Coming Of Age

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New Dark Ages

New Dark Ages

The X Gang
also available: Paperback
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Hello, you bastard.

It was hard to believe. Like a bad fucking movie. But it was happening, right there, right then, right in front of our eyes. And, my eyes hurt.

I’m hung over.

I looked over at X, and his eyes – one pupil dilated, one not, as always – were squinting. He looked pissed. Like he was going to punch the screen or something. His fists were clenched.

The TV cast a bluish glow over our non-family’s family room. My mother was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, behind us, and she was watching the TV too. She had her arms crossed, but she seemed to be nodding about some of the things being said. By him.

I looked back at the TV, and at Earl Turner, who was still standing behind the podium at the Hilton downtown. There was an American flag stuck to the front of the podium, and below that, in big block letters was the word RIGHT. His slogan. His word.

As usual, Turner was wearing a white button-down shirt, the sleeves rolled up. As usual, his regimental tie was loose at the neck. You could tell he worked out. Behind him , an enthusiastic crowd of supporters were assembled. They were clapping and nodding their heads.

X and I weren’t’ really watching Turner. We were watching one of the people just behind him who was clapping and nodding his head, just like the rest of the assembled crowd.

I cannot fucking believe this shit. I hate it.

And hate was what Earl Turner’s speech was all about, pretty much. It usually was. Hate for refugees and immigrants and welfare moms and anyone, basically, who didn’t look like Earl Turner and his friends. Hate, dressed up in fine-sounding words about patriotism and family and country and all that horseshit. Hate was Earl Turner’s thing, and it had brought him to this, his big moment. The confetti and the balloons – red, white, and blue – were ready to be dropped from above.

Turner was coming to the big wind-up in his speech. He always ended it the same way. “America,” he said, his booming, macho voice a bit tinny on my mother’s old RCA. “America is for Americans! America is for the righteous. America is for the bold. America is for those who believe in God, those who love God, those who fear God. America isn’t for everyone. America is for normal people, like us!” He paused, a big fist hovering above the podium. We couldn’t see them, but the crowd at the hotel had started to chant: “RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT!”

Midway through – and this had happened before – “RIGHT” changed, and the crowd started to chant a different word: “WHITE WHITE WHITE WHITE WHITE!”

Earl Turner smiled, that big square-jawed quarterback all-American douchebag smile of his, and waved for the crowd to settle down. “Right,” he said, then he paused. “Right is…”

The crowd screamed as one, like a beast. “WHITE!”

Earl Turner leaned into the gaggle of network microphones. He smiled. This was his moment. This was it. He had won. He knew it. Everyone knew it.

He started to speak. It was the part of the speech about how God “created” America. At that point, the young guy behind him – the one we’d been watching – stepped forward. He was wearing a white shirt and tie, just like his hero. We could see his broad, freckled face clearly. At that moment, Earl Turner saw him, too, and clapped a big hand on the young man’s shoulder.

It was our friend, Danny. When he was drumming in my band, his stage name was Danny Hate. He looked so different now. He was different. He and Turner looked at each other and smiled, like father and son, like some fucking Norman Rockwell painting. Behind me and X, my mother whispered just one word: “Danny!”

The crowd kept on cheering, calling out RIGHT and WHITE. They were screaming it.

“Enough,” said X simply.

I hate this.



"What does that mean, Agent Laverty?"

Laverty looked at the NYPD cop who'd let her in, and then she looked at the words again. They were written in all capitals, about a foot high, and they had been spray-painted on the wall above the mattress. She shrugged. "Something," she said. "Nothing."

She couldn't tell if the five words had been put up on the wall of the Bowery apartment by the victim, or by the killer, or by someone else. She couldn't immediately tell if they were new or old, either. Above the string of Nos, someone had also carefully inscribed a "W" within a circle, with a crown and a halo floating above it. The New York cops didn't know what that meant either, but Special Agent Theresa Laverty sure did.

She looked at the words ad the symbol on the wall for a while longer, and then back at the grubby mattress, where dried blood indicated where the body of the young man – a boy, really – had been found. There was lots of blood.

The body had been removed before she got there. It would have been written up as just another Bowery junkie death, an addict dying at the hands of another in the hot summer of 1980, a squabble over twenty bucks worth of junk or something equally routine. But the murder of Johnny Raindrops hadn't been routine, she told me later, way later. Which is why someone at the NYPD who remembered her from a panel at a conference in Baltimore had picked up the phone and called her. “There’s some weird symbols and shit in this junkie’s place,” New York detective Pete Schenk had told her. “Maybe you can make some sense of it.” So she’d come up.

The victim had tried hard to imitate the style of his junkie hero, New York Dolls legend Johnny Thunders. He even cultivated an impressive heroin habit like his hero. But he was no Johnny Thunders. He couldn't play guitar very well, he didn’t write his own songs, and he had no sense of style beyond what he saw and copied from those who graced the puny stage up the street at CBGBs. For his reason, his friends called him Johnny Raindrops. No thunder, just a bit of rain.

Laverty looked around the apartment, which was located on the Chinatown side of the Bowery, which was noisier and dirtier and almost as dangerous . Through the open window, she could hear the Chinese merchants selling their fish and vegetables down on the sidewalk off Lafayette.
The punks liked the area: the rent was cheap, the Chinese left them alone. And CBGB’s — their shrine, their Mecca — was just a short walk away.

On the walls of the apartment, Johnny Raindrops had tacked up posters and newspaper clippings of his New York heroes – the Ramones, Television, Richard Hell, the Talking Heads, Jayne County. And, of course, the New York Dolls.

Over in one corner was a tiny fridge with the door duct-taped shut. Beside it, a sink was crowded with mismatched dishes. On the streaked countertop sat a filthy hot plate. In another corner was an ancient-looking Marshall amp, a black guitar leaning against it. Clothes spilled out of two black garbage bags, a battered biker's jacket had been tossed on the hardwood floor beside them. In the middle of the room was the mattress.

A couple of Johnny’s friends had persuaded the super to let them in after Johnny Raindrops hadn't been seen at the club for a few nights. Those guys were the ones who found him lying face up on the mattress, filleted like a fish. His cock and his balls had been hacked off and placed on his bare chest. Johnny Raindrop's eyes, caked in mascara and tears, stared up at the cracked ceiling.

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