My daddy served in the war. My daddy’s daddy served in two wars and won a medal for his bravery. My daddy’s son (me) served his prick twice a day, every day, for 29 years. My daddy’s son (me) served himself another helping of hamburger meat and mashed potatoes, three times a day, every day, for 29 years, until he looked like a pile of ground beef himself.
My daddy’s son’s son (my son) was never born, because there was no money or time or love to spare, or so we told ourselves.
My daddy’s daddy beat daddy with a dog leash. He howled at the moon and ground his teeth so hard that tomato juice burst from his lips. I can hear those whippings still, as one generation of skulls cracks into the next, and onward down the line, while somebody screams from the bottom of a well that it’s time to stop, but nobody ever does.
My daddy’s son (me) cried into his hands, every day, for 29 years, because the years stacked up with nothing to show for themselves. And then it got even worse than that.
A gathering was taking place today at the Downtown Convention Center, that big, boxy place where once upon a time I went to an antique car show with my daddy’s daddy.
I hopped onto a baby-blue children’s bike that I found in a trashcan last summer and I rode it five miles to the center of the city. I rode with my knees jutting up into the air, and my spine and legs aching with every turn of the pedals.
My daddy’s daddy flew airplanes over the airport when it was just a big swamp. He built computers and radios and one time he turned a semi-automatic rifle into an automatic rifle, and he and his buddies shot up the face of an old barn. They laughed and coughed and drank whiskey.
His daddy (my daddy’s daddy’s daddy) grew soybeans and dreamed plain and simple nightmares. As he slept, he got so tired, because all night he raced around the yard like a chicken, as a noose bobbled out of the clouds like the hand of God and tried to pluck him up.
I knew this because my daddy’s daddy told me. Pop was crazy, he said. But he was sturdy, and he died of old age in a dim, quiet part of the country.
Downtown washed into view as I headed north. Its signage and storefronts were optimistic in a way that was like another language. I did not understand it, but I could see in its shadings and colorings a suggestion of something that was decidedly for someone else, and I was certain they enjoyed it very much, whoever they were.
My daddy went downtown when he was a young man too. He drove around in a big red car and picked up chicks and shouted out the window in a sing-song way. Steel just moved back then. It almost jumped, like a big frog, and sometimes it tossed you right through the glass and cut your throat, and you died heroically so that mothers and big-titted girlfriends would cry and cry. I could even imagine the most loyal girlfriends climbing down into the graves and grinding in ecstasy on the big-boned corpses. There just was so much there to love.
I did go downtown sometimes, of course, mostly to look for work. I entered through the backdoors, into the greasy kitchens, and sat in ugly rooms cluttered with boxes as hard-faced immigrants scrutinized my fat, failing body.
What could I do?
What could I possibly do?
I picked up pace on the little bike, working it as hard as I could, the thing almost shaking apart under my legs. I didn’t want to miss what was about to happen. The Big Gathering at the Convention Center Parking Lot.
My daddy’s daddy did something like this once. He stormed the beaches of Normandy. He had a gun that shot gigantic bullets, bullets the size of testicles, that ripped apart other men’s bodies as though they were never real, as though they were always and inevitably just ragged red parts meant to be spread over the sand and forgotten forever.
One time I worked out a plan to do something like that to a kid named Andy Brown, who smelled like shit and beat my face with his fat fists, but they found my notebook and sent me to summer school instead.
I was in the Business Zone by now, among the office towers. There was blue glass everywhere like vertical panes of ocean. The cops were invisible, but they were there. They were there and dead-serious about making sure nobody busted into the lobbies with homemade bombs or kitchen knives. They had these guns that could put you down into the deepest-darkest sleep possible, like somebody throwing a hood over the sun, or someone killing the lights in the deepest, darkest bunker at the end of all history. It made me want to cry thinking about it.
My daddy loved the cops, but his cops were like big-blue teddy bears. They rescued kittens and made their wives cum. Our cops were like those black, angry dogs that guard rich people’s houses. All bone and teeth and violence.
As I came onto one of the big avenues, I saw other guys like me riding all kinds of bikes: dirt bikes, ATVs, girly-looking beach cruisers with tassels on the handlebars, stunted, little bikes like my own, probably stolen from children.
They looked like puppies with their mouths agape, sucking air and blowing out stink, blowing out slurs that nobody could hear except themselves.
I gave one of them the signal. It was a big guy on a four-wheeler. He was wearing sunglasses and stared at me like a cop, which scared me, but then he gave me the signal too, and chills went all the way down my spine.
It was finally happening.
A horde of us formed on the big, wide avenue below the office towers. There were maybe a hundred of us, maybe a thousand. Who could tell? We were all in the middle of it all now. For once in our lives we were in the middle of it all.
We poured into the parking lot of the Downtown Convention Center, which was full of buses and cars from other states. They were real slick-looking, bright and smooth, like little space ships. Somebody had spent a lot of money on them. Somebody had spent a lot of money on them and then drove them here, of all places.
What a bunch of retards.
Inside, we knew, was the Miss New Jersey Beauty Pageant, and among them was the Queen of all Creation: Kelly Dimer, the object of our shared desires.
She had long black hair and a big smooth ass.
She let us watch her play video games and showed us every beautiful inch of her beautiful body, except her pussy, which was a small torture. At least we always had her ass.
My daddy’s daddy loved tits. He talked about them all the time. He called them swingers, and said men were like babies and needed tits or they’d starve. I loved the way he wore his baby-blue jeans. He was a fly-boy, a rustler, a gun mechanic.
Kelly made me feel like daddy’s daddy, like a big strong man who knew what he wanted. I’d have paid every dollar I had, which was not so many dollars, just to watch her get fucked. I’d have sold myself into slavery just to look at her through a pane of glass.
We hopped off our bikes and formed a big crowd in front of the Convention Center’s entrance, which was no more than a pair of automatic doors fitted with tinted glass. A handful of private security guards stood in our way, but they looked more like us than cops, which is to say they looked like shit. They mostly had tasers and mace. One guy had a gun.
Somebody spoke up and said bring out Kelly.
They said Kelly who?
We said fuck you, man, bring out Kelly.
They said step back, this is a private event.
We said Kelly would want to come out and pressed closer. The guy with the gun lost his nerve and fell back behind the automatic doors.
Another guard said, maybe we should go get Kelly.
Go get her then, said another.
We backed off a bit, and decided these guys were all right. They had sallow skin and large, distended bodies. They looked like someone had placed them in the center of their uniforms, in the form of a gooey ball, and squeezed until their parts pushed through all the holes in their clothes.
I heard sirens in the distance, which wasn’t good. Usually when I heard sirens, I thought about the ambulance that carted off mom. This time, I thought about getting hurt real by somebody big and strong. It was starting to make me feel sick and dizzy. Just the thought of it.
The other guys were getting excited. They were hopping around, revving the motors on their dirt bikes, saying all kinds of crazy, dirty things that even I wouldn’t repeat.
I thought I was going to be sick. The sirens were getting louder, filling the air around our heads, jimmying into our skulls.
One of the guards came back out and said Kelly wasn’t coming and that we needed to disperse before the cops showed up, or else we’d be sorry.
That’s when people started chanting.
Bring out Kelly!
Bring out Kelly!
Bring out Kelly!
The guards fumbled with their useless weaponry. The crowd pushed up to the doors, which were now locked. The glass bulged with pressure.
Bring out Kelly!
Bring out Kelly!
Bring out Kelly!
Every shout sounded like a gunshot, and I thought about what daddy once said about firecrackers, how they made some men jump and cry, because the sound brought them back, back to the killing fields.
I felt that now. The sound of the sirens brought me back to some horrible place, but I didn’t know where.
How could I be like them, scared of a sound, when all I’d known were empty days and sexless nights?
How could I even begin to know that kind of fear? What was this feeling shaking me apart from the inside?
It flowed up from my balls, swarming like an army of mice with razor-sharp claws that had somehow invaded my body through my asshole. I had a feeling of shit leaking out of my ass. Cum out of my dick. Blood out of my nose.
The sirens were here now. On us, like hammer blows.
A helicopter ripped across the sky.
I tore away from the crowd, leaving my bike. I ran like hell until my knees buckled and I fell forward into a pile of trash bags. I let myself sink into the bundles of black plastic, and there, burrowed under the barely concealed stink, I heard the sirens and the helicopters and the hidden, invisible police swarm over the Convention Center parking lot.
Just a few low screams were audible above the machine-sounds. They sounded like fat little birds chirping for regurgitated food.
They were denied it, of course.
They were denied everything.
I looked up into the trash bags, into the slippery black material, behind which was a mountain of garbage.
I thought about my daddy standing in our little backyard at the bottom of the city. He stood next to my daddy’s daddy, almost shoulder to shoulder. Their arms were crossed, and each of their biceps could have been used as a bowling ball. Or so I believed.
They were grilling hamburgers. Way too many, if I recall, enough to feed an army. The meat was crowded on the grate, and fat poured onto the coals like soiled rain, each drop sending up a sharp sizzle that struck my ears as a whisper.
Later that night, my daddy’s daddy lifted a trash bag from the rusted metal can that we kept in the backyard. It was full of meat and charcoal and grease-soaked paper plates. He passed it to my daddy, and my daddy passed it to me.
Take it, he said.
And I took it.
— Alex Vuocolo is a New York City-based business reporter by way of Delaware County, Pennsylvania.