Chapter 31 – Unforgivable
In 1962, in his classic hit “Blowin’ a Buncha Dudes,” the great Bob Dyldo posed the timeless question, “How many loads must a man chow down, before the world will call him a fag?” This is a great question. And the answer, my friend – I can tell you from experience – is zero. Zero loads. It takes exactly zero loads guzzled down your naughty little gullet and shit out your filthy little asshole for someone to start callin you a fag. Allow me to elaborate.
Back in grade school, I used to hang out with this guy who we’ll call Dusty that still happens to be one of my best friends to this day. And at one point – I don’t know how old we were; fifth or sixth grade, I think – his dad said to him, “Ey, I don’t know how I feel about you hangin around with that Lally kid – to me, he kinda looks like a faggot.” And like, what a funny thing to say about someone else’s child, right? About one of your son’s good friends. I don’t know what the dude’s deal was – ya know, what woulda made him say somethin like that about me. Because, it’s like, I played sports and was athletic and did all the stereotypically non-gay sorta stuff, so… Maybe he’d watched the movie Slapshot with Paul Newman one too many times over the years and’d always wanted to reenact that one scene where he goes to visit the owner of the hockey team and says some nasty things about how her young son looks like a fag and, if she doesn’t get remarried soon and provide the boy with a male role model to look up to, he’ll have a cock is his mouth faster than she can say Jack Robinson. I dunno. I really have no idea. But, I mean, I guess he wasn’t entirely wrong. I did grow up to bang the ass of a Mexican transsexual who had a dick bigger than my own and didn’t exactly hate the experience, so there definitely turned out to be some truth to what’d at the time been his conjecture.
Even though now, as an adult, I could give less of a shit if someone wants to call me a fag (or any of the other insults that we used to toss around as children), back then it was a different story. As an eleven or twelve-year-old kid, it really hurt when Dusty told me what his dad’d said about me. I mean, the world is a lot different place than it had been twenty years ago and a fag was definitely somethin you didn’t wanna be back then – at least not in the working class, blue collar sorta culture I grew up in, ya didn’t. Like, nowadays, if someone calls you a fag, you can respond by sayin, “I don’t identify as homosexual – I’m actually just a little bi-curious – but even if I was gay, what’s wrong with that?” and everyone around you will applaud and start heaping shame on the person who said it for having used one of the forbidden words. But man, it wasn’t like that twenty years ago. Back then, if someone called you a fag – even if it wasn’t true – it was the ultimate sign of disrespect. It’s like, simply by calling someone this three-letter word, you were planting the image of said person with their lips wrapped around a fat cock or with their ass cheeks being parted by a Pringles-can-sized member into the minds of other people and, in doing so, ruining that person’s reputation. Bein called a fag really was enough to cause people to start lookin’ at ya differently.
In spite of Dusty’s dad thinkin me a little knob-jockey, our friendship remained unaffected. Retrospectively, playin all this stuff back in my mind, I can’t help but wonder how our friendship woulda fared if the roles’d been reversed. Like, I’m tryin to picture myself as an eleven-year-old kid at recess pullin my buddy Dusty aside and sayin, “Hey there pal, you and I need to have a little chat. Ya know…I don’t know if I want you spendin so much time around and lookin up to that dad of yours anymore. To me, the guy kinda looks like a faggot, ya know what I mean? Can’t ya just picture him standin there on a street corner in Boystown wearin lipstick and a dress, waitin to be invited into some stranger’s car for a hot mouthful of man-meat? I certainly can. The guy’s a bad influence, Dusty. I really think ya should start findin a new dad to hang around with.”
I think sayin somethin like that woulda put an end to our friendship quite quickly. Like, I dunno. I mean, I’m sure there are some exceptions. I’m sure there’re some kids in my culture who grew up hating their dads and wouldn’t mind one bit if you besmirched their good heterosexual names, but most of the guys I grew up with hold their fathers in high regard and like to maintain their honor and wouldn’t have taken too kindly to anyone homosexualizing them in such a manner. I know I wouldn’t have. Like, even though my dad was sometimes a total asshole at home and I had major problems with him and I myself would sometimes even call him a fag at times while we were arguing, if anyone else – if any one of my good friends, especially – would’ve said to my face that, “Your dad eats dick,” that would’ve been the end of the friendship. Like, imagine someone comin up to you and sayin, “Oh hey bro, what’s up? Word on the street is that your dad’s a fuckin homo. Yeah, I heard he drinks more cum than Rod Stewart does and had to have his stomach pumped. Heard his ass has been cocked more times than Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum and, as a result, every time he farts he sprays jizz all over the wall. Yeah man, your dad’s a total fag. Fuck that guy. But uhh…yeah bro…if you still wanna hang out after school, go to the arcade and grab some pizza or somethin, just hit me up. I’m down.” It’s ridiculous, right? You can’t say things like that about someone’s dad and expect to still be friends afterward. It doesn’t work like that. Once you’ve called a friend’s dad a flamer, that bridge is pretty much burnt.
Okay, so anyway, changing gears here for a minute, in the year 2020, the Fourth of July rolled around and I didn’t have any special plans. I’d been workin my ass off and it was less than two months after my dad died and covid was still super rampant and I just didn’t give a fuck about goin out to see anyone or do anything. In fact, I’m not the biggest fan of the Fourth of July in general. Don’t think I’ve been to any sort of gathering on the Fourth for more than five years now and I can’t say that I miss it all that much. Perhaps I overdosed on beer, barbecue, Bruce Springsteen and bottle rockets as a younger man. I’m not sure. I don’t know what my problem is, but – you don’t hafta tell me – I’m already fully aware of what a shitty patriot I am. I’ve been criticized by friends and family alike for preferring to travel abroad to fucked-up terrorist shitholes instead of traveling around the good old US of A, and now I’m sayin I don’t even like our Independence Day. Like, “What’s this fuckin guy gonna say next – he gonna say that he don’t like freedom? Or worse yet, that he don’t like guns?” I know, I get it – I fuckin suck. It wasn’t always this way for me though. In fact, when I was a kid I used to like celebrating the Fourth a whole lot. I guess as the years passed, however, it just kinda lost its magic for me or somethin.
Anyway, one of my dad’s best friends from growin up’d been this guy named Larry and, no – before you even mention it – they weren’t gay together. I used to hear a lot about how these two dudes would hang out at Wilson Park all the time as kids and then how, when they were young men, they’d always be drinkin together with their group of friends at a neighborhood watering hole called Fuller’s Pub. My dad’d also mentioned to me that one time he and Larry drove down into the ghetto together lookin for hookers to get blow jobs from, though I unfortunately don’t have any of the details from that misadventure. I don’t know much about these guys’ friendship because Lar died young and I never got to see the two of ‘em in action together or hear ‘em tell stories from the glory days – at least as an adult, I never did – but from what I’ve heard, they were thick as thieves and the two of ‘em always seemed to be doin some sorta dumbass shit together.
Case in point, sometime before either one of ‘em had kids, these two goofballs took a road trip out west together that hadn’t been without folly. My dad’s famous story that he liked to tell about this trip is how – somewhere in Colorado – they pulled over on this winding mountain road with a buncha switchbacks so my dad could take a photo, and how he ended up droppin his camera down the cliff off the side of the road, then decided he was gonna go climb down after it. He said he told Larry to drive the car down to the next visible switchback and wait for him there. He figured it’d take ten minutes max to get down there, but the area between the switchbacks was larger and more treacherous than it appeared, so it actually ended up takin him a lot longer than that to make the climb down. Meanwhile, in the car – and remember, this is long before the advent of cellular phones – Larry had no idea where he was supposed to meet my dad and was just drivin back and forth on this road over and over, keepin his eyes peeled but seein no sign of my dad and startin to get worried that he might’ve slipped and died somewhere. I think it ended up bein a couple anxiety-ridden hours before the two knuckleheads managed to find one another again.
Unlike my dad, Larry didn’t move outta the neighborhood they grew up in around Our Lady of Victory Parish and ended up startin a family of his own over on Leamington just north of Milwaukee where every year they happened to have a block party on the Fourth of July. I don’t know exactly how old I was when we started goin to this block party – before my conscious memory permits – but I remember goin there every year up until at least 1999 when Larry passed away due to complications of diabetes. I think maybe we might’ve gone one more year after that to keep up the tradition, but nothing more. I was born in ’88, so let’s do the math…we went to that block party every summer until I was either eleven or twelve years old.
It’s weird how closely certain smells are attached to certain memories. I swear, to this day, I can’t smell tap beer without bein transported back to the gangway on the south side of Larry’s old wooden house where the annual keg’d sat in this big old tub full of melting ice that I remember thinking it fun to stick my hand in during my earlier years at this block party. Likewise, I can’t smell dirty feet without picturin myself bouncin up and down inside one of those big inflatable city-rented jumping jacks they’d set up in the middle of the street. I think kids these days call ‘em “bounce houses” or “moon bounces” and they all come in the shape of castles or giant slides or some shit like that, but it wasn’t like that when I was a kid. Back in my day, they were called jumping jacks and they only came in the shape of a big dome, and they always had these thick vertical stripes at the top that were blue, yellow and orange, makin it look a lot like a giant version of one of those goofy-ass propeller hats that fat doofuses carrying large lollipops always wear in cartoons. Right below that was about four feet of clear plastic wall through which parents could make sure their kids weren’t gettin trampled to death on the inside, and below that, at the bottom, was the bouncy platform which was about three feet off the ground and fully inflated with air by some loud-ass fan-type machine that was connected to it from the outside.
I remember at the door to get into the thing, some city worker’d make ya take your shoes off before climbin up in there and startin to bounce around. I remember it bein really hot in there and, of course, smelly as I’d already mentioned. Everyone was always drippin with sweat and the sweat’d get all over the floors and the walls of these things. There was always at least one bully shovin around kids smaller than himself, and there was always at least one kid huddled in the corner cryin and screamin at the top of their lungs wantin to get out but unable to muster the valor to do so while all the other kids just kept bouncin up and down right next to ‘em, indifferent to their suffering. Eventually, a concerned parent would hafta come in and rescue the traumatized child. Lookin back, the inside of a jumping jack really sounds like a horrible place to be, but as a kid it just wouldn’t have felt like the Fourth of July without havin spent at least half-an-hour inside one, jumpin up and down with and crashin into all the other stinky sweaty kids at the block party.
As was the case with Larry, my dad’s sister Peggy also stayed in the old neighborhood and ended up raisin her family in the same house where they all grew up, kitty-corner from OLV Catholic grammar school. My cousin Jack, her son, was the same age as me and sometimes I’d see him over at this block party. One of his grade school buddies, this kid named Fresno, lived right next door to Larry’s on Leamington. So I’d spend a lotta time at these block parties hangin out with those guys and two more of their friends the same age as us – these guys T-Rad and Cheeks. There was one more guy from this group of friends that I came to know as Señor Polack, but I don’t really remember seein him at this block party ever. I wouldn’t really get to know him until we were a bit older and my cousin Jack’d rented this basement apartment over on Strong Street. Like, one St. Patty’s Day I went over there early in the morning and we all started hittin the booze pretty hard and this guy ended up passin out pretty early and, for some reason I can’t remember, he was wrapped up in a blanket and thrown out on the front lawn. Upstairs from him, in the other apartment, lived a group of like ten Mexicans – all of whom worked in the kitchen at Taco Burrito King – and as the story goes, when some of these guys were leavin to go to work sometime in the afternoon, they were messin around with my cousin’s buddy on the ground and tryin to wake him up, shakin him and referring to him as “Señor Polack” – thus my choice in name for the guy.
Hangin out at the block parties with these OLV guys was always a good time. Like me and my friends at St. Juliana, they were a buncha little punk motherfuckers that liked to go around shootin off fireworks, throwin shit at cars, burning insects with sparklers, talkin about the developing breasts of girls from our respective schools, and tellin stories about funny shit. One of the things that really surprised me about the dynamic of their group though was how they’d all treat that one guy Cheeks like he was a total piece o’ shit. I mean, every group kinda has that one guy that everybody rips on, but some of the things they’d tell me they did to this kid’d been especially cruel. Cheeks, they said, had been cast in some TV commercials for Bubblicious brand chewing gum that appeared on Nickelodeon back in the day, and from every interaction I’d ever had with the guy, he seemed like a nice-enough kid that didn’t deserve the sorta treatment he got, but I guess my opinion on the subject is neither here nor there. That said, the tale they told that stands out the most in my memory is how one time they made Cheeks take his clothes off then soaked ‘em all in the sink and put ‘em in the freezer. Meanwhile, as his clothes’d been cooling, they took Cheeks and stuffed him into a suitcase that they then zipped up and rolled down a flight of stairs.
As we reached high school age, these guys all ended up goin to the all-boys St. Pats High School in the city, and I went to the more preppy, douchey Loyola Academy up on Chicago’s North Shore. As it happens, one of my best good buddies from grade school – this dude named Kevin – ended up goin to St. Pats as well and would go on to become friends with all these same dudes that I’d known for years from the Leamington block party. So, many times throughout high school, I’d either be hangin out with Kev or my cousin Jack and end up seein all these same guys at parties and stuff. We weren’t the best of friends by any means, but we’d say what’s up and reminisce a little and shit like that. And we’d also continue to share funny stories with one another. I can distinctly remember three tales they told me during this era, and they’d all been stories about what happened at their grade school during seventh and eighth grade. One of them’d been about how this guy named Yop had discreetly taken the disposable camera of one of their female classmates at some school function like a dance or somethin and brought it to the bathroom where he took a buncha pictures of his junk that were later discovered when the girl’s parents went to develop the camera’s film for her at Walgreen’s or some shit. The other couple stories that I can still remember were all about this other guy named Cole.
Cole, they told me, was a spectacular athlete but kind of a troubled kid. He was about six-foot-four and chisled outta marble…or “full o’ muscle” as Men at Work would say in their classic hit “Down Under.” They said his old man was a crazy asshole – a gigantic man, even more physically imposing than his son – that ruled the home with an iron fist and would treat him and his younger brothers like shit. He was always whoopin their ass about one thing or another, they said, but added that his rough upbringing wasn’t without its advantages. They said it shaped him into one of the toughest kids they’d ever known. They said one time they were havin some trouble at the park with a group of three Polish guys a few years older than ‘em who’d been fuckin around with ‘em – ya know, just givin ‘em shit or whatever. My cousin and his buddies didn’t feel tough enough to try and fight these guys on their own, so they walked or biked over to Cole’s house and let him know the situation. Without hesitation, Cole got dressed and followed the guys back to the park where they’d had the confrontation with those Polacks. As luck would have it, they were still there. They say that Cole didn’t even say a word to these guys. They just pointed ‘em out and said to Cole, “There they are, that’s them!” and he ran up to these guys and single-handedly beat the shit outta all three of ‘em while everyone else stood back and watched.
They also said that at some championship basketball game, OLV had been playin – I forget, maybe it was St. Ed’s or some shit – and it was late in the 4th quarter and they were down a point and Cole got fouled. They said that, as he stood at the free-throw line, the fans of the other team were all booin and hissin, tryin to get him to miss. In spite of their efforts though, Cole ended up nailin both shots. To let the opposing team’s crowd know just how he felt about their heckling, he ran back to half court, looked right at ‘em and proceeded to deliver a ceremonious serious of Degeneration X style “suck its.” Somethin about that – somethin about a 12 or 13-year-old kid at a Catholic youth league basketball game tellin a buncha adults to suck his penis…that’s just so god damn funny to me.
So anyway, now let’s do a bit more fast-forwarding, this time to the summer after high school graduation. It’s again the Fourth of July, the sun’d already set, and me and my buddy Kevin are hangin out at my house havin some drinks. Think I was takin down a 1.5L bottle of cheap-ass pinot grigio and Kev’d been sippin on some beers while we both texted a buncha people, seein what our options were for that evening. Kev got word that a handful of guys were hangin out drinkin by Fresno’s place over at the block party on Leamington. Wasn’t the most exciting option in the world, but it was the best we had, so we decided to go. I finished that bottle o’ wine and was already pretty drunk by the time we got there. I don’t remember much aside from seein this one dude named Cole – a different Cole than the one who did the suck its – playin an acoustic guitar and singin to some chicks on Fresno’s back porch. After that, the next couple hours are blurry. Actually, that’s an understatement. I don’t remember the next couple hours after the serenading at all.
Next thing that I’m able to remember, we’re no longer at Fresno’s. We’re now sittin on chairs in a circle on someone else’s front lawn somewhere down the block. There’re no more girls around. No more guitar-playing. What I see…there’s about ten guys my age and everyone’s crowded around listenin to Fresno’s dad hold court. He’s been doin all the talkin for quite some time now and everyone’s listening intently. I honestly don’t remember a word the guy was sayin. For all I know, it coulda been the most entertaining shit in the world. I just remember sittin there with my head spinning, thinkin about my own dad and feelin lots of anger towards him for all the hell he’d put us through with his drunken bullshit around the house over the past few years. I was angry at drunken dads in general and remember thinkin like, “Why am I sittin here listenin to this guy’s shit? I don’t like sittin around my own house listenin to my own drunken father rambling about stupid bullshit, so why would I wanna listen to someone else’s? Like, where’d that groupa bitches go – the ones that Cole was singin to out on the back porch? I wanna get some pussy and all those chicks got a notorious reputation for bein huge dick-suckin hos. Like, who knows – maybe one of them’d even be slutty enough to fuck a guy like me. Seriously, where’d they go?”
Of the events that followed on that front lawn, I have no recollection beyond standin up, pickin up the chair I’d been sittin on, and violently smashing it to pieces on the trunk of a tree that’d been a couple feet away from me. I have no idea how I arrived at the conclusion that that seemed like a good idea, or what was said by anyone after the fact. I remember at some point Kevin tellin me that we better go. I have this hazy image of him and I walkin down an alley towards his car where he’d parked it a couple blocks away near the firehouse, near Engine 108 on Milwaukee Avenue. I remember stoppin to piss on someone’s garage along the way and gettin caught and gettin yelled at, but was too drunk to care. We made it to Kevin’s car and he drove me home. The next day, he filled me in on the event. He said that I hadn’t been talkin, I was just kinda peacefully sittin there – in appearance at least I’d been – when I stood up outta nowhere and smashed the chair. It caught everyone by surprise, he said – they were shocked. Kev said he couldn’t stop laughing. He said everyone’s reaction was one of the funniest things he’d ever seen. He said that Old Man Fresno nearly fell offa the cooler he’d been sittin on when he heard the sound of plastic exploding against the bark. The guy cried out “What are you doing?!” which made Kevin laugh even harder. And that was it. Those were all the details he gave me.
Let’s fast-forward one last time now to a little more than two years after that drunken night on Leamington. I’m a student at Marquette University in Milwaukee and it’s a couple weeks before the start of my junior year. Although I’m spending the summer livin in Chicago at my parents’ house and workin with my dad, it’s the weekend and I decided to go up to Mil-Town for the night to party. While there, I run into a buncha guys I knew from the past, one of whom happens to be Fresno. All the good times come racing back to mind. I wanna talk to him about the old days blowin off fireworks together and talk about the time they zipped up Cheeks in the suitcase and hear more stories about Cole stompin Polacks and all that good stuff. I wanna go up to him and say what’s up, but I hesitate cuz I hadn’t seen him since that incident at the block party. I was embarrassed about my behavior and didn’t wanna pretend like it never happened. So, before anything else, I thought it best to address the issue and start off with an apology. So, I said somethin like…
“Hey man, haven’t seen ya since your block party a couple summers ago. I was kinda blacked-out and don’t remember much – not usin that as an excuse or anything – but I just wanted to say I’m sorry for smashin that chair and makin a scene there. That shit wasn’t cool of me.”
“Thanks for sayin so,” he said. “But Lal…” he paused, “…you insulted my dad in fronta everybody.”
“Yeah,” he said, “you called him a fag.”
“Oh,” I was taken aback. “I did?”
“Yes, you did.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, quite sure.”
“Oh, I see. Well, fuck man,” I said, “I don’t remember having done that. I’m really sorry.”
We didn’t talk much after that. Suddenly I felt this insuperable distance between us. Gone forever was the camaraderie that we once enjoyed as boys while shooting off bottle rockets together in the street on the Fourth of July. I’d called his dad a fag in front of an audience, and he and I both knew that there was no comin back from that.