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Is there a racist in your neighbourhood?

Emma West My Tram ExperienceI’ll admit, watching Emma West’s recent notorious rant on the Croydon tram took me back to an episode in my life that had some of the same trappings, albeit a decidedly different end result. Come back with me, dear reader, to the summer of 1984 in suburban Pennsylvania, USA. Not to date myself, but I was in my 11th year and just passing time, not all that enamoured with my surroundings. See, I was fortunate enough to grow up outside the big city maelstrom into which I’d eventually fling myself with salacious abandon, but unfortunate enough to be surrounded by – how can I put it delicately? Some of the most small-minded, underachieving motherfuckers I’ve ever laid eyes on. I knew it at age 11 and it’s the same today. This is a town that remains perennially frozen in time, by my estimation about 17 years behind whatever’s modern, not that they’d ever know it. The fact that Tom Savini’s moved his special effects school in and plastered his name on my former Catholic school only ups the town’s has-been haven status. Hell, I can’t decide what’s less cool, Catholic school or Savini. Actually, I think ’84 was the last year Tom had anything decent to offer the FX world. Coincidence? Don’t know, don’t care, but I do know Tarantino & Rodriguez could’ve given Sex Machine to Bob Saget and it would’ve been just as entertaining, if not more so. And to be fair to the school, some really talented guys run the place, it just carries a douchebag’s name. Now back to the night in question.

WCW In The Pizza Shop

I was getting into pro wrestling in ’84, mainly through watching afternoon broadcasts of World Class Championship Wrestling from the old Texas Sportatorium after school, which featured the Von Erichs against any number of bad guys under the sweltering Southern sun. My favourites were the late Chris Adams & Gino Hernandez (actually, most of those guys are dead now, more victims of their own lifestyles). I always took to the villains. Draw your own conclusions. And yes, I always knew it was choreographed. I still found it to be the most fun TV available and I hadn’t even discovered Ric Flair yet. Anyway, there was a new pizza shop at the end of my block that not only had damn good pies, but all the little white trash girls hung out there smoking their first cigarettes and wearing their short shorts. I was too young to do anything about that yet, but it was nice wallpaper. No, the real selling points down at the pizza shop were the 25¢ arcade machines they’d installed, namely the new wrestling game looming in the front window. This was before the days of brand name strangleholds on everything remotely connected to a subject, so the characters in the game were all fictitious, like Ramrod Roberts vs. Killer Karl Kane, that kinda thing. It was great.

Here Comes The Loon

One Saturday night, a good school friend and fellow wrestling fanatic was staying overnight at my house. Sick of the TV and looking for a fun way to kill the evening, we gathered a pile of quarters and decided to hit the pizza shop and play wrestling until the joint closed or our eyes spun out of our heads, whichever came first. Just recounting our plan feels quaint, given that some of today’s 11-year-olds go trolling for 8-balls and gang bangs. My, how times have changed. We just wanted to play video games, man. Maybe check out a cute girl or two. Little did we know the spectacle that awaited us on the corner that night. My neighbourhood had this guy. You know him, every neighbourhood has one. The sloppy drunk, the downward spiraller, the natural born loser. He was a real piece of work. Though most of the pizza shop’s clientele was young, mostly in their early teens, this guy would trudge down night after night, his 40-ounce beer in a paper bag, and hold court with any impressionable young minds within earshot. And there were always a few. In hindsight, he was probably in his 30s, but to a quiet preteen he played like an ogre, a towering evil-eyed monster with the alternate booming/squeaking voice of a regular booze-hound Jekyll/Hyde, who reeked of alcohol from six feet away. Looking at it now, he was just a small town palooka, a garden variety lush. An asshole the world would be better off without. The world would win this round.

Who Let Out The Racist?

My friend and I bellied-up to the arcade game, dropped our coins, talked some good-natured shit and waited for the bell. A collar-and-elbow tie-up and the match was on. I think I lost the first one. My friend was a better player and I think I lost every time, come to think of it. It was still fun as hell. As we pumped more coins into the machine and I imagined winning sometime, I noticed the loud drunk was on the sidewalk outside again. I’d seen him plenty of times, but never joined the circle of kids that always seemed to be gathered around his stinky ass. I didn’t like those kids, as they seemed to have dead end etched into their foreheads even that early in life. It wasn’t a winning crowd, in other words. The video games were in the window, so the circus wasn’t very far from us. We were only separated by the storefront glass, really. I checked the clock over the counter for the time. The place was closing in a half-hour or so. Launching into another match, I could hear some of this fool’s ranting. There he stood, swaying on unsteady feet, swilling from a paper bag, ranting to a bunch of 13-year-olds (and younger) about the “nigger mailman” that was fucking his wife and how he was going to kill them both. Fun for the whole family, eh? I remember thinking it was crass, though neither racism nor substance abuse were the hot-button issues they are today, not by a long shot, and certainly not in the small-town shitsville where we were. I was hardly versed in relationship nuances at 11, but I do recall thinking, “it sounds like the mailman knows some things you don’t, buddy.”

“I watched it go down like I was watching a TV show.”

Gunshot blood suicideThen it happened. He pulled a handgun from his pants and began waving it around with his beer can. I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that, I’m gonna–bam. He’d put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Just like that, it was all over. Now let’s be real. You certainly don’t mourn a jackass like this guy. Hell, he saves more people than he hurts by offing himself. Thank the devil he didn’t take anyone with him. Two things stand out from the moment, which has always seemed a bit dream-like to me. 1) The kid in the white t-shirt standing nearby, who suddenly was wearing a red t-shirt. 2) The guy hitting the ground. It wasn’t like we’d seen in the movies where they keeled over with pained faces and dramatic sprawls. It was wham, lights out. He crumbled straight down like the Twin Towers, like a snipped marionette, no expression, dead meat before his head bounced off the concrete. We watched the scene play out through the glass, as if it somehow separated us, and eventually made our way out to the sidewalk to watch the paramedics pump his chest in a vain resuscitation effort. I remember watching a pool of dark blood spread across the pavement, his grey-socked feet twitching as they worked on him. They’d removed his shoes and I couldn’t figure out why. I remember thinking, you should be troubled by this. Truth was, I didn’t care. I watched it go down like I was watching a TV show. He was an asshole, I reasoned, a bad guy. As an adult, you come to realise the guy wasn’t born bad. Or confused, careless, angry, ignorant, dependent, vengeful, destructive and self-destructive. He was just one lost dude. One lost dude who just happened to fuck-up way more than the other ten million lost dudes behind him. Still, I’ve never lost a wink of sleep over that episode. Maybe that makes me bad, but I don’t think so. I care too much about the things that matter.

The next morning, after my friend’s mom picked him up, curiosity got the best of me and I strolled down to the pizza shop in the bright morning sunshine. The fire department had diligently hosed the sidewalk down to try and erase the gore, but blood doesn’t just rinse off, it stains. It goes away when it’s ready. I followed a faded purple streak down the curb for another full block, peppered with chunks of stuff that I imagined were brains but were probably just street debris, until the trail disappeared into the storm drain at the bottom of the hill. And there’s where it ends, boys and girls. Live, laugh, love, fight, cry, hate, scratch, claw, reach, quit. Spiral down the drain with the rest of the shit. It was poetic, in some strange way. As I walked back up the hill to my house to catch the Wild Wild West Sunday reruns, I thought, “I don’t feel anything here, but I’m going to remember these images.” And I did.


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