Prologue in Alexandria, New Jersey (part two)

The White Panther Party's 10 Point Program
The White Panther Party’s 10 Point Program

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(excerpted from Weird Luck:
City of the Watcher, Book One)

…Aleck turned and saw Mikey, offering a lit joint.

“Hey!” Billy exclaimed, taking the joint.

“I pilfered it from Grace’s stash,” said Mikey.

“Aw, man.” Billy drew deeply. “You gotta stop doing that,” he croaked.

“She’ll never notice,” said Mikey. “Do you know how much pot she has in that old box? It’s like they smoke a joint and then just keep rolling joints the whole time they’re high. There must be fifty joints in there, plus a bag with enough grass in it for fifty more.”

“I mean you gotta stop sneaking into my house,” said Billy, still holding his breath. He passed the joint to Aleck, who hit it immediately.

“Your mom said something about dinner at seven,” said Mikey. “She told me to tell you to make sure you’re back in time from whatever it is we go do.”

Billy exhaled in a gust, making a cloud of smoke and mist. “My mom saw you?” he asked, alarmed.

“I saw her,” said Mikey, “so I said hi.”

“Did she see you go into Grace’s room?” asked Billy .

“No, of course not,” scoffed Mikey.

“You shouldn’t steal, though, man,” said Aleck, “except from The Man. It’s against our charter.”

“I didn’t steal it, man,” said Mikey, “I pilfered it. The Trespassers’ Club Charter specifically says moderate pilfering is a-okay. If there was just five of them it woulda been stealing, and I wouldn’t of done it. But one out of fifty is like nothing.”

“Nice logic,” exhaled Aleck. “You should work for Nixon.”

Mikey smirked, unfazed by this most grave of insults. “Thanks, Che fuckin’ Guevara.”

Aleck took a second hit before passing the joint back. He wanted to debate the distinction between theft and pilfering, in the context of the principles of their agreed-upon number one heroes, the revolutionary anti-racist White Panther Party: “rock ‘n roll, dope, sex in the streets, and the abolishing of capitalism,” as Aleck had read in Rolling Stone. But he suddenly felt very, very high. Did his double-hit count as pilfering, he wondered? The cramped space under the porch seemed frighteningly stifling. His thoughts spiraled from worry to worry: Grace catching them for stealing her grass; Damon catching them spying; Billy’s mom catching them smoking under the porch. Billy and Mikey’s conversation gradually threaded its way back into Aleck’s attention: something about girls.

“Diane’s foxy, said Mikey, “but nowhere near as foxy as Grace.”

“Yeah but Grace is my sister,” said Billy. “I’m not gonna make it with my own sister, man.”

“Like someday you’re gonna make it with Diane?” laughed Mikey.

“I can’t hear anything,” said Aleck. “Did it start yet?”

“No it didn’t start yet,” scoffed Billy, passing the inch-long joint to Aleck. Aleck, too high to remember he was too high, took a drag and passed it to Mikey, feeling dizzy and wishing he’d left well enough alone.

“I can’t believe they wouldn’t let us in,” said Mikey. “They’re the ones who turned us on to Black Sabbath in the first place. It ain’t right.” He hit the joint.

“Tell that to Damon,” said Billy.

“Okay,” croaked Mikey, holding his breath. “Hey Damon!” He reached to knock on the window. Billy slapped his hand away. The roach flew up into a spiderweb, hung there, burned itself free, and fell to the ground. Mikey broke into a fit of mixed coughing and laughing. Billy tried to cover Mikey’s mouth. Aleck retrieved the roach from the dirt and took a hit off of it, remembering only as he did so that he’d perhaps best not. He broke into a coughing fit as well. Billy tried to cover Aleck’s mouth while holding onto Mikey and poked Aleck in the eye. Aleck jumped and hit his head again.

“Shh!” said Billy, peering into the basement from the edge of the window. “Shh! Shh!” Aleck and Mikey stifled their coughing fits. Billy turned and gave them an ugly stare.

“Man, keep it down!” he hissed.

“We’re not gonna be able to hear jack squat out here,” coughed Aleck.

“I know,” coughed Mikey. “We should listen to it in Damon’s car.”

“You’re addle-brained,” whispered Billy. Aleck and Mikey stared at him, coughing and laughing. “My grandma says that. ‘You’re addle-brained.’“

“I reckon you hear that a lot from her,” choked Mikey. Painful laughter overtook Aleck. Mikey turned like a crab, still coughing, and began crawling back out of the Spider-Cave.

“Aw, man,” said Billy, “where you going?”

“He’s right,” coughed Aleck, following. At the edge of the porch, Aleck watched Mikey poke his head out behind the juniper bush, look right and left, and slide out. Aleck followed. The instant they emerged they broke into an easy, casual stroll towards the corner of the house as if they’d been strolling all along, sneakers, jeans, hands in pockets of heavy jackets. Billy scampered after them and then switched smoothly into a matching stride. They circled behind the house, arguing quietly.

“Look,” said Billy. “No way.”

“He’d let you,” said Mikey. “Come on, man, he even let you drive the thing. You can listen to the radio once in a while.”

“You want to ask his permission?” asked Billy, pointing at the basement door. “Go ask him.”

“Come on, we’re the Trespassers’ Club,” said Aleck.

“It’s not like we’re going to demolish his car,” said Mikey. “I double-decker-dog-pecker dare you.”

Billy winced at the magic phrase. “Okay….”

(continued in part three…)

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Prologue in Alexandria, New Jersey (part one)

Aleck by Mike Bennewitz
Aleck by Mike Bennewitz

(excerpted from Weird Luck:
City of the Watcher, Book One)

Almost noon, New Year’s Day, nineteen-seventy-one. Aleck, thirteen, sat down on the top step to the basement and sighed with resignation, his breath trailing a long cloud out across the dead lawn. He watched Billy, below him, pound on the basement door again. “Come on!” called Billy. “Let us in already, you fascist pig!”

Aleck heard Damon shout something back through the door that sounded like, Buzz off, small fry.

“It’s my basement!” shouted Billy. “You don’t even live here!”

“Forget about it,” muttered Aleck. “The station’s going to start playing it any minute.”

“No way!” barked Billy. “What, we gonna listen to rock music upstairs with my hung-over parents?”

“Ride our bikes back to my house,” said Aleck.

“And listen on your dinky transistor radio?” scoffed Billy. “And anyway, we’ll miss the beginning!”

“They’re playing the whole album, man,” said Aleck. “We won’t miss much.” He got up, looked across the dead lawn to his bike, lying on its side near the mailbox.

“No way,” said Billy. “I am not going to submit to that imperialist pig-dog.”

Aleck ignored this attempt to sway him with revolutionary hyperbole. “If we leave right now, we might not miss anything,” he said.

“No way,” Billy repeated. “I am not going to miss the opening of Black Sabbath’s second album, man.” He turned to face the door. “Grace has a good hi-fi down here, and it’s technically half mine.” He pounded again. “Mom and Dad gave that hi-fi to both of us!” he shouted.

Damon shouted again from the basement. Aleck heard other voices, too, but couldn’t distinguish them. Billy grumbled, spat, turned, and stomped up the stairs towards Aleck. “Come on, let’s go under the porch.”

“We can make it to my house it ten minutes on our bikes,” said Aleck.

Billy ignored him. Around the side of the house, they ducked behind the juniper bush, and slid into the space under the porch: ‘The Spider-Cave.’ They crept across a floor of dusty dirt. Spiderwebs thickly laced the joists overhead.

“What the fuck was his reason this time?” whispered Aleck.

“The usual,” grumbled Billy. “We’re too young.” “Figures,” said Aleck. “They called us kids,” said Billy. He sneered. “‘Kids.’ I’m thirteen!”

“Jerks,” muttered Aleck.

They reached the dingy basement window and lay down on the ratty old cardboard air conditioner box. Billy’s big sister Grace kept the basement room dimly lit, but the Spider-Cave was darker even in daytime, so they could always see in without being seen. Grace had decorated her lair with oversized pillows and black light posters. Billy and his friends were alternately welcomed and banned according to criteria that none of them could ever reliably discern.

“Where the hell is Mikey?” whispered Billy.

Aleck shrugged. “He said he was coming.”

“He’s gonna miss it,” said Billy.

“So are we,” muttered Aleck. “We can’t hear worth a dang down here, man. We shoulda gone to my house.”

“If they turn it up loud enough,” said Billy.

“It’s fine if you know the songs already,” said Aleck. “But the first time…we’ve never even heard it. Your brain can fill in the pieces, but not if you never heard it.”

“It’s fine if they turn it up loud enough,” said Billy.

“It sounds like crap out here,” said Aleck.

“Better than your transistor radio,” said Billy.

Aleck pointed. “Damon’s got a joint.” Damon lit a hand-rolled cigarette with his Zippo lighter and passed it to Grace, who passed it to Damon’s sidekick Luke, who passed it to one of Grace’s girlfriends, a blonde, who passed it to another, a brunette. “That’s why they don’t want us down there,” said Aleck. He enjoyed looking at Grace’s friends, but none of them compared to her in his eyes; they never talked to him. Grace made him laugh out loud.

“That’s bullshit,” said Billy. “We’ve smoked pot with them a million times.”

“You have, maybe,” said Aleck. “I have maybe twice.”

“Here,” said a voice behind them.

Aleck jumped, banging his head on a joist. “Ow.” He rubbed his skull. Spiderwebs had clotted in his shaggy hair. He turned and saw Mikey, offering a lit joint….

(continued in part two…)