You Think You Have It Bad
Let me just tell you…
Back in the day, leaving our house was a dangerous proposition. There were the snipers. In the bombed out remains of our neighborhood, even collecting the groceries became a life or death toss of the dice.
Running from my front door to the cover of the concrete carcass of the house next door, was an adrenaline rush. The shooters were not well-trained, just regular Joes, and Janes, so their aim was abysmal. The trick was not to run in a straight line, but to zig zag, throwing them off. Pop, pop, pop. Brick dust would spurt up like ghosts as bullets tested my footing on the rocks and debris. For many years my sniper was Mrs. Groom from three houses down. Paranoia and firearms make for poor friends. Her son was a soldier in the war and was killed early in the conflict, while out one night in the red light district. Blind drunk with friends, he realized too late, that the pleasurable sensations from the glory hole in the club were actually performed by a very professional St. Bernard, and stepping back in shock, he lost his balance and slammed his head on a urinal killing him instantly. The military gave him a full burial, with honors, and the boy left behind his mother, and a funny story. You have to laugh, don’t you?
The old bitch, Groom, tagged me in the leg once and it hurt like a bastard. My Mom slapped me across the face as I wailed in pain and told me to “act like Grandma.” That old piece of gristle fought in the war, while carrying a M16 in one hand and Granda’s testicles in the other. She said they brought her luck. Grandma was six foot five, missing two fingers from each hand from a polar bear attack, and she was known for her thunderous voice and what looked like an Adam’s apple
Once reaching cover, the next move was to the big oak tree. Loved that tree, with its truck like hard scaly leather. The oak was sacred. No one shot at the tree. The natural world was unexpectedly respected in all the rubble and it became a shelter in the grayness. As long at the squirrels were in a good mood. If not, you had to move like hot piss from razor sharp claws and gnawing dentures. The war changed them, man. It changed us all.
From the oak, I would sprint down Willow Street. Here the gangs let me know I had crossed into their territory by barking like dogs. The Shepherds were the loudest and the worst of the street gangs. In his late teens, my brother Daniel was caught on Merkin Street and had to fight one particularly flamboyantly dressed member of the gang. The two fought on all fours. If you stepped into the Shepherds’ territory, you fought by their rules. My brother got in a solid bite to a thigh, ripping away some flesh. He never did lose his taste for blood and spandex. We kept him in a cage when he acted up, throwing prime rib and leotards at him to chill him the fuck down. The only reason he didn’t die that day was because of the bear. Just wandered into the scene, off territory, and tore my brother’s opponent in half like a white chocolate bar with a strawberry center. We legged it home while the big bastard was occupied with his crunchy feast. We played the odds every day.
The more violent gangs in the area slept late most days, so the odds of survival were on our side if we slipped through Willow, Merkin, or Mahone streets a little after dawn. In the quiet you could sometimes hear them snore, belch, and make love. The Shepherds eventually went co-ed when walking and sitting became a major drawback to instilling terror. Their women fought. The men stayed home making yogurt and quilting.
Next was Idiot Street, because only an idiot would attempt to use it. Problem was, my expedition time could be cut by 50%, shaving a roundabout journey by 60 minutes. Most people are idiots, so the street got a lot of foot traffic. All you had to do was leg-it faster than the bears. At any given time, 60 grizzly and polar bears staked out Idiot Street hoping to devour a slow runner, usually some poor bastard with shite cardio.
My father died on Idiot Street. Two mating bears on the second floor of a crumbling building that formally housed a music store which only sold records made by hard core Mormon boy rap band, Brigham Young Thugs (I know. One hit wonders,) upon seeing and hearing my father drunkenly stagger down the street, using every mammal insult known and unknown to man, pulled out from the other male bear he had mistakenly been injecting with his seed, and leapt from the building, landing squarely on my arse-hole father. The bear died instantly and messily, but my father lasted a couple of more days. Throughout (the family came down to have a gander), all he craved was more alcohol and the phone number of an obese 70s porn actress named Ezra Pounder.
I needed to get about 10 yards down Idiot Street where I would crossover into Mohel Terrace, where a cut through allowed me to avoid the crabs on Culchie Road. Although the crabs on Culchie Road were badly organized, and for the most part, never presented a challenge, they did learn to use knives. The core group splintered at some stage, and there emerged territorial factions, where gangs of crustaceans roamed hither and thither taking command of certain areas. A smaller, liminal group, the Hard Shells dominated Mohel, but posed no real threat, as they were poorly coordinated and running while attempting to make the most of their knife wielding combat style was pathetic and quite embarrassing to watch. Besides, I could leap over their heads in one single bound.
The spiders on Amadan Street were the worst. So I didn’t mind adding an extra 5 minutes taking Geek Street where the only challenge was vaulting a seven foot gorge—created by a freak earthquake—-avoiding the intermittent bursts of flames shooting up from the depths below, and evading the large pink hands grabbing for anyone unlucky enough not to make the far side. No one knew the origin of the hands. Rumors abounded that he (the hand was male, I think) was the hand of God. The argument against of course was that why would the hand of God be coming from the depths of the earth surrounded by fire? Besides, I don’t think the hand of God would bite his fingernails.
Once over the gorge the last two streets loomed. The most dangerous, and most annoying challenge of the journey, was Narrative Street. After the war, clans of geometric shapes appeared across the city. The Scalenes were the most aggressive of the species. All those unequal angles and unequal sides could nick the skin like it was tissue paper. The Isosceles and Equilaterals, while dangerous, were easily distracted by mice or the smell of artisanal cheeses. The obtuse were as dumb as a box of turds. The males, though it was virtually impossible to distinguish the sexes, were the slowest cognitively speaking, and any efforts made on one’s part to contort into any general geometric shape, could easily confuse them.
Other shapes, the weirder ones and some of the most brutal outside of the Scalenes, formed their own societies. I never came in contact with the gons (you know, the pentagon, hexagon, or those vicious psychos, the decagon and nonagon, who made up the gang known as the Irregulars), but many veterans could tell stories scary enough to close your sphincter forever.
I make it sound like all these shapes were atavistic, but I have to say the circles, ellipses, and crescents, when encountered were just curved bundles of peace and love and always carried a smile.
The final hurdle before the grocery shop was the region known as the Deadly Floating Pages of the Damned. After the war destroyed all the best things in life and all around us in the city was rubble, the pages wafted up from the fallen buildings and floated on a hostile wind, randomly settling down by the docks near the grocery store. Hundreds of pages whipped around in unpredictable patterns. If I hit them at the right angle, I could race through the swarm, and throw caution to the wind–the wind direction was a major factor. Photocopying paper caused the deepest cuts. Toilet paper was harmless, as were the filo-pasty thin pages of those large literature anthologies we read before the war. Regular books, though not as thick as the photocopying paper, could do some serious damage and inflict some severe scarification. I once got slashed by a high school copy of War and Peace. And even saw one poor bastard exiting the grocery store with a handful of cold cuts, decapitated by a page from See Spot Run. Blood spouted in gouts from the wound and his head fell backward like a Pez dispenser. We had free cold cuts that day.
There were always bodies of the fallen scattered around the docks and the grocery store, the newly dead and the nearly dead, abandoned on the streets.
The grocery store had limited supplies; very few merchants came through to restock the store. Once I was there, I filled up a plastic shopping bag with whatever we needed (milk, bread, wafer thin mints, some raw meat for the brother, a salt lick for mom, and a bag of chips for me). The trick was not to fill the bag, cos I still needed to be light on my feet. I had to go back all the way I came. This time up hill.
I remember those days with a vivid clarity, only tainted slightly by paranoid delusions. I can’t believe how lucky you kids are today. You have it so easy, but you still complain: “Life is hard,” “There’s bears and spiders and crabs chasing us,” “The store is too far away,” “I think my paper cut is infected.”