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The Color of Their Brains


By David A. Demilo

THERE'S ONLY ONE STORY I'll ever tell." A whore stood with her pink thumb out to the road, blocking his cab stand. He interrupted himself, stomped the accelerator and rammed his front bumper up to the whore's tinsel dress...and stopped.

"Bitch," he muttered, and the girl ran away. "Like I was saying, one story. I was doing a search and destroy with this guy, on a five-mile perimeter. He was a--well, I didn't like him much. He was from Oklahoma, he was losing teeth, he was one of those ignorant bastards they have to teach hygiene to, you know? But in the situation, I had to respect him, you know. So we are walking in the jungle, looking out mostly for animals and the Okie looked like he was walking down Madison Avenue for the first time, and he tripped over a vine. A branch or something. And what really happened, he tripped a punji stick and took it all."

He looked over his shoulder at me, through scratched plexiglass that held him safe from his fares, with this smile on his face so old and firm like he knew I didn't speak the language.

"Punji sticks are bamboo shoots whittled at the end to a point, and dipped in cow shit, and stuck into the ground on a tight spring, and covered with a vine and leaves. When you trip the vine the stick impales you and infects the wound. They don't have it in boot camp." He twisted his smile, turned his head slowly back toward the windshield and started mumbling a song.

"RED FOR THE BLOOD YOU SHED, WHITE FOR THE COLOR OF THEIR BRAINS, AND BLUE FOR THE BLOOD YOU NEVER SEE--an old saying." The cabbie barked and stared ahead, focusing his eyes on nothing.

"You getting out?" he asked me. "You don't have to, but that's the only story I'm telling. Go tell it to all your buddies. They'll get a kick out of it. Go on. Screw. Keep your money."

I GO TO THE AMERICAN BAR where they play real rock'n' roll, where the guitarist takes his axe to his groin, wringing out the sound that bends and twists his whole body, jitters his knees and pumps all the life up through his head where it spatters out to the crowd in beads of sweat. The sweat that salts the beers and the crowd sucks in every guitar lick. Yes, yes, yes, they want more. They are jumping and rocking their seats, pounding the table and singing out of key, and they don't want to do anything in the world but listen to this song:

Give me back the love that I pissed away-hay

Give me a big black gun

I wanna get loaded and kill my mom

I wanna get pissed and let her know

...But first I wanna kill myself...


They have played rock 'n' roll in this bar for years. The interior is black and ripped-up and lined with drainpipes. Songs of war, songs of peace--songs of love, all. Look at the kids pour down the stairs into the cooker. Before the show, they buy cheap wine and beer at the package store and get pissed before they have to pay premium at the bar. And they sit at the door, exchanging reds and frothy laughter, when the show time nears.

"Awww, come on Phillleeeeee... buy 'em, huh? Just buy 'em. Come on. I'm sellin' them CHEAP. You got the bread." And somehow, just before the soundcheck, just before the band strikes into its electric rancor, they always get the money.

THE PLACE IS AT THE EDGE. An hour after showtime, it is packed with more bodies and the mirror behind the bar is steamed with human heat. The little black box is itself pumping when the lead guitarist breaks his Sex Pistols cover and chants with his bass player, DESTROY-DESTROY-DESTROY and he disappears behind the drummer, who keeps a steady, low roll. The singer emerges from the other side of the drums wearing an Iranian flag shirt and American flag pants. There are 50 safety pins mending the rips in his shirt. They do a song called "Take Me Hostage," and at the end, at the height of a feedback, the bass player sets the singer's shirt on fire. The bass player takes the pillow out of the bass drum and wallops it against the singer's chest. "Aggggh, it hurts," the singer sings, and closes out the set.

A heavy metal band takes the stage--full of steel studs and volume and muscle--and people start to file out of the club. Girls and boys follow the man with the Iranian shirt into the bathroom, and wait at the door.

"We're 666," the heavy metal singer announces, "and this if our first gig. Every gig's our first gig (he tries to stare down the crowd)... and we got a song for YOU." Half the crowd is waiting at the bathroom door, the other half splits for the city streets at night.

THE STREETS OF BOSTON are lined with kids out for Friday night fun. They wear neat clothes. They are clean and white. They drink beer and shout "Kill the Ayatollah" at an Iranian student who is crossing the street in front of a pickup truck. The drivers smile and sneer at once.

"BOMB THEM. Killllll THEM," they say. The student shouts at them in Italian as he mounts the curb. The drivers are disappointed. They throw a bottle at the student, who is dark and has something burning in his eyes.

"Yuh, yuh...Duce! Il Duce!" the student scoffs at them and hurries away down Commonwealth Ave. He hails a cab immediately and climbs in. They head in the other direction, fast. I'll walk.

A bridge connects Boston and Cambridge. They call it the Harvard Bridge. The bridge is calibrated in marks of orange paint, saying: 75 Smoots...100 Smoots...150 Smoots...200 Smoots...360 Smoots and one ear all the way to the MIT campus with its swelling Greek temples and plate-glass buildings. The buildings have no names; they are numbered.

Two FUI (Phi Gamma Delta) men are making their way to #169 and savoring the legend of the bridge. "I think we should get Khomeini and measure the bridge in Ayatollahs," he laughed.

"No. We can just get an Iranian."

He said he went to a lecture Chomsky was sponsoring for the Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom in Iran. They had an Iranian poet to read his poetry--Reza Berahini... and a mob of Iranian students delayed the lecture for hours. There was a bomb threat. The Americans were scared. The Iranians said Berahini was a CIA agent. Yet he was an anti-Shah poet--he spent years in jail. So finally, Chomsky let one of the students speak at the podium, and the student waxes hot-faced and apologizes to the crowd for the disturbance. He says he is sorry for what he has to say, and he reads a poem by Berahini which has the words "shit" and "fuck" in it. He says he's sorry to say such words to the crowd, and says that Beranhini's use of those words proves he is a CIA agent trying to discredit the people's movement in Iran by using dirty language. That was two years ago.

"I don't see any way out of it but to bomb the hell out of them. This thing really pisses me off. Who knows what they're doing to those hostages, and they're already doomed to die. It's time we just did something." Bomb them, they agreed.

"We can have a party when it's over, hey." They step off the bridge to cross the street.

The Legend of the Bridge: Many years ago, in the 1960s, a Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity party turned into an argument over developing new systems of measurement. So they kidnapped one of their pledges--Mr. Smoot--and tied him to two-by-fours. They took him to the Harvard Bridge and measured the bridge in Smoots.

THE ROAD LEADS PAST MIT, past Central Square where the hookers and the cabs and the police all compete to take people home with them. All the way down the road, lined with happy and vicious people celebrating the end of a work week, making parodies of threats, laughing the serious. All the way to Holyoke Center, where a group of American students is staging a show.

They seat six students, bound and gagged, in the middle of the plaza. There is an executioner wearing a black veil. He totes a padded wiffle-ball bat. The MC speaks into a homemade PA to the motley gathering of workers, bums and passers-by.

"We're going to play a game. I'm going to ask you questions, and if I don't like the answers, we're going to beat the hostages, OK?"

"What letter of the alphabet am I thinking of?" he asks a skeptical construction worker.

"Zero," the man replies. He is wrong, and they beat the hostages. And the game continues until everybody gets bored and leaves.

But two of the spectators weren't bored. They were arguing over the hostages.

"I think it's stupid," she said.

"I think it's stupid too," he said, "but you're adding to all the stupidity. Retaliation...What does 5000 added to 50 equal?"

"Doesn't it bother you that this country--that and you and I--are being absolutely ridiculed? What kind of knee-jerk liberal junk is it to lay down and let the world disrespect you publicly?"

The bums weren't listening to either of them. They were draining the last of some old port, students were looking at debaters on the way to movies and rock 'n' roll shows.

"A dead man who died for honor is still dead. And when he died so did the honor."

"But at least he died for something," she prattled on. She was young and talked too much. She knew the world. She read all the books, knew all the names. "Just give ME a gun...I'll go and blow them all away. He's crazy. He's a lunatic and he's gonna take 50 innocent lives..."

"No lives are innocent," he thundered back, angry now beyond his words. "Being alive means being responsible for everything you do, everything you let happen... by everything you choose to ignore or laugh at..."

"I don't agree."

The arguments hissed after each other like a confused dog biting after its tail. Broke down and full of nonsense and waiting for the sunrise so he could sleep, he tried a different tactic: "Do you know about punji sticks?"

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