November 04, 2007

How to Stomp a Brahmin

Twilight descended mercilessly on the 405 as my brother drove us up toward Costa Mesa, keeping the aging green beast of a Volvo at a steady sixty in the right lane. I slouched at useless angles in the passenger seat, feeling dumb and ashamed, irradiated by the fallout of Nadia's day-old surprise nuclear breakup bomb. R.J. remained stoically focused on the road and the various symptoms of his decaying station wagon, tactfully indicating that he would listen to any pathetic whining I felt like succumbing to, but only up to a point.

"We need to get you the hell out of here," he'd said earlier that day, after I'd lain inert for six straight hours in bed. He was right; my rotting self-absorption had already started to stink up our room, and if unchecked I would soon sink below even R.J.'s ability to drag me back to the land of more conventional young male egomania. "Come on," he'd urged, yanking me up by the arm, "we're going to see a new movie. I've just seen the ad for something that will definitely treat your particular symptoms: Richard III, the fascist version. They re-wrote the play for ‘40s Germany, with the king as dictator."

I didn't really give a shit what we saw, but agreed that taking pre-emptive measures against the brutal-breakup DTs was probably a good idea, so I brushed my teeth quickly, took a Speed Stick whore's bath, and slipped out of the house with R.J. before our stepdad could refuse us the car. The film was only playing at a theater up by South Coast Plaza, so in the middle of semi-sludgy freeway traffic I had plenty of time to nearly fall back into the worst my brain had to offer. Every five or ten minutes my brother would puncture any ballooning depression with this or that news item about mutual friends or what was going on in high school while I'd been busy blundering through my first year of college. Harmless stuff, but it worked, and we arrived at the theater with just enough time to buy tickets and avoid the string of previews.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the movie did exactly what R.J. meant it to—both distracting and channeling any damaging impulses I would have surrendered to otherwise. I reveled in the hideously blatant violence of McKellen's acting; it suited my mood and jerked me back to the last time I'd read the play, a year before in Senior Lit. At the time I'd accepted Shakespeare's viciously deft caricature of a historical figure for what my teacher said it was—revisionist history written by someone kissing the winner's ass—but then there in the theater I began relating a bit too much to the broken, horseless (and tankless) hunchback whose meticulous machinations collapsed around him with increasingly rapid ferocity. I was totally taken with his sheer delusional righteousness, and slipped gratefully into fuck-it mode as the credits rolled and we got up to leave.

My head was still swimming with casual destruction a few minutes later, as I told R.J. to wait in the lobby while I stepped into the bathroom. As I washed up I stared at my reflection in the mirror and, like the day of my worst blackout many months ago, a prematurely crumbling golem returned my gaze, but this time with a maniacal glee in his eyes. I let the faucet run for a while, listening to the calming trickle of water and studying each new wrinkle and crater on my face up close. I was so into it—like some ugly Narcissus—that I barely registered the muffled shouts and thumps on the wall from outside. Then I recognized R.J.'s voice yelling "Fuck off, you spineless jackass!" and I rushed out of the bathroom.

The dimly lit lobby was practically deserted except for a petrified girl behind the popcorn machine and two other people: my brother and his attacker, who I immediately recognized as Kyle Addison, the youngest brother in that trio of arrogant pricks who acted like they owned the fucking county.

"Don't ever fucking look at me like that again, Reed," he was saying to R.J., whom he had by the collar, but my brother shoved him off and squared up shakily.

"Leave me the hell alone, Addison—what the fuck have I done to you?"

"Quit whining, you little bitch," sneered Kyle, but he stopped short when he noticed me, losing a little color and backing off.

"Lucky you," he said to R.J., who turned slightly to see me as well. "Your crazy-ass brother is here to save you." I had no idea why Kyle was picking a fight alone, but he was, and now was taking slow steps backward toward the door as I advanced toward them both. I was still stoked with adrenalized potential energy, and it felt good to radiate power for whatever reason.

"Listen, dipshit," I threatened, jabbing the electric air with my right hand's first two fingers, "lay off my brother and get the fuck out, or I swear I'll cut your goddamn nuts off, and I don't care who finds out or what happens to me later. Do not give us any shit tonight, dude." For a fleeting second I felt like a total poser, but then Kyle went a little paler and lowered his fists.

"Fuck you, Reed, you're insane," he spat, but kept backpedaling. "I'll fucking end you both whenever I want to. My father and uncles know everyone—cops, judges, everyone—and all I have to do is call my brothers to bring a world of shit on you two pussies. Just…just watch your fucking backs, okay?" He took another step back and tripped over a tear in the vile, stain-ridden carpet, thudding his head on the floor.

My brother and I both pounced immediately, grabbing a leg each and dragging Kyle out the door as he flailed and cursed. R.J. twisted the ankle he held and Kyle grunted in pain, and we hauled him down the sidewalk for about twenty feet, picking up speed, before dropping his feet and sprinting like bank robbers across the parking lot to the Volvo. We passed some people here and there along the way, but nobody tried to stop us or even gave any sign that they'd seen anything.

We fell into the car, R.J. shoving it into gear immediately, and as we lurched around the lot toward the exit I looked back, but couldn't see if Kyle was still lying there or not. It didn't matter, though; in no time we were back on the freeway and driving back south as fast as the Green Monster could go, which wasn't much over the speed limit, but we were both too giddy and jolted to worry about that. I couldn't believe it—my brother and I had just gotten away with brutish, petty assault on the dangerously stupid son of local Brahmins, and after the previous nine hours of that day's stale funk, I was exhilarated.

"Hurry up!" I shouted at R.J. "I have to get home and call Nadia! That girl is going to feel my wrath! The phone line will fucking melt!"

"What?" he said sharply, still breathless from the fight. "No, you dumbass, why do you think I got you out of bed in the first place? Don't tell me this shit now, especially since we just stomped an Addison—you'll throw the whole day in the trash!" He shifted gears and gunned into the next lane.

"Fine, whatever," I said, shaking it off quickly, "but let's not go home yet—I need to be out around lots of people tonight—no, make that lots of hot women, so I can burn their beauty into my retinas, and counteract the ugly realities I've endured today."

R.J. laughed. "Too late," he said. "It's already ten-thirty—you know everything will be closed at home, and anyway, I can't get in anywhere without a fake I.D., remember?"

"Oh hell," I said, brushing it off. "Let's just fucking go to Harbor House and hit on the waitresses, then. I feel like a Man for the first time in weeks. Don't make me come down yet, bro."

He chuckled again, shaking his head, and said nothing as he steered the Monster back home through the night. I sank back into the seat and closed my eyes, feeling immortal, trying to make it last as long as possible before the inevitable downhill run and empty pit swallowed me up again. That would be later, though. Now was now, and that was the only thing that mattered.

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