STREET FAIR, POPULATION: EVERYONE YOU NEVER/EVER MET. AND YOUR MOM.
“Look it, look it!” Louis said, his arm extended, pointing out some kid in the middle of the street, naked, except for full hockey gear and roller-blades. He was chasing chicks around a goalie glove on his hand and a shot glass stuck in the grate of the goalie mask. Louis himself was in a pair of Hawaiian print shorts with Vans on his feet and a backpack and that was it, because for whatever reason, people just could not bring themselves to wear a full on set of clothes to the street fair.
A girl with sky blue hair rode by on a bike, riding no hands, and flashed us her tits and a wide smile.
“God I love my life right now,” I said, watching her blue hair whip away from us. My knees bent and I slouched awkwardly because Artie was rifling around in the backpack on my back, looking for a small baggie.
“Did’ya tell Artie, yet?” Louis asked.
“Tell me what?” Artie demanded. He was that way, this Artie. He loved gossip, he was a shit-stirrer and he liked to buzz around Louis and me since sophomore year or so. The previous year, at the Warped Tour, Artie actually lit his own nut sac on fire for the opportunity to be crowd surfed to the front of the stage. That asshole got up front and stayed there for two hours then spent the next nine hours after that in the E.R. getting his balls bandaged. He ended up getting an infection that messed with him for a month after that. Two weeks after the all clear, he did it again. I don’t know if he was stupid or crazy or the most hard-ass person I knew, but I knew something great usually happens if Artie hangs around long enough.
“The big news is, Artie, we hate you and Louis rimmed your mom,” I told him. He kicked lightly at the back of my knee and zipped up my backpack. When I turned, he had my bowl in one hand, my In Utero c.d. in the other and a lighter between his teeth.
“You’re doing that backwards,” I told him and took the lighter from his teeth. “Don’t lose that c.d.”
“I’m gonna burn a copy, I lost mine and that’s a travesty. I won’t stand for it. Tell me your big secret.”
“Listen, You know how all day long you spout out ridiculous bullshit and say ‘I’m gonna put that on a t-shirt’ but you never do?” Louis said.
“Yes,” Artie confirmed, looking bored, out to the crowd now, tapping my bowl against his thigh.
“That. We’re gonna do that,” Louis said. “Put all the dumb shit you say on t-shirts and take custom orders too, because everyone thinks they’re a fucking poet or a comedian. All anyone wants to do is subscribe to and promote their own bullshit and beliefs and humor.”
“Bullshit. You’re gonna be what? The next Lagerfields of the t-shirt world?” Artie laughed. “You dumb bastards, you don’t know shit about starting a legit business. You know how much that will cost?”
Louis swooped his arm around Artie’s neck and I ruffled his hair, then lightly smacked his cheeks and bent at my knees, so I could make eye contact with him while he was in a headlock.
“We’re using my college fund and Louis’s mom said she’d give us a few grand. And Ramsey—you remember him? He graduated a couple of years ago and got his CPA–he’s gonna help, so say it,” I told him and Louis grinned. “Say we’re the kings.”
“Say it, Art!” I shouted and the display was starting to draw some attention. “Say we’re smart and say we rule! Say it Art!”
I don’t know how, but organically and with serendipity, all of the freaks I so wanted to serve with t-shirts were there, chanting, “Say it, Art!” right with me. They shouted it and laughed through their piercings and tattoos and ridiculous haircuts, like a chorus singing and we all felt so high and happy, because things were going to work out. Things would be king. How could they not be?
The world was nothing but possibilities and I was going to take them all, because I bought into the bullshit of camaraderie and reaching for the stars and following dreams and on that street, in that time, it was all colors and smiles because no one had really told us “no” yet. If someone told me that night that that was naïve, I would’ve called bullshit.
That’s the way adolescence goes; you rush to push youth out fist first before you’re using that same fist to try to pull it back to you and all of those lost pieces– those tiny shards of wonder and ambition and hope and the feeling that you can do anything at all and you have no idea what the term ‘tax exemption’ even means—those missing pieces are just dropped along the way.
“You’re the king! You rule!” Artie exploded under Louis’s arm and was let go, much to the crowds delight—they went up in drunken cheers and screaming and Artie flew forward and looped around, jumping on my back, kissing the side of my face and telling me he loved my stupid idealism.
Late that night, the fair still going strong, Louis actually landed the blue haired girl and left to go screw around in an alley while Artie and I roamed around the street, nodding at people we knew, sharing a 40 oz of shitty malt beer in a paper bag. Earlier, he made me stop at a piercing vendor and hold his hand while he got his eyebrow pierced. I had to admit, it looked good on him.
When it was nearly dawn, we found a stretch of curb and sat down, our backpacks brushing the ground behind us, a film from nearly-yesterdays party covering our faces and arms.
I lit the bowl and passed it to Artie.
“You know what you’re doing?” he asked, accepting my offer.
“No, really know? Because listen, I know I make a lot of dumb ass moves that could potentially fuck up my life—“
“No shit?” I mocked.
“Here’s the problem with your plan, Adam,” Artie said, squinting his drooping, tired eyes as he pointed out to the crowd. The masses were moving slower now, breaking off into hook ups and potential fist fights. The fun was about to die out.
“Every one of these kids is a prick,” Artie said. “They refuse to be content—maybe they can’t. I don’t know. What I know is there is some kind of unsatisfied rage in all of them—you know that, too. You know it because you have it, too. And what are you gonna do? Give them a fucking t-shirt to assuage this?”
“Yes,” I confirmed. “And if they want Unsatisfied Rage Monster printed on it, that’s what they’ll have.”
“They’ll hate you for it in the long run,” Artie said. “You’ll be the machine that they’re raging against, until they get mortgages and golden retrievers and babies. Then you know what you’ll be? The place Mom and Dad used to get their ugly t-shirts from. And broke. You’ll be broke.”
“Where the hell is your eternal optimism right now?” I asked, irritated as all hell.
Artie looked down at his chest then back up at me.
“I don’t know. I didn’t have a shirt to remind me of what I represent,” he said.
“Fuck you, Art. It’s a good idea.”
“The problem with you, Adam, is that I know this isn’t just a business plan to you. You were never into anything just for a profit. You go in to things heart first. You’re so un-jaded and willing to be heartbroken over any old thing these days.”
That was true.
“I don’t think that’s a bad way to be, baby,” Artie said, and jacked my ribs with his elbow before losing his smile and looking up at the sky. “You let your heart rule. Tip of the spear and all that—but if you let your heart go in first, it’s the first thing that’s gonna break.”
“I believe in this,” I said with a shrug.
“I know you do. That’s the problem.”
Four months later, Artie got mugged in the city. His femoral artery was cut by a broken bottle right out in the street, they took off with his wallet, keys and backpack and were never caught. Artie, for all his talk of love and his wild heart, died violently and unjust. Taken from us just like that, our Artie. I think it was the first time I learned—with great and extreme clarity– that no matter how much you want or love, sometimes, the world just takes what it wants and fuck you for thinking it won’t.
Ironically, I think that’s the lesson Artie was trying to tell me the night of the fair. This youth will slip away regardless of how tightly you hold on to it. Don’t love too intensely, don’t want anything so much and with all of your heart because when it goes, your heart goes with it.
Lou and I used the college fund and Lou’s mother’s money to go to Pamplona, mad with grief and rage at the loss of Artie, we were yearning to piss life away and burn it down.
I never replaced the In Utero c.d. that was lost in his death. Some things, you just can’t recollect.