Death Wish

The following piece was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre event–Reflections: A Reading of Memoir Vignettes. Please enjoy.

The jocks are pretending to picket protest our cafeteria lunch table while me and my freak friends sit quietly eating our vegetarian lunches. Life as a misunderstood punk rocker has never been this exhilarating.

 

“Hell no, we won’t go! Hell no, we won’t go!”

 

The eight of them are wearing varsity jackets and carrying imaginary protest signs in their meaty fists. Clearly, they had seen the news last night.

 

The headline was ‘The Battle for Seattle’, the largest protests against corporate greed since I-don’t-know-when, and it targeted a group of global gangsters called the WTO – the World Trade Organization. President Blowjob was saying some crap about the economy, while pink-haired freaks shut down the system and got dragged off to jail.

 

Of course, the jocks at my school don’t understand why anyone would join a protest movement. But I’m glad they recognize me and my friends as members of the same tribe that shut down Seattle.

 

“Hey veg fags, are you going to blockade the lunch counter because you’re anti-sausage?”

 

“They’re not anti-sausage. They’re pro-sausage, right? They love the sausage – in the back door!”

 

We ignore the hot dog weenie being dangled in our faces and pressed suggestively into a splayed, submissive bun. Soon enough, the entire all-boys Catholic prep school cafeteria is chanting along with the meatheads, having succumbed to collective bullying.

 

“Hell no, we won’t veg fag! Hell no, we won’t veg fag!”

 

The totality of their over-privileged suburban upbringing and a severely deficient Social Studies education has brought them to this moment. Yes, the future leaders of the next century are this stupid.

 

“Sit down, you assholes,” I say, barely loud enough to be heard.

 

They continue their incantations and I think about the time I got punched in the face by the kid who wrote ‘veg fag’ on the back of my shirt. It actually felt good, really good, to see my own blood. I could survive a prolonged beating, I think to myself, be baptized by the brutality of Jockstrap America, sacrificed on the altar of ignorance, and rise again as the savior of veg fags everywhere. It’s going to happen eventually – I might as well have an audience.

 

“Sit down, assholes,” I say, this time forcefully, and loud.

 

They train their eyes on me. The biggest one opens his fat meat-mouth. “What’d you just say, veg fag?”

 

He leans in and places his palms at either side of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He gets in close and whispers, “I said, What’d you say, veg fag.” He has officially made this moment a scene from a 1980s high school movie. He is Biff Tannen. I am the Karate Kid. Our punk gang that hangs out behind the bowling alley is The Goonies.

 

“You know Chris Mangione is going to kick your ass after school today, don’t you?” he says.

 

Here is what I should say: “Chris Mangione will be too busy getting a hand-job from your sister after school today.”

 

Here’s what I actually say: Nothing.

 

“That’s what I thought, veg fag.”

 

Pause.

 

Rewind.

 

The promised ass kicking from a kid named Chris Mangione is related to an incident in my journalism class earlier today. Chris Mangione is this hockey player who used to go to a different school in a slightly less rich-kid town. So to be popular he invites the jocks to parties in his town. That’s their big sense of adventure: A keg party with kids they think are tough.

 

Anyway, two nights ago Chris Mangione is coming home from one of those parties and he’s about to get into the BMW that his mobster father bought for him, and some guys jump him. They clocked him and made off with his car. The cops found the car, since it had some hi-tech tracking thing, and Chris wasn’t hurt too bad, except for a big black eye he wore around like a badge of fucking honor.

 

All of the athletes rallied for him. The story was that two black guys had jumped him. If Chris Mangione, the starting center of our undefeated hockey team had seen those two black guys coming, he’d have wasted them. Those two black guys were cowards. Father Ray, the priest principal, led the whole school in a prayer for the “victims of urban violence.” When adults say urban, they really mean black.

 

So, Chris Mangione is in my journalism class, and our teacher makes us look things up on the Internet, like we’re supposed to get hard-ons over the World Wide fucking Web. When he asked Chris to look for news about his run-in with the two black guys, nothing came up. Poor Chrissy was heartbroken.

 

When the teacher asked me to look up the Seattle protests, Chris Mangione refused to get up from the computer. “Just tell me the website, veg fag,” he demanded.

 

So, I spelled it out nice and slow. “Http… Colon… Backslash, backslash.” The teacher smiled at my knowledge of useless Internet protocol as Chris Mangione pecked at each key with his index fingers like a retard. “W… W…. W… Dot.” And then I let him have it. “I-Got-Jumped-and-I-Deserved-It, dot-com.”

 

That’s when Chris Manglione jumped up out of his seat and pounced on me. It was hilarious! I was the first kid in America to use a snarky dot-com joke to stick it to a phony meathead like him. It was perfect. I knew it, he knew it, everyone knew it. If my teacher didn’t pull him off me, I’d have been dead meat, but I didn’t care.

 

“You’re dead meat!” he said while pointing his finger. “After school. Today.” Another line taken directly from a 1980s high school movie. It’s the nineties, already. Duh?

 

Now that I think about it, that’s the moment I decided it’s better to get beat up by the jocks than be afraid. The Death Wish.

 

Unpause.

 

“Boys,” Father Ray says and puts his loving hands on one of the jocks’ shoulders. “Are these alternative kids getting you all riled up again?”

 

The jocks smile and offer their goddamn shoulders for him to pat and massage with his silky pedophile hands. The last time they had “gotten all riled up” was when they thought we were going to kill everyone in the school. In their steroid-riddled minds, our punk lifestyles made us best buds with the two goth kids who shot up their school out in Colorado.

 

“Okay, boys. Just sit down and enjoy your lunches.” Father Ray smiles, then turns to us, his smile disappears, and says, “Let’s not pay any mind to all the controversy.”

 

Father Ray looks at me and Tate and Randy. Randy is no longer his special interest. Randy’s been corrupted by punk rock, and he smells now, which is probably a deal-breaker for Father Ray’s underage romance rating.

 

“Always controversial,” he whispers and stares like a creep. Then he turns around all slow and walks away. What’s he thinking? That we’re going to shoot up the school? If we do, I hope he knows exactly who’s getting theirs first.

 

“Dude’s a child molester, for sure,” Randy says and bites into his sandwich.

 

“Those kids are douche bags,” Tate says. “They never get in trouble for anything.”

 

“Who cares,” I say. “We’re going to the support protest tonight.”

 

“You’re not worried about Chris Mangione?” Tate asks.

 

I am about to go on about my newfound Death Wish, but Randy interrupts me.

 

“Chis Mangione will be too busy getting his salad tossed by Father Ray in the chapel.”

 

The three of us burst out laughing.

 

“Getting his salad tossed!” Randy yells out and we laugh even harder. Randy has the Death Wish, too. We are crying with laughter, unashamed to exist, and asking for it.

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