Both Sides of a Gun Barrel
Three generations of anger, a moment of rage
Image by Flickr user: Brendan Adkins / Creative Commons
I had risen early and removed every particle of dust and dirt from my 1979 Datsun 200SX. By the time I left the house shortly before noon, the car gleamed under the Alabama sunlight. I picked up Garrett, a friend with a penchant for Pink Floyd and bottled beer, and we drove to meet other friends, the whole time watching the daylight grow heavy and settle on the candy-apple-red sparkle.
As each hour passed and we changed locations—a clean car on a Saturday required frequent changes of venue—I never parked in the shade and, as dusk approached, sought out spots under streetlights. The car gleamed as we drank beer at each stop, in each new neighborhood. I drove the car slow; I played the music loud. Cameo was out then: the album with “Word Up” and “Candy.” The crowd changed as the hours passed: two people riding, three people riding. We rode and drank and smoked and long after the sun had tired of us, a guy named Spoon, a classmate, climbed into the backseat. Spoon sat in the middle so he could stretch his long skinny arm between the front seats. Garrett and I, in the front seats, watched as Spoon pointed out the way to Annetta Simon’s house. Spoon’s idea. He knew her, said we needed to meet her.
I remember that his elbow was huge compared to the rest of his arm, like a tennis ball skewered on a mop handle. I remember we rode slowly through the night as if we were on the prowl. I remember the heat remained just shy of 99 degrees that night, and I fell in love with how the chill of beer on the back of my throat felt like time stopping before a slow drag of warm air delivered a thaw. I remember we were at a stoplight when Spoon slid his thin arm forward again, low, until I found myself transfixed by the gleam of a silver handgun, .38 caliber, which sat softly in the cushion of his palm.
I had seen guns before but never in my car.
This was not a year; this was a time. People were wearing Guess jeans with leather pocket flaps or Levi’s 501 Blues. Polo was destroying Izod, and hip-hop was just beginning to strip the veneer from the unconscious ease of life. And guns—guns were not yet a fashion statement. So when Spoon reached his arm forward with his hand cradling the silver weapon, I possessed no preconstructed, cool response.
“Shit, Spoon. What the hell is that?”
“It’s a gun,” Spoon said.
“I know it’s a gun,” I said. “But what the fu—”
“Chill out,” Spoon said. “I thought we could use it to scare—”
“Spoon,” I said, “I ain’t down for using no gun on a girl. If she don’t want to—”
“Chill,” Spoon said again. “I don’t have to force any girls to do anything.” He leaned his long head forward between the seats. “I thought we could get, I mean, scare them niggers who came by the school last week.”
There had been a fight: Garrett and me versus three boys who’d come to our school as it was letting out. Garrett had walked out the door with his arm around the girlfriend of one of the boys. He had told her a joke, and they were laughing as they emerged from the school. I was behind them when I saw the boys approach. They were man-boys compared to us. Their blue jeans were creased and starched. Gold hung from their necks: herringbones wide as Band-Aids and rope chains weighed down by crosses. With each step, their faces curled into hardened scowls.
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