“Plaster dust.” – Tiger Moody
April 2, 2014
(I get a big kick out of that. I guess I’m a masochist. Or a sadist.)
Have you ever found yourself forced by circumstance into a tight friendship with a hopelessly egomaniacal asshole?
This usually happens under extreme duress, like when you’re bedridden next to someone in a convalescent ward, sharing a prison cell, or you’re both low on the pecking order at boot camp.
For me it was back in high school:
He was squat and lumpy, about 5’5″ and 185 lb. Always sweaty. And his orange hair was so thick and wiry that it formed a dense baby-fro at only an inch long. He was pug-nosed and bug-eyed, straight out of the funny pages. And he always smelled like menthol cigarettes and expensive cheese, tho he never ate expensive cheese.
Add to this the personality of a cornered wharf rat and you have Danny Osterberg in a nutshell.
We didn’t share any classes together (all of his were remedial level and mostly for retards and illiterate chinks), but he was the only other student at West Windsor Plainsboro High School who liked punk and hardcore music. A fellow freak amongst a torrent of squares. So we hung around with each other in the hallways and after school.
We needed each other.
Still, I kind of fucking hated the dude.
I’d met Danny at the lost-and-found bin, which was located near the principal’s office, shortly after I’d discovered what an untapped treasure trove it was.
My initial visit was to retrieve a Jansport book-bag I’d lost. I quickly noticed that the area was completely unsupervised. I stole a Schott MC jacket and a brass dog whistle on a chromed chain that first trip.
I blew the silent whistle for several afternoons in a row as our Yorkie mix cowered under my mother’s bed and whimpered. I realize this sounds cruel on my part, but she’d bitten me on the nutsack while I was sleeping the week before. Those were my nuts and I had to do something to make sure it didn’t happen again.
Belle stayed away from me for the rest of her life.
I’d return and scavenge at the lost and found bin every few days.
The chubby, beehived secretary at the nearby reception desk once commented that I sure seemed to lose an awful lot of stuff. Besides that lone quip, I was never questioned.
I soon amassed a large collection of Walkmans, Wayfarers, and Trapper Keepers which I’d pass on to my underprivileged skinhead friends in the city.
I was a veritable Robin Hood.
Kneeling over the bin one morning, I found a plain blue canvas binder covered in the neatly bubble-lettered names of punk bands.
The names, written in ballpoint pen, all hovered in a spiral around a large central anarchy symbol. The ‘A’ was formed by lightning bolts for dramatic effect, the circle composed of links of chain. There was ‘The Sex Pistols’, ‘The Clash’, ‘The Ramones’, and so on.
But what stood out the most was ‘Antagonist Front’.
I started to chuckle to myself when a stubby-fingered hand grabbed the binder and wrenched it away.
I looked up at the wide face glaring down at me. It was impossible. Almost inhuman. Like a jack’o’lantern.
It was Danny Osterberg.
He was livid, his face beet red.
“What’s so fuckin’ funny, dude? You got a fuckin’ problem with the punkers, man?”
I stood up, introduced myself, and said no.
Danny glared at my t-shirt suspiciously. It was a cowboy-themed ‘Hersham Boys’ shirt I’d purchased in the back of Bleecker Bob’s a few months earlier.
“What the fuck is Sham 69? A gay sex club?”
I said, “Yeah, that’s exactly what Sham 69 is. That’s real cool that you like Antagonist Front.”
That’s how we became pals.
Despite Danny’s father being a wealthy bank president, the Osterberg’s gigantic five-bedroom home was cluttered and filthy.
Everything in the place, the floors, the furniture, the walls, the drapes, the ceiling…it all seemed to be coated with a thin film of sticky grease that years of dust had settled on and tiny insects had died in.
This was largely his mother’s fault.
Extended Valium use had left her with brains of Silly Putty.
And she was one of the most repulsive things I’d ever seen. I’d seen portable toilet bowls full of strange diarrhea that were less repulsive than this woman.
I remember the first time I went over to Danny’s and saw her.
I felt bad for him.
My mother was a vicious cunt, but this woman…it must of been like being raised by a two hundred pound jellyfish in a polyester housedress.
She was at least sixty five years old, far too old to have been Danny’s real mother. She had the complexion of a used undershirt, a spectacular gunt roll, and any Saint Bernard would have been proud of the long, ropey strands of drool that always hung from the corners of her cracked white lips. And she was covered in the same dust as all the furnishings.
Mrs.Osterberg approached us with a shivering plate piled with Jif-smeared saltines. Her dentures weren’t in, and she cackled like a pinhead. I politely declined, averting my eyes before they melted.
With a looping backhand, Danny knocked the plate upwards towards the linty ceiling fan and began wrestling with the old woman as the refuse rained around us.
She cooed with delight.
The scuffle ended with Danny’s mother in a full nelson, her faced mushed against the balloon patterned wallpaper as Danny held her pinned with his groin pressed deeply into her plush rump.
I turned away in disgust and looked at the large collection of die cast metal animal sculptures on the greasy, speckled glass coffee table.
Among the giraffes, llamas, and poodles were seven brass houseflies in varying sizes.
Danny released his grasp only after his mother consented to say, “Daniel J. Osterberg is the supreme ruler of this household and I worship his hairy balls,” three times.
We went up to Danny’s room, which was a sea of cummed-in dirty socks, hunting knives, and moldy dishes. We smoked his Mexican dirtweed.
Danny got his mother’s friendly white Himalayan cat stoned too using a crumpled paper lunch sack. At first, I objected to this as abusive. But the cat purred loudly, and willingly stuck its head in the bag for more.
We listened to a cassette dub of ‘Golden Shower of Hits’ by the Circle Jerks and a NOTA record that I’d brought along.
Then Danny jammed out on his Ibanez strat-copy while I watched him thru hazy eyes.
He was a good guitarist. He could play every Jimmy Page solo verbatim and twice as fast. He went thru all of them.
Every single one.
Then he played ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘Rock the Casbah’ to wake me up, altering the lyrics to both so they were all about him fucking my little sister.
When it was time to leave, Danny walked me down the stained shag-carpeted stairs to the front door.
The booming sounds of an electric organ could be heard from the living room. Danny winked at me and whispered, ‘That’s my dad.”
As I walked past the living room, I peeked in.
His father must’ve just gotten home from work, his burgundy briefcase and Wall Street Journal were on the carpet next to his feet. Mister Osterberg was a short, red-faced older man in a dark blue Brooks Brothers suit and a paisley patterned tie.
I couldn’t tell if his full hair was a toupee or not, but it seemed awfully yellow for his age.
The veins at his temples and neck throbbed like earthworms as he leaned into the keys with all his weight and sang crisply and loudly about the cleansing power of Jesus Christ’s blood.
Mister Osterberg sounded very convincing.
It was nice that the Osterbergs were a musical family.
One of the weird things about Danny is that he never went to punk shows with me.
He had plenty of money and he wasn’t a pussy. But there was just some sort of mental barrier that prevented him from joining me in trips to the Ritz, CBGBs, or even the nearby City Gardens.
When I’d ask him directly why he just wouldn’t come along, he’d say that punk had been a big part of his life a few years back, but he’d since moved on. To what, he would not specify.
I remember wondering to myself, “Okay, Danny. So you were going to a lot of shows when you were ten or eleven?”
If I’d said that aloud, he would’ve slugged me hard.
He often slugged me for no apparent reason anyway.
Despite his being ‘over’ punk, Danny would still drill me for the minutest details of the hardcore scene, its characters, and current dramas.
He wanted a blow-by-blow of every scrap, brawl, and schism.
He began to talk about my hardcore friends like he was actually tight with them. It was weird. He’d never met any of them.
I’d dub copies of all the new records and demo tapes for Danny and show him the new stickers, buttons, and tees I’d pick up at shows.
He began to make homemade, hand-drawn copies of my t-shirts, and they were pretty good too. Sometimes he’d even make t-shirts just based on the descriptions of the ones I’d seen on strangers. The results were often shocking and hilarious.
And half the time I’d tell Danny about a band I’d seen or record I’d bought, he’d chuckle, pat me on the back, and tell me he’d known all about them already, long before I’d ever heard of them.
I couldn’t figure out what the point of the charade was.
Did he really think I was that stupid?
It bothered me that Danny wouldn’t join me in the scene.
It bothered me that he wasn’t being truthful. It bothered me that he constantly put me down to save face. It was weird and unnecessary.
Even tho he was an asshole, I was his friend and wouldn’t have judged him.
Once, as an experiment, I recorded a fake 5-song demo tape down in my friend Brian Coleman’s basement. Brian was rich and had a four-track, a drum kit, mics, and amps.
I played guitar, bass, and sang.
I called the band ‘Mighty Dog’ and even spent hours putting together the cassette cover.
The only song title I can remember offhand was ‘Life Without Cum Would be so Humdrum’.
I played the Mighty Dog demo for Danny as we smoked pot in his bedroom. He’d just redone the walls in a garish blue and red. He’d used a chalky outdoor house paint, and a chill would shoot up my spine every time I accidentally brushed against one.
I told Danny that Mighty Dog were a tough band from Astoria, dudes so hard you could roller skate on them.
Danny bought it hook, line, and sinker.
He loved those ridiculous songs and thrashed around his room knocking over chairs, shelves, and lamps, shadow-battling a crowd of imaginary punks and skins for mosh supremacy.
On one wall, there was a large poster of Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire.
Between songs, Danny smiled at me, winked, then turned to the poster and screamed.
“Nigger, step the fuck away from my daughter!”
Then Danny smashed his calloused right fist straight thru Jimi Hendrix’s face. When he withdrew his arm from the hole, it was covered in plaster dust up to his elbow.
He’d punched straight thru the wall.
He wiped his hand off lightly on his greasy sweatpants and packed up the Protopipe again.
I could taste the plaster in that next bowl.
I asked Danny what he thought of Mighty Dog.
He told me he liked their 1982-era stuff better, but he was glad they were still playing and thanked me for reminding him about them.
I let him keep the tape.
Danny used to draw hilarious comic strips on lined notebook paper. Most of them were about fat cops chasing Martian skateboarders.
He had one series called ‘Shit and Joe’ that I particularly liked.
It about two pieces of human feces that’d escaped the toilet bowl they were born in before their slacker hippie father had been able to flush them.
The little dudes knew their future was precarious and henceforth dedicated their lives to sneaking into their dad’s stash and smoking all his reefer.
As the months passed and the strip matured, we learned that both Shit (the long, skinny turd) and Joe (the short, fat poop-nugget) had to dunk themselves in water every couple hours or die of dehydration.
They also routinely raided their father’s cupboards to replenish their corn and peanut supply.
These were hilarious comics, the work of a sick genius, and it was mainly my admiration for Danny’s artistic virtuosity that allowed me to overlook many of his increasingly less noble qualities as time went on.
In the Spring of 1986, Black Flag came around to Trenton again and, after offering to pay for his eight dollar ticket, I finally convinced Danny to come along with me.
I wasn’t old enough to drive yet, so I paid my mother twenty dollars to drop us off and pick us up.
I made her let us out a couple of blocks away, a risky venture as City Gardens was located in an ass-out, crazy black ghetto. But the thought of exiting from a Mercedes sedan in front of my rebel peers seemed far worse.
As we walked to the club, Danny removed his jean jacket to reveal his latest t-shirt creation: a mohicaned Ronald Reagan with a word balloon that read, “Hey, Nancy! Oy! Oy! Oy!”
Danny strutted and swaggered to ‘let all the niggers know that he was not a dude to be fucked with.’
He spat and cursed in an exaggerated manner that I found deeply embarrassing.
When a grey-haired black wino laying across the sidewalk shook his head at Danny’s approach, I briefly pondered hailing a cab home. How could this clod be my best friend?
Danny continued his tough-guy act as we waited in the long entrance line that stretched out into the parking lot.
The City Gardens lot had a post-apocalyptic feel that always reminded me of ‘Escape from New York’. There was graffiti everywhere, some of it written in blood and shit, and nearly every inch of the blacktop and concrete was strewn with brown and green shards of broken beer bottles.
The cars were mostly from the Sixties and early Seventies and none were in good repair.
People clustered in small cliques, blasting tape decks and smoking dust. ‘I Don’t Like You’ by Skrewdriver was playing on a boombox atop an old Nova. Danny screamed along to it and flashed a double ‘thumbs up’. The punks around the Nova looked at Danny just like the wino had.
Danny had to say ‘hey’ to and hi-five nearly everybody on line, most of whom blanked him. I kept to myself.
He looked at me beaming with pride.
“Good to be back on the scene, dude.”
Once we were in the club, which was dark, smoky, and packed, Danny puffed out his chest and attempted to order a pitcher of Budweiser from the bartender, who merely laughed at him.
Danny got us two Jolt Colas instead. City Gardens was the only place in Central Jersey that stocked Jolt.
“Motherfuckin’ dude wouldn’t believe I’m twenty three. Can you believe that shit?”
“But Danny, you’re only fourteen,”
“Yeah, but that motherfucker doesn’t know that. This place sucks. I used to get treated way better in the old days.”
“Back at Max’s Kansas City you mean?”
Danny scowled at me.
“No, dude. In New York. Fuck Kansas City. That place is for queers!”
Leaning up against the side of the DJ booth was a wiry longhair with a bunch of tattoos on his arms. Danny’s eyes lit up.
“Yo, is that Henry?!!”
Rollins stood by himself, watching the Scornflakes play from a distance.
He projected such an off-the-wall vibe that besides the occasional skinhead leer, nobody seemed to acknowledge him at all.
Danny tugged at my green nylon flight jacket.
“C’mon man, let’s go hang with him!”
I didn’t want to. Henry Rollins was a weird dude who always seemed on the verge of snapping, but I followed Danny out of morbid, trainwreck curiosity.
We stood next to Rollins who solemnly nodded his head along to the music. He didn’t seem to notice us.
Danny crossed his arms like Rollins and nodded his head too. The Scornflakes sucked. I couldn’t believe anyone actually liked them.
A tall passerby with a purple mohawk, GBH t-shirt, and flannel shirt tied around his waist accidentally buzzed Danny’s shoulder from behind and Danny donkey-punched the stem of his neck. The punk went down face-first and turned his head around while still on the floor.
Danny waved both fists and leered. The tall punk flipped him off and spat as he got up and walked away.
Rollins squinted at Danny.
“Why the fuck would you do that, man?”
Danny smiled widely. In the dim light, his face looked even more like a jack’o’lantern. It made me sad for him that he had to live with that face.
“Just risin’ above, dude!”
Rollins nodded once and turned back towards the stage.
Danny nudged me and pumped his fist. He was ecstatic to have been acknowledged by his hero.
And there we stood, watching the droning, boring Scornflakes next to Rollins as a parade of pimply, sweaty, leather-clad freaks shuffled back and forth around us. It wasn’t fun.
During a break between songs, Danny tapped Rollins on the shoulder and slapped at his own pudgy right arm.
“Next week, ‘the bars’, right here, bro. In honor of you, dude!”
Rollins nodded with absolutely no expression on his face. Danny waved a thumb towards me.
“He’s got ink too! He has to hide it from his mother, or she’ll spank him and throw him out of the house.”
I wanted to kill Danny. I wanted to box his tiny malformed ears with my palms and tell Rollins that Danny Osterberg was a lying, sadistic creep who lived in a decrepit mansion and dry-humped his own retarded mother.
But before I could, Rollins spoke.
“That’s very interesting, sir. You two seem like a couple of fascinating young men.”
Danny beamed at me. The idea that Rollins was belittling him never even crossed his mind.
I felt about three inches high.
The Scornflakes started their next song, and Danny leaned over and yelled into Rollins’s ear.“Yo, man! Are you guys gonna play ‘Nervous Breakdown’?!! I’m gonna slam so fuckin’ hard to it!”
Rollins leaned over and yelled back.
“No, man! Not tonight!”
“Why not?!! It’s such a crucial song!”
“Well, it’s like this, sir: Sometimes fucking the same girl a thousand times in a row gets real boring! I’m sure that YOU know what I mean. Right, man?!!”
“Yeah! I sure do, dude! I’ve fucked lots of girls!”
The next band up was Painted Willie, another act on SST (Black Flag’s vanity label).
They sucked even worse than the Scornflakes, but Danny, two more bottles of super-caffeinated Jolt in him, took it as a personal insult that the crowd wasn’t responding to his personal friend Henry’s proteges.
He knocked his fists together and menaced the punks milling around him.
“C’mon, you fags! Let’s slam!!!”
And then Danny just went completely berserk.
He’d clearly never seen a circle pit before (the standard mosh pattern at City Gardens). He just started grabbing people and swinging them around like a spastic square-dancer. Others, he’d tackle like he was in a football scrimmage. Still others, he’d flat-out throw punches and kicks at. Girls included. He was so wild and out of control that nobody dared to try and stop him.
The thing was, Painted Willie weren’t a punk or hardcore band. They were just a weird jam-rock prog act that Greg Ginn liked because he had truly pathetic taste. This wasn’t the type of band anyone would ‘slam’ to.
People stared at Danny and began to whisper to each other.
I stood as far away from him as possible.
Danny found me again between bands and thumped me hard on the back with an open palm. He was drenched in sweat and had never smelled cheesier.
“Fucking good show, man!”
I said ‘yeah’ and Danny roared like a lion. He actually roared.
Black Flag took the stage and Danny cannon-balled thru the crowd until he’d reached the front.
Henry Rollins was already stripped to a pair of black jockey shorts and glistened with sweat even before they’d played a song. I figured maybe he did some Kung Fu or tantric yoga or something in the dressing room right before their set.
And Black Flag were awful, teetering on the verge of collapse. They’d been pretty crappy the past two times I’d seen them, but this was far, far worse. Greg Ginn was wearing a tie-dyed Grateful Dead t-shirt and inserted brutally boring five minute guitar solos into two minute songs. Kira was gone.
Nobody clapped or cheered.
Nobody, that is, except for Danny, who screamed like an ogre and ‘slammed’ non-stop, even between songs.
And then something magical happened.
Black Flag played ‘Nervous Breakdown’.
To be sure, it was a tepid version at best. Rollins could barely be bothered to whine the lyrics. But compared to the sludge they’d been spewing forth up to that point, it was solid gold.
The crowd began to finally move in its traditional crazy epileptic circle.
Danny did his best ‘Hulk smash’ and pummeled bystanders along the perimeter of the pit.
I saw a ginzo-looking skinhead with a big nose and tattoos on his scalp punch Danny every time he circled past him, but even repeated blows to the back of Danny’s head and spine seemed to have virtually no stopping power, or any discernible effect at all really. Danny was in a state of fanatic ecstasy. Nothing short of a howitzer would’ve done much.
After ‘Nervous Breakdown’, the band kicked into another long, monotonous instrumental while Rollins slowly gyrated around the mic stand like a bored stripper. I checked my digital Star Wars watch. I’d owned it since 1979, but now carried it buried in my pocket instead of proudly on the outside of my wrist.
It was after 11. Time to go.
I told Danny.
“Dude! We can’t go now! Henry played that song for ME, man! For ME, dude! You understand? They weren’t gonna play that one, but I asked him! If I leave now, the dude’ll be totally bummed after the show. I gotta hang to thank him! We can’t go now, dude. Just hang out!”
“Danny, you don’t know my mom. She’ll fucking kill me if we’re not out there in five minutes.”
Danny shook his head.
“Sorry, dude. She’ll just have to wait. We can’t leave now. This is important. It’s about friendship.”
I started to walk away. Danny grabbed both of my shoulders from behind and I cringed in pain. He was so strong.
“Where you goin’, man?”
I told him I was just gonna take a piss but headed towards the exit after he’d turned his head.
And I left him there. He wouldn’t come with me, I didn’t see a choice.
Sometimes there comes a point where there’s nothing you can do.
My mother was gonna fucking kill me if I didn’t meet her at the designated time, and I’d paid her twenty bucks.
I’d had to work at Burger King for almost five hours to make twenty bucks back then. I was the only non-Jamaican employee too. So five hours felt more like fifteen hours when you factored in the torture.
The air was crisp outside and chilled the sweat that covered me from the scalp down. I hadn’t realized how overheated I’d gotten. The cold felt good.
I walked briskly to my mother’s car. I had to. I could see small groups of blacks hiding in the shadows like phantoms. I knew they were gearing up to roll some drunk honky freaks. Frankly, I couldn’t blame them.
My mother unlocked the front passenger’s door and let me in.
“You smell like a Frisco whorehouse. Roll down your window.”
“He didn’t want to come.”
My mother started up the car and pulled away from the curb. As we drove thru the squalor, she shook her head balefully.
“This is a shitty neighborhood to leave your friend in.”
“Mom, what could I do? He didn’t wanna come. You would’ve killed me if I hadn’t shown up.”
She shook her head again.
“Jack, that may be so. But sometimes, you gotta take one for the team. You were a shitty friend tonight.”
I didn’t agree, but there was no point in arguing.
I saw Danny smoking in the boys rooms two days later.
Both of his eyes were blackened and the almost-imperceptible bridge of his pug nose was a deep lavender. The knuckles on his hands were bruised and scraped. I didn’t ask him what’d happened, nor did he offer to tell me. He just stamped out his cigarette when I entered and walked right past me without saying a word.
This continued for a couple of weeks until one day Danny just seemed to forget that he was mad at me and we were friends again.
Miraculously, he’d found a girlfriend. He told me that her name was Vicki and he’d met her at the Space Port arcade across from the movie theater at the Quakerbridge Mall.
I figured the girl was the reason he’d lightened up about his beating, but knowing him I was a bit skeptical of her existence.
Sure enough tho, the next time I went over to the Osterberg house, there she was.
Vicki was skinny, taller than Danny by at least two inches, and was kind of pretty in an overbitten, blue-skinned sort of way.
She had long, frosted strawberry blonde hair, bangs, and wore what appeared to be budgie tail feather earrings. Judging from her t-shirt collection, she was an ardent fan of Metallica. Her slow drawl always gave me the feeling she had to think long and hard about which word came after the other, even with the simplest of sentences.
I liked her well enough. She seemed a good match for Danny.
One afternoon, I went to Danny’s house to smoke some pot and check out his new hi-tech Graffix bong, which Vicki had given to him for their three month anniversary. He’d wanted one forever and was very proud of it.
There was a new poster tacked up over the spot formerly occupied by Jimi Hendrix. It featured a Cocker Spaniel puppy nose-to-nose with a Siamese kitten. Above it was the phrase ‘Together, we can lick anything.’ It was kind of cute. I assumed this was from Vicki as well.
After we’d smoked about half the eighth I’d brought over, Danny handed me the new ‘Shit and Joe’ comic.
I was so excited to see it that I didn’t even question why Vicki was chuckling at me before I’d even begun to read.
The answer quickly became clear.
In the new comic, Shit and Joe attend a punk rock concert at a club called ‘Shitty Garbage’.
At the show, Shit is outgoing and magnetically popular. Even the singer of the headlining band (Crap Fag) sweet-talks Shit in hopes of becoming his friend.
By the end of the strip, Joe is seething with jealousy.
Joe bails on Shit, leaving him stranded in Trenton, where he is mugged by a pack of plunger-wielding sambo caricatures who strip him of all his peanuts and leave him unconscious on the sidewalk. In the last panel, a stray dog eats him.
Shit’s parting words are, “Father, forgive Joe, for he knows not what he poos.”
Now, it didn’t really bother me so much that Danny had portrayed me as unpopular, or sheepish, or shifty, or even as a bad friend. I knew that wasn’t accurate, the dude was just pathologically delusional. But it bummed me out that he’d assigned me ‘Joe’, the short, fat, round poop-nugget, while he was ‘Shit’, the tall, lean, handsome turd.
In reality, I was way taller, leaner, and more handsome than Danny. This was just obvious. A fact. He was more delusional than I’d realized. I was all for accepting the limitations of others, but this was galling.
I held the comic in front of my face, like a mask, long after I’d finished reading it. I knew there were mocking eyes trained on me.
I could hear Vicki and Danny rolling around the bed laughing in almost silent convulsions.
I was way too high for this bullshit.
Finally, I lowered the comic and placed it on top of Danny’s ash-strewn turntable cover. As I gathered my stuff to leave, Vicki and Danny wiped the tears from their eyes.
Danny said, “What’s a matter, dude? Didn’t like the comic?”
Vicki guffawed again. She had a slow, low-pitched, village idiot laugh. Like that old ventriloquist dummy, Mortimer J. Snerd.
“Actually…no, man. I didn’t really like the comic. Did you really have to make me Joe? Really, dude? You’re fuckin’ Joe, man! I’m fuckin’ Shit! Any idiot can see that.”
My dismay only made them laugh harder, which made me feel very stupid. And angrier.
I grabbed what was left of the eighth.
Danny’s eyebrows narrowed.
“Dude, don’t take my pot!”
“Danny, it’s MY pot. I brought it over.”
Danny got up and swung a greasy white gorilla arm across my shoulders. I tensed up.
“C’mon, buddy. Don’t be sore. I’m the artist. You know damn well that I GOTTA be Shit. And I’m much better looking than you anyway, dude.”
Danny pointed at Vicki, who was sprawled on the bed smiling.
“I’m the one who’s getting laid, dude. Proof is in the pudding. Here, man! Smell my finger!”
Danny raised his free hand to my nose. I tried to duck beneath Danny’s other arm, but he flexed it into a headlock. His arms looked fat, but they were as solid as bridge cable. I couldn’t break free.
“Let go of me, man! You’re not better-looking. You’re fucking ugly and mean.”
Danny laughed and rapped my shaved scalp with his knuckles sharply.
They hurt like a motherfucking bitch. Being stoned just made it worse.
The thought of Vicki’s redneck fish stank being rubbed into my head was intolerable and I struggled desperately.
“Real tough skinhead, huh? You’re a real bad ass dude, Jack!”
Danny shouted playfully to Vicki, who was on the verge of pissing herself.
“Who’s funnier looking, baby? Me or Jackie here?”
“Him, baby! Jack looks like a gold-durned cartoon character or something! You’re the one gettin’ this pussy!”
She rubbed at the crotch of her pinstriped Sergio Valentes.
I ‘d reached my boiling point.
“Fuck you. Fuck both of you! You both make me sick! Let me the fuck go, man!”
“Not nice talking to my lady like that, dude.”
And I didn’t see it coming. You rarely see an uppercut coming.
Danny caught me flush on the chin and the lights went out.
I woke up on the floor.
The ochre shag carpet stank like cat piss.
As I lifted my head, I felt something stuck to my face.
I grabbed at it, thinking it was a cockroach. It was half of a shelled peanut. It had been honey-roasted.
My bag of pot was unrolled and near-empty on Danny’s nightstand, and the clear purple bong was still emitting smoke. The joker decal on the shaft seemed to laugh at me.
Danny and Vicki were a tangle of limbs on his sheetless, soiled mattress. Danny moaned like a woman as Vicki’s mannish hands rubbed their way down his wide back, grabbed his hand-drawn Mighty Dog t-shirt by its hem, and peeled it off. Danny chuckled to himself as Vicki pulled down his sweatpants and put his small, purplish cock in her mouth.
Danny shut his eyes and hummed ‘Slip It In’. Vicki gagged and laughed. She saw me looking at her around the bend of Danny’s spare tire and pulled away. Danny turned and looked at me.
“Dude, do you mind? We need some privacy here.”
I gathered up my things again and took off.
My jaw was partially dislocated and my brain felt like dried leather.
Downstairs, Mister Osterberg was playing ‘Amazing Grace’ on his Hammond while Danny’s mother sat on the couch eating from a bowl of lemon Jello.
They didn’t seem to notice me at all as I staggered past them.
I never went back to Danny’s greasy house.
I avoided him like the plague in school, and I was happy to watch his long, nappy orange hair slowly ooze into a fringed mop as he got into metal.
After a year and a half of wildly mixed feelings, I was finally free of Danny Osterberg.
The last I saw of him at school was on a photo display of polaroid prom portraits tacked to a large bulletin board by the lost and found.
Vicki was wearing a pink satin Marilyn/Madonna dress with a large purple orchid corsage on her wrist.
Danny was wearing a white tuxedo with tails, a pink bow tie and cummerbund, and a matching white top hat with a pink band. A silver-tipped white cane rested in the crook of his folded left arm.
I stared at that photo for a long, long time, turned away, then looked again quickly to make sure that I wasn’t going insane.
Life went on.
After I’d moved back East from San Francisco, I had a chance run-in with Danny Osterberg in New Brunswick, where I’d been living.
He was still at his parents’ house in West Windsor, and he seemed to resent the fact that I’d moved on to ‘bigger things’.
He scoffed at my graffiti-covered, four-roommate punk apartment and told me that I wasn’t as cool as I thought I was and that I never would be.
Then we smoked some pot.
A couple more years passed.
I’d heard Danny was playing in a Trenton-area speedmetal band called Oliver Twisted. I got a good chuckle out of that. It seemed so apt.
Then I just plain lost track of him.
I was now twenty three and living in Manhattan.
My girlfriend was the hottest chick on the lower east side.
I’d become a genuine adult.
Or at least I looked like one.
My mother called me one night and rattled off some small town gossip, none of which I gave the slightest fuck about. She asked me if I’d heard about Danny Osterberg, and added, “Wasn’t that sad?”
I could detect a tinge of secret pleasure in her voice.
She was dying for me to ask her about it. Women can be such cunts.
I was gonna blow if off and say ‘yeah, I heard,’ but there’s something cunty in me too, and I wanted to hear about it.
When I said I wasn’t sure what she was referring to, I could hear my mother smile luxuriously as she let the word ‘well’ slowly roll off her tongue for a full second.
She explained that Danny had ending up marrying Vicki after he’d knocked her up.
He’d moved into the small Hamilton Township house that Vicki shared with her seventy one year old adopted mother, and things had seemingly been going well for them. Danny had taken a job a filling station near the Princeton circle off Route 1 and Vickie was working part-time as a school bus driver for Ewing Township.
Then Danny got canned from the gas station after breaking a customer’s windshield during an argument.
The silver lining was that his unemployment came just in time for him to provide extra help with the the baby, who was born just five days after the incident.
Three months later, the floor caved in on Danny’s life.
Vicki called 911 late one night and reported that her infant son was unconscious and not breathing.
The EMTs arrived to find a limp baby with its melon bashed in.
Little Billy Osterberg was rushed to the hospital and pronounced DOA.
Danny was picked up a few hours later, drunk in a Princeton bar.
The cops booked him on aggravated assault and reckless endangerment of a child. These initial charges stemmed not from Billy’s death, but from a previous incident a few weeks earlier in which the baby’s leg had been broken and his torso severely bruised.
After the autopsy, murder charges were filed.
In court, it came out that the boy’s head had been bashed against a wall when he wouldn’t stop crying.
The jury was shown large color photographs of blood-stained cracked plaster.
Danny got twenty five to life at Rahway.
Vicki did some some time too, but on lesser charges in exchange for her testimony against Danny.
I thought about little Billy Osterberg.
I thought that maybe this was a merciful end to what surely would’ve been an extremely painful childhood.
I wondered if I really had been a shitty friend to Danny.
I wondered if the prison newspaper was running ‘Shit and Joe’.
I sure hoped so.
I remembered the taste of the plaster in Danny’s Protopipe. I can still taste it.