wearing a black jumpsuit with thermal underwear underneath and an olive military jacket from the Vietnam era.

 

“There isn’t a real leftist movement in this country. The commies have been marginal for over sixty years,” she explains.

 

“It’s half their appeal,” I respond.

 

“The anarchist movement, if you can call it that, lacks viable leadership, tactical organization and overall direction. This whole mess is being funneled into the new anti-globalization movement. But globalization is a phenomenon that really only hurts the developing world. And who can start a movement on an anti? Anarchism is misunderstood by everyone including the anarchists. It’s more punk rock than Peter Kropotkin. The black bloc tactic won’t evolve into direct action cells. It’ll peter out into reckless adventurism. The closest thing to an organized revolutionary group in this nation, barring all the highly trained and organized right wing paramilitary formations operating under the auspices of the NRA, like the one that carried out the Oklahoma City Bombing, would be the ELF/ALF.”

 

“Earth Liberation Front?”

 

“And the Animal Liberation Front. Small decentralized eco-terrorist cells that burn down hotels, blow up McDonalds, mine construction sites, sabotage logging equipment and for the last ten years have caused millions of dollars of damage to a whole mess of corporations that destroy the environment. No civilian casualties and only a few dozen or so arrests. You never hear about them in the press. They’re the largest domestic terrorist organization in the country. Over 2,000 claimed actions this year, and 430 plus using IEDs.”

 

“What’s an IED?” I ask incredulously.

 

“An improvised explosive device. It’s all interrelated. Capitalism is all consuming. It isn’t just about exploiting workers for their labor. Why can’t the government stop them you ask? Because they have no central leadership planning the actions. It’s just clusters of anarcho-primativists of no more than three or four that supply themselves and keep moving around the country. If a person in a cell gets caught, they can only incriminate the several other members of the cell. Catching one won’t lead to another.”

 

“If I knew a group of people that wanted to carry out said actions, where might I learn what I needed to know?”

 

She looks at me very seriously.

 

“We’ve created a small direct action working group within the YUFE. We want to carry out a complicated operation against the GAP. We’ve done all the casing and divided responsibilities but I’m holding everything up making a certain thing we might need,” I admit to her.

 

“What kind of action is it?”

 

“We want to smoke out three large stores in the GAP chain with potassium phosphate during a weekend holiday shopping day. We have all the plans and necessary components. I’m just afraid of blowing myself up trying to make them.”

 

“Why are you telling me this?”

 

“Cause I trust you”.

 

“You don’t know me well enough to trust me.”

 

“If I have to make these things myself, I’m going to end up blowing myself up and looking like a terrorist and a bad one at that. Not to mention bringing all sorts of obvious negative attention to the organization.”

 

I light a cigarette.

 

“Well I don’t know anything about bomb building,” she retorts. “This seems quite a jump from handing out flyers to me. Why GAP over any other damn company?”

 

“Because the GAP is a notorious exploiter of sweatshop labor and I want the whole country to know that marchin’ in the middle of the goddamn road won’t change thing.”

 

“You have all the right quantities of what you’ll need?”

 

“We just need the chemicals mixed properly. We know how to make the detonators. We have our plans and operatives together.”

 

“Can everything fit in a small bag? You have burners, mixing containers and everything else certain Web sites might have taught you to obtain?”

 

“I can get you everything tomorrow afternoon.”

 

“I don’t want you to get me anything. And please tell me Steal this Book is your primary sources.”

 

“White supremacists from Kansas. Why?”

 

“Cause that book is circulated to make less studious revolutionaries blow themselves up.”

 

“You know how to do this stuff?”

 

“I might know people who know people who affiliate with the kind of people who know how to build you a bomb.”

ע

 

I meet with a contact from the Anarchist Movement in LIC a couple days after the party to get trained in the construction of various devices for mischief and mayhem.

 

Before long, three devices are cached somewhere safe and one of my volunteers is going to make sure the detonators are properly attached. The Ghost Shirts meet in the South Street Seaport to set an operational date. Although the optimum time is the holiday shopping season nearly a year away, we are eager to confirm their functionality in upstate New York. One of our volunteers says he will begin to buy the things we need for the electric detonators and that we can carry out the test run within the month.

 

The Presidential elections, which none of us are old enough to participate in are all over the news. Gore is running against Bush. That’s all I know and that Ralph Nader is running as a third party candidate with the Greens. It doesn’t seem relevant, but Bush seems like a much worse option than Gore. Somebody told me that Gore claims to have invented the Internet, which seems really pathetic and silly.

 

2001 youth culture and Internet are more about AOL than Wikipedia. We don’t know about Internet surveillance. We don’t really understand the seriousness of what we are about to do.

And so after we set a rough date for the test, I emailed it in from MikeWashington@aol.com to the Ghost Shirts list. Nothing seems to be particularly wrong about that.

פ

The actual mechanics of the 2000 Presidential election are lost on all of us. All we grock is that a Republican President who hasn’t been elected is now going to run the country for at least four years. I only understand electoral politics in the most vague sort of way. The International Action Center, a front for the Stalinist Worker’s Word Party is organizing buses to D.C. to protest the Inauguration. The party hacks at the IAC center said that YUFE can get a reduced price student discount. I volunteer to be a Bus Captain for a joint YUFE/SCALE student bus. They gave me a stack of yellow tickets and told me to see how many I could sell to our group. We sold 40. We made a huge grey banner emblazoned with four letters in yellow: Y U F E.

 

***

Julia Donahue from the Sacred Heart Chapter borrowed the bullhorn from their school. Zoe Zapata brought the number of a lawyer at the DC ACLU and glow in the dark condoms. There are Catholic schoolgirls from Chapin this time not wearing plaid skirts, but black fatigues with their hair tied back. They brought lipstick.   Hubert O’Domhnaill s brought his blue puffy Northface jacket in case they hit us with batons as advised by his Communist brother Shamus O’Domhnaill  who is coming as well with nothing more than a book on Chile. Simcha Rathajzer brought a little Red Book by Chairman Mao to read on the four-hour bus ride. Lauren Zivia brought along ten bandanas of various colors to tie around our faces. Soreiya Levy brought two, one soaked in vinegar in case they used tear gas and a black baraclava in her jump bag. Isaac Zucker brought a raincoat and peanut butter and jelly sandwich his mother had packed. Zivia Ferenz and a handful of the Stuy kids thought to bring stacks of YUFE flyers so we could spread our message to youth from other cities. Nina Yoh brought her camera, more dark sunglasses and her comrades Sasha and Tasha. My brother Benjamin, who had been with me at our first protest with Hubert against police brutality, brought a fold-up game of magnetic GO.

 

All in all, our numbers come to 40, just like in the beginning.

 

This busload of us is heading to D.C. the rainy morning of January 20th to take to the streets in opposition to our newly non-elected President. A lot of our people sleep on the bus. I don’t. There is something in the cold, wet January air. There are storm clouds around our nation’s capital physically and metaphorically.

 

We arrive in D.C. at 8 am to streets filled with disembarking protesters while freezing slush rains down upon us. There are riot cops and checkpoints everywhere. The police are armored up in turtle shell storm trooper blue-on-blacks, on horses, on scooters and lined up in columns. We roll right off the bus into the thick of things. We are looking for the march route when we see hundreds of people running down the street being chased by cop cars sirens wailing and mounted police. We join them. Our column tries to stay together using the YUFE banner like a big grey flag. People are yelling and chanting and bellowing,

 

“WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS!”

 

We join in the war cry with Hubert bellowing over the Sacred Heart bullhorn. Finally this break away march arrives at an intersection where several hundred people dressed in black are lining up arms linked behind a banner which reads “Whoever they vote for we are ungovernable!” I suppose they made it before the election. They have two large, reinforced wooden boards, which they interlock into a wedged mobile battering ram with handles. Simcha shouts that they plan to charge the checkpoint up the street. There’s this guy who has taken a baton to the head getting wrapped up by a street medic. A large contingent several thousand strong from the National Organization for Women is chanting while carrying circular NOW signs. A couple dozen people from the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade wave bright red flags and all wear masks like terrorists in a video game. The Y U F E rallies around its banner. There is a large green dumpster. An anarchist in a black balaclava and green cammo jacket climbs up, drenches a large American flag in kerosene and lights it ablaze.

 

“POWER TO THE PEOPLE!” Simcha yells over Julia’s bullhorn throwing his fist in the air.

 

The site of the burning flag sends more fists up and everyone with a red or black flag lifts them high. The police are inching in on all four sides of the intersection. An announcement is made that we are not on the designated march route and are all subject to arrest.

 

“WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS!” the mob yells drowning them out.

 

A black bloc, the quintessential anarchist flying column, forms up behind the shield wall and rushes the police line. Batons come down on people as everyone rushes behind the wooden shields. Communists lob chunks of concrete and bottles at the cops. The feminists and our column rush forward with the bloc that the anarchists and Communists have broken through.

 

There is a turquoise bandana around my face that Hubert has given me, tied like a Mexican bandito Zapatista. I look around to make sure we have everyone. Nearly impossible to verify in the melee. It is hard to keep track of peoples as we are all running, charging, ducking and weaving. Where is my brother I wonder? Lauren Zivia has him by the hand and they are dashing after the bloc of radicals with the police mob right behind.  There are more sirens and more riot cops pouring in endlessly.

 

Behind me I see something WHIZZ, POP and BANG and see a cloud of yellow-gray smoke billowing toward us. Shamus O’Domhnaill , Hubert’s long time communist older brother once told me if you can see the tear gas it’s too late. My eyes begin to sting as people closer to the plume begin choking on the gas. The cops beat and arrest the gagging stragglers, striking wildly at whomever they can. Our dash with this black bloc finally reaches a large square right on the Inauguration Parade route itself. There are hundreds of Republican supporters in the bleachers with tickets to watch the parade. Anarchy ensues.

 

The police seal the several thousand rampaging protesters into the square. Iassic Zucker does a head count and we’re missing three people, members of the Stuyvesant chapter. One’s missing outright. Another, a kid named Hans, a Bronx Science freshman who is with the vanguard of the black bloc, is surrounding the central flagpole. We break up into the buddy system and spread out to watch the anarchists hoist down the enormous American flag from the central post and search for the missing YUFE member Alexandra. The radicals are skirmishing at the base of the patriot totem pole with several undercovers and Republican patriots attempting to protect the flag of their forefathers, the red, white and blue. The patriots are outnumbered and retreat bloodied. This is the rage that has been unleashed upon the Capital. All eyes in the square both radical and patriot turn from the parade as a large black flag is sent up the captured pole. A small red one from the Maoists is hoisted underneath it. The NOW feminists are content to yell.

 

“POWER TO THE PEOPLE!” someone the in the roar begins.

 

Hubert begins chanting it over the bullhorn and soon the whole crowd is yelling it too like some rebel mantra.

 

Fights are breaking out everywhere between the radicals and the Republican supporters in the bleachers. Riot cops secure the route as best they can. It’s a square by square touch-and-go for real estate and vantage points. My brother and I strike at people from underneath the bleachers with wooden poles while others pelt the Republican patriots and their families with trash. Patriots begin to flee with their young children and plump desperate housewives. Soon no one is left in our condoned off square other than the radicals. Reinforcements come to double the line on the parade route with riot cops. The radicals are now surrounded on all sides. People start hitting the police lines with rocks, bottles and garbage. Rubber bullets ring out and street medics run to patch up people left and right. Truncheons swing and blood runs.  The parade itself is all military vehicles and cheerleaders and marching bands. When Bush’s limo finally drives by he is greeted by more catapulted refuse, more war cries, and cat calls, more challenges to the police to physically hold their line. The mob surges. The black and the red flags are still flying. We have gotten close enough to give our new king the kind of reception he deserves. An egg hits the Presidential limo. The riot cops go bat shit and drive back the swarm of demonstrators with batons and pepper spray. The spokespeople for the assembled factions is holding and ad-hoc meeting to figure out what to do. As radical numbers thin from arrest and flight, police numbers just keep increasing. Simcha sends scouts to all edges of the square to find a good exit strategy.

 

“If we stay much longer, they’ll arrest everyone here,” we are informed by Hubert O’Domhnaill s and his brother Shamus.

 

The rain is coming down really hard now. There is a missile on a transport truck being displayed on the parade route. More anarchists are getting dragged away by the cops.

 

“No one agreed to get arrested. We need to get out of here,” says Lauren Zivia from behind a purple bandana.

 

“This is the beginning of bad days,” whispers Soreiya Levy to me.

 

“It’s time to leave,” says Lauren, “If we get arrested it’s gonna be for nothing.”

 

Most of the assembled YUFE kids agree.

 

Nina Ygoh with her friends Sasha and Tasha come back from the north side of the park to say the police are letting people out who are wearing masks.

 

As the 40 of us, minus three from Bronx and Stuy who opt to remain maneuver our way through the lines back to the busses with the women from NOW, we see a dozen odd armored personnel carriers pulling up to unload more riot cops. We make our way in the rain back to the buses. Soreiya Levy ws the last YUFE member out of the square watching the military convoy on parade with tears in her eyes no one saw but me. She has gone back to convince Hans and his two Stuy buddies to fall back.

 

The riot cops close in soon after to mop up and arrest whoever is left behind. We hear yelling and the racket of rubber bullets being fired as we retreat. The sounds of a rising being stomped out. The riot cops get the American flag back up soon after. George W. Bush becomes the 43rd President.

 

***

 

I am sitting in a black Lincoln Town Car being driven downtown following the Inauguration Protest after party in Brooklyn. The bus dropped us at Port Authority. We’d all taken the Q train out to deep Brooklyn to some place called Midwood where Zoe hosted an after party. I’d snuggled up with Zoe for awhile and she’d called me a gypsy cab around midnight. I have five missed calls.

 

The first two are hang-ups.

 

The third message says:

 

“Listen to me very carefully,” my brother Benjamin, who never goes to Brooklyn, says in a frantic voice over the phone. “The police came to see Mom and Dad today while we were in Washington. They said you’re in a terrorist group and that you’re building bombs. DON’T COME HOME.”

 

I have the car service make a cut toward the FDR and drop me at the home of Donny Gold.

צ

It’s a little hard to kick in the door and Gestapo style search an apartment in Manhattan’s Financial District that has a heavy metal outer security door, an elevator operated by a second key and a third door to the actual apartment with a huge metal door, even more difficult when the family has Jewish lawyer relatives on call. So, they call in advance. I don’t live there anymore and there isn’t anything for them to find.  I had slept over the night before and cleaned everything out.

 

In the morning, as per the arrangement with our lawyer, four plainclothes detectives arrive with a warrant to search my parent’s apartment. They are professionally dressed in suits and ties. Dispassionately the three proceed to conduct a rigorous search, while the fourth attempts to violate my Fifth Amendment rights.  The warrant is very specific. Most of the search has to do with bomb-making components. The warrant is about two pages long. I say nothing, as per the instructions of my family lawyer. I know there is nothing for them to find. They can ask question after question about gas mask collections that don’t work or street diagrams marked and clearly related to water balloon fighting.

 

I am only sixteen and like nearly all Americans don’t know the Constitution from the Bill of Rights from the Declaration of Independence. What a Fifth Amendment right is, however quite clear to me as per a workshop with Isaac Zucker. They don’t read me Miranda rights because I’m not being arrested yet. But I know not to say a word. They ask questions about the ‘Military Arm of the YUFE’ to which I keep repeating the number 5. They ask me questions about animal rights and environmentalism to which I state that they are not really my area of expertise. They don’t tear the house apart as much as do a room-by-room shuffle through everything. There is suspicious, perhaps circumstantial evidence. The WW2 gasmask collection all non working, some commie books obviously covered under the 1st Amendment, some maps I’d drawn for a water balloon war we are planning, and some violent Nazi killing art. Nothing that will hold up in court. They collect all of it in plastic bags and brown legal boxes in the entrance hall. I’m not sure they are even planning to charge me with anything. They search every room in the loft and cart away computer hard drives, YUFE literature, and a variety of things that insinuate sophomoric subversion. They read aloud passages from YUFE manifestos declaring the rhetoric ‘militant.’ This is the first time I have ever interacted with the NYPD up close. I find them generally polite considering they are looking for evidence to prove I am a terrorist. But they have no such evidence.

 

I respond inconclusively to everything mostly with the numbers 1, 4 and 5. They never say how they came to suspect me nor what they actually accuse me of attempting to carry out. It isn’t good cop, bad cop. It is stern cop, friendly cop and two more rummaging through your shit. Whatever they might find proves nothing. All they have is an email with some particularly menacing allusions. AOL had handed my account over to them to inspect all my previous YUFE correspondence. They will never find the bombs because they are stashed somewhere intricate and off site. They’ll never find the lab because it is not within the apartment. Frustrated and knowing they aren’t getting anything out of me; one of them goes to look through my backpack, which I had brought with me from Donny ’s house. It is filled with schoolbooks, some clothing, a sketchbook, and an empty test tube with the residue of potassium nitrate, which of course is only used in low yield explosives.

 

One of them holds it up and shouts for the others. I just shrug and say nothing. After confiscating the literature and the hard drives the NYPD now has a contact list of 98% of the roughly 250 key YUFE organizers and roughly 700 more supporters and new recruits in over 19 New York City magnet, public and elite private schools.  They lifted enough correspondence from my AOL account to know who the ‘key agitators’ are.

 

They then set out to put the fear of prison and the wrath of the state in our membership. Over the next few weeks the detectives visited numerous YUFE leaders they suspect of being involved in the Ghost Shirt Conspiracy. Mothers cry and fathers go ballistic when the cops tell parents we are members of a terrorist group cadre linked to the dreaded eco terrorists the ELF. They tell some that they know I am the main conspirator in the plan and have enough evidence to send me to Spawford or worse. They declare since I am the one planning the whole thing that if people give me up, the others will all get off the hook. They tell others I’d already sold them out and accuse people of being behind all the chemical and electronic components.

 

Hubert O’Domhnaill s is thrown out of his father’s home and has to move in with his brother Shamus. Others are grounded indefinitely. A couple get a belt or a black eye. More computers are seized. Isaac Zucker goes on the lam. Simcha’s mother barricades the door to their Washington Heights apartment and tells the cops with a shot gun loaded behind the door that they’d better come back with a warrant because the Rathajzer’s don’t cooperate with ‘the capitalist pigs.’ Zivia’s economist father says he’ll throw her on the street if she attends another meeting. Lauren Zivia’s mother tells her she is not to see me again. They drag a few Ghost Shirts down to Police Plaza and attempt to question them without lawyers.

 

But no one tells them anything. We’d seen enough movies to sort of realize the harder they push the less they really have. But that chemical vile with the residue has convinced them along with the language of the emails we have been plotting something.

 

How far along we have come to executing a high publicity, non-lethal chemical attack against the GAP is in the end really only known to Simcha, Sorieya and me.  The Ghost Shirts meet behind Bronx Science a few days after the initial search of my family’s apartment. We agree on a set of facts. We are aware that unless we are under arrest we are under no obligation to talk to the authorities about anything. We reason that even with some residue in a test tube they don’t have a real case. Some of us might get our names added to the young potential subversive list, most likely just me, and the rest will be leaned on to testify this was all really my idea. The last thing I tell everyone is that under no circumstances are any of us to believe we had a snitch among us. We arrive at a story and stick to it like bad children do when caught misbehaving.

 

Eventually they drag me down to Police Plaza 1, the brick Bastille of lower Manhattan on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge overpass next to the building where my family lives. My interrogators declare they have me good, that my hard drive has revealed that I have a long online data trail of ‘radical revolutionist’ Web sites and informational links to bomb building training sites that match perfectly with what I am being accused of. They then ask me an endless set of questions about the Earth Liberation Front. I declare I have no idea what that is. They tell me over and over again that another member has ‘sold me out’ and has ‘pinned the whole thing’ on me. They say that I had better get a good lawyer because very soon they will have all the evidence they need to arrest me for ‘conspiracy to commit illegal acts.’ They say I better not make any plans to leave the City for the next few weeks.

 

The cop is Italian. So is my plane ticket to Milan.

 

ק

Rico da Judah and I are running down St. Marks towards Tomkins Square Park. We’re running fast because we have just barricaded off First Avenue with dumpsters and someone has called the police. Rico is skinny and has a close-cropped beard. He looks like a half-Puerto Rican, half-Hasidic Jew who’s cut off his peyos. He’s wearing a battle worn bomber jacket. He’s been drinking from a hip flask all night. I met Rico at Bronx Science quite a while ago, but this is the second time we’ve kicked it. Pulling dumpsters in front of a major street is a political action, but it is not one that will ever receive the respect it deserves. It is what I would call low-intensity guerilla warfare.

 

Why do young people vandalize restrooms? Why do they engage in pointless destruction? Would burning down a police station be such a stretch from the Molotov cocktails that went off in the dumpster across the street from my school?  Rico and I are on the front line of the great American rebellion without a cause. Does blocking that street do anything? Of course not, but it is a dress rehearsal for the coming revolution. Close off every city intersection at once and ta-da, the City grinds to a halt. We are attacking the source of all evil. We wage war on our own complacency. None of it matters. I’m going to leave this place in less than ten days and never come back.

 

Rico and I were sitting at school earlier today. I told him everything that was going on with the Cops, with YUFE, with the Ghost Shirts. He sat there silently taking it all in. Nursing a bottomless hip flask like John Dillinger from San Juan.

 

“Your options are decreasing every day you stay here,” he told me.

 

“Any day now they can bring the charges against you and your whole organization will crash like a deck of cards. No one can keep his mouth shut forever. I heard half the stuff you told me from a girl I hooked up with a week ago. Yer people are freaked out. They weren’t committed to yer revolution to begin with. You guys fired um up and showed um where the new party was at, but they ain’t in this after the party’s over. I’m sayin’, what do yo’all know about revolution? What do you know about about clic-clac-up-against-the-wall-motherfuckin-pig struggle? It ain’t about the protests or the flyers or the long-ass talk-talk-talk meetings. It ain’t about kumba-fuckin-ya-we’re-all-equal. It’s about the guns, the bombs, and do-whatever-the-fuck-you-have-to-do to break the back of the Federal government. I be sayin,’ you guys had the right idea, but where was the movement behind it? Who’s your community? Who do you rep? I think yer crazy. I think Isaac and Simcha wouldn’t have had the balls or the charisma to make YUFE this big. But you did it. Wit’out you dese kids would still be goin’ to house parties and getting high all the time and not knowin’ shit about shit. But now it’s your back against the wall. It’s you facin’ the law man’s charges. Schoolhouse camaraderie cracks in the face of a good subpoena. Ya came back and done built dis from scratch. A lot of people helped you, but YUFE is yours. So what’s your plan? Whatcha gonna do now big game player?”

 

“I have a ticket to Milan with the Bronx trip. What if I don’t come back?” I mused to Rico.

 

“Is that gonna be good for your mission?” If you leave, you’ll leave behind everything. Yer family. Yer friends. Yer life. Yer identity. YUFE won’t last out the summer, kid. You won’t speak the languages of the places you go to and you’ll be livin’ ‘poh for all yer trip. If you don’t leave, you’ll maybe not end up in jail, but it’s all over anyway. People be defectin’ already. Ya gots-tah weigh the costs,” Rico concluded.

 

“I hate living in this country. I hate how fat and complacent everyone is. I hate how little YUFE can do. I hate how ignorant I am about the world and how little I know about making this revolution.”

 

“The mission is the man, daddy. One way o’ anotha iz always one o’ two men or women that carry the whole struggle on they backs long enough ‘til it tips and people believe in it enough to die for it. If ya do this it will make you hard. It’ll either kill ya or make ya the man fo da the job. It will be the most gangsta thing I’ve ever seen someone do. And people will talk about it, and one day, if ya survive, ya come back with the tools you need to finish the mission ya started.  Ya ready for that kid?” Rico had asked.

 

Yeah. I was.

 

“See. You knew what you were gonna do before ya asked me, big spenda. Yer gonna get on dat plane and take a one way flight to Europe,”  Rico declared.

 

When Rico and I were done blocking 1st Avenue we ran back to the Yaffa Café to drink more coffee and wine. Soreiya Levy, Nina Yoh, and a fruit rude boy named ‘Gay Mike’ are still drinking cheap wine at 3 in the morning. We have been going there for all night banter on philosophy, human nature and God for around month. I wrote my best manifestos here in the witching hour, and now I am plotting my flight.

 

It is sort of like a running-away party filling my head with ideas about what I’d be looking for when I got out of the country. They all know individually that I am about to leave. It gets later and later. The coffee and wine and waters are going to everyone’s head. I haven’t been drinking a thing and feel elated. These late night sessions bring up everything. Finally the conversation touches on bi-polar disorder.

 

“They say I be Bi-polar,” mutters Rico Judah.

 

Everyone looks at him.

 

“Dey diagnosed me young. It was a week or two afta’ I saw this accident on the Westside highway and my parents sent me to a head shrinka. I was playin’ in the park and a driver skidded off the road, went through the windshield and his head sort collided with the green metal gate near the edge of the park. He was all dead an’ broken. His body done cut into a ton a’ little bits. I sat der starin’ at him right until the paramedics came six minute later. I don’t remember bein’ scared. I jus’ taught it was the craziest thing I’d ever seen. Iz actually one of my earliest childhood memories. The paramedics found me trying to touch his face. They sent me right to a shrink who said I had the bi-polar.”

 

“That’s a really fucking morbid story, Rico,” exclaims Soreiya Levy.

 

“Where in the hell did they infer bi-polar from dat. I was like ten!” Rico adds.

 

“I can’t even remember when they put that on me,” I say.

 

“It’s an industry. I heard like a quarter of the kids in the United States between ages 14 and 21 are diagnosed with something,” says Rico.

 

“They done have a million little drugs to fix our generation, but iz all symptoms of some great social trauma afflicted upon us all,” says Rico bluntly. “I’ve never taken none o’ dem stupid pills and look what a well adjusted person I am.”

 

Everyone goes quiet and then starts laughing.

 

“What do they have you on again?” Nina Yoh finally asks me.

 

“Tegratol. I have no idea what it does. I guess it makes me dream a little less,” I tell them.

 

“You need to get off that shit before you bounce. Not like you’re gonna be able to get in the streets of wherever you end up,” says Rico.

 

“Let’s just hope the disease doesn’t overtake him and he loses his dangerous little mind,” laughs Nina.

 

“It’s not a disease. If you listen to anything I’ve said ta yous, take in dis above the rest. What you and I feel, what anyone with our condition feels, is an intense emotional understandin’ of the world beyond every other person at this table. When we feel what they call manic, we taste an elation people can’t come close to with any amount of designer drugs or dirty sex. When we get depressed, we tap into a misery beyon’ whatever loss a human can feel. We feelin’ a spectrum of emotions removed from the rest ah humanity. Fundamental, we understand what it means to be alive. And because of that we can relate to rest of humanity in a way beyond the mindless empathies of these proles. If the streets and dangerous foreigners don’t mange to kill you, iz only gonna be through this condition that you learn whateva it iz yer meant to do with your life. Or it’ll kill you. But before it does you’ll mange to die awake,” Rico says.

 

“I come from the highest class and most privileged race of this country. I kiss a different girl every week. I have a good family and can go to any school I want to enable me to have any career I want. But this condition has made me realize that I am a part of a great human evil that I partake in every second I remain here. While the charges brought against me might send me to jail, I am fairly certain I could ride them out and beat them. But I need to learn lessons about life I can’t learn here. I need to break from this beast completely. This society has made me everything I am. Perhaps my condition, as you call it, has made me see that. But my purpose is clear. The path to the revolution is by cab to JFK International airport next Thursday, and then out into places unknown,” I declare to all of them.

 

“And so we ask you,” smiles Gay Mike.“Do you possess the constitution to take your path as far as it needs to go?”

 

“Til freedom or death,” I reply.

 

Rico raises a wine glass he had filled with his own Stoli.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen rememba da face of dis man. He’s goin’ to be the first American refugee, and if he survives, Mr. Sebastian may return a revolutionary. Raise those glasses motherfuckas.”

 

Gay Mike, Nina Yoh, Soreiya Levy, and I raise glasses of cheap red wine, water and coffee respectively.

 

“To the freedom or death of Sebastian Adon,” exclaims Mr. Rico Judah

 

Clink.

ר

Although I do everything by committee, I realize there are people I can tell and people I can’t. My committee had spoken. I am spending my last week getting ready to never lay eyes on my City again. I tell everyone I am transferring from Bronx Science to Urban Academy. I pass my black sketchbook around like a yearbook and fill it with last messages from close friends.

 

Besides from my Yafa Café committee of Soreiya Levy, Gay Mike, Rico, and Nina Yoh, there are a few more people with the right to know. I sit outside in the City Hall Park with my brother and tell him I’m not coming back. He is very quiet the whole time. He doesn’t try to talk me out of it. He says to be careful and gives me the phone number of his friend Manuel in case I go to England. I give him the YUFE money and computer disks for every chapter that I have typed up at Izzy’s house. It has all the YUFE literature and advice to expand each chapter.  I explain the reasons I have to leave. Benjamin seems to understand.

 

I also tell Hubert and Isaac who assure me that the movement will be here waiting for me when I get back. Hubert writes that I am capable of being a great leader one day. That means a lot coming from him. He gives me the turquoise bandana I had been wearing in D.C. in case I end up needing to cover my face. Isaac Zucker says I should use my time to expand my knowledge of revolutionary theory and obtain as much training as I can.

 

But my closest friends will try to stop me. I kept Zivia, Lauren Zivia, Izzy Vitz, and Nicholas Trikhovitch, as well as the bulk of the remaining YUFE membership and my parents in the dark.

 

***

 

I fuck the living shit out of Soreiya Levy the night before I leave. We bang out to Dead Prez and Nina Simone.

 

We spend the night talking about the Zapatista’s, an indigenous people’s struggle going in Chiapas Mexico and their masked leader Subcomandante Marcos who has brought their tiny struggle to the world stage. She suggests that I make my way to Latin America where the revolution is still being waged. She tells me she doesn’t really believe in God, her father being a Heeb and her mother being a Hindu, but she says she’ll pray for me to something because I am really going to need all the help I can get. She asks me to hold out my hand.

 

“Just a little added protection,” she smiles as she places her Star of David pinky ring on my finger.

 

I awake the next morning and take a cab to JFK looking at my City for the last time as the sun rises on tall buildings of steel and glass. I watched 8 million commuters rushing to work. We pass parks and squares in which I’ve gotten twisted and stoops I used to sit on drinking 40’s toasting nothing important. Over the Brooklyn Bridge I go. West on the BQE and across the Brooklyn heartland to JFK. Out of New York. Out of America and into self-imposed exile.

ש

It only takes a minute to get my passport back from Mr. Schlussel, the gay art teacher who organized this trip. I go off the pills immediately and the mania began to take hold.

 

I begin cycling almost immediately. Cycling is a radical shift between mania and depression, symptomatic of untreated bipolar disorder. The day before I make my great escape, I go to the Holocaust Memorial near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris with my newest cohort Jaiwarrior Stroud. We are sitting on metal deck chairs on the outdoor balcony of a small street in Paris in the cool evening air.  I tell him what I am going to do in the morning. He, a Canarsie storefront minister’s son, talks to me about God and exile and things to come.

 

Jai walks me to the Gare du Nord Station to catch the Chunnel train from Paris to London. Before I embark, Jai has me write a few never-to-get-delivered letters to all the people that will be the most upset about my disappearance. He tells me that he will give them all to Lauren Zivia.

 

“Try and not get killed, brother,” are Jai’s last words to me. “At least not over something stupid.”

 

He tells me I’m on a road to Jesus.

ת

I’m in an empty car with big comfortable green seats taking a six-hour nap. I’m curled up in big plush chair on the Chunnel Train having a pleasant dream about being back in Nice.

I’m on a green sprawling estate in Nice, but it’s not the real Nice. It’s a mini Nice on a calm, artificial blue sea, the size of a small estate. Outside of the estate are miles of sand dunes and deep desert. It seems that the train I am riding to London has taken a slight detour. Once I’m off the pills, I’m back in the desert. The train is pulling into a station coming out of a large dune. Mike Washington is waiting on the platform with a French girl. Everyone else on the train is slumped over asleep.

 

“There’s something you have to learn before you go any further,” says Mike Washington, “This is Tanya, and she’s charming, lethal and partly French.”

 

I shake her hand and leave my bag on the platform.

 

I take a warm bath in an antique metal bathtub with thick suds and green drapery. The mansion of the estate is some kind of fusion between Grecco-Acadian architecture and Middle Eastern interior. It looks like a big white mosque if Mohammed had conquered Rome and remodeled the Pantheon. The rest of the estate is in a French classical, mini-Nice style.

 

After my bath they give me a white linen robe with a large black symbol on the left breast that I’ve never seen before. I sit on pillows on the floor eating dinner with Mike and Tanya at a low table with a bright red cloth. They tell me it’s a vegan meal with an Indian recipe from vegetables all grown on the estate. In case I end up in places where I can’t eat anything clean, they want me to remember what it tastes like.

 

When the meal is over we go through a large hall. We pass a room with several doctors and medical equipment attending to the pregnant redheaded girl from the flying bus secured to the table. Her vital signs are pulsing intermittently. They urge me along the way to what looks like an indoor firing range with a couple of black pistols laid out on a long table. Mike stands smugly in the corner.

The girl tells me her name is Tanya. She looks a hell of a lot like Michelle Tagomi, but slightly more French. As she looks into me for few minutes Mike doesn’t saying anything.

“You see, my little pilgrim, Mao teaches us that revolutions are violent and tumultuous. You must separate the term, of course, from your American revolution, which was bourgeois. Your capitalist pig country uses the term as a marketing slogan.”

 

“Of course.” I respond.

 

“The capitalist pigs have made us workers suffer for hundreds of years. They steal our labor and they exploit us completely. The violence they do against us is physical, psychological, and complete. Our two classes cannot co-exist. We must eliminate every last one of them, their children too.” Tanya proclaims.

 

“Innocent people?” I respond.

 

“Who is innocent? The young bourgeoisie have not a care in the world. And the bourgeoisie middle classes of the great power nations, you pay taxes non? You live in the metropol power without political involvement or revolutionary activity. You are also to blame,” she states.

 

“So you have to kill a lot of people?” I ask.

 

“This is real revolution. Don’t wars kill people? War and poverty kill people every day. People look at the writings of Chairman Mao and say he is violent. They look at his revolution and call it genocide. To this, my dear, I respond, violence has been perpetrated in every major historical epoch. Do you know what makes every epoch similar except the epoch of communism?” Tanya asks.

 

“Tell me.”

 

“Every epoch has kept the masses down and kept the means of production in the hands of the few. No longer! Now is our epoch. This is our time. We’ll kill all if we have to!”

 

She hands me a gun.

 

“You know how to write, correct?” she asks.

 

“Yes,” I respond.

 

“Now I’m going to teach you the other side of the coin. I’m going to teach you how to defend your words. The pen and sword, my little Pilgrim comrade, combined will set us free,” Tanya bellows.

 

My eyesight is unusually good. She tells me to hit the target, which is radiating circles around a map of the United States. I load the clip into the gun, remove the safety and cock the weapon. I squeeze the trigger, but it’s not the map that is pierced with the bullet, it’s Tanya’s left shoulder.

 

She’s bleeding profusely, but doesn’t squint or articulate any pain.

 

“Shoot again, Comrade. Learn to do violence to those that have oppressed us for so long. Your vision is off! You’ve hit the right target,” she yells.

 

I fire twice more. The map doesn’t change. Part of her face blows off and her chest is now gushing blood.

 

‘SHOOT! SHOOT!” she yells, half her jaw missing.

 

I fire more rounds. I unload the entire clip at the map. I hear the dry clip of the empty magazine.

 

Mike Washington has been shot a few times in the chest, standing like nothing happened. Tanya is oozing blood from all over. My chest feels damp. I’ve shot myself in the heart. I fall over. The pistol makes a metallic clank hitting the marble floor. I just make a thud.

 

I awake in large metal frame bed with green sheets. I feel my chest and there is no wound at all. Mike and Tanya are sitting in armchairs in the room. Mike is reading a book. It’s the Bravest Battle book from my bag. It’s the day-by-day account of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

 

“What’s in a name,” asks Mike, “Would a revolutionary by any color not shoot as straight?”

 

“What’s the lesson now?” I ask him.

 

“DO you know who I am?” he asks.

 

“You’re me as I want to be?” I try.

 

“Not quite,” says Tanya with no French accent this time.

 

“It’s not time to be me, Sebastian. I made in my short life all the mistakes you will be spared. I fought a losing battle with all the wrong types of ammunition far too late in the game. You and I serve the same powers and it’s my job to make sure we aren’t wasting our time with you. Mike Washington isn’t my name and Sebastian Adon isn’t yours. There’s a name we share that It gave to us before we were even born.”

 

“I don’t follow.” I ask trying to understand what he is telling me.

 

“Your name contains your purpose. I’m here to tell you your real name. It’s the name that you will have when you are re-united with your creator and it is the name all that know you will associate with your contribution to the struggle,” Mike continues.

 

He closes the book.

 

“Before you go would you like some Poland Spring? The water in England leaves something to be desired and before you leave that place you’ll get all the water you’ll ever need,” Mike tells me as he hands me a water bottle.

 

“It was nice to finally meet you, Zachariah Artstien. We’ve all been hearing such good things,” says Tanya who looks a lot like Michelle Tagomi.

 

***

 

I wake up back on board the Chunnel train in an empty car. I rummage through my rucksack and take out The Bravest Battle. In the middle of the book are archival photos of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. There are surviving pictures of twenty of its several hundred key participants. The last picture is of smug, twenty-somethingish Zachariah Artstein. He’s good looking and bears a vague Polish resemblance to Mike Washington.

 

I swap the “i” and the “e” in Artstein and that is how I came to be called Zachariah Artstien by most of the people that will meet me abroad or in the context of love, revolution and God.

 

I see the English countryside sweeping by in the dark. Rain is hitting the train and water runs down the side of the exterior windows. London has been the refuge over the last several hundred years to exiled revolutionaries like Marx, Herzen, and Bakunin. Some of their best ideas have been shaped in the rain and poverty of this city I am quickly approaching. It seems fitting that perhaps I will come up with some ideas here myself. Or maybe I will just run out of money during the rainiest most desolate part of the year and do everything and anything just for another meal.

 

Either way there’s a bunch pink pills from an orange bottle that I pour into a toilet during my final minutes on the Chunnel train to make real certain that this will be a one-way trip.

 

I think about the nine odd, short hand letters Jai had me write to explain my course of action. The first one to my parents, the second to Lauren Zivia, the third to Mr. Schlussel who with tenure probably won’t lose his job after I fled. I had about three hours for Jai to drink coffee and talk about Jesus while I wrote some parting letters for those I am leaving behind. The fourth to Trikhovitch who I assured that I would return some day. The fifth to Izzy thanking him for supporting me through all my domestic strife. The sixth to my brother apologizing again for leaving. I doubt he’d fully taken it in when I told him. The seventh to my adopted kid sister Zivia, the eighth to Simcha Rathajzer to forgive me for abandoning the YUFE movement he had helped me build. And the final letter to Michelle Tagomi.

 

“I’m sorry,” I wrote, “That I had to keep this from you. I’m sorry that I could not return to you a year ago able to reciprocate the love you had shown me in my imprisonment. But I was terrified you might see the Sebastian Adon I have grown to see with shame and misery. When you receive this letter I will be long gone. And gone for much I time I will remain. A sane man in an insane world is still a man apart. And while I have shared with you what I have hoped is both my feelings and my soul, imprisoned I was further changed for worse times. I am consumed with rage. Rage at the country and times which made my heart so black and my actions so callous. Rage with myself to be so ineffectual to stir my compatriots to deeds of change. Into exile I go ‘til answers find me. Remember me fondly, dear Michelle. My rage can no longer be placated with protest songs and talk of change. My redemption will only come out from this house of bondage. I pray to God my constitution will not fail me. I hope this time in foreign lands can make me an instrument for the wretched masses and working people who have become my strength. Remember me sometimes. God willing I will return to you a man changed. A man capable of more lasting good deeds.

 

Here’s lookin’ at you kids as the struggle looks deeper into me.

 

PART SIX:

The Grind of the Great Escape

 

 

“Throughout recorded time there have been three kinds of people in the world

 The High, The Middle, and The Low.

The aims of these three groups are entirely irreconcilable,

 The aim of The High is to remain where they are,

The aim of The Middle is to change places with The High, and

the aim of The Low, when they have an aim for it is an abiding characteristic of The Low that they are too much crushed by drudgery to be more than intermittently conscious of anything outside their daily lives,

Iis to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal.”

 

–George Orwell, 1984\

 

 

א

February 12, 2001

 

 

I’m standing on the Waterloo Bridge in the dark. The rain is pouring down expanding the splash and flow of the River Thames upon the jagged brick banks. My bag is heavy. I have been walking for a long time. Thinking back to what Sorieya Levy had advised me to travel with, I have packed in slight excess. Now, it’s starting to rain again turning a soaking into a sopping.

 

I am consumed by the unspoken desperation of finding myself alone in a foreign country. I have less than one hundred dollars in my pocket. I don’t know a soul and it’s pouring. Well that isn’t entirely true. In my pocket, tucked next to the lighter Jai had given me and my passport, is an index card with two numbers, my brother’s friend Manuel in London and Nina Yogh’s aunt in Madrid. My escape destination had been between those two cities. I decided it was better to go where they speak my language, albeit a bit strangely.

 

It was odd going through British Customs. I remembered from previous trips to Europe the tremendous speed with which Americans are moved through the re-entry gates upon returning from abroad. There is that comforting sensation that it is our home and that we are protected. The Chunnel had let me out at Waterloo International. When I passed through customs, I waited on line with hundreds of people. The customs officials took their sweet fucking time. I felt a bit embarrassed with myself that I was reveling in American expediency so soon after having rejected the U.S. Perhaps the rejection isn’t fully developed. Perhaps it will come with time.

 

I am cold and vaguely hungry. There is no going back now. I had known that the minute I stepped on the train in Paris. The rain had started as a trickle and is now coming down harder. I am staring down at the Thames. It is dark and murky. I can see an enormous white Ferris wheel up the river. I think of my dreams. The city seems so dark. There are scarcely any people on the streets as I approach the north bank.  The river divides the city in more ways than one, but I don’t know that yet.

 

I have the track “Golden Brown” on repeat playing on my CD player.

 

I quicken my pace. The rain is getting heavier. I am looking along the boardwalk of the north bank for some kind of overhang where I can stay dry. I could try getting into some building and sleeping in the stairwell. This seems like my best bet considering the weather. There is a sharp wind coming up from the river that is blowing the rain directly into my face.

 

I have arrived in London during the coldest, rainiest part of the year. Of all the places one could be homeless I have picked the worst. But of this too, I am unaware. The concession I have made to eliminate the language barrier will be cancelled out by the unceasing downpour.

 

All that is on my mind is what I have done. My decision hasn’t totally sunken in. I keep telling myself that I am on the threshold of what will be my greatest adventure. But I am afraid. Now I’m really alone. There are no friends’ houses to sleep at or possible reconciliations with my parents. I won’t ever see my country again. That is the stark and bitter reality of my situation. I shiver turning my gloves into mittens and wrapping the scarf tighter around my neck.

 

I can see the billboard for the Lion King just up the street. There are some people out, middle-aged couples with plump children making their way to homes with river views after an evening of theater. I suddenly remember that I have been to London once before. I completely forgot. When had that been? Nothing about the city looks familiar. The buildings seem to tower above me. As I look upward toward the heavens, all I can see are a million individual droplets crashing down upon me in slow motion like pebbles of dew.

 

I look down at the underpass running underneath the bridge. I can see five or six figures wrapped in crusty old blankets, resting on large slaps of cardboard padding. Some have fashioned makeshift shelters. To my right there is a sculpture park. The central figure is a ballerina, bronze and skinny, graceful through the storm. My bag is heavy so I sit down to rest at its base.

 

The statue seems to be staring at me indifferently. It makes me think of Roxy. I have to stop thinking about her and my old life. That life is done. Sebastian Adon is dead.

 

“Well, God, I could really use some direction right now,” I implore to the soggy night.

 

I find myself praying sincerely for the third time in my life. I once heard a hip-hop verse that said,

 

“I’m an atheist who prays to God in times of desperation.”

 

That about sums up my relationship with the Lord. And for the third time in my life, the Lord delivers. Deliverance comes in the form of a German lesbian on a rickshaw bike. She is wearing a pink parka, slacks and brown boots. Her hair is brown and nappy, beginning to dread. Her accent sounds like a verbal cross-pollination of French and German.

 

“Eh, you want a ride somewhere?” the woman hollers at me in the rain.

 

Her rickshaw is a yellow, three-wheel contraption with an elevated seat and a passenger cabin that could hold three people. A canopy covers the passenger cabin.

 

“Actually, if you want to know the truth, while I may look like a rich American tourist, I’m looking for an abandoned building to live in.”

 

Just thought I’d throw that out there. She looks puzzled and climbs down off the bike.

 

“Right, um. It might be hard to find a vacant squat this time of year. You know anything about plumbing or electrics?”

 

“Can’t say I do.”

 

“What are you good for then?” she says sarcastically.

 

“I’m an artist.”

 

“That doesn’t help me much.”

 

“Help you with what?”

 

“I’m working up a squat in Tulse Hill. I’ve been there two years, but the place is still a mess. I got the water going, but can’t get it to heat. I got the power back up, but it’s real drafty. It is funny that we would run into each other, but I’m still not convinced you’ll be of any use,” She says clearly weighing the pros and cons in her head.

 

“I can cook,” I lie.

 

“Probably nothing I would eat.”

 

“I guess I’m not much use to you.”

 

She takes out a packet of Big Top and begins rolling a cigarette thoughtfully examining me. I take out a pack of Marlboros and offer her one.

 

“No, I don’t support that company,” she says rejecting my offer.

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because the man who owns that company hates homosexuals, blacks and Jews. Also yeah, it’s a multinational company pushing a highly addictive product that will kill you,” she adds.

 

“Good a reason as any I suppose.”

 

“What to do with you then?”

 

“I’m an artist and an aspiring revolutionary.”

 

“Are you, then?” she says with a smile in her eyes.

 

“On my good days.”

 

She pauses, licks the paper of her rollie and sparks it. She takes a drag and says,

 

“Mmm, all right, I guess ya can stay with me, eh.”

 

“What’s your name?”

 

“Tatiana.”

 

“I’m Zachariah. Zachariah Artstien.”

 

“Got a pen and pad?” she asks.

 

“Yeah,” I dig a note pad out of my jacket pocket.

 

“My squat is in Tulse Hill. That’s south London, south of Brixton. You’ll need to take a bus cause the train won’t run there much longer.”

 

She jots down some directions and puts her phone number on the bottom of the page.

 

“Thanks a lot.”

 

“Now, let’s show you around real quick and then I’ll get back to work. Welcome to England.”

 

She peddles the rickshaw quickly giving me quite a ride. It has stopped raining but she tells me that it will start again soon. She takes me through the theatre district into the West End and Soho and then over to Piccadilly Circus. She drops me off and tells me to be at the address she gave me around 4 in the morning when she gets off work. Three drunken young men in black suits flag her down and they jump into the back. All of them are wearing pink pig masks. Tatiana takes off down the main street with them in the back leaving me in the heart of London.

 

Piccadilly Circus is like Times Square but less vertical. It’s lit up brightly with huge glowing advertisements and there is traffic everywhere. The bars and outdoor restaurants are jam packed with people drunk or drinking. I put down my art on the mat and try to move something.

 

I weigh down one side with my backpack and the other side with a large brick dislodged from the square. I start putting down pieces of my artwork, both photos from the Inauguration Demonstration that Nina Yogh printed and my own sketches. The wind picks up and sends the pieces all over each other on the ground. Picking up little rocks from a planter I weigh each piece down from the corners. I’m a bit unsure about how to go about doing this. I’ve only sold art twice on the street and that had been in Soho in New York.

 

I am only here for a minute when a group of drunken girls comes over, falling all over themselves and almost stepping on my pictures. I quickly move to get in the way.

 

“Watch out for my work,” I say.

 

“Sorry love, my mates are hammered,” a homely blonde says to me as she tries to pick up one of her friends from falling. They are being loud and are attracting a lot of attention.

 

I take out a smoke. One of the girls leans over and pukes all over the ground. A policeman stops her and asks for her identification. He looks like a New York cop but cleaner cut with a neon-yellow reflector jacket. I stop paying attention once they’re clear of my art.

 

I need to quickly figure out how to sell my art. I only have fifteen sketches and seven of Nina’s photographs. I feel a new raindrop hit my forehead. My little reprieve from the drenching is apparently coming to an end.

 

The police are taking away one of the girls.

 

***

 

 

It seems like I’ve been walking for hours in the rain.  Eventually I arrive in Tulse Hill.

 

Romola Road is at the bottom of a hill. The road is only one block long. Everything in the neighborhood is closed. The building is not what I expected. I had this mental image of what the squat would look like. In my head it was a large loft looking space, clean and lit with candles. If the yard outside is any reflection of the interior, I am in for a bit of a surprise.

 

It is the most rundown house on the block. It is painted white, but the paint on the house is chipping badly. Each house is built right on top of each other and is no taller than three stories. Everyone’s yard looks tidy except for Romola 33. There is a beige weathered couch outside, which is torn and wet. Brambles are growing up the side of the building. Garbage litters the area of Tatiana’s yard. One of the threes on the door is about to fall off. The glass on the door is shattered and a wooden sheet has been nailed up over it from the inside. I doubt the inner furnishings are much different.

 

Regardless of its condition, I am certain that it beats sleeping on the street. I remember what Jaiwarrior had said about options. It is definitely time to drink from the first glass I found. Taking cover from the rain I sit under the doorway and smoke yet another cigarette waiting for Tatiana to get home. It is around 3:10 in the morning.

 

Finally I nod off into half sleep, squatting in the squats entrance alcove. I had walked forever in the rain on the dark and empty streets of South London.  I decide to take a nap in this covered alcove, as I feel exhausted. I un-strap my green roll up camping mat. I prop my pack behind me, but keep it strapped to my back so no one can try to steal it without waking me. And then I go to sleep.

 

***

 

Someone is shaking me. It’s the woman, Tatiana.

 

“I have a better place ta sleep than the doorway.”

 

“Good to see you. How was work?” I ask in a groggy voice

 

“Made out pretty well. The rain is good for business.”

 

She opens the door and the inside is a reflection of the yard. Water is dripping from the ceiling. To my left is a half painted room with all sorts of shit scattered on the floor. We climb a wooden stairway to the second floor of the squat. The kitchen is in front of me with all sorts of produce, some fresh and some in various stages of decay. Grime is everywhere. On a rickety wooden table sits a large, rusted hotplate, which looks ancient. There are several pots and pans.

 

The next room up the hall is a bathroom, which is clean enough compared to the rest of the house. There is a bathtub with a clear plastic drape hanging from a metal bar. The paint is peeling from the water running down the ceiling. The next room cannot be entered because furniture has been stacked and packed into it floor to ceiling. Tatiana’s room is the last one before the stairs to the third floor. It is locked and she opens it with a knife from the kitchen.

 

“The neighbors are vicious thugs. They broke the downstairs door window and one of them tried to hit me the other day. I keep all my valuables in my room because you can’t be sure if they plan to break into the house. Take a nap and then we’ll go to this party, eh?” Tatiana tells me.

 

“Sounds good to me.”

 

I take off my coat and hit the bed. The room smells like dry rot and incense. The sheets on the bed are green and the bed doesn’t have a frame. It’s just three mattresses tossed on top of one another. Tatiana puts on some music and crashes in a beat-up easy chair as she rolls a cigarette. The music is tribal drumming intermixed with chants. Very new age.

 

“You want I should let ya sleep or ya want to come to a squat party?” she asks me.

 

“I’m up to go,” I say.

 

“Then we’re off.”

 

She lights her cigarette and we head downstairs to the living room where there are two bikes propped against the wall.

 

“Do Americans still know how to ride bicycles?”

 

“Yeah, we still know how to ride bicycles.”

 

The rain has stopped coming down as we ride down backstreets shrouded in darkness. We’re in the Styx. The houses all look the same and no cars are on the roads. Eventually we make our way to what appears to be a movie theatre boarded up on the outside. Letters have fallen off the marquee and the last movie shown appears to be Titanic, but the marquee reads Tit Anic. We walk our bikes to the back of the theatre. There is a parking lot littered with trash and three kids are smoking hash in a small blue car while people sit around a burning garbage can all fucked up on drugs. We chain our bikes to a fence and walk toward the back entrance where a kid no older than 14 is collecting two quid per person for the entrance fee. Tatiana pays for me and we wgo inside.

 

We emerge behind a large screen, which has been slashed down the middle. Already I can hear the base thumping. Most of the seats have been torn up and a plank has been laid down between the stage in front of the screen and the area where at least fifty-plus people are dancing. It reminds me of the way Andrew used to describe the old rave scene in New York. A DJ sits in the projection booth above us spinning jungle music. The projector is running and the shadows of the dancers fall on the slashed screen like ghostly silhouettes. There is a foul odor in the place. It stinks of urine, but I guess everyone is too fucked up to pay it much attention.

 

“Brilliant isn’t it?” Tatiana yells over the music.

 

“Yeah. Fucking cool.” I tell her in amazement.

 

There are kids everywhere. Crack heads and derelicts that have taken shelter in the theatre share the space with weekend partygoers. Some of the kids look like candy ravers. Others have that dreadlocked darker look that I remember from Concrete Jungle in New York. Everywhere people are dancing. Someone offers me E. We walk down a hall into what looks like the lobby. There is a large chandelier that looks like it’s about to fall, and very much ruin the evening of some party kid. Two strobe lights have been set up and they blare to the rhythm of the jungle beat.

 

I see a group of kids lined up sitting on the floor giving each other back rubs obviously rolling face. I never was into hallucinogens. Out of the corner of my eye I see Tatiana pop a pill. Better keep my eye on her being that I have no idea how to get home.

 

“Tanya!” I hear someone yell from the balcony above the lobby.

 

I look up and I see two men waving. Their faces are painted in tribal patterns of purple and green streaks. They are dressed casually and the tall one has a crazy look in his eyes. Tatiana waves back and tells me she wants to introduce me to two of her “work mates.”

 

Tall George is tall and lanky. He’s skinny like a stick and has wild eyes that dart around as if he is unable to focus. He is wearing what could be described as English club clothing, but there is something just a little off about the way he puts himself together. The other guy is named Matt. Matt is shorter than Tall George and has a grim celebrity to his looks, like you’ve seen him on the television or in a movie. Both work for Bug Bugs, the largest rickshaw provider in the city of London.

 

“Right. There’s something wrong with this one’s voice,” says Tall George pointing to me. “His accent is funny, like he speaks English eh, but doesn’t pronounce things correctly.”

 

“He’s American,” says Tatiana.

 

I can tell by looking at her that she’s beginning to feel the effects of the drugs.

 

“I know he’s Merican. I’m just taking a piss.” Tall George speaks low-English enunciating each word with hand gestures and quick reverberations in his posture.

 

“What’s your name?” asks Matt.

 

“Zachariah,” I tell him.

 

“That’s a right regal name you know,” says Tall George. “You’re lucky to have such a name. That’s like Amish or Biblical like. Don’t let people call you Zach. You shouldn’t abbreviate that name.”

 

He talks quickly and I see him grind his teeth. His pupils are like saucers and he’s obviously fucked up on something. He keeps on talking. He’s not looking at me. He’s staring right over my head but continues to engage me.

 

“You’re a small geezer for an American, Zachariah. I had to haul these three fat Americans all over London. They were well daft. Pronounced Trafalgar Square incorrectly. Had to weigh like three hundred pounds apiece. It wasn’t healthy. To tell the truth, I sort of went slowly like, didn’t want to tip over on a turn. You want some war paint?” he asks me.

 

“Yeah, sure,” I say.

 

“Where did that Suzy go? She is well fit. Most English girls are dogs. I bet you’ve seen that already. It’s the teeth if you haven’t noticed. I blame the weather. There’s no sun this time of year. You need sun otherwise things wither and die. English girls look like the undead. Like fucking zombies,” Tall George tells me.

Tatiana and Matt head off into one of the other theatres to listen to the music. Tall George suddenly sits down as if spooked. I take out a cigarette and offer him one.

 

“No thanks, little brother. Those things will kill you. I wouldn’t want me lungs black like a Sudanese hooker. Black like a politician’s soul. Me lungs are pink and robust. Want to keep um that way. You gotta right. Pick your poison. I like mushy mushes and little E pilly willies,” Tall George tells me.

 

“Rather poison my lungs than my mind,” I say.

 

“Well, that isn’t the right way of lookin’ at it, eh. It’s about finding that way to break through to the other side. They don’t poison your mind, they open it.”

 

“I have enough trouble with the other side without the drugs.”

 

“Visions of the darkness? Terrible things that make sure you don’t sleep?” he asks.

 

“Something like that,” I say puzzled.

 

“I can see that in you, geezer. They want to get out,” Tall George observes.

 

“Who wants to get out?”

 

“That’s about all I can say on the matter,”

 

“Who wants to get out? Where are you getting that from?!”

 

“Once Tall George decides to stop talking, that’s the end of it,” he tells me emphatically.

 

I decide not to push the matter and figure that it’s just the drugs talking. Tall George wanders off looking for an elf that has been taunting him.

 

All around me a carnival world erupts throughout the theatre. Fire dancing, jungle music, people with painted faces, teenagers having sex in phone booths. I’m in another world. Looking at the theatre from the outside you’d have no idea what is unfolding inside.

 

Here I am on my first night of the great escape reveling in the abyss and loving every minute of it.

 

ב

I begin selling art right off of Piccadilly Circus in central London. The statue of Eros in the middle of Piccadilly competes with the billboards of Nike and Adidas and the GAP Super Store. The god’s powers wane daily as people pray to their new consumer gods.

 

Tatiana and Tall George and dozens of other riders zip in and out of the West End in their rickshaws. The riders are refugees just like me. I share the strip with junkies and artists. There is an old woman selling trinkets and a punk rocker with a portable amp and guitar.  Packs of college kids roam from bar to bar looking for love or violence.

 

I spread my art out on my green squat mat, on which I have drawn the hammer and sickle emblem. I am so damn proud to be a communist. I treat everyone with a dignity and respond to any interaction with “thank you for your time, comrade.” Every piece of art is a childish lash against the place in which I was born.

 

As I study the Manifesto and Che Guevara’s manual on guerrilla warfare line by line I re-imagine the red dream. Day and night I dream about fighting the Colombian government with the FARC-EP or the ELN or about traveling to Cuba to be trained as a doctor. Like in America, people always ask me about Russia. Russia is the idealist’s deal breaker. They always want to remind me about how bad Russia was. People tell me to read 1984 or Animal Farm, or Gulag Archipelago. They tell me to study how many tens of millions perished under Stalin, Mao and the Khmer Rouge. I tell them that none of that was communism. Those were just brutal dictators calling themselves communists.

 

I am on the train on the way back to the squat on my first Friday in London and an Orthodox Jewish kid gives me a small plastic packet with grape juice, two shabbos candles, a small piece of hallah and the Friday prayers. So, before I go to the squat party tonight, I fumble through the shabbos prayers for the first time since my visit to the Orthodox settlement near Jerusalem. The ritual is strangely comforting. It will become something I try to do every Friday that I am in London. I don’t really kept the shabbos in a restful sense, but I always pray for some direction.

 

If there really is a God, it seems to communicate best to me in dreams and traumatic experiences.

 

In the dreams Mike Washington and I, the Pilgrim now called Zachariah, are still moving a captive and possessed pregnant girl across a vast and ominous desert with adversity, near escapes and gun battles at every turn of course.

 

In my waking life, I begin organizing a Leninist cell system on the ever-pouring streets of London, the very city where the Manifesto was written. Every day I wake up feeling that my God is with me. That my God loves me as a communist. I look proudly up to the martyr whose name is now my own. I am glad Sebastian Adon is dead. As though I shot him myself, I pray daily to be as strong as the real Zachariah Artstein.

***

 

I quickly sell Nina Yogh’s photos from the Inauguration demonstration along with my own paintings for about 10 pounds each at my makeshift art stand. I feel like these pictures say that not all Americans are complacent. Business is never great. If I sell something, it is usually at the end of a particularly long conversation and probably more due to the novelty of my ideas than my artistic technique. Resistance Art, as I have dubbed my stand, is generally more about getting them to stop and ask about the hammer and sickle. At times a few drunken English men during general pub hours in the evening pay a single quid each for me to draw something obscene like priests sodomizing little girls or themselves receiving blow jobs. And who am I to not accommodate them?

 

I close up my art stand when it starts to drizzle and head over to Old Compton and Frith where the pedicab riders congregate.  I am wearing my tattered brown cashmere jacket with the grey corduroy scaly cap on my head. I am carrying all my stuff in the grey gas mask bag.

 

“It’s the last American rebel,” yells Tall George from a yellow rickshaw across the street.

 

I only have a vague recollection of my delirious chat with him at the squat party. I remember him saying something cryptic.

 

“Not the last, just the latest,” I call back to him.

 

“I wonder if there is a correlation between how fat most Americans are and how lazy they seem to be,” Tall George continued.

 

“Yeah maybe, either way I left.”

 

“And what is it you think you’re going to find here in London, geezer?”

 

“A little freedom from the American tyranny.”

 

“Aren’t you too young to be talking about things like that?” Tall George asked.

 

“How old do you think I am?”

 

“Sixteen,” he answered.

 

“I’m seventeen.”

 

“And you already have the rhetoric of a little cosmonaut. A communist monkey to be shot into space, eh?” Tall George commented.

 

“Or took a train into the heart of the UK.”

 

“This was once a place of darkness said Mr. Conrad.”

 

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

 

“A place of a dark and savage river, geezer. A place where Roman legionnaires shuddered in their frigates at the howling of the savage Gaelic tribes. They had to be pacified at great expense. The mighty General Hadrian had to have a wall built to keep them away from the colony. Eons ago. Now there are more walls to keep the modern barbarians away from the gilded skyscrapers and sports cars and cameras everywhere to keep the savage Gaelic tribe of the New IRA from leaving popping packages in the tube. It’s still a place of darkness, hidden beneath the glow of consumer, quasi-civilization.”

 

“Cameras?”

 

“Closed circuit television. The whole city is wired up. It’s supposed to stop the Irish from setting off bombs, but that’s just an excuse to keep track of the dissident and criminal English. The real IRA blew up the BBC today with a car bomb. CCTV hasn’t told um anything but the color of the car. It was once blue, but now its charred and blackened,” George tells me.

 

“What’s the real IRA?”

 

“It’s a splinter group of a splinter group.”

 

“What’s a splinter group?”

 

“It’s when terrorists can’t make up their mind over the reasons they’re putting bombs into fish and chip shops,” George explained.

 

“And the real IRA is?”

 

“It’s the most violent of the fighting Irish that got tired of putting bombs in Protestant pubs in Belfast and brought the bags over to London.”

 

“What do they want?”

 

“Fast cars, cocaine and loose and easy women like everyone else. And Northern Ireland free, of course,” George explained.

 

“Northern Ireland, free?”

 

“It’s the longest running separatist conflict in modern human history. They want the six northern counties of the island to be returned to the Irish Republic. But most in the north are prods from the Church of England, and nearly the entire south is Catholic. A Catholic minority lives in the north and gets treated like fourth-class citizens. Some ten thousand bullets and bombings later, the north awash in blood, and low and behold, the situation remains the same. Not only communists have few scruples killing lots of innocent people for a rosy dream,” George said.

 

“I have a friend in New York named Hubert O’Domhnaill . He always used to beat around the bush when it came to the issue, but get him drunk and he’ll start talking about free Ireland,” I tell him.

 

“Scratch an American Irishman and you’ll find a Sein Fein supporter or funder,” Tall George continued.” The political arm of the Irish Republican Army.”

 

“Political arm?”

 

“Geezer, ya can’t just put bombs in candy shops and think that’s gonna make people turn over some land to yer people. Ya need an aboveground, election-based party to make statements and speeches and tell people why the bombs goin’ off in the candy shops and wedding halls and government buildings advance the interests of the given group. A political arm is the above ground wing to further the objectives of the group. The military arm is jus for causin’ problems when the political arm isn’t getting what it wants.”

 

“So it’s about Catholic and Protestant?”

 

“There’s no real differences between a Northern Irish prod and Southern Irish Catholic, other than what side of the line they were born on. It doesn’t matter about religion after the second or third bomb goes off. Once the violence begins ya rally around a flag or a religion until the killing gets too out-of-hand and someone alerts the West. Ireland’s like a Middle Eastern country with freckles and a drinking problem. I’m half Irish meeself,” George says, proudly.

 

“So it’s really about land?”

 

“Or that’s what they tell themselves to shoot better. Whose fuckin land is any ‘o this anyway? Two thousand years ago, the maps looked different. In two thousand years they’ll change again. Britain went around the world with France and Belgium and put little flags and churches everywhere and told the brown and yellow people they had a queen. At first they were confused and then they were exploited and then they started blowing things up, too. People thinkin’ that just a bit of killin’ is all it takes to get their people a land. You can talk yer commy-talk ‘til ya turn eighteen and then ya should pick up a few books an learn that communists kill people as quick as anyone else.”

 

“I get the jist of your story, but history doesn’t always repeat itself.”

 

“Yes it does, with bigger and more efficient weapons. Yer young. People hear ya talk and think, eh, I remember when I thought like that, but then I grew old and cynical and had ta worry bout taxes and a family and the next big war. Talk like that when yer twenty and people ell either ignore ya er think yer daft,” George says, emphatically.

 

“There’s only one ideology that accurately explains the world, gives people a plan and a vision for a better life. Communism is the only good chance our people have for some kind of just existence.”

 

“Religion gives people the same. Communism is like a religion to you. You have faith in the higher power of the will of the people, an explanation for the world in the sacred texts, rituals like armed struggle, and salvation in the coming of the next great revolution. But leave it ta humans ta smash rose-colored glasses under a mounting weight of self-interest, age, and cynicism. But at least we have Shakespeare…”

 

“Huh?”

 

“The expression of every vital human emotion and interchange in the richest gradient of the English language. I’ve committed him ta memory and in doin so finally grasped the very essence of our eternal struggle to put meaning to this shite life of ars,” George says.

 

“Do tell…” I responded.

 

“That the world is wrought with human misery and the love of woman or sometimes a man is the only justifying factor to any of it at all. No single religion, ideology or creed will matter worth a damn to you once you find yer love amid a vast chasm of bloody power struggles, plans fer revenge and the overall tragedy of us bein quite abandoned by our Creator to our own sinister devices,” Tall George tells me.

 

“You have it all memorized?” I ask, incredulously.

 

“I’m a manic-depressive they say. I’m pure brilliant and three-quarters mad.”

 

“Either it’s indeed catching, or we attract to each other. You’re the third one I’ve met this year. I’m told by the experts in America I’m bi-polar which, I think means the same thing,” I tell him.

 

“How old are you again, Mr. Artstien?”

 

“I’m seventeen.”

 

“Get ready fer a lifetime of ever unfolding drama. Yer curtain is about to rise. They’ve asked ya if the glass is half full or half empty, but you threw the water in their face an told um ya knew where the well was an could drink to your heart’s content forever,” Tall George exclaims.

 

***

 

I am very, very cold. It’s damp and an awful draft permeates this hovel. I spent much of the day unloading furniture piled ceiling high in the room next to Tatiana’s. It was like a Gothic Alice in Wonderland, a room full of rusty chairs. I carried each one to the third floor, which is awash in bird shit. The house is almost as cold as the streets outside, but only half as wet. Water trickles down here and there. The waterlogged floorboards creak. It is not unlike a sinking ship about to collapse. Tatiana has warned me to not walk about without shoes as there are rusty nails protruding like hundreds of tetanus thorns. She told me to hammer them down when I find them.

 

Once the second room is finally cleared, I can’t help but notice a rather large hole, roughly the size of my head in the brick wall in the back of the room. Lacking a much better solution, I put a broken door against it. I sweep the room as best as I can and drag a dresser, a small table and a less rusted chair from an equally cluttered room in the basement. Tatiana has given me a cleanish mattress she probably found on the street and a Mickey Mouse blanket and a pillow. It is a room of my own.

 

It looks like Grozny only forty minutes by bike from Central London. The power works, the water runs. Cold and undrinkable, but still running. The doors lock, although they are intermittently peed upon, smashed, or boarded shut by our angry West Indian neighbors. We keep a crow bar in the bushes outside because whoever owns the building periodically boards the door with a solid wooden sheet, which is problematic to remove by hand. Tatiana warned me that the neighbors might try to attack me because we are squatting. The rents, even in this shitty South Brixton tenement, are high. The tube doesn’t run to our part of town, but there are the bikes and the commuter train runs until midnight. It isn’t a place I can ever bring a girl I like to, unless she is Bosnian.

 

Tulse Hill is an extension of Brixton, the Black neighborhood of London that is located south of the Thames. There is a shitty pub up the street, a small grocery store and a laundromat. All that is missing is jerk chicken shops, 99-cent stores and a few churches and you could imagine it to be East New York with a ridiculous accent. There’s something slightly less intimidating about a thug when he sounds like Pierce Brosnan. That’s until he beats your face in. But the neighborhood doesn’t seem that dangerous. There aren’t packs of junkies or young hoods on the street corner.

 

Most people are old and were once Jamaican, except for the neighbors in Romola 31 who are young, Jamaican and angry. One of them, I think it was a family with about three sons a little older than me, smashed the glass of one of our windows with a brick the week before I moved in. They are always throwing trash in our garden. And by garden I mean the pile of weeds, refuse and concrete bricks piled behind our house. They’d set us on fire if we didn’t share a wall. At night you can hear screaming, knockdown fights going on. Their old manias always bellowing or boxing with one of the sons.

 

I have finally managed to plug the hole with some bricks and mortar that were in the basement. It is perhaps the handiest thing I’ve done in my life. But that doesn’t keep out the cold. There is always a chill up my spine that no matter how far under the blanket I climb, I can never shake. There are perpetual wrinkles on my fingers. The cold is something I eventually learn to shut out with layers.

 

The rain comes down every other day in buckets. Biking back from selling art or squat parties, I always get drenched through and through. New York winters were bad, but I began to cherish any moments spent dry and wrapped in my growing collection of blankets. I often get quite lost navigating the South London streets back to Romola 33. The moment I finally arrive at the squat, I strip down naked in my room to dry out. I swear I have never seen my penis so small but in conditions like this. I once saw Nick Rosenbaum have sex with Lauren Zivia in my parent’s freezing swimming pool in the near dead of winter. I do not possess that kind of constitution. But once I am bundled in dry clothing and wrapped in layers of blankets, I retreat into slumber as best I can.

 

One day Tatiana brought home a space heater she had either found or bought from a friend. It is missing its front cover leaving the glowing bars quite exposed and ever ready to catch the squat ablaze. I can even light my rollies off it. She says it will keep me warm. Yeah, keep me warm or burn the fucking house down.

ג

Tall George took lunch break at 4 pm. He telss me that he has absolutely forgotten what day of the week it is and that it’s been like that for quite some time. With no bills or scheduled hours or meaningful relationships, I remind him that he’s totally unregulated by the “chains that bind” or “reality.” Tall George has to remember to eat. At nearly seven feet, he’s as tall as a basketball player tall and as thin as a sapling stick. His big brown eyes have a crazy look to them that he swears is caused by something called bipolar 2.

 

“Enhanced bi-polar,” he claims. “The kind of bi-polar other manic depressives covet more than they covet a return to sanity.”

 

Tall George can’t stay still for very long. He fidgets about and is rarely ever seated. The profession of a rickshaw driver is ideally suited to his very nature. Tall George wears velvet black suits with cuffs that are hemmed too short for his spindly legs. They appear neither inexpensive nor designer, simply man-sized, as if buys them at a big and tall shop with no attention to any precise fit. It is a look.

 

We are soon finished with our coffee and Tall George is back on his bike. He leaves me on the corner of old Compton and Frith with a table of art and a street without people.

 

It’s not raining for once. It’s just intermittently cloudy and grey. I got to Old Compton and Frith before noon.  I have moved my stand to the front of an expensive jewelry store called Nottinghams. It’s a small corner store that sells mostly tasteful silver and gold necklaces. A British girl with freckles and shoulder-length hair came out and asked me what I was doing.

 

“Selling art,” I tell her.

 

She looks it over for a minute and then goes to get coffee at an Israeli-owned coffee shop called Duke’s next to her store. She returns with two teas and gives me one.

 

“You’re not gonna sell anything, I think.”

 

“Not your style?”

 

“I’m not sure what my style would be, but your art is all guns-and-breasts radical iconography. You should change it up a bit perhaps.”

 

“I like my art,”

 

“I like your art. It’s quite unique in style. But who really wants to put hammers and sickles in their home?”

 

“Communist revolutionaries,” I counter.

 

“Well, perhaps the wrong neighborhood, in the wrong country, in the wrong time period, but good luck.”

 

“Thanks, I typically need all the luck I can get.”

 

She goes back in her store and sits behind the counter. We can still see each other through the glass. She is smiling at me. I never know how to react when a girl is checking me out. I feel like I should always look away lest I make a stupid face. She’s too petite to be totally British. She’s not beautiful nor is she unattractive. She has an intelligent look about her. Or am I reading this wrong and she is internally debating how a homeless street urchin selling art might be bad for business?

 

I get into a wide range of conversations at my art stand. Most are about communism and my ever- expanding political ideology. I am a soapbox sideshow with abstract diagrams. I am the walking, talking proof that not all Americans are fat, lazy, and apathetic. I am the singing, dancing spokesman of the great unwashed. People will ask me later if I made it over to Hyde Park corner, where people speechified about everything from Aliens to Jesus to Jesus being an alien. I never did because radicalism seems all the more striking in a vacuum.

 

But I still believe in the old man’s late great gospel.

 

I believe that the last hundred years has been the first charge. I believe that if the revolutions failed it is because of their leadership’s corruption not a failure of the ideas. The time is coming for a fourth wave. The social conditions around the world are little better for the common person. We are just going to have to keep drilling it into people’s heads, person by person, that this fight can be won. We are going to pick up that red flag again, cast off our iron chains, and fight our exploiters to the last bullet, to the last drop of blood.

 

Or so says the large cardboard placard, I have erected in front of my makeshift Resistance Art stand on the southeast corner of Compton and Frith.

ד

Tatiana and I biked up into North London for a small rave her friend Ilya is spinning this Thursday night. It is in a non-descript, ultra-modern pub with strobe lights and white walls with white leather-cushioned benches with tables. We arrived about 3 am because Tatiana was a bit confused about the address. I think the music is called drum and Base. All I really know is that I hate something called house, like something called happy hardcore, and favor jungle best of all. I still can’t really tell them apart unless a connoisseur points them out to me.

 

The bar is nearly empty. I meet Ilya, a bald man in his late twenties, early thirties with a red and black striped sweater and tightish jeans. He may have been a Russian once. He is very intense and slightly cold to me. I wander into the bar’s second room where two girls are dancing about dressed kind of like American candy ravers with yarn intertwined into their hair. I am in little mood to dance so I sketch the two of them. One has brilliant, died-red hair and the other is a platinum blonde, English Lara. The whole place is thumping with music for just the three of us.

 

The girls notice me and come over to see what I am drawing. And that is how I met Fairy Helene and Fairy Tink. They, like many young women, love my art in a way that can only halfway be attributed to the merits of my artistic technique. My art is the great opener of minds as well as legs. I am instantly taken with Fairy Helene. It is like a reunion with a missed connection from another life. Tatiana and Ilya, bound to his decks, watch the three of us play from a distance. Tink is loaded up on something she calls life but which is likely a British variant of methamphetamine.

 

Eventually the five of us leave to go to another party up the street. That party goes on quite indefinitely. As long as the sun is down, the London party scene sprawls eternal. You can keep going down that rabbit hole from warehouse to warehouse, basement to basement, couch to couch and pill to pill.

 

Everyone needs an adorable fairy friend fueled on new age spiritual thinking, fire dancing and a cornucopia of hallucinogenic drugs. I found mine that first night when Fairy Helene wrote her number in my sketchbook with red lipstick. They have a fairy posse, many of whom we meet that night. Whenever a raver says something like “you look like the dawn,” I cringe inside. No one should be that hip-happy-crappy, far-gone euphoric even on lots of drugs. Helene may be on something too but is far more coherent.

 

Somewhere amid the flashing do-it yourself strobe lights, buildings not made for dance parties and the ever-thumping base, I have lost Tatiana and finally pass out on the couch at Ilya’s tiny apartment where Fairy Helene lives. The whole night is a mess of color and conversation. I remember vignettes like Helene and I in a bathtub without water swooning as she drew on my chest with her red lipstick. What a cute fuckin’ mess. At one point Tink disappeared into a deli bathroom and emerged dressed as a flight attendant needing to catch the light rail train back to Surrey for work Friday morning. Ilya repeated twice before I passed out:

 

“Ask Tatiana what they’re making at the Button Factory.”

 

ה

I have written two short poems for Daphne Collins, the pretty young clerk at the jewelry store across from my art stand called the Florence-B. I left them with her co-worker, Lorraine.  Lorraine is a full-figured, blonde Irish girl who finds me “quite adorable” and “perpetually malnourished.” She feeds me all the time. Although I’m quite partial to Daphne, Lorraine has won the battle for my stomach. I have made quite a point to take nothing for free. I never ask for money and I never ask for anything that I won’t trade for a picture. But women love to feed me because I’ve grown quite skinny since I arrived in London. I look like a newsy in my grey scaly cap. I thought it was called a beret, but the actual term for it, I was told by some English punk, is called a scaly cap. I never take it off. Except the other night when we caught a bite and Daphne drank near a whole bottle of wine in the basement of an Italian restaurant down the street. Then we jumped in a taxi and she gave me head in her bathtub. I took my cap off for that.

 

I have’t written a poem for a girl in quite some time. But I have this ability for making words come together without it being cheesy. Daphne is quite taken by me because there is something quite romantic about an American boy refugee who sells art on the street. For about two weeks we’d had an odd little courtship of me leaving her little poems under the door of the shop before I headed home about 5 am and her buying my “proper English to-go breakfasts” on her way to work with the blonde co-worker Lorraine instigating for both of us.

 

We went out last Friday and she got quite plastered again.

 

“I’m not going to sleep with you tonight,” she says as are lying drunk in the bathtub again in her flat with candles all about the room. I really, really like getting head in a bathtub with candles all around me.

 

Daphne Collins is something of an amateur photographer. I think her work is quite good, real horror show material. I only say that because the work is quite dark and that’s the only kind of photography I really like. It is nearly all black and white, but even the color stuff takes on a real Bette noire-gothic kind of look, chocked full of homeless grimaces, 50 quid whores, bombed out tenements and warehouse fare. Some shots have been staged of a floating female corpse in a lake. She gave me several of these as a present and I glued them into the back of my sketchbook archive. They are the photos of a crime scene. She may want to be a  photographer, but she has to work at a jewelry store while she attends college.

 

Daphne lives with two female roommates. One thinks I am ‘adorable but really quite too young for her’.  The other one can’t stand me because I am ‘some urchin off the street likely to pawn something for drugs.’ Daphne was committing statutory rape when she started fucking me two week later. I am seventeen and she’s twenty. I’m for sure not going be the first seventeen-year old boy in the history of England to file a statuary rape charges on an attractive older woman. I’m not sure she has ever asked me my age or my real name. People always think I’m much older than I am as soon I start talking politics.

 

Now I’m in a kind of monogamous relationship with Daphne. I guess that looking at my previous love life, it will be short and relatively painless. With the exception of the times I wake up at someone’s house after a squat party to find an older woman in her thirties playing with me and then precede not to offer much resistance, I am quite loyal to Daphne. She is very good to me. She is conscious of how poor I am and finds ways to not make me feel awkward about never having money. While she is gracious with her money, I work twice as hard so I can take her out to something simple once in a while, like out for Italian food or to the ‘cinema for a picture.’

 

 

***

 

After enough nagging Tatiana eventually brought me to a Ska show at the place Ilya calls the Button Factory featuring Madness and the Selectors.

 

Twenty minutes northwest of Tulse Hill, this squalid factory is now a Punk-Rock-Ska venue, an anarchist infoshop, a vegan restaurant and a home to thirty to forty European anarchists. In between one of the Ska sets I wander up to the Infoshop and pick up a large glossy political flyer that says “May Day Monopoly 2001.” It is an anti-capitalist call to arms for the 1st of May with the city laid out like a monopoly board. The flyer put out a call for decentralized “direct action” against corporate targets as a lead up to a massive anti-capitalist march across the city. This isn’t a protest about an issue. This is a protest against an economic system on international workers day. The protest is two months away. I am informed by a few of the people at the store that the year before a famous English statue called the Cenotaph had been vandalized and a few McDonalds had been set ablaze. Rioting is sort of like football here, a national pastime for leftists and hooligans alike. The plan this year is to move beyond protesting to encourage affinity groups to form and plan action against specific targets without a centralized command, a type of mayhem that the London police would be slower to catch on to and would make it harder to stop.

 

These European anarchists are very impressive to me. There is a real culture to it all, an alternative social system attached to the squatters movement.  It is better organized and more disciplined than what I’ve seen in the United States. Anarchist is just a term to me at this point. I can barely connect communism to a specific economic model. I know there is more to it than “no government.” That is just childish. But these people are very action-oriented. I tap right into it. I got my hands on a 46-page, direct action training book with diagrams and materials needed for a wide variety of political actions. There are even workshops I can go to at the Button Factory like Direct Action 101 and Basics of Mobile Shield Walls. There are tons of books there I can borrow. There is a whole community I quickly plug into as I am determined to involve myself with the “May Day Riots” as everyone outside the anarchist community calls them.

 

I am not really that aware to what degree people associate words like anarchist and communist with violence, at least outside the Button Factory anyway, where the words mean freedom and liberation from the ruling class. I associate communism with violence and a failed economic system as opposed to anarchism, which I think stands for violence for the sake of more violence. Radicalism is easy for me.

 

I see no reason why I ought to spend my entire life waiting for slow reforms accomplished by liberal politicians. I see no reason at all why I am not justified in using violence to further my cause as long as no innocent people are killed. This is the fundamental difference between a revolutionary and a terrorist. A terrorist simply no longer differentiates between political objectives and innocent human lives. For those associated with the Real IRA, no one is innocent. This is not to say that I am so naïve as to think that these things happen bloodlessly. Sometimes I sit up very late in my squat huddled over the space heater thinking about if I can kill a person for what I believe.

 

I have begun to internalize the radical nature of my trip. It is one thing to say you are willing to die for an idea because of some wrong carried out against you in life. It is quite another to say you are willing to kill for the same ideal. I have been going to informal lectures at a coffee shop near the Button Factory on the theories of revolutionary violence by Mikhail Bakunin. I am learning to differentiate the various schools of anarchist revolutionary theory. I am beginning to realize two things from my new comrades. First, the revolution cannot simply be a change in the economic relationships within a country. It has to result in a change in the power relationships as well. If this basic tenet is not adhered to at the beginning, the society created from the struggle won’t change. Second, direct action is the tactic best suited to accomplish our goals. It was explained to me with a quick parable.

 

You and a comrade work at a factory with unsafe machines. One day the machine takes off your comrade’s hand. This has been a reoccurring problem and the managers refuse to make the safety correction. You come back at night with a wooden shoe and make sure that the machine never works again.

 

Like so many others of the Great Unwashed I believe in the product we were making.

ו

There are probably thirty fairies at the Sunday afternoon jungle party that Fairy Helene has taken me to near the Old Street Roundabout. They really dress the part–face paint on some, clothing of every color under the florescent rainbow, colored yarn called kwali-locks intermixed in dreads. Some of them hold jobs and don’t dress like this at work. Ilya is the only one that doesn’t really like to dress up. But it is a charming surreal little moment when they all come back from the rave parties of North London and converge in this sad little pub for a few pints.

 

Fairy Benjamin told me, “A suit en tie is just the least interesting costume at the party, but whose anyone to say it ain’t just dress up of a different kind. Here’s one fer ya Zach. The tie is like the noose of the capitalist beast bout to string ya up its tree.”

 

I am only getting close to three of the fairies. Fairy Helene because I fancy her, as they say here. I hang out with her once or twice a week excluding the parties I see her at during the weekends. She make sthe rounds. She sometimes comes to sell art with me. She sits there by the makeshift table in Soho and helps me flag people down. I always try and give her a cut of my meager earnings, and she always turns it down.

 

“I’m just a fairy here to protect you,” is what she says.

 

I have quite a crush on her, but am not entirely certain she isn’t hooking up with her squat mate Ilya who is easily twice her age. There is something more to it than that, but that doesn’t make it less creepy, I tell myself self-righteously.

 

I take fairy Helene to the movies when I can afford it. We saw Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon on Cranberry juice and she seemed quite filled with glee. She always finds me at work and takes me on these all-weekend adventures across derelict factories and the couches of acquaintances with interconnected stops at never-ending jungle parties. Or drum and bass or happy hardcore. I still can’t really tell the difference at all.

 

Fairy Christian is an aspiring actor. He is very good looking with a remarkable disposition and a disarming smile. He does something called fire-staff at parties, which is basically twirling a long stick that is on fire at both ends. While all the Fairy’s are aware I am quite communist- minded, it is really only Christian that is well-read enough politically to carry on with me all the time about it. Ilya takes in these bar room polemics quietly nodding in approval. Christian however pushes and pushes. He’d forces me to defend every element of my “so called communism.” He gives me the “who-picked-up-the-trash” questions he tells me that brash young revolutionaries never like answering.

 

Sometimes Ilya interjects that I am “too young for the school system questions,” and should stick with the “barricade and handgun theories” that “make such work attractive to young men.” His non-engagement would have probably enraged me if I weren’t more uneasy about his hinted-at romance with Fairy Helene. But the Sunday jungle party at the pub by the Old Street Roundabout has became a school of rhetoric for me unlike any other. Christian and Ilya force my hand. The three of us engage random fairies recuperating from the weekend in the finer points of the struggle sitting around a table in the back. And while they are dancing, I mostly stare out over the dance floor from some elevated ledge and ruminate on the next set of questions or the previous ones I haven’t answered well. I am enrolled in the Stella Artois School of Radical Rhetoric every Sunday afternoon. If I get an ‘A,’ Ilya might buy me a fish and chips.

 

Once in while when it is real late Christian stares off into the night sky and talks about getting out of dreary London to go be a famous actor somewhere with a little less rain. He talks about it like a vision, not a daydream, to get very far from this place and to be captivating to others on a stage. Like the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” but as a play.  None of this vapid English scenery turning my waking life into a Richard the Third allegory for human existence.

 

“If you can cross an ocean to be a communist, no reason I can’t do the same in the name of being fabulous,” he said one night watching me smoke a rolly on his roof. “It’s all in the process and motives when it comes to the exile.”

 

The third Fairy I know isn’t in the Fairy crew with Helene, Tink, Kwali, Benjamin, Ilya, Christian and the rest. Her name is Lim Lim Simone. She is a fairy only in her lifestyle but a revolutionary in her disposition. I met her at one of the parties Helene brought me to. Lim-Lim is a real connector, a real pro-active sister who delights in strangers being brought together through her. I stayed at her strapping Colombian boyfriend’s home the night I met her joining them for Sunday afternoon tea and a late nap.

 

When you work in or frequent the squat party scene this is code for “been up all Friday night, gonna drink some tea and sleep  acouple hours at a stranger’s home before I go back out for Saturday.” For me these little excursions might start Thursday night and take me all over the couches and abandoned warehouses of North London and then return me to my home after a few pints with the fairies late Sunday night or Monday morning near the Old School Roundabout. If I ever lose sight of Helene, she leaves me in someone’s company who feeds me, or fucks me or baby-sits until she re-collects me with a text message.

 

Lim Lim is Malaysian with thin black spectacles. She dresses more camouflage than candy raver. She promotes for a variety of underground party companies, in particular the ones that happen on Tyler Street every Saturday. Part of the fun of knowing her and the fairies is never paying for a single party ever again, especially when Lim Lim is involved.

 

I talked to Lim Lim about helping me create an Affinity Group for the May Day Monopoly protests and she agreed. She says she’ll think of whom else she knows that can help. She says that I should call her before Tuesday so we can talk about some specific plans. She is filled with energy and optimism. All the fairies are and that is a good community to have when you are always hungry, wet, cold and tired.

 

Lim Lim is like a fairy Che Guevara, always encouraging, always reliable, “hasta la victoria siempre” but in Malaysian. There is a dauntless optimism ingrained in the upbringing of Ms. Lim Lim Simone. No one has ever bothered to tell her the human race is not capable of inherent good. I have finally found a kindred soul with whom to plot and conspire. And you only need two for a good conspiracy.

 

These are my fairies. I follow them around their surreal underworld in their neon-shaded garb.  I follow their little cookie-crumb trails of uppers and downers with Helene and Tink as my royal tasters. Like some urban fairytale the girls’ Orange phones, free-texting feature bring more fairies out of the woodwork–jaded-but-aware political fairies like Ilya and Christian down to chat for hours about the bloody road to universal health care and rebel fairies like Lim Lim, ready to start something new and leave something behind.

 

***

 

These weekends are like daydreams carried out in the dead of night. Too dark to be called a dream, too surrounded with good company to border on being a nightmare.  This is how I came to like electronic music, even if I can’t differentiate one style from another. This is how I honed the ideology I call communism into a coherent intellectual strand, even if I don’t know my Lenin from my Trotsky or the Tao from Mao. I am growing more articulate on the basics.

 

Some people go to church on Sunday. I sit around a table at a bar in the north of London honoring a whole different higher power.  The dawn is breaking through the fog of a pouring night in North London. The bar doesn’t seem to close, or if it does, Fairy Helene or Ilya can get its doors open with a phone call.

 

Lim Lim and I are up on the roof this morning staring out at the city right before the dawn with cigarettes in hand. A fog has swept over the boulevard heading right into the roundabout. The roundabout was lit up telling us to buy Nike Shoes. We have been hashing out all the most important details of our proposed May Day operation, which we aim to carry out with the aid of our political compatriots.

 

“You think this will work,” she asks to no one in particular, even though I’m the only person on the roof.

 

I am at the stage where talking takes some concentration.

 

“You know that saying?” I say slowly.

 

“Which saying. I’m English. We have a million different sayings.”

 

“The one about winning or losing not being important, it’s how you play the game?”

 

“If our collaboration has the long term result of my face on a t-shirt and you get a book of snappy leftist quotes, just know, we should be terribly disappointed with ourselves if the body count gets way out of control,” she finally says.

 

I mull over her words for a second

 

“Well how much would you call out of control?” I ask.

 

These are the fairies my God sent down to watch over me in the wilderness.

 

 

ז

 

I came home at 5 in the fucking morning to find the door to our squat boarded up. Someone or some group of people haS nailed enormous wooden plywood boards over the front entrance. I say group of people because three of them were still sitting on our porch.

 

“Git the fuck outah here you fuckin’ squattah!” yells a Black kid in a leather jacket about my age.

 

Then a rock hits my head and I am almost knocked over. I feel blood coming down my brow. I stumble a minute trying to get my bearings. I’ve never been stoned before, not like this anyhow. One of the kids is kicking me in the stomach and pushing me into the street. I topple on my ass onto the wet pavement.

 

They are all about the same age, which is to say, my age. They are yelling and pushing me. I’m not used to violence like this without even the hint of a reason. I’ve never seen pure hate like this.

 

“GET THE FUCK OUT, SQUATTAH!”

 

One of them cracks me in the side of the head. Another gives me a kick in the ribs. I manage to stumble away. I crawl backwards down the street away from them prodded by the occasional kick or shove. I think one of them just spit on me. They stop attacking me when I manage to get about twenty feet away. A few blocks later I am still winded and shocked and have a few abrasions on my face and hands from the floor to which I was knocked.

 

I realize I’m crying. Not sobbing, just really mortified that my neighbors jumped me because they’re angry I don’t pay rent. Senseless violence seems more fun on the screen.  I slump down for a while against a white gate across the street. I feel a lot of more pain from the kick than from the rock. It’s drizzling and I fumble in my coat pocket for a ten-cigarette pack of Marlboro Menthol Lights I’m carrying.

 

That was certainly a whole lot of anger out of fuckin’ nowhere. Maybe there is something that Tatiana hasn’t told me about her relationship with our neighbors. Or maybe I’m just in a shitty Black neighborhood in South London. Or maybe, just maybe, Tatiana is a little liberal with the ‘N’ word.

 

I light the cigarette. The blood on my fingers is all over the cigarette. I am smoking it anyway. There is the coppery taste of blood in my mouth mixed with the dull throb of smoke permeating my open wounds.

 

Suddenly, the door opens behind me. It’s a tiny old man, a Black Yoda West Indian with a portable oxygen tank and a withered old Irish woman with freckles and red hair. For god-only-knows-what-reason I begin speaking in an Irish accent.

 

My neighbors are tiny and frail. They invite me inside and give me a cup of black coffee and an ice pack. I’m in a daze. A fake Irish daze. They ask me if I want to call the constable. I don’t know what a constable is, but my squat and my legal status don’t involve the inclusion of constables. Not at all.

 

This is like the first time that I got beat up only just a little bit worse. That time in New York Dan Marino’s friends got the jump on me in the park. It came out of nowhere, kind of like this. Both times I had the distinct feeling that I hadn’t done anything to deserve it. I am yelling that sort of shit in a fake Irish accent at whatever un-godly hour of the morning it happens to be. The woman isn’t talking. She just keeps bringing me damp towels and new cups of cold water or fresh, black coffee.

 

The old man keeps giving orders and muttering, “He’s in a bad way.”

 

After a few hours, I am feeling less sore and willing to move. The rain has gotten heavier, which hopefully means no one will be out there waiting for me. I go up the street, make sure no one is in front of our squat, and remove the crow bar from the bushes. As quickly as I can, I yank the boards off the door, unlock it and go inside quickly locking the door behind me. I wonder where Tatiana is. I wonder what kind of things she’s said to them.

 

There is a small bruise above my left eyebrow and some other light bruises from where they hit me. It isn’t as if it is their house. It isn’t as if they get anything out of us paying rent. Maybe they think we are drug addicts. I suppose Tatiana is a bit of a drug addict. It doesn’t really matter, as it is likely a combination of many factors. You shouldn’t ever use race to explain why a group of people want to make your life nasty, brutish, and short. That’s what my surrogate sister Natalie Desmond would have said.

 

I am physically exhausted and mentally bankrupt. I have been up for over three days now and have not been back to the squat. The days and nights have bled into each other and I feel as though events have entered into a single stream of consciousness.

 

I keep hearing my name everywhere. I turn and no one is there. I have gone to five separate squat parties in north London almost back to back. I have sold nearly all of my stock of art and have something like forty quid in my wallet.

 

My gait has been reduced to a stumble. I’ve been walking all night since I left Lim Lim and Ilya and the fairies at the last party. I keep having bad visions. Every time I try to rest, I see the Pale City. It’s breaking through into my waking life and I can’t stop it.

 

“Zach.”

 

I turn around, but the street is empty. I think I’m losing my mind.

It is raining lightly, more of a gently spray really. I reach into my jacket pocket to look for a pack of smokes, but realize I’ve smoked them all already. Nothing is open. Not even a corner store. The streets are desolate. There aren’t even cars. This place is a ghost town.

 

“Zachariah.”

 

I heard that. It sounds like it came from directly behind me like the devil whispering in my ear. As I reach the edge of Trafalgar Square, I realize I have to stop walking. I physically can’t go on. I wipe my brow with my grey bandana.

 

It’s covered in blood.

 

The blood is on my face and on my hands and on my coat and in my hair. There are puddles of it. No one is in sight. I drag myself to the center of the square. I slip and fall on my ass; foot got caught on uneven pavement. I don’t get up right away. I stare at the moon. It’s smiling at me. I smile right back at it.

 

I slowly get back on my feet. I need to rest. I think I can go to sleep now if I can only make it to the monument’s elevated base. I drag myself along like a wounded soldier.

 

Voices. Images. I can see reality shake.

 

The moon is still smiling. I hear violin music, but don’t know where it is coming from.

 

My last conscious thought is if I sleep on the elevated base of the monument, the likelihood of someone stealing my gear and wallet is significantly reduced.

 

I see a cat playing the violin perched on one of the lions on the monument. He is playing the world’s smallest violin just for me. The moon grins. The cat grins. And I grin too. And then darkness.

 

I hate sleeping outside when it doesn’t come with marshmallow roasting and a sing-along around the campfire. You might say I’m not cut out for the lumpen proletariat.

 

The moon is twice as large as it should be and I am looking out over a mountainous ravine that drops thousands of dirt-rock-sand miles below me. The stars are perpetually out of reach and always have been. I’m standing with Mike Washington next to a long grey/black Cadillac, its wheels affixed to ski-like boards on each side. What looks like a large model rocket is soldered to the roof. The back door is open and one of back seats has been dropped back, converted into a stretcher. It’s for the pregnant young woman we’ve been taking along with us or restrained and abducted. I can’t yet tell. She appears asleep. There’s an IV line in her right arm, the IV drip hep lock and medication hanging from a ceiling hook. Mike is holding a long rifle with a Tommy gun-like circular clip slung around his shoulder. We’re both wearing beige trench coats with retractable hoods.

 

“That’s a huge moon,” I say.

 

“The human body is 78% water. Imagine the effect the moon has on the tides and what it must do to us.”

 

“Where are we taking the girl, Mike?” I ask.

 

“Zach. You know exactly where we’re taking the girl,” he responds as if he is perturbed with me.

 

“I don’t ask questions to things I already know the answers to.”

 

“Yes you do. When the answers are scary and you don’t want to be remembered as the first person in the conversation who changed the rosy tune and got yelled at,” Mike snipes at me.

 

“Tune hasn’t been so rosy, Mike, and you never yell.”

 

“Get in the car, Zach. Driver’s side. If you please.”

 

“I don’t know how to drive a whatever-the-fuck this is.”

 

“It’s a Rapid Extrication Rocket Sled. You just strap yourself in and yank the lever. If the car doesn’t explode instantly the rest is remarkably straight forward,” Mike explains nonchalantly.

 

I close the back doors and look into the driver’s seat. Mike tinkers with a few things and climbs in next to me shotgun. He cocks whatever east-meets-west weapon he’s cradling this episode.

 

“Tell me when,” I say.

 

“When you see a 7,000 foot tidal wave. That would be a good when,” Mike responds.

 

There’s a rumble on the ground below us. The car shakes a little and sand begins to fall off the roof. The car is perched on the edge of a sand dune that’s the size of Mt. Everest. Mike looks to check if our young pregnant, female passenger is secure to the long board in the back compartment. A rumbling in the distance like a terrifying whisper is felt everywhere as sand starts tumbling off the car.

 

I give him a fuck-you look and fumble around for my pack of Camel cigarettes.

 

I don’t see the wave, but I can feel it. It’s a very long way down the side of the dunes behind us. The rocket attached to our car has rusted red fins. I climb into the driver’s seat and close the door.

 

“Where are we bringing the girl?” I ask again.

 

“I swear to God, you have to stop asking questions just to hear the sound of your own voice,” Mike says angrily.

 

Mike fastens his seat belt. Its seven separate interlocking straps buckle. One of them has a ‘wirr-click’ device to draw back all the traps. The wave breaks over the mountain range behind us. Oceans of water rush down upon our ridge. I have never seen so much water in my life moving so quickly towards me. Mike takes a green pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and lights one. He turns the key in the dashboard and the internal lighting of the car flickers on. He looks at me intently. I fumble a bit more and then the straps buckle themselves around me. The roar of the flood surging through the canyon is deafening. I pull the large red lever and with a mighty KABLAM! The car careens dangerously down the dune, water pouring after us.

 

The rocket propels our car down the dune with explosive velocity. The wave comes down behind us. Everything’s moving very quickly. I have no control at all. The steering wheel doesn’t connect to anything. It’s like some cruel, hopped-up Disney ride on juice. Mike’s cigarette flies out of his mouth. The wave is flooding the whole desert. I can hear the roar of the wave and rocket. I’m holding on for dear life really hoping this is the last ride Mr. Washington and I go on. All these high-speed transportation shenanigans are not so good for my mental heath. But then, neither is Mr. Washington himself.

 

The girl is still sleeping peacefully as if nothing is going on. We reach the bottom of the mountain dune and the rocket goes off as the car swerves into a straightaway petering out. Sparks fly as it grinds 300 miles an hour down a dilapidated, wasteland highway. The deluge isn’t so far behind. Mike hits a button, which inflates an enormous golden raft around the sides of the vehicle. The wave has spent itself by now. The flow of the water just picks us up turning the valley into a mighty river upon which the car floats quickly downstream. The water rises flowing down the dune and gently carries a car, then a rocket sled, now and a boat toward our destination wherever it may be.

 

“There are a lot more ways than one to escape a flood,” says Mike Washington.

 

 

***

 

It’s finally daylight. I am sore from sleeping on concrete, and I feel even dirtier than when I went to bed. I’m sure I smell. At least it has stopped raining. Thank God for small fucking favors.

 

Climbing off the base of the statue I realize that I’m starving. There is a supermarket with an orange awning on the south side of the square. I check to make sure no one took my money. I am pleased to discover that I still have two, twenty notes and some assorted change.

 

The supermarket seems slightly overpriced. I grab some bread, some cheddar cheese, some yogurt, a banana and a pack of Marlboro Menthol Lights.  I pay the Pakistani cashier six quid and head back out to the square to eat breakfast. It looks like it is going to be a beautiful day.

 

It isn’t a long walk from Trafalgar Square to the West End. Newspaper trucks are dropping off papers at the stands. Early morning traffic is light. Stores are just opening and bartenders are preparing the tea and coffee. Street sweepers fire water hoses out of sanitation trucks wetting the pavement and washing the rubbish into the storm drains. I’m never at work this early.

 

I realize that I only have a picture or two left and will have to sketch some more to restock my inventory. I decide to head to Duke’s and see if the Israeli manager will trade me art for coffee. I try to remember her name, but it escapes me.

 

As I pass Les Mis, a girl with a red hoody calls out for me to come over and talk to her. She is sitting on a park bench smoking a cigarette. Her dirty blond hair is shoulder length and she’s wearing expensive-looking sunglasses, which is odd, because I haven’t seen any sun since I got here. I’m still at that stage in my life where I think sunglasses cover your eyes from the sun.

 

“You’re that geezer who sells art right?” she asks in a thick cockney accent.

 

“Yeah,” I say.

 

“Wanna get fucked, eh?” she asks.

 

“Who doesn’t, but I don’t pay for a bird’s tail.”

 

“Learned some local fuckin’ vernacular, eh. Wanna get high then?”

 

“I don’t use the poison,” I tell her.

 

“What ya do then fer fun besides make stupid pictures?”

 

“I draw pictures for girls I can bring home in front of my parents.”

 

“That’s pretty queer. I can bring ya to this place, you’ll fuckin’ love it. There’s dancin’ an everything.”

 

“Are you a red light promoter or something?”

 

“Don’t ask stupid questions. You wanna go dance o what?” she continues.

 

“You heard what I said.”

 

“I know a girl who will suck you off for a painting for a hundred quid. Trick got two black eyes fer her reckless payroll scruples an she can use the business.”

 

I think it over.

 

“Still not interested,” I conclude.

 

“Suit yer self, geezer.”

 

“See you later, Dodge City.”

 

“Me name’s, Rosy. Find me about if you need something hard to find.”

 

“You can bet I probably won’t,” I tell her.

 

When I get to Compton and Frith there’s no one out except storekeepers setting up chairs and the sanitation department hosing down the streets. There’s an enormous hole in the pavement. Three orange cones and a roadblock keep people from driving over it. I drag it over in front of Daphne’s store and fashion a table out the roadblocks with my camping mat as the face. I secure the mat with tape and fasten my pieces on it. I find a piece of metal fencing by the road and lean it against the stand to put up more work. It looks official enough, but no one’s really on the street to see it.

 

Rickshaws won’t show up until noon at least. The few people on their way to work don’t really take much notice of my improved stand. The already darkening sky does not bode well for sales.

 

It never stops raining. When it rains I invent a million ways to keep selling. Like walking into coffee shops and bars and flagging down prospective customers. Like working below ground in the tube stations. Or covering my stand with cling film when it’s just drizzling. Each week a few pieces get too water-damaged to sell on their own and have to be cut up and collaged. I’ve been collaging a lot lately. Gluing magazine clippings or newspaper headlines somehow adds value to the sketches. While I still make 8 ½ by 11 sketches, a lot of my drawings are bigger and more intricate. I have gotten as much as twenty pounds for one of them.

 

Sales are always irregular. I’m never that likely to break thirty pounds in a day. A lot of it leads to long conversations, which are interesting and can also lead to food. I’m always pretty hungry or less than clean, so things like warm meals and hot showers are the most amazing things on earth. The conversations go all over the place within the realm of God and politics. Sometimes strangers will start arguing with each other or with me or go back and forth. I suppose the art is thought provoking and the exhibition catches their eye.

 

Everyone else in the West End I’ve seen doing art on the street makes hideous commercial caricatures. I rarely do pictures of people on request. My work is hardly photo realistic, so people get annoyed unless there’s some surrealistic aspect to make the piece interesting. The more I check out the sky, the more I think today it will really come down. At a certain point it’s just too wet to work and I head home or call a friend.

 

I’ve been hanging out with Bug Bug Rickshaw riders quite a bit. Tall George is quite a character. The other day he was explaining how he was putting away money for a sex change operation in America. Although completely straight he claims he longed to seduce women as a woman. There is a Filipino rider named Jatz who gave me a bowler hat and put me on to some songs by Chumbawumba that you just can’t find in the States like, “Give the anarchist a cigarette.”

 

Jatz lives with a Croatian guy named Dante. These are probably not their real names, but I don’t care. Sometimes we go over to Jatz and Dante’s squat after work on a weeknight when no squat parties are going on and play Risk, which I played quite a few times when I was locked up. Everyone smokes a ton of hash and the games become drug-addled renditions of our predictions on the current geo-political situation.

 

Sometimes Tatiana quits the games prematurely on some pretense of pacifism. We promptly annex off whatever territories she had into our respective empires. We generally start strategically with where we are from. Tall George and Dante take parts of Europe and Africa. Jatz collects Asian territories. I take North America, and whoever else joins a given game gets the rest. The games are rarely conclusive. The hash and whiskey see to that. We all talk quite a lot of nonsense and listen to jungle music, jazz or reggae.

 

Shir’lee, the Israeli co-owner of Duke’s Bar always gives me a huge breakfast for a picture of the store. She has about nine by now. When I offer to diversify she just keeps repeating that I haven’t drawn it to her liking and that practice makes perfect. She has black hair and is in her 40’s. She is real tough looking but has gentle eyes. Her accent gave her away in a minute.

 

As she was watching me eat one day she asked me if I am Jewish. I said that I am, but don’t really practice. One thing lead to another and I told her that I want to move to Israel at some point. That was a few weeks ago. She is very kind to me and tells me London is no place for a Jew. She encourages me to save money and fly directly to Israel as soon as I can. She says that I should move to a kibbutz and become a citizen. She says that they will take care of me by giving me money and a home and teaching me Hebrew before I go to the army.

 

“This is no place for a Jew,” she repeats over and over. “They hate us here in Europe. They don’t care what happens to our people at all.”

 

When I ask her what she is doing here she had responds with a single word, “Kessef.”

 

Dukes’ food is really good. I had eaten when I woke up but it didn’t really do the job. I sip black tea and work on my tenth depiction of the restaurant. Shir’lee says to come in whenever I want to eat something.

 

I only manage to sell one piece before buckets of rain break at 11:30 am. It’s too much water for the cling film.  I get the art off as quickly as I can and take cover in the coffee shop across the street. That girl that flagged me down earlier, Rosy, is sitting at the counter drinking a coffee. I drop my bag next to her and sit down. My five quid off my only sale of the morning isn’t going to designer coffee. I don’t think she notices me at all. She’s wearing a blue waterproof poncho with a hood. She has pale skin, looks more French than English, and has a predatory gaze somewhere between a professional criminal and house cat.

 

As I’m thinking of something to say she begins,

 

“What’s the next move then, geezer?”

 

“Wait for it to stop raining. A small talking conversation. Make more money. Buy food to eat.”

 

“What’s your hustle, eh? I watched you before the rain started. Ya talk a whole lot and don’t get nay money out of it.”

 

“Sometimes I do.”

 

“Don’t ya know ya gotta die before anyone wants to buy your pictures?”

 

“Perhaps they know it’s not long in coming so they buy um now as an investment.”

 

“Got yer number do ya?”

 

“Might say that.”

 

“Does that make you nervous? That you’re so young and you’re expecting it already?”

 

“I guess a whole lot of people spend their lives afraid of dying. For the last two years I’ve just afraid I’d die without having lived.”

 

“So you’re a bard, too, are ya?” Rosy says.

 

“I’m Johnny-on-the-Spot and you’re Sheila-fifteen-million-fucking questions.”

 

“How old are you?”

 

“What does that have to do with anything at all?”

 

“It doesn’t, but you’re pretty damn young to be where you’re at. You’re along way across the pond without a dole number. It ain’t gonna stop raining til Tuesday,” Rosy tells me.

“I think my kind have weathered worse. ‘Maybe Europe wasn’t such a bright idea after all, Moshe’ is the refrain of my fucking people,” I tell her.

 

“So you’re Hebrish then? You don’t really look like a Hebrish. No this…” she twirls her finger where a payas would be. “Or the big stupid, black hat.”

 

“I’m more of a weekend Jew.”

 

“Whatever the hell that means. So, they say yer people killed Christ. That’s what I learned in school anyways,” Rosy says.

 

“We smashed him over the head and cut him into itty bitty pieces.”

 

She sips her espresso expressionless. At least I think it’s an espresso. It could easily be any pretentiously named French/Italian coffee thing.

 

“Would you like a coffee? You’ve got hungry eyes you know,” she asks.

 

“I’m alright.”

 

“It doesn’t make you less tough to accept a drink from me. It’s very feminist you know.”

 

“Oh, I accept things from ladies all the time. I’m just not really a fancy coffee kind of boy.”

 

“I can get you a really simple coffee. American coffee if you’re so inclined.”

 

“I promise you I’m fine,” I repeat.

 

“Suit yourself. I was just trying to demonstrate the famous English hospitality.”

 

“I’m very familiar with it, sister. Both contemporary and historical. Everyone is familiar with the giving nature of the European,” I say, sarcastically.

 

I look outside at all that water splattering down over the London streets. What am I even thinking twice about? No. Nothing at all. There are little rivers running through the streets here.

 

“I’d ask you what you’re doing tonight if I didn’t think I was gonna get charged for it.”

 

“Who says you’d get charged for it.”

 

She has a smirk on her face. She winks at me like she’s Betty Paige.

 

“Just making sure we’re on the same page, Ms. Shady.”

 

“Ya ain’t seen nothing yet, rudeboy.”

 

“I ain’t judging you, Rosy.”

 

“You do what you have to do when you’re young and hungry. I never learned how to draw when I was younger,” she says.

 

“It’s sort of touch and go as far as my apprenticeship goes,” I admit to her.

 

“How ‘bout that. Me, too. You draw and I dance. If you don’t have plans tonight, I’ll dance just for you. Quite the deluge outside and here we are without our ark,” she says.

 

“And the animals around here aren’t so interested in water sports.”

 

“You’d be surprised what our animals are into.”

 

I was quiet a moment. Looking out at the rain with a half smile.

 

Low and behold. English bed boards make the exact same noise hitting against a wall that American ones do.

ל

I’m cold again and I’m almost always hungry.

 

That is what’s always on my mind when I wake up. The water has dripped through the saran wrap cover that keeps my art dry and has ruined two or three of my sketches. My tattered coat is sopping wet from the rain, and the smell of mildew reeks from too many nights wet and unwashed. I smell bad.  It has been too cold to take a bath at the squat. I keep meaning to drop by Jatz’s place to take a shower, but I keep missing him.

 

The riders haven’t been out tonight. I saw Spider drive his quad down the Strand on my way in, but that was about 5ish before the rain started really coming down. The eastern European crew passed by Old Compton looking for a pick up, but there weren’t any takers.  Normally they stay out of the West End, because that’s Bug Bug territory. Sutton Cab, Bug Bug’s chief competitor is based over by Kensington Station. They do a real knock up job when it comes to their bikes and from what I hear from Tatiana, they break down on a somewhat regular basis.

 

The whole rickshaw community is an eclectic mix of illegal immigrants, artists, poets and revolutionaries most of whom are part of the London squatter community. They are all pretty poor. Many of them are anarchists. Trouser from Sutton Cab keeps telling me he’ll front me the money to put the down payment on the rental, but I’ve been blowing him off. Tony tells me he’s a bi-sexual and mentioned something about she-male prostitutes and drug induced orgies. He keeps inviting me over to his place. I keep turning him down. He has a wife. She’s pretty homely, but so is he with his bad haircut and poor oral hygiene. Every time I talk to him I can smell booze on his breath, which he attempts to cover over by drinking shit loads of coffee and chain-smoking roll up cigarettes. I think half the people in this country have a drinking problem. The fact that they have to close down their bars at ten speaks right to that.

 

Most of us smoke the roll ups from these big yellow packets we stuff in our side pockets. When I came to Europe this shit was unheard of. This was dirty hippie crap. Three weeks in I’m half an ace. I can make a packet last me close to four days.   A pack of Marlboros can run you something close to eleven quid and most of us are pretty skim. Sometimes when I have a good day with a bit of cash on hand I buy the menthol ten packs cause no one seems to know what a Newport is in this part of the world. I think Europe might have a regulation against a product that not only gives you cancer, but also makes you impotent and shreds your lungs with fiberglass. What I wouldn’t give for a Newport. I ran into an American about two weeks back who had a pack and he bummed me a few, but normally I am stuck with rollies. I smoke them unfiltered and it yellows my teeth.

 

I’m not sure, but I think I have finally caught foot and mouth disease. Foot and mouth disease is the reason the English government is slaughtering and burning hundreds of thousands of animal corpses around the country. The meat is simply not good to eat in England this year. I have a red sore on the right side of my lip that is something of a cross between acme and a rash. Tatiana brought me to some herbal remedy store a couple days ago to get something for it. I don’t know what it’s called, but it smells foul and seems to be making it worse.

 

I don’t get to the laundry quite as often as I should and most of my clothing is dirty with scruff stains around the collars of my button-down shirts. And a few in the places that are the reason people shouldn’t wear white boxers. My few pairs of socks are always wet from the rain. Tatiana says I have to stop drying them on my space heater because it will start a fire. My feet are covered in a severe kind of athlete’s foot, a wet rot.

 

I have picked a less than opportune time to arrive in London. People keep telling me this is the most rain they’ve had in over thirty years. I think that might just be a lie they tell tourists. It’s cold as hell and our squat only has the two space heaters. Tatiana’s is a newer model. Mine looks like it might stop working pretty soon. That or burn the squat down.

 

Daphne Collins didn’t work today. We’re hooking up again intermittently. It worked okay when I wasn’t moody. I haven’t seen Rosy since I fucked her like a whore in some dirty hotel she brought her clients to. I found myself thinking I could pick her flowers or take her to the Tate Modern, but in the bed I treated her like all her Johns did.  You can fuck a hooker a little bit differently than one might fuck one’s girlfriend. Or maybe I just tell myself that to feel better about it all. I don’t know if she is actually a hooker because I never bother to ask. But all her friends are. Rosy and Daphne grew up on very different sides of the river. Daphne’s father does something with military contracting. Rosy never knew her father.

 

For the last two weeks I have set up my stand on Old Compton and Frith. I changed my location by a few blocks so Daphne won’t see me with Rosy outside her store. Daphne’s more my class and Rosy’s more my current station. Daphne’s fucking me because she thinks I’m a romantic starving artist. That’s bohemian to her when she’s dated sons of lords all her life and boat club boys.

 

Rosy’s fuckin’ me because that’s the only way she knows to keep a boy’s attention. I keep trying to make Daphne cum and can’t. I keep making Rosy cum and figure she’s faking it. I don’t know anything about women. I’m just making this all up as I go along like every other guy tryin’ to keep two broads happy. And the rain keeps coming down.

 

***

 

The poster for Mama Mia is grilling me. Grillin’ me melodically, but grilling me none-the-less. I’ve set up two blocks down from my regular post. The whole intersection is pretty dead and I’ve earned only pocket-change handouts, roughly four quid. The rain beats down. Not yet a deluge, but its coming down all the same.

 

I wonder about the merits of picking a country so convenient to discourse and so lacking in decent weather. Would France or Spain have been better? Too late I tell myself. I’m down to my last hundred dollars and I might not find a squat as quickly if I change countries.

 

I look at my pocket watch. It’s past midnight. Do I close up after making this little? What night is it anyway? Sunday or Monday or Tuesday? It’s one of them, that’s for sure. The rain is killing me. I see a man in a beige corduroy jacket heading towards me. He’s walking slowly enough to make me think he’ll stop. I check my inventory. Does he look like the kind of guy who wants to buy my art? Damn straight he does.

 

“Sir, do you consider yourself a patron of the arts?” I ask him.

 

“I suppose I might consider what you’re selling.”

 

“Nothing but work of the highest quality to be sure,” I continue my pitch.

 

“Obviously.”

 

He stops to look over what I have.

 

“Do you know what you need?” he says.

 

“What?”

 

“You need a drink.”

 

“I don’t drink,” I tell him.

 

“What the hell are you doing in London?”

 

And once again It’s honesty-with-strangers time.

 

“Engaging in a less than glamorous struggle to survive,” I say.

 

“How’s that going?”

 

“It’s harder than I thought it would be.”

 

“Constant rain and utter lack of appreciation, right? London can kill you,” he tells me.

 

“That’s reassuring, sir.”

 

“It will. The city is a beast. It will swallow you into its depravity and reduce your desire to keep going. That’s why we drink.”

 

“I haven’t had a drink in over a year.”

 

“Now would be a good time to start.”

 

“You’re the guy they warn people about in AA meetings.”

 

“Think of me as a guardian angel fueled on stout. I’m not a fag and I’m not going to molest you. You’re hardly my type. Here’s the deal. Close up. Come with me to this bar and I’ll buy one of your pictures.”

 

“Bars aren’t open this late in London,” I tell him figuring he’s a fag.

 

“The ones I go to are.”

 

“I’ll come with you to wait out the rain, but I probably won’t drink.”

 

“Just get off the street for a while. It’s getting to be that hour when hustlers and pimps peddle temptation to starving street children.”

 

“You a hustler or a pimp?” I ask him.

 

“More a hustler.”

 

“Fuck it. I’m not selling anything in this rain.”

 

***

 

We walk a few blocks south of the theatre showing Les Mis. The rain is coming down really hard now. I pick up a newspaper to cover my head. The man hands me his umbrella. I figure he must be a fag for sure. We enter an alleyway and walk down it, past some blue dumpsters until we reach an alcove guarded by a big Black guy in his late twenties. The man nods to him and he let us into the speakeasy.

 

The lighting is low and everything looks old school. The light flickers in the stairwell and we reach a smoky little bar upstairs with two pool tables and almost all Black clientele. There’s a makeshift bar set up in the corner and the man orders us some drinks. I sit down at a table and light a cigarette. He comes back with two pints.

 

“So, what are you really doing here?” he asks me.

 

“That seems to be the question these days.”

 

“Well of course. Most of the time Americans your age are on vacation spending dad’s hard-earned money being bohemian across the continent.”

 

I stare at my drink.

 

“You can tell me yer troubles if ya want. Odds are we’ll never meet again.”

 

“I just feel shitty about leaving everything I knew behind. It was necessary, but I feel real alone these days.”

 

“London’s a killa, like I said.”

 

“I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun.”

 

“Where ya holed up?”

 

“A squat south of Brixton. Tulse Hill.”

 

“Ah, the southern tenement abyss.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“The city underneath the city,” he responds.

 

“I don’t follow.”

 

“There are always two cities. The one during the day is the nine-to-fivers selling themselves to the machine. The suit and tie crowd with their cutting-edge décor bars and fancy nightclubs. They hate their miserable little lives but they are placated by the promise that not only does the system work, but that this is the best of all possible systems. That’s the London you see in the tourist brochures. Big Ben and the descendants of Churchill.”

 

“What about the other London?”

 

“The other London is a cold dark place where people struggle just to survive. It is made up of people that reject the system, but need it to survive. Their ultimate dependency comes from fooling themselves into thinking that they are free. They have their own culture and their own laws, but mark my words; they’re still bound to it. We’re talking about the dregs of the world. It’s a dark, vicious world and you’re stuck right in the heart of it,” the man tells me.\

 

“So there’s no real freedom. One world accepts but remains a slave and the other world rejects, but still participates in the end?” I ask.

 

“Sort of. Everyone is trying to get free. The people on the surface think their jobs and their paycheck will do it for them. Earn enough and you can finally enjoy life. The suffering of the people in the other city makes them more attuned to how this all works,” he continues.

 

I’m still staring at my beer.

 

“So once again, what did you come here to find?” he asks me.

 

“I don’t know anymore.”

 

“You came to see the other London. It could have been Paris. It could have been Rome. It’s more of a mentality than a place and now you found it.”

 

“I think it’ll kill me,” I tell him.

 

“It will kill your ideals.”

 

“People keep saying that. That I’ll grow up, get bitter and quit.”

 

“Your ideals are important. But ya ain’t gonna get through all this darkness with ideals alone.”

 

“I think I dig the whole free and suffering thing.”

 

“But you’re not free yet,” he says.

 

“I’ll get there eventually.”

 

I pick up the pint.

 

“To the losing battle for freedom.” I tell him.

 

He smiles and we clink the glasses. And that’s how I came back on the poison. What you call the disease, I call the remedy and what you’re calling the cause I call the cure. The stranger bought all my remaining art, purchased me some fish and chips and put me on the #22 Bus back to Tulse Hill.

 

Never caught his name. Just remember he was wearing a beige trench coat but had a face like a sad clown.

 

 

***

 

The #22 bus back to Tulse Hill was a good bet because I am too tipsy to ride the bike. It is almost daylight and the rain has stopped. I hope there is something to eat back at the house. I feel pretty trashed from the three beers I drank. I have to make a whole new stock because he bought everything off me for a hundred quid. The supermarket won’t be open for several more hours. I want to surprise Tatiana with a fully stocked kitchen to prove to my roommate that I’m good for something, even if I’m back on the sauce. I’m gonna sleep all day and go to a party with Rosy in the evening. But Tatiana will come home to a whole mess of fruits and vegetables. One of these days I’ll clean out the refrigerator. It looks like something died in there.

 

My head is throbbing. I feel pulsing at my temples. It feels like my brain is trying to squirm. I’ll be Cheyenne-Stokes before I know it. The whole house shakes slightly. Or maybe reality is shaking and house is standing still. I want to stay up until the supermarket opens. I push open my room door, strip down and fall into the shitty old mattress and tattered comforter. Once my ass hits the mattress I’m out like the Beatles.

 

* * *

 

“I would ask you to be very careful who you trust these days,” says Mike Washington as we sit by the edge of a small lake in the dessert.

 

There are trees around the water’s edge. They have plastic trunks and enormous plastic leaves. It’s almost sundown. The pregnant girl we’ve been traveling with is tied to a tree near us. She is gagged and has a blood pressure cuff around her arm. The car/boat/rocket sled is broken down fifty feet from us. Mike looks pensive.

 

“What are you talking about?” I ask.

 

“You’ve got poison in you. You’re not keeping good company,” he says.

 

“This from the man who’s kidnapped a pregnant woman?”

 

“We’re not talking about me right now, Zach. You put the poison back in you.”

 

“If only alcoholics in the program could have sponsors that visited them in dreams.”

 

“Your wit never ceases, but the booze is the least of your problems. You’re not bothering to take in anything while you’re in that city. The clues as to what you must do are all around you. There are neon, fucking flashing lights along the sides of your path. And you just keep on making pictures and kissing English girls refusing to see any of it.”

 

“I’m really not gonna sit here and appeal to you for a less cryptic message. I gave that up months ago,” I tell him.

 

“Grape-mint?” he asks.

 

“Huh?”

 

“Would you like a grape-mint?”

 

“I have no idea what that is, my man.”

 

He hands me what looks like a melon-sized grape with a color greener than anything I’ve ever scene before. He has a burlap bag filled with them.

 

“Why the hell not,” I say.

 

I take a big bite of it. It’s a cross between white wine, melon and mint tea. It’s the most delicious and refreshing thing I’ve ever eaten.

 

“You shouldn’t put things in your mouth when you don’t know what they do,” Mike warns me.

 

“I trust you not to kill me. You instilled that whole always-saving-my-life thing in me a while back.”

 

“You know that saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’?” Mike asks me.

 

“Yeah. Everyone knows that stupid saying.”

 

“It’s just because it’s so damn true.”

 

In that instant, the pool is sucked into the sand. The girl and trees follow in seconds. The car next. The sky turns green like the grape-mint fruit. The clouds race past us. Mike sits on the rock motionless watching me.

 

“See what I mean,” he says.

 

He’s sucked into the ground too.

 

Now, I’m alone in the dessert and it’s a dark green night with glowing emerald stars. The desert is lit up by a moon that’s fifty times bigger than anything possible in the waking life. I get ready for something dramatic to happen. It never quite does. It’s still and dark out here. And then the rumbling begins. Buildings erupt out of the ground, skyscrapers like midtown Manhattan push their way out of the earth. Highways rise out of the ground. Old school 1920’s gas street lamps and advertising boards more Betty Paige than American Idol erupt out this way and that. The giant moon illuminates the whole thing. The ground shakes and a promenade arises underneath me. I fall into a green, graffitied park bench. “G  D   G   M o N” is printed on it. Some letters are missing.

 

And just like that I’m back in the Pale City ten thousand times its size. What was once a small cluster of Canaanite-Acadian architecture, warehouses, brothels, barbed wire and fairground meets the village of East Hampton is looking all grown up and urban as hell. I’ve run and run and run to arrive right back where I was or perhaps somewhere worse. The dry heat disappears suddenly. I hear a thunder crack, streetlights flicker on and rain unlike any I’ve ever seen comes down. It’s jungle rain, rain so dense I can’t quite see clearly up the block. Water is rushing down the streets. I’m soaked through and through.

 

I search for an open door along the street to get out of the rain. Everything is bolted solid shut. I’m rattling pull-down grates. I’m trying door handles. I keep falling down from the water rushing down the street. Finally I find an alley and push my way through a side street door. The big carnie sign outside in neon red lighting says,

 

“ TA LE  ASE  AME  TORE”.

 

I miss it though. I’m trying to get indoors and out of the freezing rain. I push open the door and close it behind me. Water rolls off my suit onto the wooden floor boards. I’m shivering like a wet rat. There’s someone in the room. There’s a red velvet curtain in my way. I push past it.

 

“Take off your clothing. You’re going to catch a cold and ruin my carpets,” says an old, proud voice behind a second red curtain between the entryway and the main room.

 

“There’s a suit on the hanger that should be your size,” the voice says.

 

The entry is lit by a couple of large candles on metal hooks. A suit is hanging on a coat hook covered in plastic wrap.

 

“How do you know it’s my size?” I ask.

 

“Because you left it here last time,” the voice responds.

 

“Last time?” I say.

 

“Last time you came to see if your game was ready.”

 

I’m back in the game store. All that traveling got me nowhere at all.

 

“Where am I, old man?”

 

“You’re back in the City, of course,” he answers.

 

“The City is bigger now. It was small before like a camp. This is a sprawling city.”

 

“The place is mostly what it makes out of you. The locals are terrifying and the night life is constant because it’s never day,” he tells me.

 

“The City changed,” I observe.

 

“You got bigger. You are looking at more of a citadel than city. It’s gotten its defenses up. You make us all uneasy with your questions. You grew, you moved and the city adjusted accordingly.”

 

I can hear the deluge’s unrelenting pelting down upon the pavement outside. The boom of the thunder sounds like a building being demolished. I strip down out of my soaked clothing and change into the starchy black suit.

 

“M W” is sewn in light grey block letters upon the right breast.

 

I still can’t see the old man. The candlelight reveals a silhouette behind the curtain.

 

“You could spend a lifetime in a library and never come close to understanding the rules of the game,” the old man’s voice says.

 

‘What game?” I ask.

 

“The game you’ve been trying to win since the moment you were born,” he says.

 

“I didn’t ask to play this particular game.”

 

“That wasn’t up to you at all. But, you can’t win the game if you’re missing the pieces and you never bothered to learn the rules.”

 

“Where are the pieces, old man?” I demand.

 

I tear back the curtain. There is blood all over the floor. The old man is lying shirtless on the table. His chest has been cut open and little hooks have pinned back the flaps of his skin to reveal an enormous multi-level board game with hundreds of interconnected planes with maps emerging out of his chest. The game unfolds out each of his sides on hinges. To his left side, the planes descend towards the floor. To his right side, they rise above eye level. There are hundreds of little maps with points on each board. It’s like an enormous game of Axis and Allies folding out of the limp body of a sixty-something-year old man. If he’s in pain he doesn’t seem to show it. The blood is dried and is matting his white beard.

 

“Who did this?” I ask.

 

“That’s really not the most important question you should be asking.”

 

The there are tiny pieces and tiny people really all over the board. The closer I get I see they have actual discernable faces and clothing, all made of slightly different metals. Each one isn’t even half a centimeter tall. I notice there isn’t any blood on the game.

 

“This is why I never liked the book Jumangi,” I tell him.

 

“No, you grew up more in the time of Universal Pig. I think that the way you laugh in the face of death should never be interpreted as a testament to your bravery,” the old man hisses.

 

“Who did this, old man? Who cut you open and put my game inside you?” I ask again.

 

He ignores me completely. Someone put a few pillows under his back so he’s propped himself abutting the wall the table is pushed against in a half-lucid daze. There’s a magnifying glass on the table. I pick it up and examine this immensely intricate game of mine. As I bring the magnifying glass over a tiny piece on the middle level directly over his heart and vital organs and lungs, the central area of the board I’m examining has a map of New York City on it divided into thousands of little areas. The basic neighborhoods are intact but subdivided into hundreds of little units with flags and ethnic/religious listings as well as landmarks drawn to look as if they are rising out of the boards. Each area is tiny circle with a strange marking in it. The marking is engraved all over the magnifying glass’ gold handle. I notice the base of the magnifying glass has a tiny rod with a little green gem on the end. I’m like a Jewish Nancy Drew, so I touch the pin to the symbol on the board.

 

Up out of the green gem rises a holographic projection of Donny Gold. He’s sitting on a couch rolling a blunt, right as I left him. The TV is glowing in front of him. The door to his room is braced and jammed with a crow bar to keep his Mom out. As I touch the pin to more gems I see that on this central plane are the cast and characters of the New York map. The elevated boards have intricate city plans of about nineteen U.S. cities, Paris, and London. Every time I touch the pin to the board I can move about and observe the actions of the people throughout my life. And let it not be said megalomania pulses through my very essence. I have no control over any other part of the board. A great battle is going on and the only moves I can make involve disconnected people. I see Donny with the poison. I see Trikhovitch doing lines of cocaine and snapping Polaroid’s. I see Geanie fencing, Olu holding a rifle and a spear, and my little brother selling drugs to several of my friends.

 

“What pieces am I missing to win the game, old man?” I demand.

 

“Well written books and honorable life experiences,” he answers.

 

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

 

“You need to get these people the right book at the right moment when they first go through a near life experience. They need to be assured they are not going through it alone. They need to translate their personal cause into a universal struggle,” the old man continues.

 

“Well, how long til all that gets brought in?” I ask.

 

“I’d say we’re pretty cut off around here. I would say as far as experiences we’re in regular supply and you had best master the art of storytelling because most of the books you need haven’t been written yet.”

 

Someone’s banging on the door. The old man has a Bhutto-dancer-esque spasm from the spine up. The whole board closes in on itself. The man’s chest closes around the board in a split second. The man is seated upright at the table. He’s oddly smoking a cigarette it took less than a split second for him to light. In a land of allegory upon allegory it’s business as usual in the old town tonight. The curtain to the room closes behind me. The old man is trying to get out the back it seems. The banging on the door increases.

 

Somewhere next door someone has the Beach Boys on way too fucking loud. I have forgotten. That is always been Mike’s code for ‘we are completely surrounded.’

י

I got to work around noon. It’s rather nice out and there are loads of people passing through the West End. Most of the riders are out and my co-worker and newfound friend, a rickshaw rider by the name of Tony shows up with a bag of skipped food. It’s an enormous sack of pastries just barely good enough to eat. The riders take them from restaurants that throw out all their bread at the end of the day. Sometimes they’ll load up the rickshaw with tons of expired canned food, which they swear to me is all right for a day or two when you’re poor. Who am I to disagree when I’m this hungry. I’ve dropped maybe fifteen pounds since I got off the train. Foot and mouth disease is running rampant so I never really touch meat these days. Tony buys me a cup of coffee and we sit outside of Duke’s at one of their metal tables. The television is on. It shows the mass slaughter of livestock going on around the country to stop the “Foot and Mouth” epidemic. Tens of thousands of cows and chickens are being slaughtered and burned.

 

“Keepin’ off the meat like I told ya?” Tony asks.

 

“I eat what’s offered, Tony.”

 

“The meats infected the telly’s sayin. Best ta fill yerself off the base of the food pyramid ‘til this thing is under control. It’s like a third world country I reckon.”

 

“Do they know what caused it?”

 

“Capitalist system I reckon,” Tony replies.

 

He’s grinning at me.

 

“Leave me alone.”

 

“The cows never controlled the means of production! A revolution’s the only answer that’s in sight, comrade!” he continues to joke with me.

 

“Remember what we talked about at the rave this weekend?”

 

“You mean the bloody squat party? The radical shite with that geezer, Christian?” Tony asks.

 

“The radical shite with that geezer Christian,” I say always awkwardly using their slang.

 

“I remember thinking you sounded a lot like Tyler Durden when you talk to people about your views.”

 

To me that is a compliment. That’s where I am spiritually.

 

“What about it then,” he asks. “Ya told me you want to organize something. Something fer May Day Riots. Were you a barroom comrade or ya serious about it?”

 

He starts rolling a smoke. I let him simmer on it.

 

“So you remember then I gather?”

 

“I gotta ask, Zach. What’s in it for me? Why take the risk?”

 

“There’s something really wrong with the way things are here and in the States and everywhere else,” I tell him.

 

He grins for a little while and stares at the darkening sky looking deep in thought.

 

“You know what Spider told me once?” Tony said.

 

“What?”

 

“Why do they call an orange, an orange and not a banana, a yellow?” Tony asks.

 

“What the heck does that have to do with anything?” I say.

 

“Sometimes nothing is described the way the thing simply is. You’ve been all sorts of funny since ya started drinking again. I thought it would lighten ya up a bit, but you’ve only gotten more intense I gather,” Tony observes.

 

“Tony. I want to tell you something and I don’t want you to repeat it or think I’m crazy.”

 

“I know yer crazy. I repeat it to everyone who asks about y,.” Tony says, laughing.

 

“Do you believe in a higher power?”

 

“A better question is if that higher power still believes in me. I’ve yet to be given any definitive reason why I ought to put my faith in anything beyond my ability to peddle this bike,” Tony responds.

 

“I believe I have been sent to London on a great mission,” I tell him.

 

“By who? Wait. Why you think God sent you here?!”

 

“I think there’s something we have to do,” I tell him.

 

“I think you need to stop talkin’ crazy. I want to put you on to something, Zach.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“I want you to give me a single reason why ‘God’ would ever send you to London. I want you to think about it. What possible cause is there for a seventeen-year old American street artist to be in London?”

 

“I had a dream last night.”

 

“Don’t change the subject,” Tony says.

 

“My dream said it’s all going start here,” I continue.

 

“What’s gonna start here?”

 

“The next revolution.”

 

“God wants you to start a revolution in London? Did I get that right ‘cause I thought I heard you say it but it just sort of struck me as something a mad man says not something one of my mates would say,” Tony says.

 

“You heard me right. And in the dream you said you’d help me.”

 

“So yer a feckin’ prophet now, are ya?”

 

“I didn’t say that.”

 

“You implied it.”

 

“All I know is that we’re supposed to start something here and that it’s gonna change everything. I don’t know what it is. All I know is that this force, which is unseen, yet we feel it all around us, wills us to take action against this government,” I tell him.

 

“God wills us…da you have any idea how crazy this sounds?” Tony says, “ I don’t even feckin’ believe in God come to think of it upon deeper reflection.”

 

“Neither did I til It reached out and showed me,” I continue.

 

“Showed ya FECKIN’ what!”

 

“That we don’t have to live like this anymore.”

 

Tony looks at me like I am insane, but there’s something in his eyes trying to make sense of what I’m saying. He’s barely flicked the butt when he starts rolling another cigarette. His eyes dart around quickly to see if anyone is listening.

 

“What’s worth fighting for anymore, Zach? Suppose I believed you about your dreams, which is a beyond dubious statement to the say the least. What then? I’m poor, Zach. I’ve been poor all me life. I never knew me Dad and me Mum’s a drunk. I live in a squat in northeast London. I barely make enough to stay fed and you want me to drop everything and help you save the damn world? No. Scratch that. Saving the world’s for college kids. You say that engaging in revolutionary violence is what the Lord’s asking for? Did I get that right?” Tony asks me.

 

“We’re gonna save ourselves from oursleves.”

 

“Save ourselves from what! What the hell are we fighting for besides survival?! I know you don’t make enough with yer pictures to even buy a warm meal twice a day! Ya can’t afford a fuckin foot and mouth burger! I’m tired of strugglin’ but ya know what? I ‘aven’t heard any solution to all the fecked up things in this world and with all due respect to ya, ya don’t have any good solutions either. God isn’t gonna feed us, Zach. It probably doesn’t exist and if It does, It’s forgotten all about us.”

 

“No It hasn’t. I didn’t believe for a long time and you know I’m not religious. All I know is that I’ve got some kind of reason for being here and if I can find the right people we can do something that will make all this horrible fucked up shit that’s happened stop happening to other people,” I tell him, more convinced than ever.

 

He looks at me. It’s a sorrowful look. I remember what Jaiwarrior said about a person’s eyes.

 

“My Dad used to beat me when I was a kid. He used to beat me for no fucking reason. He’d come home drunk and just crack me open. He left one day when I was eight and never came back,” Tony told me.

“I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be.”

 

“I had two loving parents. I come from a nice, wealthy Jewish family and I was a fucked up kid. I did all sorts of fucked up things and hurt a lot of people. I got locked up right around my sixteenth birthday. I was a ward of a series of Hospital Camps and youth facilities for about ten months. The camps enlarged my mind about the world.”

 

“Life is shite man,” Tony said.

 

“It doesn’t have to be.”

 

“This fecking God, if It controls the show, if It brought you here…what the feck does It have in mind. What has It done for you that makes you willing to follow Its plan after everything that’s happened?”

 

“It’s testing us,” I tell Tony.

 

“It’s like once in awhile yer like this normal geezer that wants a shag and a drink of beer and the other half of the time it’s like I’m talking to some kind of revolutionary preacher stuck in the body of a seventeen-year old,” Tony states.

 

“I’m not saying I have any answers, Tony. I don’t know if there is an answer to all this madness. All I know is that something needs to be done.”

 

“So if I believe yer right, an’ there’s this part of me that does, what then? Where da we go from here?” Tony asks.

 

I look him dead in the eyes so he knows I’m not fucking around.

 

“We organize ourselves properly and come May Day we give these bastards hell.”

 

 

***

 

The day is going slowly. The sky is grey and it looks like it is going to rain, but it never does. Not today. I am continuously ready to break down the stand at a moment’s notice. Weather like this is deceptive. It can come down in buckets at any moment. A week ago my pieces had been caught in the open when I went to use the bathroom in Duke’s Café. I had to collage what was left of the work, as the pages were completely soaked. My cling film system only partially works.

 

I remember before I got it in me to proposition for a commission. I’d be scribbling inside Duke’s Bar being fed by Shir’lee or inside Daphne’s store making small talk for hours just waiting for the sky to stop bawling. I’d debate whether or not to pack up and go home. This is long before I realized it would never really stop raining in England. This is long before I moved to double cling film stands, proposition commissions and to finally taking Resistance Art underground into the Tube. I would say that the Jew is no more an entrepreneur than any other group. You do what you have to, to survive. The Hebrew people have simply been surviving far longer than any other of humanity’s various tribes. Our adaptivity simply knows no bounds.

 

Daphne takes me out for lunch and asks me if I want to meet her British defense contractor father. Over an opening round of bread and water she explains that his sixtieth birthday is this weekend at the Wells family home in the country. I’m not exactly sure what a defense contractor does, but she assures me that it is just as sinister as I think it is. She has extended the invitation as a courtesy. If I go I will surely accomplish nothing but irrefutable proof of my vitriolic, sophomoric radicalism and she will accomplish nothing but an irrefutable proof of her refusal to date the good old boys from the boat club.

 

When she got off work around 6 we went to go see Enemy at the Gates, an anti-communist period piece on the battle for Stalingrad with Jude Law. It has great action, but I sort of feel that they could have gone a little easier on the Red bashing. That and it is odd to have English accented actors playing Germans and Russians. I like the snipers quite a bit. I asked Daphe to get one from her father for me. She gave me a playful shove. I told her I wasn’t joking at all.

כ

I’m riding the light rail into Black Friars without a ticket one Sunday in early April when I come upon a headline in a discarded copy of the Observer on the seat next to me.

“Police Chiefs will lose jobs if they fail to block May Day Anarchy”

According to the paper “the top officers have been issued with a harsh warning as anti-capitalists prepare for a huge demo in London. Amid warnings that riots could break out across the capital when activists from around the world descend, senior police officers have been told that their jobs are on the line if they fail to contain violence or damage.”

The Metropolitan Police had badly lost control of the ‘Carnival against Capitalism’ in the City two years ago. The riots resulted in £2 million worth of damage, 50 injuries and scores of arrests.

Senior officers in the MET, which has responsibility for the rest of London, admittied publicly they still do not know who is organizing the demonstration and have no idea where the radicals will strike. There haven’t been any preemptive arrests, although a raid had closed down the Button Factory’s training operations.

The MET is circulating photos of radicals off a wanted list from last year’s May Day demonstration, which brought chaos to Parliament Square, Whitehall and Trafalgar Square. Over the coming weeks they plan to make fresh appeals to the public to identify rioters from photos taken last year, and hope to seize the ringleaders when they arrive in London.

Police and media attention has been focused to the point of hysteria on the Wombles (White Overall Movement Building Libertarian Effective Struggle), a newly formed direct action group who dress in white overalls, padded clothing and crash helmets to protect themselves from police suppression.

The Observer declares that no more than 200 Wombles – named after the fictional TV creatures that pick up litter on Wimbledon Common – are expected to participate in the May Day demonstration. But the prospect of an organized core of demonstrators among a wider group of anti-capitalists is leading to predictions of mass unrest by the MET and the media.

It’s about to pour.

***

I almost never see Tall George off the job. He’s a tad reclusive. Once in awhile if the weather is bad and everyone takes off early we see him for a game of RISK with Dante, Jatz, and a few of the riders like Tony or Spider or the Hungarian girl whose name I never remember. Sometimes he comes out to a squat party. He lives in South London like the rest of us, apparently in a huge loft with no furniture, which he refuses to share the location of. Its actual size is a rider’s tale perhaps further inflated each year. I visualize it as a whole city block of white empty rooms perfectly cleaned in a series of hypo-manic episodes.

 

Tall George works with an ethic more resembling Sutton Cabs Eastern European work force than the stoners, artists and radicals that Bug Bug employs. That is to say, he rarely takes breaks. He gets there early and turns in late, and only comes around the Old Compton and Frith intersection to grab coffee and go. The others spend more time there than out on the road. The proclivity for loitering and chit chat among Bug Bug workers often leads them to let me take out the bikes as long as I give them a cut and don’t get in an accident. Spider and Tony taught me how to ride one day and everyone keeps saying I should go in for an interview and start riding full time. The money I make selling art doesn’t even come close. I can make twenty to sixty quid in a single ride.

 

I normally take Tony’s bike and cut him in 20%, which he never collects. Whenever a rider gets tired they can count on me to drop the art selling for an hour or two and collect a quick ride and a big tip. No one ever takes his 20%, but everyone laughs about it. I’m like the Bug Bug mascot, the lost American puppy they keep in their squats, feed and lend their bikes to when they want to take off for an hour.

 

The riders took me in real quick.

 

Not just because of Tatiana who few of them like but more because I’m just like them. Other than Tony and Tall George, there isn’t a single English man or woman among them. All of them are squatters. Most are illegal immigrants on long-expired student, but mostly tourist visas. More than half are artists or musicians of some kind. All vaguely hold anarchist or anarchistic worldviews. The use of hashish, opium or some combination of hallucinogenic drugs on the weekend is standard operating procedure. We are not the demographic that city planners hope will make their way into the city. No one pays taxes on anything. No one votes. No one has any feelings about staying or going. The job provides just enough to stay alive in London and few of the riders think too far ahead.

 

***
My kid brother Benjamin had given me a phone number for his London friend Manuel Atkinson. The number didn’t seem to work for my first month and half in London. I figured he was out of country. Then one day the number rang and he picked up. I went to meet him at his house in Chelsea. He lives with his family in a three-story brownstone in the wealthier part of town. He isn’t in school. He has a job at an art house theater that shows independent French and American films. He took me right in. He and my brother had been very close. I had met him once or twice before in New York. He gave me a shower and filled me with tons of food. We drank a few beers in his third-floor room.

 

Manuel is rather directionless. He has a vague desire to study film, a vague desire to move to Miami, a vague desire to be a famous graffiti writer and a not-so-vague desire to smoke weed in his parent’s house. He reminds me of an English Donny Gold. He is very witty and smart about most things. What he lacks in motivation he compensates for in good intention and generosity.

 

As things have gotten rockier with Tatiana who began losing her mind in the end of March, I stay with Manuel more frequently. He calls me “his American,” like a pet you might feed, house and listen to it spout radical slogans and calls to action. He and his friends actually encourage this. While I have not been able to secure any commitments from them to come out during the upcoming May Day protests, they have all participated one year or another in that widespread English hooliganism that involves going out to drink and riot whether they understand the message behind it or not. It is a lost cause to try and organize his bourgeois- hooligan-graffiti-writing-hash-smoking compatriots. But I am sure that Manuel understands why I am in London far better than his friends. The half-Mexican-American, half-British son of a family of activists and English politicians is not so far removed from the notion of exile. He commends me for my courage and feeds me for my troubles. He won’t ever come to an organizing meeting but claims he wis doing his part in housing and feeding “the revolutionary.”

 

So now I have a new housing arrangement.  I stay about two nights a week in the home of English MP in the city’s wealthiest district.  I stay two nights a week in a tenement squat without heat and the remaining three nights in a wide range of apartments and homes as I set out to recruit an army.

 

By the second week of April that Army is ready to meet face to face for the first time in the basement of our squat at Romola 33 in Tulse Hill.

 

***

 

I am in the huge Orange Internet café on Tottenham Court Road around four in the morning looking things up on Wikipedia with these two Irish waitresses I hang with after work. They booze it up with me and we all look up outlandish and subversive things on Wikipedia. At one pound per hour, you can’t beat this big orange insomnia nation.

 

When I describe the proposed structure of the Romola 33 Collective to the two girls, Cathy and Shannon, they look at each other and in the same breath say,

 

“Flying column.”

 

When I type it into Wiki, it came up as:

A flying column, in military organizations, is an independent corps of troops usually composed of all arms, to which a particular task is assigned. It is almost always composed in the course of operations, out of the troops immediately available.

Mobility being its raison d’être, a flying column is composed of picked men and resources accompanied with the barest minimum of baggage. The term is usually, though not necessarily, applied to forces under the strength of a brigade.

Flying columns are often used in guerrilla warfare, notably the mobile armed units of the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence 1919–21.’

I invite the Irish girls to the meeting the following day and thank them for the good definition.

 

***

 

I carry a tiny burgundy address book right next to my faded cartoon wallet. There are tons of email addresses and phone numbers in it. Everyone important in America. Everyone I know in England. On the last page are the numbers of the people Lim Lim and I have been organizing into a network of cells.

 

I met nearly all of them in similar contexts. They had approached me at my stand somewhere in London and it had led to several hours of discussion on what was to be done. I met some at squat parties with the fairies or Lim Lim, but most had been customers of Resistance Art. We have finally arranged a meeting on a Saturday morning in early April.

 

These are the people I have engaged and the people they carry.  The first real ‘in’ is Christian the fairy. Since he’s been here for all the early talks with Lim Lim, he figures the fates want him to  take part.  He carries Helene and Ilya with him, Helene who always looks over me and Ilya who passive-aggressively urges me to be disciplined about what I am trying to do.

 

The second real ‘in’ is Kristian the Ecuadorian anarchist. He found me in Soho one day. He’d been an anarchist since he was thirteen. He is studying the political economy of Latin America at an English University in North London while dabbling in chemistry.  Kristian carries two Americans named Sarah Black and Sarah Brown. They are loud and giggly. Sarah Black is attractive in a Middle American sort of way while Sarah Brown is slightly overweight and a bit more cognizant of what kind of meeting Kristian is bringing her to. Sarah Black thinks I am three times my age when I speak in the candle light of the basement but then starts calling me ‘the little prince’ when she finds out that I am only 17. Sarah Brown is here because she fancies Kristian and has caught the latent zeitgeist of European college radicalism. Sarah Black is here because the pubs aren’t opene yet and her boyfriend has locked her out of her house.

 

The third person ‘in’ is Tony, my surrogate older brother. He is here because I told him I needed him. He is also here because his father used to beat him. He lives shift to shift with some tragic sense that he’ll be poor his whole life. He is also here because he has heard a rumor that movement girls are easy. He carries Spider and Jatz who are planning to go to the riots anyway, so maybe they really carry him.

 

The fourth person ‘in’ is Shannon O, an Irish waitress I met in the rain one night when I was holding a sign “Will draw for food” outside a pub around 3 in the morning. She is a nationalist like my old buddy Micky. She is in London for the money, but certainly not for the English. She carrie Cathy and Kristy along with her boyfriend Thomas Cahill and his brother James O’Toole. Their having different last names has never been explained at length.

 

“Brother from the same mother, like Black people say,” explains Thomas getting the idiom completely wrong.

 

They are five Irish expatriates that hate capitalism and are looking for a “publicly tolerated way to throw petrol bombs at English cops and businesses,” says James.

 

James works at a grocery store that doesn’t pay him enough money to buy food at it.

 

The fifth and sixth ‘ins’ are Yoseph Asreali whom everyone calls Joseph the Israeli and Zayid who is from Lebanon. Yoseph and Zayid don’t like attending meetings or the bandying about of the Leftism of the Europeans, but share a dislike for British foreign policy and offer to help me. Yoseph had been a combat medic in the Israeli army before becoming an English pharmacist. He’d lost a brother in Lebanon in the last big war, which only ended less than a year ago. Zayid is a businessman and property owner of the same age who had fought on the opposite side of the Lebanon War and lost his whole family. Yoseph periodically buys me lunch in Soho and urges me to speed up my Alliya, my immigration to Israel. Zayid periodically buys me dinner and urges me to stay put and learn to be a better revolutionary before I go to the ‘thick of things’ in the Middle East. They’d never met.

 

Zayid is offering us a flat in the West End as cache point and operations center. Yoseph says he’ll rent some communications equipment and teach Lim Lim how to work a dispatch.

 

There is also a guy called Sprocket who constantly looks strung out who says he is part of something called the MK Ultra Collective and that they are “down for any and all good revolutions.” I suppose Sprocket makse the seventh ‘in.’

 

The eighth real ‘in’ is Lim Lim who with me makes up the eight who conceive of the general plan.  That accounts for the eighteen people at the first meeting of the Romola 33 Collective as we called ourselves. Eight cells ready to aid in the May Day anarchy.

 

The number of operatives is actually nineteen ‘in’ if you include Arnold Suthabee who arrives at the very last minute. Arnold found me at my stand. He has a very large apartment at Elephant and Castle and wishes to privately bankroll the whole operation for reasons, which are unclear. He says that it is what a ‘good Christian would do.’

 

“I would like to sit here and tell you all that what we have set out to do will make a change. I would like to encourage you that our blood or potential arrests and overall sacrifice will make one iota of difference in the global economic system, the universal political climate or that it will make us one iota more free,” I begin.

 

“That, my friends, would be a terrible lie. Our battle has been lost. Our struggle is not so much to convince the rest of the country or the world that men and women still struggle for our collective human rights and freedom. It is more to convince us. If the battleground were in any other major city the result would be the same. Whether we take out CCTV cameras, disseminate freedom propaganda, ignite retail stores or engage in comb