The myth of regeneration through violence
"What did you say to me you little sawed-off peckerwood?"
It had been a very difficult few months, but it was over. We had raised the money, shot the film, and wrapped principal photography. As a screenwriter and actor, my job was basically over.
It had been stressful. The most difficult and trying thing I had ever done. We had pulled it off, gotten the damn thing in the can. I learned new things about the nature of stress. Arbitrary try-again-next-time school stress versus real grown-up you-can't-unfuck this stress. Hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars of ruin-your-credit-rating this-had-better-work stress. School stress, for me, was like a sunburn. It made you crazy, but a few beers, a couple of days reading and screwing around on the computer, and you were right as rain. But grown-up stress was the real fucking thing, persistent and militarized for the maximum infliction of pain and suffering. It took up residence in your lymph tissue, in the delicate webbing of the lumbar curve, odorless and colorless, waiting to be metabolized in an unrelated moment, releasing a cascade of misdirected rage.
My brother Duplex and I were burning across southern Virginia in my 1971 Volkswagon bus, spooling up Route 58 towards the White home in Blacksburg, Virginia. I always took smaller roads, the rural two lane highways, because the Bus just couldn't hack it on the super slabs of the interstate. Dubbed by my buddies as the Millennium Falcon, its 1600cc engine only produced 65 horses at peak output. Couple that with a high profile body designed with willful disregard for the laws of aerodynamics, and 60 miles an hour was about the best you could hope for - on flat land without a headwind.
Southside Virginia is one of two things - rolling green farmland, or abandoned scrub. There is very little industry - mostly abandoned textile and furniture mills. Agricultural, overlooked, this was a part of the country that had been left behind. The state laid in roads. The corporations laid in their Wal-Marts and McDonald's. There were no amber waves of grain, no great factories building for the world, no majestic mountains, or crashing sea, or open prairie. Let me say that I am a person who was raised in the sticks, but I have always wondered, "What do these folks do here?" The people left there remained out of a kind of social inertia, I suppose. It was too much effort to leave, or maybe it had never occurred to them. Or maybe they genuinely loved it there - what do I know?
It was late August, hot and humid. With its embarrassment of windows, the Bus was essentially a rolling greenhouse. Dupe and I were hot as hell, a little frayed from the stress of the shoot, a little battered by the road noise of the Bus, and fatigued from the unrelenting humidity. As we chugged over another rolling hill, Dupe threw his hand up towards the shopping center hoving into view. Rising above it all - the Golden Arches.
"Hey Igloo, let's get some fries and a cold drink up in that thing." Vegetarian, violently progressive, foe of globalization, corporate predation, and card-carrying socialist, I took Duplex's request to stop at the McDonalds as a sign of deep somatic distress. We were on the edge of heat exhaustion.
"Yeah, fuck it." I was hot. It would be good to sit in the air and cool out a bit before we got back at it. It would give the machine a chance to cool off a bit - I could check the oil once things settled and make sure things were up to speck. The Bus fielded the classic single carb horizontally-opposed 4 cylinder Volksie engine - air cooled, but that really meant it was oil cooled. In the heat, it was vital to keep up the oil level, and the Bus burned oil like Kuwait after the Iraqis pulled out. I turned the big steering wheel to the right and we buzzed into the McD's parking lot.
It's important to set the scene here. I am wearing a black shirt that reads "STUDENT SWAT" and cutoff fatigue pants. My brother Duplex is wearing a purple button-down shirt, Dutch army pants that he's converted into Manpri's (the "masculine" Capri pant) and blue Doc Martens. He has an eraserhead shock of red hair, thick glasses, and a truckers wallet, complete with chain. He is an art student. Despite the fact that if we dressed right, let our schizophenic hillbilly/professor's kids accents thicken up, we could blend in, we do not blend in. We do not blend in any way, shape, or form. We are in the the middle of sweet FA, and look like a couple of urbanite pricks. We may as well have walked in holding a lit highway flare in each hand.
Despite the fact that we are in the middle of BFE, there is a big line. Maybe because this is the only McDonalds for 25 miles in any direction. We queue up. Duplex does a kind of shuffle to a punk soundtrack that only he can hear. Then I hear it from my right.
It's a little teen girly, seated at the table to my right. The words she says are not the percussive "Hey!" of the North. It is a two syllable word, a bell curve inflection that glides up in the middle, "Ha-Aae." This particular usage is particularly long - accentuated and as stylized as kabuki theater.
"Hey." I reply. In most instances, her inflection would find itself matched by my own. My affect is context sensitive. In this case, unconsciously, I reply in American broadcast English, educated, white and citified. It's an attempt to break contact and distance things. I square myself with the menu board, eyes front.
"Hey." A small, soft hand takes hold of my elbow. It's Girly. It's textbook - the demure hand folds into her lap. Her head is slightly tilted forward. She makes a slow batting of the eyelashes, an eclipsing of her green eyes. Her boyfriend, lean and sullen, all of 17 years old, sulks at the table. He is staring at the floor. I don't know why this chick is beaming me, but I'm not particularly happy about it. I just want to have a soda and get the fuck out of here. I start to get a really sketchy feeling. My spidey sense clicks on and I am tapping in on a bad vibe. The line is crawling. I turn to my brother.
"Hey, Dupe - let's get the fuck out of here."
"What? Dude, come on. We've been in line this long. I want to get that shake." He looks around as if to see what's bothering me. My getting annoyed at a slow line was nothing new.
"Ok. Let's just get the shake and jet."
"Coolio. Shake and we're Audi 5000."
Then there it is, those soft female fingertips on my elbow, the slightest touch.
"Hi. Have a good one." I say it quietly. Duplex is oblivious, enrapt in milkshake fantasy. I reach over and gently remove her hand, moving it over her lap and releasing it. She keeps beaming me, looking right into my eyes.
"Fucking faggot. Kick your ass." It snaps this very strange moment. The boyfriend barely mumbles it.
Now look, I didn't ask this girl to make eyes at me. I didn't make her reach up and touch my elbow repeatedly. I look over at the boyfriend. He's maybe five foot eight, 140 pounds. I am six foot two, 180 pounds, and none of it fat. I had busted my ass getting into shape for the shoot. Pushups, running, weight training. Now this skinny little fuck was saying he was going to kick my ass?
"What did you say to me you little sawed-off peckerwood?" I leaned down over the table and said it into his face, like you would dress somebody down during an inspection. This was the moment that my brand new industrial-strength stress had decided to make itself known. Unfamiliar with its intensity, the better angels of my nature stepped aside and allowed this vast untapped reservoir of frustration spume to the surface. This emoto-chemical mess chose to instantiate itself as a bad situation in a McDonalds one hundred miles from anywhere.
"I didn't say nuthin." He kept looking at the floor. That only made me angrier. Now he wouldn't even own up. I was seeing red. My impulse was to push him out of his chair. I stepped up so that I was standing right over him.
"You didn't say nothing, peckerwood? I thought you said I was a faggot. I thought you said you were going to kick my ass? Do you want to kick my ass?" Part of my had wanted to kick some ass, anyone's, for weeks now. This little fucker had just volunteered. It felt good, lording over him.
"No." He kept looking at the floor. I put my hand on his shoulder and held him down.
"What if I took you outside and gave you a chance to kick my ass? How would you like that you sawed off little fuck? Apologize."
"What?" He looked up, then back down.
"You are going to apologize to me. You don't call people faggot. Say 'I'm sorry I called you a faggot.'"
"I can't hear you. Say 'I'm sorry I called you a faggot.'"
"I'm sorry I called you a faggot." He was bright red and trembling, his head rocked forward like a parody of humiliation. More Kabuki theatre. And it felt good to make this little prick fear me. It gratified the worst aspects of my personality.
"Say 'I could never kick your ass and I apologize.'"
"I could never kick your ass and I apologize."
"Ok. I think we're done here." I got back in line. My brother looked at me.
"What the fuck? Are you OK?"
I wasn't OK. I was wound tighter than a starter coil.
"Do you still want the fries?"
"OK." I was still shocked with myself. There was no warm-up period- it was just zero to heavy in two seconds. It was a brave new world. I looked over my shoulder. The kid and girly were gone. Case closed, calm down.
We got our chow and moved to walk out. This McDonalds featured the classic "reverse-L" layout - Counter and waiting area at the lower limb, eating area and bathrooms around the corner. Duplex and I had come in the front, right to the counter. Now we were walking out though the long, parking lot facing gallery. We were not prepared for what was waiting for us.
The dining area was full to capacity, loaded with every mall-swagged redneck teenager in South Shithole, Virginia. They stood silently, maybe fifty of them, with glassy eyes and ill-fitting Tommy Hilfiger gear. It was like a receiving line of the undead, the room heavy with the odor of seriously bad vibes, Tommy Girl, wintergreen tobacco spit, beef fat and a xenophobic suppuration of the spirit. They belonged. We didn't. They wanted to eat us alive.
Dupe looked at me. I looked at him. Dupe is bigger than me, so we walked out shoulder to shoulder. Silently, jaws locked. The door opened. We were in the parking lot. We were in the middle of the parking lot. We were in the Bus. I put my drink on the dash, pulled my keys out of my pocket, and cranked the ignition.
Tried to crank the ignition.
Time to explain one of the Falcon's many mechanical deficiencies. The Bus had a bad starter solenoid. The solenoid is an electromagnetic switch that makes the high amperage connection between the battery and the starter motor. Turn key, current flow to solenoid, solenoid engages, high amp flow to starter, starter cranks engine, bus starts. My solenoid would stick sometimes, especially after it got hot. A replacement was 65 bucks, which was sixty five dollars I didn't have.
"Uh Dupe, the solenoid is sticking."
"What does that mean?"
"It means I have to crawl under the Bus with a hammer and bang on it so we can get the fuck out of here. I want you to watch me while I get under there." I reached behind the drivers seat. There was a great little cabinetry bin there, where a kept a ballpeen hammer for just this contingency.
Duplex and I climbed back out. The kids filled the windows of the McDonalds. They stood shoulder to shoulder, pressed against the glass, slackjawed with an idiot menace. I shot D a look and he gave me a nod. I flopped onto my back and scootched under. Since the Bus was a rear engine vehicle, the starter/solenoid was tucked up under the undercarriage of the van, near the transmission. I had to lay on my back near the rear wheels and shimmy under the centerline of the car. It was about as vulnerable a position as you could imagine. In about 30 seconds, I'd be finished. Duplex walked around to the rear of the Bus and placed himself between me and the McDonalds.
"Mmm. Mmm, oh yeah, that's how I like it. I'm a faggot." It was Dupe.
I rolled my head about 90 degrees to the right. You grow up with somebody, you think you know them. But, somewhere on the streets of Richmond, a heavy town with some no-bullshit urban decay and street crime, my brother had learned a new visual vocabulary. It was a vocabulary that said, "Not only am I not afraid of you, but I have such contempt for you I am going to ape your worst taboos."
He made bucking, fucking motions with his hips, grinding out in pantomime. He was tossing the morons in the windows a big double bird, but it didn't stop there. He was pushing his middle fingers into his mouth, one after the other, doing the old high-school tongue-in-cheek cocksucking fake.
"MMmmm. I'm a cocksucking faggot. It's so GOOD! Fingerlicking good!" Now he was running his tongue up and down the shaft of his middle finger. I set to hammering on the solenoid. One two three one two three one two three. That had better do it. Please, baby, work.
"Dupe! Let's go man! Let's go!" I reversed my flippy-floppy out from under the van.
Dupe squatted down, dropped trou, and gave everyone in the windows a glory hole, cheeks spread, brown eye moon.
"I LOVE IT UP THE ASS!" He shouted it with a real relish.
Dupe was hopping back in the Bus when the dining area doors slammed open. A huge black kid exploded out into the parking lot. I had just gotten the drivers side door open. He was screaming at the top of his lungs, in inchoate rage. He reached up to the neck of his shirt and tore it to pieces in a single stroke, throwing his arms wide, like in Incredible Fucking Hulk. Like a steroid enraged black hebrew rending the neck of his garment. He was Hulk big, buffed out from hours in the weight room. His anger was biblical. He was 200 pounds easy.
"I KILL YOU MOTHERFUCKER! I KILL YOU!" He was slapping his now bare chest with both hands.
"Freeze! Hold it right there!" My voice was the clipped sound of procedure.I don't know where those words came from, I'm not a cop. I still had the ballpeen hammer in my hand. The kid stopped. His girlfriend had poked her head out into the parking lot, hiding the rest of herself behind the restaurant door.
"YOU BETTER PUT THAT HAMMER UP OR I'LL SHOVE IT UP!" He kept slapping his chest and then throwing his arms wide. Stylized, as choreographed as a rain dance.
"Antonio! Antonio come back, he'll kill you with that hammer!" The girlfriend was screaming and crying.
"You are going to go back inside and I am going to get this car and drive away." I was making automatic, punctuating movements with the hammer.
"PUT IT UP OR I'LL SHOVE IT UP!"
"You are going to go back inside and I am going to get this car and drive away. You are going to go back inside and I am going to get this car and drive away. You are going to go back inside and I am going to get this car and drive away. " The statement took on a kind of authority. If I said it enough, it would come true. The kid started walking backwards. Time started to run in reverse.
"Come inside, Antonio! Come inside or he'll kill you!"
"I'll shove it up motherfucker. I'll shove it up." He was quieter now, walking backwards, almost to the door.
"You are going to go inside. I am going to drive away. I am going to drive away." Two tracks - ritualized rage versus procedural control. Rural and urban, educated and uneducated, black and white.
The girlfriend pulled him back inside, shirtless.
I climbed into the Bus. Please start. My hand was trembling. If you've ever loved me, machine, start. I guided the key into the ignition. I rebuilt your carburetor myself, start. I turned the key. I saved you from the junkyard, start.
The engine buzzed to life. We reversed out and then bugged out, back onto the relative anonymity of the highway.
"Fuck man, that was not cool. That was not cool at all."
I had the bus floored. We jammed along. I imagined myself beaten into a coma by a ferocious mob of enraged adolescent redneck teens. I imagined myself braining the Incredible Black Teenage Steroid Hulk to death with a series of blows to the frontal lobes with a ballpeen hammer. The first blow drops him to his knees, it's a fast snap, like epee head pick in fencing. The second blow, from way up, 9 feet up, full extension, eyes on the prize and swing through the target, trepans him. The fast moving hammerhead obliterates his right parietal lobe and translates down into the limbic core, the force tearing the corpus callosum, severing the two hemispheres of the brain. He loses consciousness instantly, and bleeds out in under 5 minutes. The sheriff arrests me and my brother, all the jury can think about is the fact that I killed their football star, and I am a murderer because I didn't like some girly touching my elbow without my permission. But it was all OK, because we made it out. We were running the wrong folkway software, and the system catastrophically crashed. The default McDonald's software was not up to the task
It started to rain. The air rushing in the windows cooled. I could feel the engine cool off. I cooled off. My hands eased up their death grip on the wheel. I started to laugh.
"What the fuck was that? What was that?" I asked.
"What was what?" Dupe started laughing.
"That fucking dance you were doing? What the fuck were you thinking?"
"I wanted to give them their fucking show. You know, give them their show."
No talking. Valve lashing sound from engine.
"Were the fries good?" I asked.
"Ah, man. The fries there are always good."
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
the viablity The myth Ten
of a of Thousand
third regeneration Singing
party through Tomorrows
candidate violence ...