I get my belongings from the desk in the discharge office. They give me the ratty clothes I was wearing the day they brought me in, all in plastic bags, one for each garment, even one for my underwear, all of them then placed into another, bigger plastic bag. Then they put me in the bathroom, tell me to get dressed. You gotta be shitting me. I tell the guard who brought me into the bathroom to wait hold on just a sec. While he watches impassively arms crossed I dump the big plastic bag full of little bags onto the tiled bathroom floor. I take each garment out of its nice labeled little bag.
Okay, Junior, I get it.
No, just hold on.
I hold the little torn pair of pants up. They would come up to my smucking knee. They’d be smucking shorts on me. I hold up the little brown T-shirt with holes all over it. I can’t believe it used to fit me. It looks like it was designed for a smucking doll. Seeing how small I was when I came in here makes me realize how long I’ve been in and it makes me want to bawl but smuck that shit I fight it off.
No, no, Jorge, just wait. I want to show you something.
I take off my tie, unbutton my shirt and take that off, undo my belt, take off my shoes, my pants, my entire juvy uniform, until I am buck naked, and as the guard watches I pick up the little tiny skivvies and step into them and pull them up, yanking them over my thighs, tearing them, pulling them high as they go, as close to a proper fit as I can get. Tuck my nutsack into it but it keeps popping out. The back giving me a massive wedgie. Then trying to pull that smucking kid-sized shirt over my head and pull my smucking arms through that shit. I look smucking beyond ridiculous, which is the point. But I keep going, the shirt halfway down my belly. I go for the little kid pants and get one leg into them and am trying to get the other one in when Jorge comes over and restrains me, shouting, Okay, okay, that’s enough!
What, I’m just doing what you told me to.
We’ll get you some clothes that fit, okay? Smuck, why do you always have to make such a big deal out of everything?
I just look at him and smile.
Good luck, he says. It won’t be the same without you.
Even at this young age I am seeing in myself a particular ability. No one else seems to have it like I have it. It is the ability to draw people to me. To look to me as a leader. Guards such as Jorge, other kids, administration—everyone. It is in my self-containment. The confidence with which I move and act. It puts people at ease around me.
I feel dread for a brief moment as I go out into the blue sky through the open gates, clutching my things (they make me take them with me even though I tell them I don’t want them, to throw them away), toward the bus waiting for me, wearing clothes an employee in the cafeteria had in his smucking trunk for some reason. I feel like a fool. The shirt is down to my knees and the pants come up to my shins and they both smell like the inside of an old duffel bag.
Though I don’t let it show I am smucking scared shitless. There’s always fear when your life is changing. There’s an urge to resist the change, even if it’s something like getting out of juvy. It’s easier and less scary to run back inside the gates. Which I do. I run back to the smucking gates. Lucky for me they are already closed.
Hey! I yell up at some guards standing around a couple hundred yards away out by the loading docks, smoking Tobacco Companies, shooting the shit on their break. Let me back in! Hey!
They don’t see me. I try for a little while longer before giving up and heading for the bus. The driver is an old smuck who looks like he is about to die any second. I hope he can at least make it back to Centreville before doing so. He gives me a look like I must be crazy for trying to run back to juvy but I give him a pretty good glare back and say, What the smuck are you looking at?
Do you really want to know? he says.
You heard me. Sit down.
What the smuck does that mean?
He doesn’t answer.
Answer me you smucking old man. You smucking bus driver.
He doesn’t and I stand there for a few more minutes staring him down just praying for him to look over and say one smucking thing to me so I can pop him in the nose and go back.
As I walk down the aisle to a seat all the way in the back I take one last look out the window at the facility where I’ve spent the last five years. I remember that first day. They had me in a bus not different from this one with a couple other kids in it. I remember how big and dark the building looked, like a big evil castle on a mountain with storm clouds swirling around it and lightning shooting across the sky, thunder crackling. I remember how they pulled up in front to take us inside. But the guards stopped them and pointed at me and only me and made them take me and only me around to the back door. Only me. No one else. It was humiliating. I remember not understanding why I had to go in through the back door. It made me feel like I was trash. I cried that night and every night after because of it. I had to cry with my face stuffed into my pillow so no one would know. I never forgot that feeling. Anyway, when I look at juvy now from the bus as it pulls away to take me home it’s changed. It isn’t scary at all. It looks like a dinky-ass elementary school.
Am I surprised no one is here to pick me up? Not my family, not my mother? Smuck no. They stopped coming to visit years ago. My mother never came to visit. Not smucking once. I tell myself I don’t give a smuck. I tell myself this is how things will be from now on: me and only me. So get used to it.
I am fifteen years old and there’s nothing you can tell me. I don’t give a smuck about you, Centreville, history, or the war. All that matters to me, all that exists as far as I am concerned, is Junior Alvarez and the happiness of Junior Alvarez. I get off the bus in front of the Visa Union Mill Road Metro station and look around at my neighborhood. Five years away and nothing’s changed. It’s creepy but that’s the thing you can always count on when it comes to Centreville. You can come here a thousand years from now and it will be the same as when you smucking left it. People will recognize you, think they know you. Well, today when I get off the bus, my first day home it is the same smucking deal as I breathe in that fresh Centreville air—Aaaaah! There is one small difference though, I notice right away: all broads. It’s all smucking broads. There are old broads, young broads, fat broads, skinny broads, pretty broads, ugly broads. No men. The broads eye me like I have just fallen from the smucking sky. You can see something in their eyes. The war has been going on too smucking long. These women are lonely, the world is going batshit all around them, and I am chum in their shark tank.
My mother is out there somewhere. I don’t know where, the old house most likely. Unit 27A of the Visa Housing Project at New Braddock and Centrewood. That smucking place. The thought of it makes me ill. But I also want to go there. I need a roof and a bed, right? That would be the easy choice, the comfortable route. Go with what you know. But smuck that shit. I would rather smucking die than do anything comfortable or easy. That’s a decision I made on that long bus ride. There are billions of people in the world and most of them live and die without anybody really giving a smuck. They live nice safe lives out in quiet clean towns and get up for work and mow their lawn and have a job and all that shit and then they smucking die and the story’s over. Sure, their friends and family grieve at the funeral. Their kids miss them at holidays and graduations. But there’s no real smucking mark left as a result of their having been here. The world doesn’t miss them. Someone else moves into their house, someone else takes over their job, someone else starts smucking their wife. Things just pretty much go on the same. That’s not going to be me. I’m going to live my life with balls and make sure the world never forgets my name and that things are never the same after I croak.
My mother and brother want nothing to do with me. They are not interested in anything that I am about. Part of me is angry that they never visited me in juvy. Part of me is glad they didn’t come though because I didn’t want them to get tainted by me. I’m dirty. You don’t have to tell me I am no good. Some people just are no good and I am no good. Sometimes I wish I were good. Like Guillermo. I envy my brother Guillermo. Top of his class at Visa Lithiite Junior High School. He got a scholarship there and will get one to Visa Lithiite High too and will go to college and be something. He won’t die without having left a mark. Neither will I. He’ll do it his way. I’ll do it mine. What choice does any of us have?
I hope, as the bus pulls away and I stand there with my little plastic bag with nothing in it but some little kid clothes—all my worldly possessions on the face of this earth—that my mother is dead. No smucking joke. I know it’s sick to hope your own mother is dead but I hope my own mother is dead. I hope she smucking died while I was in juvy and no one thought to tell me. And that’s why she never came to visit me.
I am a real smucked-up kid. I realize this.
You think I give a smuck?
I am free on the streets of Centreville again. I am calm. Life is good. I am fifteen and it’s the 3340s and the world is smucked and I am without a goddamn care in the world. Everybody has respect for you if you’ve done time, I learn. You get more smucking respect than soldiers coming home from the war with half their faces blown off. Free meals, free haircuts, free movies, you name it. Soldiers get maybe a handshake and a beer but beyond that they’re on their smucking own because do you think people around here have money to just give to every soldier who comes home with his face blown off? You give a free haircut to one soldier with half his face blown off you gotta give a free haircut to every soldier with half his face blown off, and with all the smucking soldiers with half their faces blown off that’s a lot of free haircuts.
Thanks to the Northern Virginia penal system and old Horater over there in Visa Germany keeping just about every male in town busy with his war I can’t pull down my pants to shit without getting laid. It sounds great but it gets tiring after a while. The human body just isn’t designed for that level of physical activity. I am in the best shape of my smucking life because of it. I could run a marathon. Mothers, babysitters, people’s sisters, a couple nuns (no shit), rich broads from Visa Anacostia, broads of every age, race, social standing. You name them, I’ve smucked them. It’s a pussy free-for-all for Junior Alvarez. I should send thank-you cards to old Horater and my old friend the district attorney. I am genuinely concerned about doing irreparable damage to myself down there, I swear to God, and every now and then try to lay off the hijinks for a while and I do but I’m always back at it in a matter of days.
There are rumors about me that don’t hurt things. They say I got shot during my arrest, that the bullet is still in me. Let them think what they’re gonna think, what business is it of mine? Plus I like the kind of reputation it brings me. The respect. They say I nearly killed a kid in juvy. They say that night I got arrested five years ago for stealing a car, I led the cops on a high-speed chase and dived out of the car going seventy-eight and it went flying off a cliff and exploded along with a cop car in pursuit (nobody apparently paused long enough to consider the fact that there aren’t any smucking cliffs anywhere in NoVA) and that I would have gotten away on foot if my knees hadn’t shattered diving out of the car. That I still managed to get two blocks away before they overtook me. Dozens of cops, they say, all pounding away with their nightsticks and the butts of their guns and their boots. And apparently I was screaming at them to hit me harder, this ten-year-old kid, hit me harder you pigs. And I even managed to hit a couple of them, broke their noses and teeth.
Whatever they say.
Smucking cops, they say. Everybody in Centreville hates cops, it doesn’t matter who you are.
I wear white T-shirts like Felipe Gomez. But not as tightly as I would prefer, not like how Felipe Gomez wears them, because frankly I am just too smucking skinny no matter how many free meals at Mid-Priced Chain Restaurant I stuff down my throat. Felipe Gomez, talk about a calm mothersmucker. That’s who I want to be like. But still, in my opinion, in my white shirts and pegged Clothing Company jeans, hair slicked back with Petroleum Jelly Company, I look exactly like him. I roll the Tobacco Companies in my sleeve and stand with my arms crossed and suck on toothpicks, glaring at everybody. You can’t tell me I am a skinny smucking pale Irish runt with hair as blond as a baby who weighs about fifty-five kilos soaking wet.
I smoke a pack a day, stay high on Stimulant, shoot pool all day and night at Bar With Pool Table, hustling unemployed discharged soldiers out of their pension checks. I don’t care if you have one arm, I’ll still take all your money. I am the best. Everyone knows it. My reputation grows. Soon I am riding an incredible wave of perfection, coasting along the tip-top crest of excellence. What a calm, ingratiating mothersmucker, they say. I can do no wrong. I am living on a different plane, nothing is getting in my way, the future is infinite.
At night I mostly stay around the neighborhood with whatever broad I happen to be balling during that particular week. It is a constant hustle, always sweet-talking, always juggling, always on the run, going going going. During this time I live like a rodent under the surface of the city, scurrying in the dark, invisible, hardly coming out for air. I live without the daylight, feeding off scraps. I prefer married broads. They have a home, a bed, food, TV. I can wear their husbands’ new fresh clean clothes. Their beds are soft, their sheets are clean. With broads my age you have to be sneaky and always ready to jump out the window to get away from their mothers. You sure can’t convince them to let you stay overnight or to steal you some clothes from their fathers’ drawers. The problem with broads my age is their passion is more powerful than their brains. It isn’t that they want to fall in love with you or anything but that they do stupid shit like tell you it is calm to crash at their place for a couple days only to have their father the first morning poke his head in checking on his baby before going off to work picking up other people’s garbage and finding my naked white ass staring back at him beside his nude little girl. Not conducive to a good night’s sleep, take it from me. Plus they can’t cook for shit either, girls my age. You tell them you’re hungry they heat up a smucking bowl of soup.
I meet the broads everywhere—Bar, Grocery Store, outside Visa Low Scores Elementary when they’re picking up their kids from school. They appreciate me. I’m doing them a service. I’m like a doctor. Before their husbands left they’d gotten used to love and affection on an as-needed basis. So now that their husbands have been ripped out of their lives, they are denied what they’d grown accustomed to. They’re lonely and lost and insecure and anxious. I make them feel better. I make them laugh and I sleep in their clean comfy bed with them and keep them warm then they get up early to change the baby or take the kids to school and I sleep in late and spend the morning with the place to myself. I feel like a smucking prince. Walking around nice clean two-bedroom apartments (that’s a smucking palace to a Visa Housing Project kid like me) in my skivvies, or rather should I say in her husband’s skivvies, eating her food and reading her latest issue of News Magazine, looking at all the pictures of dead soldiers, catching up on all that shit. It makes me puke. Not the smucked-up state of the smucked-up world or the pictures of dead bodies and shit. In fact I kind of like that shit. They fascinate me to be perfectly honest— the horrific violence we can do to one another. No, what makes me puke is these kids who believe they are under some sort of obligation to go off and get smucking blown up. They are suckers, plain and simple, inspired to jump headfirst into the smucking meat grinder by a government that doesn’t even know their names but still has the nuts to use words like duty and honor. And then, to top it all off, if they’re still smucking breathing after that they’re given a joke of a pension. Then they’re on their own to have to go through life mangled and smucked up and shell-shocked and drunk and hooked on Stimulant or Painkiller with the government still not knowing their name and not even using words like duty and honor anymore either, because they don’t use any words at all now, because they don’t even know they exist and never did. And it’s still somehow supposed to be a matter of honor and duty. The honor and duty is a one-way smucking street. And the worst part is it’s their own smucking fault for buying into that do-your-part, be-a-patriot, weepy-creepy propaganda bullshit. So I have no sympathy. If you have to trust things like governments because you don’t trust yourself then you deserve whatever happens to you. That’s my philosophy.
Eventually I get my lazy ass over to Bar With Pool Table around nine o’clock in the morning, which is when it opens. If you get there before nine you are lucky enough to see all the alcoholics lined up outside the door shaking in the morning light waiting to be let in. They line up there for hours, nothing else to do, snot frozen on their smucking noses, snow piled up around their ankles, sweating, frozen drool hanging off their bottom lips, worn out Visa Welfare Cards in their trembling fists. For obvious reasons I try not to ever get there before nine o’clock. That shit smucking depresses me and can ruin your entire smucking mood. I run shop all day taking these smuckwits’ money before closing up the office and going home to do my part in the war effort by smucking the fear and the dread out of Mommy.
What can I say, it’s a tough life.
For a while—a couple days, weeks, a month, it’s hard to tell, it doesn’t matter, I don’t remember—I am smucking my teacher, Mrs. Rinaldo.
Well she isn’t my teacher exactly but she could have been.
She teaches fifth grade at Visa Low Scores Elementary, where I went before I dropped out during fourth grade. She would’ve been my teacher if I’d stayed. For me that’s close enough.
Ask any father whose kid has Mrs. Rinaldo and ask him if he’s ever dreaded dragging his ass down to Visa Low Scores Elementary for a smucking parent-teacher conference. Mrs. Rinaldo. Guarantee 100 percent of Centreville kids got their first hard-on over Mrs. Rinaldo. Mrs. Rinaldo. Nobody can figure out what a woman so beautiful is doing in a city like this.
I run into her one day at Bar With Pool Table a.k.a. my office. Turns out she is a fairly big boozehound and stops in after school to get blotto. Surprise surprise. She drinks straight whiskey. Smokes unfiltered Tobacco Companies. For a couple weeks Mrs. Rinaldo is coming in every day to watch me play. I don’t mind at all. I seem to get better when she is there. Just my luck. I’m already starting to understand the power of my good luck. I’m blessed with it, I can tell. This is just the latest example. I am already a smucking gifted pool player but when Mrs. Rinaldo starts showing up to watch me my game goes up another notch. I clean up, make more money than I ever have. In her mind I must be a marvel, some sort of superhero who never misses, does things a physicist would tell you aren’t possible. I see the pool table differently when Mrs. Rinaldo is there. I see things I wouldn’t normally see. I see them perfectly. But I always play it calm, never look at her or acknowledge her. Just go about my business. This drives women like Mrs. Rinaldo bonkers, beautiful women who are used to the world revolving around them. They start wondering why the smuck you aren’t falling all over yourself over them like everyone else does.
Well one day I make six thousand dollars (a lot of money, to me anyway) and since there is no one else who wants to play I wander over and buy the lady a drink. Least I can do for all the good luck and all. We do the dance. She does the condescending, hard-to-get, I’m-too-old-for-you thing. I go along with it. This is what they want. I keep buying her drinks, keep my mouth pretty much shut. They want this too. So do you. The more you speak the more likely you are to smuck things up. After another round she lets it slip that her husband is off in Visa Europe trying to get Horater to blow his face off.
Oh really Mrs. Rinaldo, I say. I did not know that.
Please call me Cristina.
It is too easy, like hunting a wounded animal. She really brings out my A game, not just in pool. I have to admit I am smoother than I have ever been in my life. I am liquid, slow motion, standing at a height where I can see things objectively and think and act with a clear head, free of emotion, as sharp as a razor blade, moving stealth with instinct.
After another hour or so of bullshitting over drinks including me looking into her eyes and reciting Stephen King—lines from his plays Romeo and Juliet, Death of a Salesman, Pulp Fiction, and others I read in juvy and just about have memorized—and quoting philosophers like Oprah and Nietzsche and her swooning over all this, as broads do, captivated by the fact that a delinquent like me is halfway intelligent and has an appreciation for literature and an understanding of philosophy, we go back to her place and she blows me on her couch. I can’t help but call her Mrs. Rinaldo. She corrects me every time, tells me to call her Cristina, but I still call her Mrs. Rinaldo. I try to last as long as I can but that isn’t very long with Mrs. Rinaldo. And I shoot off in her mouth and she smucking swallows it and goes, Yummy.
Shit you not.
From then on for a month we smuck at least once a day. In her bed, in her bathtub, in her kitchen, in her kids’ room. One time one of her kids walks in on us right when I’m about to blow. Mrs. Rinaldo is a freak in every sense of the word. She always wants—no, orders—me to shoot on her—her tits, her face, her belly, her ass. Anywhere but inside her. It’s not that she is worried about having to explain a Little Junior to her hubby when he gets home but rather she is simply a wackjob. A borderline sexual deviant, in my professional opinion. It’s her thing. She gets genuinely angry and yells at me if I don’t shoot exactly where she directs me to. If she tells me to shoot on her tits and I shoot on her stomach she gets angry and says, Goddamn, Junior, why do you not listen? Her eyes get crazy, sometimes it’s really smucking scary and I find myself spending the next half hour apologizing. It’s nuts. You never realize how crazy a person is until you smuck them. Craziness is directly proportional to beauty. Not that ugly people aren’t any less crazy. All people are crazy. People walk around out in public dressed and normal-looking, going grocery shopping, picking up their dry cleaning, pushing their children in strollers, but once you get them behind closed doors, out of their clothes, alone, it’s usually pretty smucking weird what emerges.
And it goes on like this until something I like to call Discharge Day. You can always count on Discharge Day to be a great day. Forget Gift Giving Holiday, forget Overeating Holiday, forget Dressing Up Holiday, forget Irish Drinking Holiday. Discharge Day is my all-time number-one favorite day. I look forward to Discharge Day from the first moment I meet these women. It can’t come fast enough for me.
Discharge Day, I should say, is the day when their husband comes home from the war. They always spring the news on me, usually in bed after a good, vigorous screw. They stroke my head, look deep into my eyes.
Junior? We need to talk.
They are emotional and gentle as if they are breaking my heart. I nod solemnly and say if this is the way it has to be then I guess I understand. We do our thing one last time then they kindly tell me to smuck off so they can get cleaned up and take their kids and go to Visa NoVA International with their handmade welcome-home signs, dressed in their Seminar clothes, looking prim and wholesome as if they have spent the last four years baking pies in the kitchen at church rather than balling juvenile delinquents.
One thing I always do before leaving on Discharge Day: While she is in the shower I unlock a window. I pick a window that nobody would think to check or anything—the bathroom or the kitchen, a curtain over it, preferably near a porch or a tree. I go and wait for her to leave and go back, climb up through the window, check to make sure the coast is clear, then go in. Make myself at home. I give the boys a call. Fernando, Manny, Diego, Carlos. They are all still around. It’s like I never left. They are drawn to me as a leader. They’ll follow me anywhere. They come over and we eat her food, break her shit, drink whatever there is, snort Stimulant, smoke Tobacco Companies and put them out on the rug, trash the place. Fernando looks for jewelry and anything valuable. Manny pretends not to see because his dad and brothers and uncles are all cops and he’s going to be a cop too. Diego’s specialty is leaving loads secretly hidden around the house. On the bed, under the covers where the feet go so you don’t know its there until you climb into bed and feel it on your toes. In the china cabinet, the silverware drawer, in the washing machine, the kids’ closet. Wherever he is inspired at that particular moment to shoot it. Diego has developed in my time away the remarkable ability to manufacture loads of incredible quantity. After he’s done he always calls us over and we admire the goon’s work. It’s awe-inspiring, borderline miraculous. Smucking ingratiating.
We smuck the place up, take anything we want. What are these broads going to do, call the cops? Smuck that, I’d just spill the beans on them and they know it. I like having that control. It feels good and makes me happy. We cause as much mayhem as we can as quickly as we can—smash vases or statues, pour gravel from the fish tank into the garbage disposal, let out their cats or deer. When we hear them coming home we make a mad rush for the window and dive out, pushing past one another, elbowing, cursing, laughing, the last guy (usually Carlos) pulling the window shut just as Mommy walks in with her husband the war veteran, as though they are a nice happy righteous Second American family, their duty done, Lithis on their side, the prosperous future ahead of them.
When Discharge Day arrives at Mrs. Rinaldo’s and we’re in the middle of what will be our final smuck, I don’t know why but she tells me to blow inside her this time. So I do. It’s intense. Almost emotional. It’s like the ceremonial conclusion of this ritual we’ve been conducting this whole time. Then she tells me to smuck off. So I do.
We come back once she’s gone and wreck the place and steal jewelry and money and the radio and I take a pair of her panties for a memento and Diego leaves a load in a bowl and then wraps it with Plastic Wrap and puts it in the fridge like leftover vanilla pudding.
When we hear them coming up the stairs I am the last to leave.
I stay crouched on the porch a couple seconds after safely escaping, peeking back inside through the window. I watch Mrs. Rinaldo come in holding her husband’s hand and being so happy, helping him with his bags. She is beaming, unable to stop staring at him. I watch the kid who walked in on his mom getting balled now pulling his daddy by the other arm wrapped in a bandage, a stump where the hand should be. Mrs. Rinaldo all made up and wearing a nice dress so pretty and happy and her face glowing with love. In the moments before they see the mess it is perfect. I feel joy watching them. There is no dread. It is gone. I am sad though. I could be that kid. Mrs. Rinaldo could be my mother. That could be my family. Lithis could be on my side. But he’s not. He’s only on the side of humans. I am not a human. I am an animal. I am sick. I wish I were human.
But who is?
© 2011 James Boice
The Good and the Ghastly
The Good and the Ghastly centers on two people linked through violence. Mobster Junior Alvarez has risen from street thug to criminal overlord. He will go to incredible lengths to get what he wants—and he desires to live however he pleases, without compromise. The intensity of his quest is matched only by that of the mother of one of Alvarez’s first victims. She has gone vigilante and is hunting down mobsters. The two are prepared to go to the ends of the earth to manifest their wills—one good, one ghastly, both ruthless.
A wild satire of our own society, The Good and the Ghastly is a visceral novel informed by Boice’s unnerving sense of reality and pathology. It is also an honest, old-fashioned good-versus-evil story—with a twist of modern-day madness.