Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dumbass

I called him Dumbass because that's what Rollo called him, because I wanted to be Rollo.  We all did.  Rollo had breezed into Lima Ohio from Detroit in a fog of Camel smoke and dust and oil, James Dean in a pinto, with only his father and Dumbass in tow.

I was part of the burgeoning punk scene, or the dying punk scene.  It always seemed to be one or the other, sometimes simultaneously.  A few shows here and there at the all ages club, everyone would get together to talk about how we needed to "do something" or else punk would die.

Nobody knew quite what Rollo was but everyone wanted to claim him. 


Dumbass was in the seventh grade of our combined McKinley High, I was a junior.  Although the seventh and eighth graders were released a half hour before the older kids, Rollo wouldn't show to pick up his brother until four, sometimes later.  Because I lived one block away from the school and was a latch key kid, I'd wait there with Dumbass.  And so every day I said goodbye to my envious friends and shared my moms cigarettes and the remnants of my packed lunch with him in the hopes that I'd get to ride along with them when Rollo peeled into the schools gravel cul de sac.  When we reached Dumbass and Rollo's place, a little yellow bungalow about eight miles past the three story Tudor I lived in with my mom, dad, and baby sister, I'd thank them for the ride and walk home.

Nobody bothered Dumbass even though he broke every social rule of junior high and high school.  He had B cup tits and girl hips and greasy hair, the beginnings of what would be terrible skin in just a few years poked out of his pale cheekbones and chin.  Dumbass's pants gathered between his meaty thighs and crept up into his ass crack as he walked.  He'd stop every now and then and shake one leg out like a dog with a paw tick to dislodge them before shambling on.  The boy was a mess.  And he was quiet.  Very quiet.

I could never predict what Rollo would be wearing when he showed up.  I've never been highly fashion conscious.  Like most teenagers, I showcased my individuality by dressing in whatever the current uniform of rebellion was at the time.  Even with my feigned love of anarchy and chaos and my rejection of what I understood of the status quo, I knew that his style repertoire bordered on the bizarre.  One day Rollo might be in cut off shorts, combat boots, and a ripped tshirt, the next he was just as likely to show up in a Nike track suit and flip flops, or a maroon tuxedo.  Rollo didn't so much put on clothes as try on lives.

His music was even more eclectic.  Rollo stole tapes from parked cars and everything he stole had at least one rotation in the little orange Pinto's ever ticking cassette player.  Isaac Hayes, The Moody Blues, Wham, N.W.A., Rollo kept a basket between the front two seats filled with this pilfered collection.  When a tape finished that he liked, he pitched it into the back seat.  When Rollo didn't like something, it went out the window.

One Friday Rollo pulled up with The Police blaring from the ticking gritty speakers.

"You wanna stay over"  Dumbass hadn't asked it like a question but he hadn't said it like a statement either, hadn't even directed it towards me but I was the only one around to hear him.

"Sure," I said trying to hide my glee, "I just have to leave a note for my mom"

Rollo looked at me with a bemused expression as we pulled up to my house.  "This is my mom's, I usually go to my dad's after school, his place is by yours" I offered quickly though nobody had asked and got out of the car blushing furiously.  Rollo and Dumbass got out with me, Rollo whistled softly as his gaze went from front door to roof and back down again.  "We can get some food or whatever too while we're here, my mom won't care"

I let them in and headed up to my room to pack for the evening.  I could hear Dumbass lurching up the steps after me, the space between stomps punctuated by heavy deep breaths.  After a moment or two I could also hear Rollo playing Chopsticks on the piano my parents had gotten for me when I was a baby, before they learned that Mozart pumped into the womb is not a sure fire prodigy recipe.

"Can you play"  Dumbass's face was about six inches from the nape of my neck, I could feel his damp bologna scented breath fluttering the tiny blond hairs there, he was looking at my guitar.  I turned around quickly and brushed a few lit embers from my shirt, he'd startled me into dropping the cigarette i'd just lit.  From below I could hear Rollo now picking out the notes to Hotel California on the high end of the piano and howling along.  "Hey shut the door would ya, my mom knows I smoke but she doesn't like me smoking in the house", I lied, Dumbass picked up and lit one of the cigarette butts in the dirty tinfoil ashtray I kept tucked in the window.  I walked around him and shut the door.  "Nah, my dad got that for me a few years ago but my guitar teacher was a total prick so you know" I turned to find Dumbass immediately behind me again.

"Jesus for a big guy you're fucking sneaky," I laughed, Dumbass didn't.  "I'm about ready to go, let me just write a note"

The two of us clomped down the stairs in time to see Rollo packing a few of the brown paper grocery bags my mom favored into the back of the Pinto, the clanking noises told me he'd found the beer and possibly a few bottles of my parents wine.  We got new bottles with every charity function my parents hosted, I wasn't worried that anything would be missed, and if it was, ah well that weekend I'd be getting drunk with Rollo at his place.  I didn't care.  I started to scribble "staying with Dumbass" and realized with a sheepish grin that I didn't know his real name.  Besides, a note like that wasn't likely to reassure my mom.

I threw that paper away and wrote "staying with Rollo be home tomorrow love you" on a fresh sheet.

I knew the way to their little yellow bungalow blindfolded, I'd walked home from their place enough, but when we left my driveway the little Pinto turned south.  The bottles clanked away on the floor between Dumbass's feet among the cassette debris.  Rollo pitched the Police tape into the back where it narrowly missed Dumbass and immediately replaced it with what would turn out to be Chicago's Greatest Hits.  "So where we going?"  I asked finally, as the little car carried us further and further from the city and Dumbass sat silently in the back.  "I'm gonna get my friend", Rollo shouted over the music, "we're having a fucking party, you like parties?"  I started to answer yes but Rollo's head was already out the window, shouting nothings and waving a half full wine bottle in the empty country wind.  My first real party.

When we came to a stop we were in the overgrown lot of an abandoned bar.  Sloppy cracked boards and an obviously hand painted sign reading "Daffy's Libations" clung to rusted nails on the front of the badly tilting building.  Rollo put his hand to his mouth and shouted Indian style, his shout was matched by a happy yell coming from the rear of the building.  He bounded ahead, pausing to jump and slap the Daffy's sign on his way around back.  Dumbass and I began unpacking the liquor.  "So, you been out here before?"  I asked, but Dumbass only looked at me and the leaning building creaked above, I slid out of its lengthening shadow and carried my clanking load to the back.

Rollo and another guy were sitting on a log next to a fire, each of them drinking from a freshly opened bottle of wine.  I saw now that Rollo had also brought a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a box of Cap'n Crunch from my pantry.  The new guy was in that limbo of years after high school where it's difficult to pinpoint age, for a kid anyways, he was anywhere from 20-30yrs old.  In my childs eyes, he was categorized as "grown", a little older than Rollo and certainly much older than Dumbass and myself.  Just old, camp counselor old, gym teacher old.  He smiled at me showing a mouth full of tinfoil, "Wassup"

Rollo clapped him on the back and he spat the foil into the fire pit, "You cost me a grill, asshole" he smiled good naturedly at us, "get these little motherfuckers some wine, we fancy as hell now"

"Hey man" I smiled as I reached for one of the bottles of wine.

"Whoa little man, what the fuck are you doing?  You think you can come into my house and grab my shit?  Rollo you better get this scrawny bitch before I do"

"But I brought it, and you just said I could have some" I asked quizzically, looking at Rollo in a panic and finally at Dumbass when Rollo failed to respond.

"I'm just fucking with you, God damn you're easy, Rollo where'd you find this pussy?"

"He's  just Dumbass's friend" Rollo said as he wound up to throw his empty bottle into the fire near my feet, sending a shower of sparks up towards the peeling back of Daffy's and me flailing with my arm over my face.  I lit another cigarette to hide my embarrassment, both for flinching and at Rollo's matter of fact dismissal of me.

"Well get him a bottle of wine.  Never let it be said that I'm a shitty hostess", he stood to bow, "Howard at your service, so where did you score all this shit?  Your place?  Your folks won't miss it?"

I opened the bottle quickly with the corkscrew in my pocket knife, I had served at plenty of events, while I'd never been much of a drinker I had been a skilled bartender for years thanks to my liberal parents and their awareness galas.

"They won't miss it, my mom and dad have a thousand parties a year, stupid hippie fundraisers, everyone brings bottles for their cellar in the basement as gifts and my parents barely even drink"  I coughed back a swig and cut my eyes to Rollo to see if he'd remembered my earlier story about my parents separation, he looked at me as he lit a cigarette but I couldn't tell if there was any awareness of me in there.  I was beginning to get the impression that he was as interested in my life story as I might be in the life story of a gold fish.  Howards eyes though, his eyes were shining on me.

A half hour and a bottle of wine and a lot of questions later I staggered out of the dancing circle of light from the fire to take a leak.  Rollo and Howard hurled jeers at me through the dark about breaking the seal.  Dumbass crept up next to me in that surprisingly quiet way of his that was starting to get on my nerves, he rested his hand on my shoulder as I unzipped, "God damn Dumbass I almost pissed on your fucking shoe we needa put a bell on your neck!"  I shouted, very loud, I was drunk for the first time in my life, behind me I heard Rollo and Howard laugh.  "Dumbass is creeping up on people put a bell on his neck that kid is golden!"  Howard shouted.

"I'm Jamie" he said quietly.  I looked at him stunned.  "Fucking Jamie?  Jamie?  Who's Jamie?  Dude don't even think about touching my dick!  This fuckhead is trying to touch my dick!"  This last hurled over my shoulder towards the firelight, Dumbass simply looked at me.  His empty eyes were no different than they'd been a moment before when he'd told me his name.  When my tantrum failed to get the attention I expected, I turned back towards the fire.  Rollo and Howard were gone, I heard the Pinto doors slamming and the peel of tires on gravel and then they were on the street fifty yards away, Chicago fading quickly as the taillights disappeared in the distance.

"You should eat" Dumbass said matter of factly.  "My dad is always a little better after drinking if he eats right away.  They want you to keep drinking, I'm not sure you should"

I stared at him harder now, my eyes at half mast and my head tilted forward "Wha' you mean they want me to keep drinking like a party?" I leaned forward and he caught me, "I don't know, that's what Howard said, to make sure you keep drinking"

I realized then that Dumbass hadn't had a drop, he must have been too chicken, or too much of a baby, but I opted to save my taunts until after Rollo and Howard got back.  I had plenty of time to wait.  They didn't get back until the early dawn hours, by then Dumbass and I were curled up next to the dying fire, shivering in the now frigid air and covered in dew.  Howard kicked the sole of my shoe and Rollo shook his brother awake.  "How come you two morons stayed outside all night?" he asked, kicking in the back door to Daffy's and gesturing into the dusty gloom, "Come on, breakfast, on me"

Rollo asked Dumbass to help him unload supplies from the car and I followed Howard into the gloom, nervously looking up once my eyes adjusted, the ceiling hung and bowed in but looked sound for the most part.  What were the chances it would cave in this moment when it hadn't yet?  This wasn't as bad as it had seemed in the waning light last night.

Howard stepped behind me and gripped my earlobe with rubber gloved thumb and forefinger.  As I shouted "Hey" through a smile he wrapped the inside of his opposite elbow around my neck and sliced my ear off from bottom to top with a hunting knife in one deft move.  I hung there in his grasp for a moment before sucking in the air to scream, he held my ear in his fist and clapped his gloved wrist into my open mouth.  We stood like that until I stopped struggling.

"Hey, I like you ok, but don't try me" he whispered, releasing me with a shove forward into a dusty ancient booth.  My ear burned, a lot people don't know this but an open cut feels a lot like a burn.  Your nerves can't tell the difference, they scream and warn you with pain, often when it's already too late, but nerves are not specific.  Agony is agony.  Eventually both a burn and an open wound will itch, one of natures many cruelties.  I didn't try to scream again as Howard quickly spritzed my head with Bactine, put a headband on me and slid a bandage underneath to cover my wound.

Dumbass and Rollo came in then with a few grocery bags.  Dumbass didn't seem surprised but looked... maybe?  Could he have been?  Yes, Dumbass appeared a little saddened.  Rollo pulled Howard roughly outside for what looked like a heated exchange of whispers and shoves.  Dumbass handed me a bottle of wine and I drank gratefully, wincing as my head tilted and the bandage shifted.  Through the open door I could see Howard thrusting my ear into Rollo's hand, Rollo screamed and tossed it into the dying fire, the small pink crescent spinning end over end.  Howard dug it out of the embers quickly, tossing it from hand to hand and blowing.  A silent macabre movie playing out in the early morning light, I took another drink and winced again.

I looked at Dumbass.  "Why?"  was all I managed to release from my closed throat, it came up like a lurching balloon filled with staples.  I'd been asleep fifteen  minutes before.  Just fifteen minutes past, I was shivering in the cold but my world was different.  Then the dam broke.  "My parents know I'm with you guys, this isn't going to work, I'll tell them you helped me, I'll tell them it wasn't you guys" I kept going, the words were spilling out around my swollen tongue, I made promises and offered rewards and accolades, I spoke of how my grandparents would pay to have me hunted down, how they'd forgive anyone who brought me home safely, I claimed I was the only donor for the bone marrow my baby sister needed to survive, there was no end to my desperate gurgling and conniving, and still, Dumbass only stared.  Then he slowly removed a note from his pocket, smoothed it out on the table, and patted the good side of my head while my shoulders heaved, the sobs I'd been holding down rose like bubbling bile.

"staying with Rollo be home tomorrow love you"

Three weeks and a pinky finger later.  This time it had been Rollo, though I wished it had been Howard.  Rollo cut and bent my pinky while Howard and Dumbass held my legs and other arm.  The sound of my skin tearing had sent me retching more than the pain, I vomited wine on all three of them before the deed was done.  Maybe it was the feel of the tear, the texture of it, sometimes pain itself can make a sound.  Dumbass handed me another open bottle and I drank.

I was in the bar with Howard most days, Dumbass had to go to school and Rollo had to pick him up and drop him off, all of this was part of "the big plan", as I'd taken to calling it, when I was sober enough to be understood.  "The big fucking plan", "The fugging masterbator plan", "The God damn plan from the man", I wasn't sober very often.  There was nothing to tie them to my disappearance.  Rollo and Howard had left the first night in order to secure alibis.  They had made sure they were seen by every security camera in the city, even going so far as to start a fight at the bowling alley to cement their whereabouts.

It was during one of my drunken chats with Howard that I learned that Dumbass himself had nabbed my moms note right after I'd left it.

I waved a bloodied bandaged hand in the air and pulled a slug of wine with the other hand "Hold on, you mean Dumbass took the fucking note for no reason?"

"Yeah, what a stroke of luck, right?" Howard took a large crunching bite of the peanut butter Cap'n Crunch sandwich  he'd made for us to split, " We had no idea, Rollo was panicking, and Dumbass pulls it out all sheepish, the thing was worn down like he'd been worrying it with his thumb in his pocket all night, if I didn't know better I'd swear that kid has a crush on you"

"Well crush or no, he screwed me and didn't bother giving me a reach around"  Howard laughed and handed me the rest of the sandwich.

"So how much longer am I gonna be out here?" I ventured.  I didn't like to ask too much because I knew the answer, but I didn't want them to know I knew.  When you've had a guy in an abandoned building for a month or so and you've been clipping off his parts to send to his family for ransom, and this guy goes to school with one of you and knows all your names, you don't let him go.  You can't let him go.  I knew that.  I knew.  I've been a lying little pussy, I've been arrogant and ignorant, but I've never been stupid.

"Well we'll see, hopefully your grandparents come through with that ransom, we had that setback last week and Rollo almost got pinched"  I looked down at my foot appreciatively, I was short two toes since this began.  Thank God for wine.  "Yeah I know",  I held up my bandaged foot, "sorry about that, they just miss me"

"Hey man it's not your fault, you've been doing your part.  Hey spring break is next week so your little girlfriend Dumbass will be able to hang out with you"

Dumbass and I played a lot of Gin Rummy, drank a lot of wine, well I did all of the drinking, and I was able to strangle from him some semblance of the reason he had kept the note.  Dumbass lived with Rollo and his father.  His nickname was Dumbass.  He was ugly and midway between fat and very fat, criminally stupid, and humorless.  Is it surprising he had kept a trophy of his first friendship?  I was living in a shack with a fast growing alcohol problem and my extremities were being hacked from me by surly assholes about once a week in between card games and Cap'n Crunch sandwiches.  I wish I could say that Dumbass and I built a bond out of our sorrows, but I just felt sorry for him.  If I got out of here I'd be a hero, a survivor, and he'd be in even shittier shape than he was in now.  My pity for him kept my mind busy.  I wished I'd known to write "Jamie" on the note rather than Rollo.

On the last weekend before Dumbass's spring break was over he brained Howard with a full bottle of wine as he slept, when the bottle smashed open, he slashed and stabbed Howard until he was dead and his blood mixed with the wine, splashing against my sleeping face to wake me up.  Dumbass poured the lighter fluid we'd used to start the charcoal grill outback onto Howard and lit him, the sudden flame blinded and warmed me, I closed my eyes again.  "fi-mor minish, mom"  He carried me out to Rollo's pinto, where we rode back to town and the two of them deposited me outside of the hospital with one last bottle of wine.  I drank it all down before crawling inside.

It was over as quickly as it began, the whims of boys.

I told the cops that Howard had been the only person involved, and that I'd killed him, set fire to the bar where he'd held me, and hitchhiked into town.  I was a God Damned hero.  I'd been gone for three months, the ransom was never paid.  I don't regret not rolling on Rollo and Dumbass, and I don't regret Howard's pitiful ending.  State of the art prosthetics have been donated to compensate for my missing puzzle pieces, both pinkies and an ear, I don't mind the toes now that they've healed over.  I've never been a fan of sandals.  My parents have to lock the wine cellar now.

Dumbass transferred to a different school, I guess maybe Rollo thought if I saw him every day it may tempt me to open my mouth, I wouldn't have, but it's just as well.  Seeing that kid get sadder would have broken my heart.  We do what we can with what we're given.  He ground a man he knew into pulp for me, stood over him grunting and stabbing, sweating, lit him on fire, saved my life in a moment of pure redemption that he has to hold silent forever.  What can you say to that?  What can you do in the face of that?  Forget that he'd invited me, forget that.  Pettiness.  Wine and blood under the bridge when a man's face has been caved in.

What can I say and do about being different?  I'm not the lying desperate conniving little bastard I was a few months ago.  I'm a hero, a survivor, a drunk, a 16yr old and now a writer.  What do you say to the people who taught you to shut up and feel?  The people who slapped you hard like an hysterical woman in an old time movie, and then held your shoulders still?  Nothing, you take advantage of what you've been taught, and you shut the fuck up. 

That's how you say thank you.

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