Poverty is not something you are generally aware of as a child. It only crushes you later as you grow older and lose the carefree imagination of youth. People don’t really experience the crush until they have to pay or at least “help out” with the bills. Even in the poorest of ghettos, especially those of my memory, that doesn’t hit until a boy’s testicles drop or a girl begins bloodying up a maxi-pad, when there’s grass on the playing field, and playing doctor begins to have life changing consequences. For most of us, until we hit that mark of adolescence, we were allowed to have that freedom from the normal penalties that begin ringing up when childhood officially ends, for most of us that is.
David was a Goliath, a man-boy forged in a high-test sour mash crucible that the rest of our crew was only vaguely aware of but aware, nonetheless. Of the several white boys in the neighborhood, he was the only one with siblings: older, meaner and living in a dark home straight out of a horror movie. In an area of San Bernardino of the 1970s rife with poverty, his pad reeked of violence and desperation even at a distance; it was like it was caught in a time warp from a not so distant future that the rest of the homes on the block would catch up to in twenty years, trend setters if you will. In a group of low rent white trash that the heavy metal world was waiting for its creation to draw in, David’s home was pure country music, old country music with the blood, the mud and the beer.
Dirty. David was always dirty. If childhood was a Peanuts cartoon, he was Pigpen but with the giant, scar-knuckled fists of a man. He was the fighter. Skinny Joe was the runner, and I was the talker, but David was the fighter. It started in his home and followed him onto the street like a dusty shadow out the front door and into the hood. And, even at the age of ten, he was a racist, born and bred. The first time I ever remember seeing a confederate flag outside of a history book or movie was on the back of his daddy’s truck. His family had launched out of some late staged Okie dustbowl and landed in the middle of a Mexican heavy barrio, and there was no number of tacos that was going to change this Tuna-Helper casserole of a Budweiser violent Joad family. He was born fucked and nurtured into a PTSD pit of rage that was impressive in its own way of watching.
When confronted with a situation of older boys, always Jr. cholo in training types, Skinny Joe took off like a streak with no shame in his running game, but I was too chunky to run and would watch as David’s eyes went flat, and in a tornado of heavy fists against 11 and 12 year old flesh, several future wards of the state went to the ground in rapid succession. David would mercilessly beat them back every time, and I would have to talk him down from chasing them and finishing them off, as if murder was a distinct possibility from a ten year old. And because of this no-quarter, hillbilly upbringing, and the fact that Robert was Mexican-American, David was only a part-timer in our crew, usually around school time until he had to go back from our shiny, new model school on the corner of Baseline and G Street to his last cabin on the left home of petty bloodshed and fear.
But it was without a doubt that the one dirt-clod and BB gun war that I was on the winning side, for once, was solely because we had Psycho Dave on our team.
For those of you unaware of this ancient ritual of youthful bloodshed, a dirt-clod and BB gun war is exactly what it sounds like. Two teams start at opposing ends of a large open field and go at each other until one side gives up. How we all came out of this period of time with all of our eyeballs in place and fully functioning is a statistical anomaly. “Why didn’t you use paintball guns at a designated facility?” is a common question. Well, it was the 1970s, we were poor, and paintball guns weren’t really a thing yet, so we had to make do with BB guns and dirt clods. Other mayhem weapons were okayed such as “swippers.” A swipper was a broken screen with the aluminum frame used as a handle to hold the long cylinder ropes of rubber that held the screens in place but were removed and turned into a whip. Those things left a mark. Anything with a blade or a point was off the menu along with nun-chucks or any actual martial arts weapons. Big sticks and bats were a no-go, but thin bamboo poles from the river bottom were okay. They usually broke with the first hit anyways.
On one random summer morning, a battle plan was drawn up, and as luck would have it, Psycho Dave just happened to get a reprieve from his home-world and was strolling up the street as both sides were being picked. We got Dave because the crazy fucker agreed to play without a BB gun, even though he probably had an arsenal at his house. I gave him my swipper I had just made, and once the lines were formed up on the opposite sides of the field, he became a hurricane of dirt clods being launched at the enemy lines. He even drove back the rich preacher’s kid, Tyrone, who had an expensive pump-action pellet gun and would cheat by pumping it more than three times for distance shots like a sniper. I don’t know how many times Dave got hit by that gun, but it just pissed him off even more as he closed in on their ranks. He singlehandedly drove Ty off the field, chasing him with his whip hand slashing away at the retreating kid. We celebrated by buying some soda and shoplifting everything else we needed from the B&G Market. Covered in dirt and welts, ice cold Cokes and orange Fantas washing down stolen chocolate bars never tasted so good.