When I was eighteen, I beat up a white power skinhead. My late-adolescent self-seeking had taken a schlocky, Daniel Deronda kind of turn, so any opportunity to defend Jewish honor I felt I had to take, no matter how contrived. I guess I fancied myself a little like the Jewboy in Porky’s.
Anyway, as I was standing with a gaggle of crust punks one weekday afternoon on a downtown corner across from the bus station, a sinewy little guy with a shorn pate and narrow mustache strolled up in boots, braces, beater and bomber, drew one of my punker compadres aside and transacted a drug deal inconspicuously. Then he started back on his way—that is, until I shoved him, hard, from behind. On that day I decided I would simply refuse to accept that neo-Nazis should make themselves visible.
He turned around to face me, breathing through his open mouth, his incisors streaked a scummy, bacterial yellow. He had grimy pores and crusted-over scabs, his fingers were nicotine stained and filthy under the nails. There were little SS lighting bolt runes tattooed on one side of his neck, an iron cross on the other.
I stepped forward and poked him in the chest. Fear flashed momentarily across his eyes but he steadied his gaze, grinning as he reached into his beater and flipped out a brass swastika on a long, thin chain around his neck. That was when I hauled off.
I managed to land a solid several thumps upside his noggin as he flailed, until suddenly he surged into me at chest level, Hail Mary-like—head down, forearms up blocking. He managed to back me up a few steps, grabbing me by the shirt collar as he poked his little radish head up to bite me, square on the nose. The shock of this lent him the further momentum to bare down and take me tumbling to the pavement, back first. I almost rolled him but he bore down hard again, straddling my chest as he tried to strangle me. He overplayed his hand, though: as he wound back to clock me point blank, I availed myself of the empty space between my sternum and his groin, gripped him square in the nether region with one hand and up under an armpit with the other, then pulled him sideways into my chest and flipped him square on his back.
I mounted, I grounded, I pounded. Quite often the toughness of recidivist scumbags has more to do with the capacity to absorb a beating than to mete one out. He struggled, quivering with desperate futility, like a live fish held down for gutting.
Then suddenly I heard a crisp “snap!” I thought the sound was his nose breaking, which it was. Although I didn’t feel the pain immediately, it would also turn out to be the distal metacarpals on my mean right shattering in several places each. The pain settled in a second later, as I looked down and noticed that my opponent, though conscious, had given up, and was bleeding profusely from his nose and mouth.
Just then, someone yelled “cops!”
I looked up to see two peace officers, a man and a woman, sprinting towards us down the sidewalk some fifty yards off. I hopped up, bolted and rounded the nearest corner. Within two blocks I’d completely lost my pursuers and cut through the parking lot of a gated condo complex to a corner hamburger shack on the other side that had a pay phone booth in its back parking lot, out of view of the street. My dad was just getting off work and I called him for a ride.
Awhile after that, once my broken hand had mended, I saw a member of the same local clique of white power skinheads strolling past me on the same downtown block. He was wearing a trucker hat on which he’d stenciled an iconic punk-rock anti-fascist symbol….
….only in his rendition, the stick figure was trashing a Star of David, not a swastika. I was so shocked by this meager display of literacy that I doubted what I had seen until he was well out of sight, but twenty minutes later he came back in the opposite direction with a slice of pizza in one hand.
As he passed by I snorted, ‘Nice hat.’ He turned to see who’d paid him the compliment and I mean-mugged him like I intended to do him harm. He froze, gazing back indecisively, whereupon I decked him in the face with my skateboard, an act I hadn’t planned nor even anticipated from myself. His pizza slice went flying as he dropped, hard, straight back. As soon as he hit the pavement he began seizing violently. I found out later that I had actually cracked his eye socket.
If you go out of your way to seriously insult strangers, you should probably be better prepared for a backlash than this guy was. But then, if you set out to harm everyone who says stuff you don’t like, you’d better know your limits a little better than I knew mine. I’d been reading a lot about the Irgun and Murder, Inc., but imitating them didn’t feel so good. I had beaten people with fists before, but this was the first time I used a weapon. In an instant I had become a more brutal creature than I realized I was, or ever had been. Frozen in shock, staring down at my victim, I experienced the disembodying sensation of a strong compassionate impulse concurrent with the realization that I had now forfeited my right to feel it. When I reemerged into linear time I heard shouting, and glanced up just soon enough to outrun bus station security.
I was less than six months out of high school then, and while I was heavily into pot and earning C grades at the local community college on my Jew-doctor daddy’s dime, my best friend Max (a goy, if you must know, and a profoundly goyische one, at that) was getting heavily into meth. He used to flop at a mutual friend’s apartment, where a female roommate was dating one of the skinheads, who also happened to be meth retailers. They would party there too, and crash on weekend nights. Word got back to me from Max that the White Power crew was looking for me and that their leader, a hardened ex-con by the nom de guerre of ‘Panther,’ had vowed to handle me personally. I didn’t know what Panther looked like, but he sounded fearsome.
At that time I was also running a moderately lucrative sideline in pot (re-upping weekly by the quarter-pound), and one of my occasional customers was a six-and-a-half foot homeless high-yellow, also an ex-con, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Lawrence Fishburne—pockmarks and all—and went by a nom de guerre of his own, ‘The Reverend.’
In some visceral, sub-conscious nether region I understood perfectly well how predatory and aggressive the poor can be—must be, oftentimes—and I certainly recognized all the ways this tends to manifest among blacks. But at that age the psychic patina of racial pathos and Pavlovian guilt-inculcation at the hands nearly two decades’ worth of Hollywood movies and civics lessons prevented me from metabolizing this information to the full benefit of my survival instincts. If defending Jewish honor was a legacy passion project, evasion of actual danger was a work in progress.
Perhaps intentionally, The Reverend dressed a lot like Morpheus from The Matrix, in a ratty trench coat over an unwashed hoodie, with greasy cargo pants and army boots. His hustle was fortune telling for racially solicitous post-pinko granolas at a card table he used to set up in front of a health food store on the downtown strip, with a purple velvet table cloth where he’d lay out crystals for sale. Obsequious in characteristically downtrodden-black fashion, with that opportunistic malice lurking plainly underneath, The Reverend used to call me ‘Young Buck,’ and I showed my appreciation for his backhanded flattery by over-weighing his twomp sacks by a half-gram. Sometimes I’d smoke a joint with him just to be friendly. I was listening to a lot of rap music at that age.
One day as I was making my rounds on the downtown strip, I passed by The Reverend’s tarot table when he hailed me. I was carrying a bag of fruits and vegetables I’d just purchased from the health food store. He asked if I had any bud for sale, and slid a twenty spot onto the table. I snapped up the bill, slid my backpack down one arm and fished out a half-eighth (about half a gram more than I normally charged twenty for). But The Reverend gave a pensive, dissatisfied grimace and deadpanned, ‘Now why you tryin’ ta short me, homie?’ My balls dropped a bit as it dawned on me exactly what The Reverend took me for—ironically, this Morpheus-lookalike kind of redpilled me that day. As I returned the weed to my backpack and tossed his twenty-spot back onto the table I told him, “Go fuck your mother you shitty fuckin’ nigger.” It was the first (and second to last) time in my life I availed myself of that epithet in the second person.
Well that must not’ve made The Reverend’s day, because no sooner had I made my way half a block up from where he sat than I heard someone murmur, “The fuck you say to me?” and when I looked back over my shoulder, there was The Reverend in hot pursuit. I turned, snarling to face him and he stopped about three feet shy of me.
The Reverend was fairly big. He probably could have fucked me up; he probably could have fucked me. A crowd gathered ’round as we stared each other down, but this didn’t register immediately. All that was going through my head was that fight-or-flight electric slow-mo, and while (relative to his size) I might not have had the ablest fight in me, there was no flight. On that day—in spite of the stifling, kumbaya college-town atmosphere and the gaping hipsters and granolas gathered ’round to spectate—I simply refused to accept that I owed a predatory hustler anything but flagrant contempt.
The Reverend looked around at the assembled throng and decided to go for a half-measure: kicking around the back of my shins in big circular motions, trying to trip me. I jumped, took a step back, and grabbed an apple out of the grocery bag I had dangling from my wrist. My side-hand curve went ‘thwap!’ upside The Reverend’s head and dropped to the sidewalk broken open, dripping juice; then I hurled another, and another, each one landing with a ‘thwap!’ as we danced around in circles like a folk jig, him still trying to trip me, until I was out of apples.
Realizing, I suppose, that this spectacle was liable to cost him business, after a minute or so The Reverend stopped, hung his head sullenly, and skulked back to his tarot table to pack up his things. As I moved on up the strip, the atmosphere around me seemed to inflate with a laden tingling of shame. Had anyone heard me say nigger? Would word get around? Would I now be labelled a racist?
In just a few short months, The Reverend had made himself such a figure in town that at one point, about a month prior, he officiated a well-attended, interactive ‘white privilege’ self-flagellation demo organized by some intrepid sociology students at the university campus. But after our confrontation I never saw him in town again.
Bu the day of our confrontation, as I tender-hoofed my way up the strip and away from the scene, the strangest thing happened. A lousy, shirtless, sunburned little man with a shorn pate, wearing blue jeans, combat boots and braces came straggling along behind me. When he caught up he blurted out, breathless, ‘Are you having trouble with that nigger?’ Unsure of his intentions and leery of being judged by any proximate third-parties who might’ve seen what just happened, I replied ‘Hey man, that’s some pretty strong language right there.’ But when I glanced over I noticed that he was covered from torso to neck in Nazi tattoos. This dude intended to lend me moral support on the grounds of white solidarity. ‘Man, I hate that fuckin’ nigger. Just out here preyin’ on dumb fucks in this town. You don’t have to take that shit.’
‘I don’t know if you wanna take my part, bro. I’m Jewish.’
‘Well…..’ He paused. ‘I don’t have anything against Jews. I just have a problem with certain Zionists.’ I was taken aback, not at the note of acceptance but at the vocabulary, and not because it was impressive, but because it existed at all.
‘Name’s Panther.’ He extended a hand and we shook. Panther was small enough I could’ve picked him up and tossed him in a trash compactor. ‘Stay out of trouble, brother. Just look at me’—he was pretty haggard—‘it ain’t worth it.’ And off he went into the evening.