I spent last summer laying brick for my uncle. He ran this contracting outfit, three dudes and an army of Mexicans and Armenians, and they were doing like a patch-up job at a prison out in Oak Park. Mostly I was in charge of mixing the mortar batches, pouring in these big-ass bags of sand and gallon-tanks of water, but sometimes I was actually literally laying the shit down, coming up behind my uncle while he spread the brick bed with his little shovel thing. This row and that row and this row, until the whole goddam wall was like a big candy cane checkerboard. A whole summer of Flemish bonds. Even my dreams started getting built in Flemish bonds. I know what it’s like to hold a brick, is all I’m saying.
But when you hold a brick and you know that in about three seconds that brick is gonna get used to destroy something, not build it up, it’s a whole different thing. It makes it feel heavier, you know, like you can feel the fucking weight, like it’s a real object, and then you gotta like throw it, which is harder than it sounds, especially if you’re trying to get a good seven or eight feet distance so the fucking glass doesn’t come powing out at you and nick an artery somewhere you didn’t know you had one, like, I dunno, back of your knee or something stupid like that. It’s a whole new game, when you’ve got that brick in your hand with intent to break the law.
But I do it, you know, I reach it back and I let it fly, and the window comes down like a guillotine, and all the other people with me are like carrying my body through the hole I made, and of course I fucking nick myself anyway cause one brick doesn’t get the glass on the bottom, but then I’m inside the store, and here’s all this stuff I never got to have, or the stuff I had when I was little before my dad kicked my ass out, the salad dressings and the M&M cookies and the thick-ass whatever-ply toilet paper, and like at that point I don’t care if I’ve got a bead or two of my own blood running down the back of my leg, because I’m gonna eat like a cop for the next two weeks.
Bronson’s in the back with the truck, which is a leg up on most of these assholes who just, like, walked here. Cops are dumb, and slow, but they get there eventually, and when they do you gotta not be there anymore. So we do this right, you know, we make an organized effort. It’s Bronson in the truck, me and Hainey in the store with the duffel bags. Hainey’s got his hair in his eyes from the sweat but this crazy huge grin on his face, like we’re coming down the first hill of a roller coaster, and God I know how he’s gotta feel right now, like all the trouble of your broke-ass, beat down life is lifted for just a day, just a day. For this brief little bit of time you’ve got all the fucking power. That shit liberates you, man. It snaps the wings of an angel on your back.
The whole store is just like crawling with bodies, and I mean most everybody’s black, but then there’s me and Hainey, and a couple others, the token white guys in the hood, and honestly it’s all a little sweet how we’re all working together on this. Dudes high-fiving each other and shit. Doesn’t matter what color you are, sometimes you get tired of walking around with the treads of this city’s boots on your face, and you gotta just like burn some shit to the ground to remind everybody. This is what happens if you go around pretending like your country doesn’t know it’s got a class system. Anarchy, motherfuckers: you wanna let your government swing a watch in front of you till you get sleepy, fine. But we’re gonna be the fingers snapping you back.
The sirens start about two blocks over, but even over the craziness you can hear it, if you’re used to listening for it. Hainey and I don’t even have to look at each other. Time’s up—pencils down. We get the bags over our shoulders and make for the back door. The alarm’s been going off like a bitch, so I have to hug one ear against my shoulder and hold my free hand to the other. Outside the sun is so hot it’s like it’s pissed at us, like it’s on the law’s side, beating us down to the pavement. We toss the bags in the back and Hainey lifts his skinny body up into the cab. “Get in, dumbshit!” Bronson yells, but I give him the one-second finger, as in one second, be right back, and I tear ass back into the store.
I saw a gas can in the back by the mop and the bathroom. I have no idea why a fucking little mini-mart needs gasoline, like maybe it’s for a generator or some shit, who knows. But I have this idea, you know, and on one hand it’s super crazy and evil and whatever, but on the other hand, Jesus, this is what we’re here for, right? I mean this isn’t just about me getting a case of Heineken and a couple of frozen pizzas, or the cash from the drawer after some huge dude wrecked the register against the wall. I mean, it is about that, but it’s also about the message, right, it’s about letting those Nazi pricks on the next street over go home tonight and think about how if they’d been any less than seven minutes late, some poor bastard would still have a store to kick me out of. They’d have saved some thieving insurance company some amount of money I’ll never see in my whole life. And they didn’t, because they’re lazy shits, and they suck at their jobs, which they only ever got into for the wrong reasons anyway. I have to do this.
By this point the black people have mostly cleared out, because they know better than I’m ever going to know just what bad God damn news the cops are. Only the nuttiest ones would ever stay behind to pull this kind of shit. But actually, hilariously, two of them did. The two nuttiest. They overturned a stand of newspapers, and they’re lighting it on fire across the front desk. They look up for a second, ready to beat the shit out of anybody trying to stop them, but when they see me with the gas can they get these huge grins on their faces, and I grin back, and I’m just thinking like what the fuck, world, when this is the best reason we’ve got to come together as human beings what the fuck does that say about us? But oh well, whatever, at least we’ve come together over something.
So I help these guys out; I pour a little gas on the desk fire (the three of us let up this like war cry when it catches and flares up) and then I start this trail of the shit across the floor of the store, snaking between the aisles over to where the aerosol air fresheners are. Just for the fun of it. The two guys start bringing down shit to catch as the fire follows the gas trail. But it’s already burned up a quarter of what I left behind, and the front corner of the store is going up like a torch, so I yell at them to get the fuck out, and they beat my ass out for the back door, because right then a squad car pulls up out in the parking lot.
I have not had a day this good in weeks.
In the back, Hainey pulls me up to the seat, and Bronson takes off before I’m even all the way in, so that the door flies up and gives me a hard metal slap on the ass. He’s super pissed, but I’m just like whatever, man, like they’re plenty busy up front beating skulls like the racist pieces of shit they are, so we could basically just cruise on out of the lot like chumps and still be fine. But Bronson doesn’t cruise; he floors it over the dip down to the street, so the whole truck lifts up for one breathless moment and then comes down on the pavement with a crunch that could crack all your teeth. He’s about a block away when I tell him to stop, but he screams at me to shut the fuck up. Dude, I scream back, we’re fine, turn around so we can watch.
It takes a couple tries, but eventually he doubles back, and by the time we park on the far side of a chain-link fence to check out the scene from a safe distance, the fire is coming out the back windows. When the cans finally get too hot you can hear them from here, the tiny pop!s as they all fire off like a bag of popcorn. With binoculars you could probably see the flames going up inside the store, but we don’t really carry binoculars. That’s fine, just so long as I can get a look at something, because I did that thing over there, that store going up, it was me with the brick, and me with the gas.
Now I know why other motherfuckers make art, because to look at something that might show up on a news camera when we get home and know that I brought it into the world, that’s a feeling you don’t get from a normal job. There’s no financial report or service with a fucking smile that’s gonna give me that same feeling. Thanks to me, a pretty big piece of the world doesn’t exist anymore. That’s my contribution. I could have made something, I could have been on the side of creation, but America told me it didn’t need me, so this is what it fucking gets.
My uncle told me while we were laying bricks that if I wasn’t careful, I’d end up on the other side of that wall, and I told him to eat a cock. Because the wall doesn’t matter, and what side of it you’re on doesn’t matter. Who decides what the wall is for—that’s what matters. And if I don’t get to own it, the least I’m gonna do is tear it down.