I live here.
And I nodded down the courtyard and, all of a sudden, he got very excited and said, “Oh my God, that’s like living next door to Muhammad Ali! Do you know I even told people in New York about that fight? You ought to think about turning pro! I’ll manage you! I won’t even charge a dime as long as you beat up people like that guy!”
So, at that point, I sort of forgot why I’d come over in the first place. I asked if he’d seen the fight or he’d just heard about it, and he said, “Oh, no, I saw it. I saw the whole thing. Didn’t you see me? I was standing right there.”
“Well, you know, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure who was there. I was pretty out of it. I almost felt I like I wasn’t there myself.”
“Wow,” he said, almost with the air of a scientist, “that’s the way killers talk. ‘I was in a dream, I didn’t know what I was doing, it felt somebody else.’ But, see, I always thought that was bullshit because—did you ever read The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer?”
“Yeah, I didn’t think so. But, see, Mailer’s this writer, right? He’s maybe the best American writer going and, as a matter of fact, I went to school with some of his kids. He’s got, like, a hundred and fifty of them, but they’re all kind of stupid compared to the old man. Anyway, he wrote this book about Gary Gilmore. Now him you’ve probably heard of.”
“He’s that guy that got shot, right?”
“Right, by a firing squad, exactly. And when he confessed to killing those people—those Mormons he’d robbed—he threw in all that dream stuff because he knew that’s what killers are supposed to say. Because it made him sound insane, right? As part of his defense? And when I read that I figured that’s why other killers say the same thing.”
“Well, yeah, but I didn’t kill anybody.”
“Well, you could’ve. I mean it definitely looked like you were going to. And I almost wish you had. I think everybody there felt that way, only they’d never admit it. You know, people get really aroused by the sight of blood. It’s this animal thing we’ve got. Even a hundred years ago—which you realize is just a drop in the bucket, time-wise—everybody just took it for granted, it wasn’t all mixed up with ‘morality’ the way it is now. They’d make an announcement they were going to hang somebody, and it was like, ‘Oh, great, they’re going to hang somebody! Let’s pack a picnic basket and round up the kids!’ I mean executions—that was entertainment! But these days people don’t think like that, and do you know why?”
I never got to say a word since he charged in right away.
“Because we can see the same thing in movies. We don’t literally have to see people getting killed now that violence in movies has gotten so realistic. Now if we didn’t have that, I think we’d go right back to the way things used to be, where somebody’s head would get chopped off in the middle of town and everybody would go running up to collect a souvenir. Which is what they’d do, you know. They’d all bring handkerchiefs to the executions, and after the head came off they’d go running up to collect the blood with their little souvenir handkerchiefs. And this was just mom and pop that ran the liquor store down the street, not a bunch of psychos. But now you’ve got movies like Taxi Driver where people’s hands are shot off and their brains are splashed all over the walls, and it looks so real you don’t have to see it in real life. And that’s exactly what’s getting attacked right now. Because people think that’s why Reagan got shot. Jesus Christ, how can people be so stupid? Reagan got shot because that Hinkley guy’s a nut and, guess what, people, that’s what happens to leaders, they get assassinated. I mean Julius Caesar got stabbed to death on the floor of the Roman Senate. Now what are you going to blame that on? Did Brutus go out and watch Friday the 13th and think, ‘Hey, you know what? That movie gave me a good idea. I think I’m going to go get a knife and stab Julius Caesar to death on the floor of the Roman Senate.’ I mean Jesus Fucking Christ!”
And he was off and running. From there, he jumped to pornography, how it wasn’t the cause of rape, it was actually a substitute, but “dumbfuck” feminists and born-again Christians had joined forces to try and ban it. But they were just a bunch of hypocrites, since there’d never been a human being yet that didn’t like porn. Even the Pope liked porn. The Vatican was just filled with that shit. Besides, there were so many different kinds of porn. For instance, McDonald’s ads: hadn’t I ever noticed those hamburgers buns were lit just like butts? So there was food porn, and car porn like Smokey and the Bandit, and death porn like Taxi Driver. And then he got back on that again and, since I’d never seen it, he told me most the plot and, also, most of the plot of Mean Streets, and he mentioned a few other personal favorites, such as Straw Dogs and Raging Bull and Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, which just had to be the greatest title for a movie ever. Yes, he was going to be a director one day, couldn’t I tell? He was going to help lead the revolution. No, not that kind of revolution, the cultural kind, the kind that should’ve happened back in the sixties, but those fucking hippies had dropped the ball. But that was okay. There was a whole new generation on the rise, our generation, all over America there were kids who thought just like he did, and once we came of age, look out, boy, we’d take the world by storm. It was a speech I was soon to hear many times: how, once our generation took control of The System, we’d change everything from the kind of movies that got made to the kind of music that got played on the radio to the way people actually thought, and I’ve got to say that, even then, it rang a little false. Because where were all these kids who were going to set the world on fire? I’d never met one of them. Or, yes, I’d met Bernard Mash, but he was just a little freak who couldn’t take control of a locker, let alone the world.
And yet I had to admit he was weirdly magnetic. He was like a cross between a junior dictator and a sweet little kid—sweet in the sense that he seemed so innocent when he spoke about grisly shit like people getting their heads chopped off in the middle of town. Plus, he was very funny, almost like a stand-up comic. (In fact, I later found out Lenny Bruce was one of several people he’d modeled himself after.) So I stood there speaking to him for about forty-five minutes, or mostly he spoke and I just listened. I forgot all about poor Megan. And then I remembered and said I had to run and, even then, he kept talking so that, just to shut him up, I said, “Hey, you know where I live. Drop by some time.”
“Oh,” he said, “you know I will.”
And I went running back down to my place, where Megan was about to leave, and I said I was sorry, I couldn’t get away, and she said, “Well, at least you spoke to him.” But you know what? I’d never said a word about Megan or the music either. In fact, the first thing he’d done as soon as I was gone was crank it right back up to full volume.
D.R. Haney lives in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles.
"The sleep of reason
brings forth monsters."