1988 Washington D.C.
The aqueduct ran parallel to the Key Bridge. No longer in use, over time most of it had been reduced to rubble. The ruins sat just off the canal that flowed below M Street and had been a favorite drinking spot of punks for more than a decade. Reading like a juvenile’s diary, the graffiti embossed on the arch of the Key Bridge became my entertainment when conversation ran dull. “Eat the rich. Punk’s not dead.” Dates went as far back as ‘78, but most of the scribbling had been done in the ‘80s. Things such as iron crosses etched in black marker or three x’s carved over two bars like Washington’s flag of three red stars and to red bars. It was a symbolic of D.C. Hardcore. I had five days left until I moved to New York.
Paul and Charlie chugged Milwaukee’s Best in a contest of who could finish first. I slyly whipped out my marker, turned my back to the two, and added to the arch. “Charlie is a pussy.”
“Hey Charlie! Check this out. Someone wrote that you’re a pussy on the wall!”
Paul finished off his can and hurled it into the water. Charlie came in at a slow second and in his dopey stride, stumbled over to see what I was so fixated on.
“That could be any Charlie,” he said.
I pointed to the crude stick drawing I had done that had a giant head.
“Oh, man! Fucking assholes. You got a pen?” Charlie was an easy target.
“No,” I said.
Paul sniffed the bold lettered “Charlie” on the wall and commented that it smelled fresh. I noticed a new tattoo on Paul’s neck. It was a car, but not a cool car or a hot rod. It was a beaten up wreck like the cars he owned. Charlie’s stare then focused onto me. I pulled the marker out of the inside pocket of my leather jacket and scratched out the “Charlie” and replaced it with “Ukala.”
The aqueducts were a summer camp for the young punks and we were their counselors.
Harboring runaways, underage youth, and underage drinkers, it was a prime location for loitering kids. We mingled with bums on the prowl for a free drink. Bums bought booze for the under-aged and in return, got alcohol for themselves with our parents’ money. Well, at least Charlie’s and mine, Paul was poor. The dirty old bastards had another advantage in this exchange; they got to hang around and hit on our girls, but they were old and feeble and couldn’t do anything even if they wanted to.
The aqueducts provided four escape routes: two ways along the canal up to Georgetown via a dirt trail that ran up a steep hill and two others that ran down a path along an embankment. Parole and truant officers or a cop on the beat sometimes showed up. We’d disperse like a football team breaking a huddle. In the midst of night, we could hear their cars pulling up on the road below. Their flashlights could be seen bouncing through the underbrush in search of a pathway up. A cop usually tripped over a fat tree root midway up the trail, making sneaking up on us unlikely. But most often the authorities overlooked the area. I had walked that trail so many times that I knew where to step without making a sound. The downward paths led onto the end of K Street. The Whitehurst Causeway ran overhead and the Potomac River was about a hundred yards away. Most people used the end of K Street as parking and many petty thieves used the street as a hunting ground to steal from cars since it was tucked away under the causeway and brush surrounding the woods.
Paul broke into a car at the end of K Street and took a stun gun. It was sticking out of his back pocket when he took the marker from me and wrote under the arch: Paul kicks ass. Kiss Army. I had a vision of him when we had been around seven or eight and he had had the Kiss make-up on. Then Charlie’s endless prattle echoing off the arch brought me back to the present. His voice had a nasal sound, like his giant head was slowly collapsing inwards. I could smell fermentation and decay coming up from the bottom of the canal. What next, I thought. I was already bored and tried to stifle a yawn. I craned my neck to look at Paul. Paul’s eyes were riveted on a jogger on the other side of the canal. He had had that same look when we were kids, and I knew he was about to do something bad. During the daytime, Georgetown residents jogged back and forth along a gravel trail that lined the canal and even though it was dusk, there were a few left-over runners making their way home.
“I want to test this out,” said Paul, pulling the stun gun out and telling me about the car. “Maybe he was a cop?”
Then without warning, Paul turned to Charlie and pressed it against Charlie’s ribs, and a spark shot through his side. Charlie dropped to the ground, moaning and rolling from side to side.
“It works!” exclaimed Paul with a blank expression.
A jogger, unaware of a stun gun in the hands of Paul, pounded the pebbles. Sneakers tied snugly to his feet and headphones probably piping Billy Joel into his ears. He ran past Paul, who crept up behind him and stunned him. The man fell onto his side and momentarily lay on the ground randomly kicking as the residuals of shock passed, then rose confused and staggered away. Charlie was getting up when Paul handed me the stun gun.
“Go ahead, try it,” said Paul, motioning for me to shock Charlie again.
I looked at the hard plastic weapon. It was heavy in my hand. I squeezed the trigger. A blue spark shot out in the air. Charlie gave me a pathetic look. “No thanks.” I gave it back to Paul.
“Yeah, you were always the good guy,” he said.
From Rich Boy Cries for Mama by Ethan H. Minsker