When that thing went off in my hand, brother, I saw a white light. That was all I saw. For a few seconds I freaked. Is this what death is? A blank white screen for all eternity? Then I heard Tom screaming, saw smoke and blood, and felt better. I wasn’t going to have to face a blank screen, yet. There was more colorful chaos to witness.
I could only make out what was happening in intermittent glimpses. My perception seemed to be strobing. I was blinking back and forth between some vast eternal void and the aftermath of the explosion. White light to smoke and gore, white light to smoke and gore, and so on. There was a low-pitched hum in my head, like I had been hit over the skull with a tuning fork the size of a garden rake. That was a peppy little fuse alright, a real go-getter. It burned down to the stick, quick as a lick. Ka-pow!
It was 1979. Tom and I were teenage delinquents. We were hanging out at my Dad’s house. He was away on a business trip so we decided to drink all his scotch. It was Sunday night and we were bored. I remembered I had a box of what were essentially quarter sticks of dynamite that I had smuggled from Mexico as a little kid. Let me tell you, you’ve never sweated a border crossing like an eleven-year-old sitting on a box of junior dynamite in the back of his parent’s car. To me it was worth it. These “firecrackers” were so much more dangerous than anything the other kids had, they would elevate my status as a mayhem-maker to royalty. Even big kids would know I meant business. They were to serve as a sure-fire cure for boredom for many years.
They certainly cured our boredom that night. We were inside my Dad’s bedroom, and I was flicking the lighter in one hand, while drunkenly holding the Tijuana TNT in the other. The lighter was out of gas, so it was totally cool to be doing this. What wasn’t cool was that a spark from a dead lighter could still ignite a fuse. My Dad’s roommate, a Vietnam vet, sleeping in the next room, didn’t think that was cool either. The blast opened up my hand into a hamburger pita. The lighter turned into shrapnel, and peppered my neck and face. Blood and bits covered my Dad’s walls and water-bed. Tom had been blasted instantly sober, the roommate pissed himself, and I wound up in the emergency room.
There is nothing more dangerous than a bored drunk.
It was never enough to just get drunk. I liked to keep things exciting, and it seemed like destroying things, in whatever manner, a great way to do it. Admittedly, there were at times… consequences, but if you live in fear of those, you have no business drinking yourself insane. Shoot things, set them on fire, blow them up, throw them out the window, take an ax to them, run them over with your Mom’s LTD, but for God’s sake, make something pay for the fact that you can’t sit and enjoy a quiet moment.
When I was nine years old, my parents turned me into the Camarillo Fire Department for being a pyro. They caught me recreating a viking sea burial with my G.I. Joe and a burning raft of popsicle sticks in the toilet. Joe was on his way to Valhalla when they forced the bathroom door open. A more enlightened set of parents would have recognized my love of history, appreciation of ritual and custom, and would’ve encouraged me to become a cultural anthropologist. Instead, they ratted me out as a fire bug.
A fireman sat me down and told me gruesome stories of all the people he saw burned to death as a result of little boys playing with matches. He took my name down and said that if there was any fire in a five-mile radius of my apartment complex he would come looking for me. He then gave me a tour of the fire truck and turned me over to my parents. That really sucked. I was sufficiently penitent. I decided to take up shoplifting as a hobby until the heat from this rap cooled.
I liked to create chaos around me to equalize the pressure of the chaos inside me. Whatever was happening didn’t seem like enough. Maybe it was from watching westerns as an impressionable child, but no drunken party seemed complete until firearms were discharged into the ceiling. I remember kissing a girl goodnight after a particularly noisy celebration, the sounds of nearing sirens wailing in the night air, the other partygoers scattering in panic around us. It was a dramatically romantic way to end the evening. “Be careful,” she said. “Put money on my canteen,” I told her as I closed the door. I thought about her while I hid under my mattress.
Thank God I had my buddy Marko to serve as the voice of reason in my life. (My friends who know Marko got that last joke) We were a bad combination. Together we became a machine that produced, and then acted on, very bad ideas. Besides having a dangerously extensive knowledge of chemistry, Marko liked guns. Me too. What’s not to like about guns? Especially in the hands of crazy people.
For awhile we lived in his mobile home out in the sticks of Santa Fe. We drank a lot, and often got bored. You can imagine the results. Since we took such a casual approach to firearm safety, we didn’t get too many repeat visitors to the old homestead, especially girls. Poor us, all lonely, drunk, and armed to the teeth.
On New Year’s Eve, 2000, when our society was about to plunge into Mad Max apocalyptic anarchy because the date on people’s computers couldn’t go that high, Marko and I were excited. Finally, a society more suited to our talents and abilities. We saw an opportunity for fast-track advancement. Once the system collapsed, all rule of law would dissolve in the individual’s desperation to survive. We had been practicing for this moment all our lives.
For months we had been stockpiling guns and ammo, along with canned tuna and baked beans. We had a medical kit with bandages and medication for pain. We also had five gallons of medical-grade grain alcohol to tide us over until we could liberate more. Since we had no goods to barter, we decided to become raiders. We would run around with guns, taking other people’s stuff, especially their beer. That was our greatest concern with the breakdown of civilization as we knew it, not being able to get beer. Since this was already our greatest concern, weren’t too worried about adjusting to a world gone savage. In the meantime, our ids would have some room to stretch out.
When the ball dropped at midnight, Marko was already passed out on the couch. I was sitting in a recliner. I picked up my shotgun, and still sitting, pointed it out the open door and pulled the trigger. I blew a hole through the screen door I thought was also open. Marko didn’t even flinch. “Happy New Year, fucker,” I said, cocking another round. “To a brave new world!” I yelled, and shot through the previous hole. This time he rolled over and said something that sounded like “Monkey time,” and was out again.
Y2K turned out to be a big disappointment. The date on everyone’s computers just went to 2000. Banks stayed open, police showed up for work, utility bills arrived right on time. Our hopes for establishing our very own empire based on extortion and white-slavery were dashed. With the money spent on ammo we could have put ourselves through massage school or learned to sell real estate, but that clearly wasn’t meant to be. We ate the tuna and beans, drank the grain alcohol, and eventually used up all the supplies in our first aid kit. The only apocalypse we’d get to participate in was the one of our own creation. Monkey time?
We felt cheated. The hippies got to have their Summer of Love. They had Woodstock before Altamont. Marko and I never got our Altamont. We were never going to have our environment adapt to us. It was the first time I lost all hope. My earlier adventures in Central America had also taken a lot of steam out my engine by then, and I was getting pretty tired of the noise. Maybe a little peace and quiet wouldn’t be so bad.
That summer I made my first stab at getting sober. I went to a rehab, and stopped drinking for a couple of years. Things quieted down for a bit. The problem was that I never really fixed what was bothering me. I never made peace with the quiet. I figured it was enough to just stay dry, but I was getting restless, and I never did get rid of the guns. I was flicking the dead lighter in one hand, with dynamite in the other, convinced a spark couldn’t start anything.