[img_assist|nid=4280|title=Red by Ashraf Osman|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=150|height=107]Why did things have to get all retarded when I came out of The Shepard? Why did I have to be the only bull to see those bulls clocking that bull? One stick! Then two! Popping down on Old Man’s dome like me cutting open melons for dessert. Poor homeless fuck. Punk ass with a Kidd jersey’s kicking him under the alley light but it looked like he was just kicking a bunch of tattered rags. Poor emaciated homeless fuck.
I tossed my garbage bag loudly into the dumpster. Gave it a swift boot for a scare. “Hey,” I shouted, my chest puffed all big in case they wanted this shit. “I already called the cops!” That wasn’t true. I hated the fuckin’ Blue and would never call them ever, not since they busted my boy Lou for smoking on the curb in Oak Lane two months back.
Kids took notice and took off, but Kidd Jersey chucked a basketball I didn’t even know he had. Hit Old Man square in his bloody dome. Why aren’t these Kids shooting hoops somewheres instead of stirring the Hill? Why do I gotta go back inside and serve up dessert while they get to chill over at Pastorius and pat Kidd Jersey for bucking Old Man in the dome?
Victorious Kidd Jersey on a park bench, smoking a bowl: All right, we finally beat up the Old Man. “Way to bring him down. Our lives are finally like so complete!”
Poor Old Man, they played knickknack on his dome. Promised myself I’d get a wet rag and go set him straight. But Dickhead Donnie came down in a huff.
“How fucking long does it take to throw out trash, Margaret?”
“I’m sorry, my name is Lee.”
“Excuse me, Leanna, but those fucking people could use some fucking coffee!” Dickhead Donnie’s got a gray Amish beard and nothin’ on top. Yo, J once said it looked like his hair melted, like in Temple of Doom or some shit. Male pattern baldness to the extreme. All he has left is some chin soot.
Dickhead Donnie dumped dollops of cream on some mixed berries. “For everybody else (dollop), this is a fucking job. For me (dollop, dollop), it’s like I’m a culinary Einstein!”
I grabbed a tray with two urns of coffee and a stack of porcelain cups which clanked as I steadied it on my shoulder. “Dickhead Donnie,” I said, leaving out the Dickhead, “when you start splitting atoms instead of artichoke hearts, we’ll fucking talk.”
Right through the double door, smiling. Then I remembered Old Man, streak of blood, broken promise, Super Lee turning all Clark Kent.
J was coming through the other side, and I practically sent his tray of dirty dinner plates airborne.
“Morning Ralph, I said.”
That’s our Wile E. Coyote thing.
“Yo kid, listen,” I stopped him, “Old Man got bucked in the parking lot by Punks Ass Kids from Pastorius.”
“Yeah, and Dickhead Donnie’s got me serving coffee to these fools.”
Listen. Why were everybody’s eyes on Lee? Why did I have to open my mouth and let out a stench? Why does Groom’s Pops gotta be grinding his teeth over there in the corner? Why couldn’t I be home with J and our favorite Ma watching whatever instead of catering at the Shep?
“Want me to go and help him out?” J’s all concerned, and that’s what I love about him. Had to give him a pat on his free shoulder. Good kid. Loyal as fuck, especially to his Ma. Knows I treat his Ma well too, knows he’s my bull.
Rich Moms turned and raised her coffee cup expectantly, as though I didn’t know where to pour the coffee. Thank you ever so kindly Rich Moms for showing me, I was gonna turn the powdered white creases of your dome into raging rivers of hot coffee. I started pouring—linen napkin on my arm all classy—making sure to give Rich Moms Regular even though she asked for Decaf. She don’t know ‘cause a Bunch of Wasps started chiming their water glasses like a fuckin’ drum line.
Bunch of Wasps: “Speech! Speech!”
Best Man, Thick Boston Accent: “Now, uh…” He’s all red-cheeked and pissed and starts patting his khakis for his notes that he left on the counter in the men’s room that I flushed thinking they were trash. “I’ve known Jason for four years, through most of our time at B.C.”
I’m not even taking orders at the point, just switching back and forth, Regular, Decaf, Regular, Decaf. Yo son, then I got confused ‘cause I was listening to Best Man wax on all eloquently; two Decafs in a row, nobody noticed a change in the flow.
Best Man, TBA: “Anyway, a bunch of us made up a little ditty that best sums up how we feel about this guy right here.” Jason blushed but I’d bet you a nickel it was the Bombay that they had us serve. “It’s pretty easy to follow, so anyone who doesn’t sing will have to do a shot!”
Laughs from Jason’s friends, dirty looks from Jason’s grandparents, coffee from Extra-attentive Lee.
Listen. Best Man jacked himself up on the table, kicking aside dessert plates and half-empty bread baskets that should’ve been removed before but I was outside watching Old Man catch a beat. Yo, work was coming second and I knew it when I saw a couple of rolls bounce on the floor. But I couldn’t help thinking of Old Man. His scruffy bloodstained face, his raggedy coat, his pathetic body trying to prop itself up.
“Jason!” Best Man started droning slowly, then faster and faster: “He’s awesome. He’s studly. He’s the ma-an!”
An immediate crowd pleaser. A new number one on my list of Best Chants I Ever Heard In My Life, replacing the time at the Phillies game with Mary and J last September, when a bunch of true blue fans in front of us starting yelling “ Safety School!” at a herd of Nova freshmen. Listen, them sheep was wearing big royal blue V’s on their tees at a fuckin’ orientation outing and all.
Had to tell J. I dumped my coffee tray on the bar as Groom’s Pops stood to make a speech. Don’t bother Groom’s Pops, nothing’s gonna top Man with two syllables.
Listen, though. In the kitchen, bunch of chefs and waiters were crowded around J, who’s sitting up on the silver counter with his black bowtie undone and the top button of his dress shirt open. Blood’s splattered on his collar like a dessert decorated by Dickhead Donnie. The sinks were filling up fast with suds; a knife was left in the middle of a cake like it was baked that way. Dickhead Donnie dropped the title for a minute and brought J a rag with ice. Fit it on his head like a crooked turban.
“Yo, what happened, J?”
“I was helping the homeless guy,” he winced as a chef blotted the scrape on his chubby cheek, when I got tackled from behind. “They pushed me into the ground. Grabbed my wallet, my tips from tonight, everything.”
Listen. It was enough to shake loose my hair band and make my fro fan out like a black peacock. I was Ragin’ Hulk, Wolfy Berserk, Vigilante Lee.
Donnie went into his office to call the Blue. I grabbed the knife from the cake and shook a glob of chocolate cream to the ground as I headed through the back. Past where Old Man’s dome bled, though there’s just some broken glass and a pile of newspapers now under the light. It was all dark at the Toyota dealership across the street, the red and white flags barely flapping. Yo, even quiet enough on Germantown Ave to hear a car’s tires grind up the cobbles of Chestnut Hill. All the lights were lit-up on Allen Street though. I imagined White People probably watching me from their massive stone homes.
White People, nasally voices: “Oh my gosh, there’s a Black man with a knife walking up to the park. Lock the doors, for Pete’s sake, lock the doors!”
Pitch black at the end of the block, where Pastorius began. Must’ve taken a full minute for my eyes to adjust on the park. But then I saw a flicker across the field, and a couple of red embers floating back and forth like fireflies. Covert Lee ducked behind a nearby Sycamore, thinking out his next move.
Listen, how did my day go from eating Delasandro’s cheesesteaks with Mary and J down on the Art Museum steps to seeing Old Man get bucked, to taking lip from Dickhead Donnie, to Man with two syllables, to J getting bucked when I should’ve been the bull to be bucked, to this vigilante shit? Why’s my ‘stache sweatin’? Why did I once again have to be the only bull to take the only bulls? Why couldn’t I just clean up and go home, but with J’s wallet and our tips?
Punk Ass Kids, in a fair world: “We’re really sorry Lee; we know not what we shit we did. Here, take your wallet back, and take ours too. You can use our parents’ credit cards all you want. They don’t give. And give us a kick in the ass so we learn our lesson.”
“Damn right you’re sorry bitches, but don’t forget Old Man.”
I ran over to the Punk Ass Kids and gave one a Doc Marten to the back. He went down like the shit was a fixed match. The other two jumped backward.
“Whoa, man what the fuck!” I grabbed one around the neck. He smelled like cigarettes and skunk weed. He’s elbowing me in the side and my tux shirt gets all untucked. Kidd Jersey scrambled for the bat.
“Leave it bitch,” I yelled, whipping out the knife from my belt. There isn’t much light on the field, but enough for Kidd Jersey to see me holding it to his bull.
Yo listen, I must’ve looked deranged, in my catering clothes with my hair freaked, holding a knife to Hostage Kid’s throat. Probably the knife that did it; the difference between Good Worker Lee and Vigilante Lee.
“You’re not gonna do nothing, bitch!” Kidd Jersey screamed.
Kicked Kid’s wheezing for air somewhere at my feet, and Hostage Kid’s squirming to make a break. Yo son, Kidd Jersey was right and he knew it, so I squeezed Hostage Kid til he coughed a little. And I cursed.
“You stole my fucking boy’s money, Motherfuck! I want his shit back!” I had to call J my boy, no time to get into the dynamics between Mary and me.
But listen. Blue and red started flashing up Allen, and we all stopped to look, even Kicked Kid, who was faking a lot of the pain ‘cause he was scared of Deranged Lee. Hostage Kid emptied his pockets onto the grass and I let him squirm free. Bulls booked it into the woods toward Millman St., and I grabbed the wads of cash and J’s wallet and split back down the lawn toward Allen.
I could feel my adrenaline pumping the way you feel a glass of ice water. I got back and Donnie’s about to drive off in his van. Didn’t see me stash the knife in my pants though.
“I know you gotta look out for your boy,” he started, back to Dickhead status, but I’m not paying you to go chase after Kids. Do that on your own fuckin’ time. And Lee, don’t forget to lock up.”
No, “Congratulations, Lee?” No, “Way to save the shit, Lee?”
I went back inside and started rearranging the tables and chairs for tomorrow. J mopped the floors quietly.
When we got into the car, I took out the wad of ones and nodded triumphantly to J, who started divvying them up on the dash. Eighty-three each, plus our two hundred flat. Not bad for a night of crime-fighting for Lee, not worth it for J, who’s gonna have to have Mary fussin’ all night.
I started the engine and the lights and radio blared, but then, yo, J hit the dial and nodded out his window.
We both got out of the car, helped Old Man to his feet and walked him up to the back entrance of the Shep, where I slipped a twenty into his tattered overcoat pocket and let him in to lay down on the couch in Dickhead Donnie’s office. Showed him where the fridge was too. Listen. I’d be back in the morning to get him out before Dickhead Donnie showed up. Call time’s always an hour earlier when you gotta set up for a wedding.Zack Pelta-Heller is a non-fiction grad student at The New School. He writes regularly for AlterNet and Zink magazines, and his prose has appeared in Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, SuitCase, Slow Trains, and Lilith. Currently, he edits crossword puzzles for a living.