Published in The Nervous Breakdown
[Written the day after the first of the Rodney King Riots in 1992]
Glass shatters, sirens, gunfire. We met here to play cards but there’s only one thing in the world anyone can really do tonight, which is huddle around the TV set like it’s a bonfire.
“What we’re dealing with here,” the news anchor tells us, “is the total breakdown of society.”
“THE TOTAL…BREAKDOWN…OF SOCIETY,” we all chorus, and whoop with delight. My roommate and I have never touched, but in this moment we meet eyes and suddenly it’s as clear as the sound of shattering glass that we’re going to fuck. They interrupt this program to say the mayor has declared a curfew, and now everybody’s grabbing purses, jackets, car keys, we gotta go, we gotta run, as if a monster in a cop suit is roaring out of the television and chasing us all out the door. We crash out into the cold spring night and run zig-zag across the street, wild Indians with toy spears and paper feathers, and I crush her against the car crush my mouth against hers. Oh it’s Us against Them alright, we’re rebels alright, oh glorious underdogs, we’re crushing our mouths together on the night of the revolution.
As soon as we get back to our apartment we turn on the news. My hometown is on fire. The have-nots in my home town are having a family barbeque in their homes. My hometown rages with smoke, on the TV in our chilly living room.
My neck aches with holding my body a crucial distance away from hers as we kiss. Because she might not want to lose control. “Out of control, out of control, destruction, looting, it’s out of control,” shouts the TV. My hand moves across her belly, her white belly. Submission. Maybe my breath’s no good any more, I can’t tell, have I washed today, yes, but when? I can’t remember. I can’t tell her that I’m considering my breath. A group of women and men in summer clothes scatter at the sound of police gunshots. A storefront lies in shards on the sidewalk. A guy’s carrying diapers, six plastic-wrapped bags, out of the ruins. He’s going home. Over and over again, two black guys drag a white guy out of a truck and kick him to death.
The news anchor is deeply disappointed with the people of America. “From the air, Los Angeles looks like an inferno tonight.”
My left hand cups her cunt as if I might accidentally crush it like an Easter chick. Searching her face for anything, searching her face for her gaze, I shift around to have my right hand free instead. The left hand, shady thief, can’t be trusted with an Easter chick. My right hand pushes onward. A Mexican woman in red slacks pushes a shopping cart that’s toppling over with groceries through the blasted-out wall of a convenience store. Helicopters whirl overhead, put wind in her long black hair. After the toothpaste commercial, the death toll is announced at thirty-eight. I think: I’ll have to write about this truthfully in the morning, but it’ll be impossible.
Her tongue loosens my center, but my edges are stiff. My limbs are taut with the strain of not pushing her too far. Los Angeles is on fire, on fire. “Hey, my home town’s on fire,” I say, unscared, shivering with the thrill.
She comes but doesn’t make a sound. My hand is pushed away. But I won’t know why until later because we can’t talk about it as it happens; we’re being too intimate for that. Over and over again two black guys drag a white guy out of a truck and kick him to death. “I can’t watch this part anymore,” I tell her, “it’s terrible.” We don’t, though, turn it off.
Flames crackle out of an overturned station wagon by the guard rail. Three white teenagers carrying televisions run across the Hollywood Freeway. Behind them, the sky’s Halloween. A wet spot’s seeping through the back of my cheap nylon slip. I’m embarrassed by the behavior of my cunt. My cunt smashes the plate-glass window of a Safeway supermarket and walks out with two cases of domestic beer. Out of control, out of control.
I wince when she bites my breast, but don’t make a sound. Does she know she hurt me? Is she likely to hurt me some more? I search her eyes for my face. Our bones engage and lock. Will this happen again between us, will the fire that’s shining through her ribcage burn out black before I come?
The next day we’ll walk downtown together, where the police will be waiting with their riot costumes and plastic hats. The crowd will scatter, running in all directions, and we’ll run too, kids on the playground, giggling as the rubber bullets whiz around our heads.