May 21st, 2016
Before the outlaw known as the Rat Out of Hell, William DeBolt was a pudgy kid with a broken Cavalier. He borrowed the car from his stepfather that afternoon. It was graduation day, high school, and he’d begged his parent to let him drive. At least let him leave in style. Though Will wasn’t known for following the rules, he was far from a troubled child. His step-father obliged. Not like the kid ever stepped out of line before. In truth, the step-father secretly hoped Will would raise some Cain. The kid lacked spirit.
Will never arrived at the gymnasium, nor wore the arcane cap and gown (of all the cultish rituals to survive widespread atheism, how did that outfit make the cut?). He pushed in a Ramones cassette. He drove to Baltimore City under a full moon.
Over I-70, down I- 83 he traveled, the gas riding low in the red. Across the 695 beltway and then down into the Jones Falls Expressway. That little creek that winds through a dirty old town. He took the Northern Parkway exit on a whim, crossed over Falls Road and up a wooded hill. At the top, you could almost convince yourself the city was civilized. There’s nice private schools that way. Bryn Mawr for the girls, Gilman for the boys. Will drove past and hit Greenmount Road. He took a right turn.
There aren’t hookers on that stretch of Greenmount, at least not in droves. But the liquor stores sell through bullet proof glass to all ages. Your author once saw an eight-year-old girl pick up a handle of vodka for her grandmother and the proprietor didn’t bat an eye. Fast food joints double as open-air drug markets. It smells like refuse. Will loved the smell. He hailed from the hills, never saw so many people out so late, and it was only ten PM. He cut up thirty third street past a Subway and then North on Charles Street.
The Cavalier broke down between John’s Hopkins University and a college bar. It was eleven thirty at night. In six hours he left the past behind. He couldn’t believe how easy it was. Had half expected to get pulled over and hauled back home. He never wanted to go back. Will checked over his shoulders. No one was paying attention.
Stepping out of the car, Will lit a gas station quality Zippo lighter. He placed it next to the gas tank and closed the metal cover. He pulled the collar of his sleeveless denim vest up over his neck. William DeBolt walked into a bar to find a place to live in the big city.
The walkway off the sidewalk led down two short flights of steps. The bar felt like a basement, and the college kids liked it that way. Most of their drinking experience before the fake IDs took place in their parents’ basements. This was a natural evolution. Management set up ping pong tables in the back of the dimly lit drinking hall, past the folding tables and white plastic lawn chairs. They’d tossed the nets in the trash as soon as the boxes were open. Children played ping pong. These were beer pong tables, where the wealthy elite squander their wild oats.
Polo shirts and khaki shorts, halter tops and pornographic denim. Will saw the movies. Even the worst of the American Pie genre was less daring than the truth of higher education. A nineteen-year-old clad in pink shorts and a green polo turned his Tweety Bird yellow visor backwards and upside down. He teeter-tottered on shaky legs, more hindered than helped by the seventeen-year-old girl under his left arm. Will ogled the girl and hoped one day she or one of her ilk would help him stand.
The crowd cheered for “Pooh Bear,” the nineteen-year-old’s moniker, to shoot the ping pong ball he loosely grasped. He pointed the ball toward the other end of the table. Two cups rested there, vertically aligned with the quasi-athlete. His wrist dangled, his fingers barely holding the tiny white missile. The seventeen-year-old at his side screamed, “Do it,” into his ear. Pooh Bear leered at his mate. He threw up on her matching white tank top and skirt.
The crowd went “Oooh!” and “Shit!” and laughed. Pooh Bear’s eyes bulged. He lobbed the ball toward the cups across the table. It bounced, once, twice, and by the grace of an unholy God came to rest in the front-most cup. The crowd of child alcoholics went insane. The seventeen-year-old girl, no aroused by mounting popularity, kissed him on the mouth. He threw up a little more against the harsh pressure of her tongue, but she hardly noticed.
Wiliam DeBolt joined a single file line of boys. Each high-fived Pooh Bear in turn. It was the shot of the year, or the week, or at least it was fucking epic. One boy snap chatted the shot to his mother by accident. When Will reached the front of the line he grabbed Pooh Bear’s hand and brought him in for a hug.
“Awesome, bro,” Will said. He had never said that sentence before. If Pooh Bear were capable of paying attention he would’ve noticed the unpracticed colloquialism, would’ve referred to Will as, “straight tripping.”
“Thanks man.” Pooh Bear burped and a line of drool joined two others on his lightly bearded, blonde chin.
“Where’s the after party at? I’m trying to wicked party,” Will said. He pronounced every syllable.
“Right bro,” Pooh Bear said. He hadn’t realized he’d have to talk to this strangely dressed, out of shape punk. He wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but he thought it might be vaguely gay. “No homo,” Pooh Bear said, as a precaution. Always a safe move.
“Right, no homos at the after party.” William DeBolt didn’t have a problem with the homosexual community. He’d never known a homosexual to his knowledge. “We’re going to drink just, you know, a whole lot of beer! Bro!” To emphasize his inclusion, Will gripped Pooh Bear’s shoulder as well as his friend, the unfortunately named Boris.
Boris was not nearly as drunk as Pooh Bear; he’d attended a rather pointless alcohol education course that evening that detained him by one hour. This equated to approximately three Bud Light Limes and five shots of Fireball liqueur. Fortunately, Boris had upped his rate to accommodate. He only saw double at that moment. One might excuse him for saying, “You fucking with my bro, bro? You fucking with me, you fucking faggot?”
The punk rocker didn’t understand. He thought he had clarified, however deceptively, that he was a harsh critic of homosexuals and their ilk. Boris didn’t appear to be joking around, though it was awful dark in there. No, this most certainly qualified as a fight. Will took his hand off Pooh Bear’s shoulder and punched Boris in the stomach, left and low. He crouched down. They’d all jump in, assault loomed on all sides. Will kept his fists forward like a turn of the century pugilist.
A rush of women, unaware of the violence, flooded the bar. They knocked over beers and cocktails and shared fourteen conversations between twelve empty blonde heads. They wore baby blue tank tops from which they had sliced large and necessary fabric. We live in a modern era, when the exposing of a woman’s arms, shoulders, and breasts is fundamental to enticing the discerning young alcoholic. The array of bare skin distracted Boris. Pooh Bear forgot William DeBolt ever spoke to him.
Will glared at the boys and girls. He’d entered the bar with a plan, crafted on his long drive from the county: find bar, charm frat boys, attend after party (he’d overheard many after party tales in high school; he often when the origin parties took place) and once the residents of the frat house expired, remain on the sidelines of all conversations until he was an accepted staple. He wasn’t clear one how one joined the fraternity. He didn’t understand that they were, in theory, academic institutions. What to do now? He couldn’t just leave.
As Pooh Bear and Boris slipped out of his life forever, Will acquired two partial beers and one small glass of cinnamon liqueur (the aforementioned Fireball) of a beer pong table. He considered this a satisfactory victory. That and he’d just been in his first grown up fight. Since he threw the sole blow, made contact, and walked away unharmed, William DeBolt won. He celebrated by drinking the liqueur It was disgusting. He understood the appeal. He wanted a great deal more.
The bar area consisted of fifteen stools, largely pushed aside, twenty three children standing in small groups with their backs against the wooden rail, and fifteen other children desperately trying to push through the groups to order a beverage. There was no reason why the original twenty three needed to be standing in the way. They saw no reason to make their colleagues’ live convenient.
Will noted their apathy and responded in kind. He jammed his shoulder in between two boys that could have been Boris and Pooh Bear’s fraternal twins (not identical, but certainly fraternal) and forced them apart. The chafed at his interruption. Later that evening, the tale of the interaction would grow into a battle of wits when the two passed the marijuana pipe in a circle on the floor of their dorm room. The phrase, “I would’ve” bore overuse in the telling.
However, in the moment, the two saw Will’s confidence and thought it best to leave the stocky punk kid unmolested. A wise choice on their part. William DeBolt now believed himself a world class bar brawler and searched for another opportunity to prove his mettle. Resting his elbows, he peered about for likely opposition. It seemed to him that in every large group of people there are enemies. If he were to defeat just about any of the arrogant Hopkins clan, a sympathetic faction would embrace him as one of their own. The enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that.
What Will did not know is that poor people are the enemy of the rich, that this supersedes petty differences.
There was plenty of time for Will to learn. In the meanwhile, he’d grown frustrated with waiting for more liquor and performed a cardinal sin: William DeBolt lifted his red dixie cup and waved it at the bartender erratically.
Mary, the bartender, stood five feet and one inch tall, weight under one hundred pounds. In a defiance of physics one often discovers in the service industry, Mary was capable of out drinking any of the children and ended the very few physical squalls that took place at her bar by taking six foot zero inches tall men by their earlobes and evicting them tout suite. She was a career bartender, which is a super power unto itself. Mary’s first instinct to William DeBolt’s infraction was to murder him and every person he ever loved. Her second was to smile and raise one finger to indicate that in one minute she would provide service. An acceptable lie.
One Will did not understand. He looked at his digital watch which showed seconds. When sixty passed he raised his dixie cup once more. To his credit, this time he did not swing it about as if he might die any moment.
Rather than 86 the punk, Mary took pity. Mary enjoyed the punk and metal musical forms. She remembered the learning curve of bar culture. Most importantly, she took a maudlin pleasure in a young crusty invading the den of wealth.
“You got ID, hon?” Mary said.
Will froze. Many of the children around him were obviously drinking illegally. William DeBolt was exactly eighteen, and though this preceded the required age due to teetotalers in PTAs nationwide, he hadn’t known this would present a problem until now. He patted his pockets. He hoped that this search would but him time to escape before he was arrested.
Mary rolled her eyes. “What do you want?”
“Jack and coke. Sorry, you know these kids. They throw me off. Thanks for asking, ‘cause I’m twenty-”
“I hear you.” Mary suspected that Jack and Coke was an order the young punk practiced in the mirror. She saved the establishment money by pouring Evan Williams, a cheaper black label, into the cup. “You starting a tab?”
A tab is a means of recording one’s purchases to be paid off in the future. In establishments that serve alcohol, that time concludes when one decides to leave or is asked to do so. You know this, dear reader, because you’re a cultured person with excellent taste. Will had only ever heard the word used to describe a small flap, strap, or loop used for pulling or hanging. His confidence from the recent battle decreased steadily from one moment to the next.
“You got a credit card, hon?”
“I have a debit card?” He borrowed it from his step-father. For gas.
Mary swiped the card in her record keeping machine. She leaned over the bar. There were other guests in need of service. Mary chose to ignore them. “You’ve never been… here before, have you.” She meant that he’d never been in a bar.
“No. I just moved to town.”
At that moment the Zippo lighter William DeBolt left burning next to the Cavalier’s gas tank melted through the plastic cap.
“I mean, I’m still looking for a place, but I figure I’ll couch surf.” Will found the term on the internet. “Until I get something more, like, permanent.”
The gas fumes inside the gas tank of the Cavalier ignited. The combustible nature of gasoline induced the gas tank to come apart at great speed and in many directions. The much less combustible nature of the vinyl seats came aflame. The eruption blew a passing bicyclist into the air. He and his Schwinn landed safely in a shrub. Neither were damaged. The telling of this tale would grow when the bicyclist passed a marijuana pipe in a circle later that evening.
Inside the bar, concussive wave created a sound we call, “boom!” though that is phonetically inaccurate. The entire building shook and the temperature increased incrementally. The children who were only slightly to moderately intoxicated winced. Those significantly worse off winced as well, just took them a moment for the synapses in their brains to deliver the message to their muscles. All of the children left the bar to investigate.
Mary’s head turned to the sound. Instinct told her that something more unusual than an explosion, which by itself is uncommon to say the least, transpired. She looked at Will. She raised an eyebrow.
Will winced like everyone else. He did not follow the children outdoors. He did smile.