Sadly, a true story....
The bus was soon to be choked with kids from the "alternative" school. The school where kids go when the state demands that they be educated, but for disciplinary reasons above and beyond what the school board can handle, they're farmed off to squat, temporary metal buildings somewhere in the vicinity of the moribund K-Mart at which I caught this godforsaken mode of transit. Once again I cursed the snapped cable that kept me from being knees in the wind and away from all of this. The racking cough of the elderly woman in pyjama-like track pants was as constant as the droning of the engine. The miasma of stale cigarette smoke hung from a dock worker like an obnoxious fart. A single mother with two small kids in tow counted her change over and over again but the numbers wouldn't add up right. A kindly elderly black man gave her the required quarter.
Then the bus stopped in front of a boisterous crowd. Two worlds intersected. The bus had contained one world: the usual elderly, homeless and young poor folks who often pay the fare in pennies and mark their lives with intersecting timetables, and the rabble who poured onto the bus, state-issued free bus passes in hand, with designer labels on their backs.
"Yeah! She allergic to like perfume and shit."
Some fifteen year old, full of age-appropriate braggadocio, all baggy clothes and macho pose, a gangly black kid with a smart mouth, splayed out to take up as much room as he possibly could in a tangle of bony angles and urban designer labels.
"Yeah, she like, "Don't wear no cologne in my class." Fuck that bitch."
"Yeah, but she like, sick an' shit. She got cancer."
Young, cute girl. Smooth, flawless toffee coloured skin, nice teeth with a beaming smile. White puffy coat that made her look like the Michelin Man. It almost hid her pregnancy. Almost. At this point the baby was just something that was going to happen in the future. It had not taken the girl out of this to-be woman yet.
"Well fuck that, she shouldn't be teachin then! Ain't my problem stupid bitch can't smell no perfume."
"Hey, didn't you slap her?" A large kid, rotund but not jolly, his gigantic pants threatening to ride below his mid-thigh.
"Hell yeah I slap her. Ain't no bitch gonna raise no hand to me."
"Yeah, she got cancer though." The girl again. She didn't really care, it was academic.
"I don't give a fuck. No bitch raise no hand to me. She push me, yo. Like git outta my class, you're wearing cologne", eliciting laughter from the others with his impersonation of her voice "and she push me. So I cuffed the bitch. Imma sue her, get me some money, stank ass ol' white bitch."
The large kid was laughing. The whole thing seemed amusing to him. "But you got thrown out, yo."
At this point, seeing some of the bus riders furtively glaring at him, the tone of his voice got louder.
"I don't give a fuck. I'se a TRUE NIGGA. Put the handcuffs on me, put me in jail, I don't care! I DON'T CARE. I don't give a fuck. I ain't no punk, havin no white stank ass cripple bitch touch me. I'se a TRUE NIGGA."
The bus driver completely ignored the outburst, and most looked away. A twentysomething hesher with a cheap CD player, whose earphones played more to the rest of the bus than into his ear, looked at the bus driver's head and chuckled sarcastically to himself. The driver had been VERY aggressive in insisting that he turn down his barely audible Led Zeppelin. Got out of his hydraulic shocked seat and walked up to him, waggling finger in his face, threatening him with being thrown off.
The bus drove on, the driver oblivious.
The girl in the white coat made a shushing motion with her hand, laughing at the same time. The boy, spurred on by her response, made one last declaration. "FUCK all a y'all, I'se a TRUE NIGGA."
A quiet voice to the left of me said, sotto voce, "Yeah, you're a nigger all right." I was the only one that heard. I did NOT dignify it with a response.
Then the shouter noticed a silent figure standing by the back door, minding his own business. He'd been on the bus before it picked up this crew, and he'd been even quieter and more invisible after. About sixteen, chubby, late to lose his baby fat, staring at the floor. Also baggy panted, but not the FUBU jeans from the B&I - these were Hot Topic pants with D-Rings. And his beanie cap bore the letters ICP.
The kid pretended he didn't hear, wishing his stop were a lot lot sooner.
The big kid joined in. This was going to be a feeding frenzy. I'd seen enough fights go on in the 'hood to know that a lot of African Americans of the lower social classes wait for a sign of weakness, and attack en masse. Once one man goes down, people will race over from half a block away to get in a free kick on the back of someone's defenceless head, and then skip down the road, whooping in triumph. I reached surreptitously in my pocket and felt my keys slide through the fingers of my fist, my hand now a mass of bone and metal shards. Fuck this shit. This kid was minding his own business.
"Hey, yo, ICP."
The bus tensed. Something was going to go down.
"What's the chain for, ICP."
I then noticed that around the kid's waist was a length of hardware store chain, accessorized as some kind of belt. Well spotted, I thought. I'd have not noticed it, riding low on the kid's hips, almost obscured by his belly.
"ICP"'s voice was so low as to be almost inaudible. He wouldn't make eye contact. Already beaten. Even one-on-one, he didn't have what it took to take on even one of them.
"Nothin. It's just somethin' to wear."
"Is that right, ICP?"
"Yeah." The white kid reached for the bell, and pulled it. All of us knew this was nowhere near his stop.
"That's good, ICP." The kid glared, never blinking, mad dogging someone who was clearly wanting no trouble.
The juggalo kid ducked off the bus, looking over his shoulder to make sure he wasn't about to be followed and jumped. But his tormentors were too lazy to follow, or too uninterested in doing anything but proving something to someone they considered inferior.
My fingers unsnaked from around the keys, and I left the little punks to their braggadocio. But I saw, as the bus wended its way from the concerned and round-shouldered ICP fan, the palpable relief in his face at having escaped the situation.
I then understood the allure of the band to kids like that. Cartoon figures with hatchets, unstoppable axe-wielding ninjas with occult forces at work - their violence courageous, outrageous and relentless, but outside the realm of reality. A comforting, powerful and "don't tread on me" tough pose, but one that didn't have any resemblance to the reality of sidewalk beatdowns and back-alley gunfire. A fantasy world of might and power, but not one that could ever resemble the very tangible and grim reality of violence. It spoke to something deep down and very male in me.
But, I thought to myself, at some point this kid will be old enough to go to a convention. He will watch pro wrestling, watch the opening bands, and then his heroes, the Insane Clown Posse. He will wear clown makeup, drink Faygo and chant rhymes with legions of kids just like him. Kids who, for one day, will not be the runt of the litter, the butt of the joke, an "out" fan of a band Spin called the worst of all time.
He will be among his peers, not the only one. Safe, he will be happy, and he will be with his tribe. It may not be mine, but long may they prosper.