It’s dark in Big Red’s place. The blinds are drawn tight and the lamp has a thick orange shade that gives just enough light to make out the edges of the furniture and the markings on the Nintendo controller.
Not that Keith needs light to know which buttons to push to make Lawrence Taylor chase Dan Marino on the pixelated television atop the makeshift counter. He’s got that memorized. Muscle memory. Even if Big Red lights another pin joint Keith won’t forget. He’s dialed in. The kind of focus that worried his grandma back in Huntersville when she would try to pull him out of the mall arcade. Back then it was Ten Yard Fight, but his parents got him a Nintendo for Christmas two years ago, but he sold it for dope three months later.
But Big Red has Tecmo Bowl. And Keith has Lawrence Taylor, LT for short, and you can’t block him. You can only hope to contain him.
“Damn, motherfucker, why don’t you pick the Jets or some shit next time,” Big Red says when Keith, um, LT that is, plants Dan Marino on the analog green turf once again. “That’s it. You can’t come in my house and pick the Giants. Ever. Or the 49ers for that matter.”
Keith smirks and picks up the bottle of Coke on the end table. He doesn’t mean to be a bad guest, but Tecmo Bowl is something he takes serious. It’s not like the classes he could give a fuck about or the job he goes to at the rec center checking professors and the occasional Howie into the racquetball courts. Those three hours drive him crazy. He’s lucky there’s no clock in the utility storage area where he puts up the portable table. But once he gets the four o’clock regulars signed in he goes out into the hall every five minutes to check the clock above the glass separating court from corridor.
No, Tecmo Bowl is the shit. It’s fast and requires strategy and if he gets just so high he enters a perfect state of equilibrium where his racing thoughts meet the frequency of his hand-eye coordination.
Big Red slams his controller into the couch as Keith steers Joe Morris into the vertical end zone. “Man, go home. Why you always down here beating me on my own game? You the only dude that can beat me at this shit.”
“Cause I love you, Red. That’s why,” Keith says. “That and you are the only dude I know who has Tecmo, Straight Outta Compton and Fear of a Black Planet.”
Big Red smirks and leans his head back. “You the craziest white dude I know. You probably should’a been a brother.”
“My grandma would have a fit.”
“What’s she got against black people?”
“I don’t know. Never asked her. Just old I guess.”
He knew but he wasn’t saying. No point in going into all that. She wasn’t going to change. Better just to change himself and keep his mouth shut when he was back home and she complained about “the blacks” and something she saw on the cable news.
Up on campus the next day he went through the motions. Yessir, 1066. Federal layer cake, yessir. Quid pro quo, yessir, sir. Four hours of that. In the hall of the law department McInturff called out to him.
“Keith, man, do the lyrics for that Fuck the Police song. Everette here doesn’t believe that you know them.”
“Oh yeah? Well fuck Everette and fuck the police and I said it with authority, cause the niggas on the street is a majority of gangs, and to whoever I’m stepping, a motherfuckin’ weapon is kept in …”
“I told you,” McInturff said to Everette, who stood there, mouth agape.
“How, better yet, why do you know that crap?” Everette said.
“Simple. It’s just more interesting than Winger and a lot of those guys are more entertaining than your frat brothers,” Keith said.
“Yeah, but these blacks won’t help you get a job or get into law school.”
“Maybe so,” Keith said.
“And don’t get caught around them when one gets drunk and decides to beat up a white boy. You’ll find out who your friends are then real quick.”
On Saturday morning Keith woke up and after milling around the apartment he walked halfway down the row to knock on Darryl’s door. A withdrawn voice said “come in” and Keith entered the gloomy darkness. Darryl sat on the couch and didn’t move as Keith shut the door and took a seat.
“Damn, D, what happened to your face?” Keith said. He’d just observed Darryl’s swollen cheek, eye of black and the way his lip’s left side pressed against the swollen skin like a balloon about to pop.
Darryl made a ruinous slurping noise and then pulled on the straw in his juice glass. He turned slowly, as if heavily medicated.
“I got my ass kicked by the frat boys at the Theta house across the field there,” Darryl said. “Shawn wasn’t here, he was working late at Lulu’s, and so I walked over there about midnight. I was bored and just wanted to get out. I didn’t see your car, so I kept going over to their house.
“Anyway, I had a beer and was mingling on the back deck. Your friend McInturff was there and that blonde dude Everette.”
Darryl stopped to slurp again, and then spit in a can, pausing to wipe ruddy saliva from his inflated lip.
“They were telling race jokes and I was about to walk off. But then Everette told this joke about Indians, and, well I shouldn’t have opened my mouth, but I did. I told them that I was part Cherokee and that I didn’t appreciate their sense of humor.”
Darryl wiped his lip, slurped, and then leaned gingerly back into the sofa.
“Somebody hit me from the side. Then I was on the ground and they were kicking me in the ribs and in the face. McInturff got them off me and helped me off the porch. I came in here and passed out.” He spit again.
“I probably need to go to the fucking hospital for stitches. My lip won’t stop bleeding.”
Keith had a fat bag of weed on Tuesday and no one was around. He walked down to Big Red’s place at the end of the row about two o’clock. They smoked a joint and Big Red made him choose between the Steelers and the Rams if he wanted to even dream about touching the Nintendo controller.
Big Red himself selected the Dolphins as always. The Dan Marino to Mark Clayton connection was his favorite. John was there and egged Keith on as Big Red ran up the score in the third quarter.
“He’s kicking your ass big dog!” John laughed. “LT can’t save you now.” The EPMD tape ended.
“Put on that PE tape with 911 is a Joke,” Keith said.
John passed around the eight inch plastic bong they kept under the end table. Chuck D got it going and as Big Red scored again the first song reached its crescendo in a frenzy of raw drums and amalgamated samples. Voices over the top in a counter beat to the main rhythm pulsated in Keith’s ears. He listened, trying to make out the refrain.
“Get violent, let’s get violent. Get violent, let’s get violent.” Over and over. Keith heard this clearly and said so to John.
“Man you is crazy. The song is Brothers Gonna Work it Out and that’s what they are saying,” John replied. “Yo Red, this dude thinks they are saying let’s get violent.”
“Man you smoke too much weed, big dog,” Red said. “Maybe you should check yourself.”