Monday, September 17, 2012

Shattered Peaches

Naiveté can be benign, and it can be dangerous; bundled with mob mentality, it can be deadly. But how would I have known that. I’d never have considered myself naive.

It was supposed to be simple, and that was most of the reason I’d gone along on the adventure. The girl had recently escaped from a juvenile detention center, found her way to our clubhouse and begged us to drive her 200 miles north so she could collect her clothing and personals. Of course that would have gotten her nowhere if she hadn’t sweetened the pot. Her foster family was in Vegas on vacation she’d said, and so we could take whatever we pleased as booty, including a large gun collection.

Had this been a few decades later I might see the purpose in our stealing guns; but we still lived in an age where punks used fists to make their points. Granted there was an occasional tire iron thrown in, but rarely did anyone fell a rival with a piece of lead smaller than a window bar. I suppose I was titillated with the concept of participating in “big time crime”, even though it was presumed to be effortless and nearly devoid of risk to boot. Yet as always when staring serious sin in the face, I felt a certain amount of dread; the dread that comes from knowing you’re about to cross a line from which there may be no return.

The naiveté came in right at the start of the story. I’d imagined the event to be a calm and relatively clean affair, in spite of the obvious. The guys I was grouped with were not bad people per se, just a band of misunderstood, unloved youth like damn near any other collection of similar creatures. Sure, they (we) had a tendency to think of thuggish types of entertainment, as opposed to let’s say, playing strip scrabble. But none of them to my knowledge had actually drawn blood or broken bones. We were too young for all that really. We were more delinquents than bikers, though we certainly saw ourselves as the latter. Still, while I might have envisioned a little spray paint art, I never would have guessed the actual outcome.

Once there, I was lost in the shadiness of it all, and fascinated by the fact that I was actually there, in a broken into house, as a common burglar, in spite of the invitation given by a “member” of the family. I was less a bad guy even than my friends. Drugs were my thing, self immolation, suicide risk, walking on the edge of every cliff I could scramble atop. I was not into violence, though I’d given that vibe since I’d been a youngster and made a target for others’ abuse. Neither was I into vandalism, or petty theft or anything else that required me to hurt another person. Hell, I’d even turned down freely offered sex with a beautiful stranger because I was condomless and so sure that my seed would buy my would be partner and I a lifetime of financial obligation that I risked the ruination of my reputation. I was a thug in name only. Yet, here I was, in a strange kitchen, eying portable appliances and trying to justify my stealing a toaster I didn’t want for the sake of criminal enterprise and the all important layering of street credibility.

An explosion took me from my daydream; incredibly loud and mingled with other sound effects. Glass was smashing, liquid was splashing. My stomach immediately slip knotted itself and I leapt up and threw myself through the basement door and down the stairs.

Getty had found the guns alright. “Just testing” he said as I entered the large cellar pantry and stared at the sticky blanched quarts of fruit that had recently found themselves propelled onto the walls, floor, shelving and furnishings of the concrete room, once relieved of their glass enclosures.

"Boom!" This time I saw the smoke, smelled the powder as another buckshot round flew from the 12 gauge muzzle and into the paneled facade sporting jars of peaches and pitted bing cherries.

“Jesus man, what the hell is wrong with you" I shouted as I stepped toward the fructose ninja and reached for the gun. “Isn’t it enough we’re going to take the stuff? Do you have to destroy the place too?”

“What’s wrong with you” he said, spitting out the last word as if removing a bad taste from between his teeth. “Pussy” he added with a grin.

I stepped closer and reached deeper. He turned toward me and pointed the barrel at my chest.

“It’s just fruit man, get out of my face.”

He was right. But he wasn’t.

My mother would spend a good portion of our autumns canning fruit. Rhubarb compote was a favorite, though she jarred up whatever we could afford which was never enough to last the winter. I’d helped her now and then, though I have to admit I was probably as far from “the good son” as one can be without being a stranger. So I knew what was now oozing onto the cheap rug beneath us was not “just fruit” but hours and hours of preparation and labor. Besides, that leads into the other conversation; the one about this being a family who had taken it upon themselves to support wayward children rather than simply letting others do the more difficult yet relevant work of society, about how it was beyond the pale that we were at the address at all much less stealing from folks who fostered the disadvantaged, much less attacking their goddamn FRUIT!

“Just gimme the gun” I said as I leaned forward.

“Fuck you” he said as he stepped back and raised the barrel toward my throat.

I’d seen the look before, Getty’s “lost in space” look, the one he’d get before going nuts on someone or something. Would he shoot me for stopping his wild produce hunting expedition? He could, sure, but would he. I was his brother, or so we liked to call each other. He’d had my back, I’d had his, and all that what now amounts to claptrap. But it’s an interesting thing about naiveté and mob mentality; almost everyone is infected with it at the same rate, and almost everyone while under its spell is capable of acts which they’d never have imagined themselves committing.

Shame kept me rooted, shame demanded I risk whatever was necessary to stop the carbohydrate carnage, and then to force the group to make a hasty exit so as to minimize further incomprehensible damage. Raw meat had been tasted, the smoke still drifted throughout the house, the frenzy might be contagious. Someone needed to be the zookeeper and since I suddenly felt anything but animalistic, the chore fell to me.

It wasn’t courage that drove me to reach the last twelve inches in order to grab the heated steel and yank the stock from Getty’s hands. It was that same naiveté, like the idea that flying off a ski jump on a bicycle will not result in massive injuries but rather turn you into a chick magnet. I don’t imagine it was logical thinking that kept him from pulling the trigger. I think it was simply instinct, the laws of self preservation, his body refusing to do what his brain was entertaining.

It wasn’t the only time I’d been that close, and it wouldn’t be the last, but in all the dark experience I've walked through, it had to be the dumbest; nearly dead, for want of the destruction of a jar of peaches.

1 comment:

  1. Have to admire your principles; glad they weren't spattered like the fruit across the floor.