Part 8: Dum Dum Boys

1988 dropped like a series of sneak attacks, a cold quiet mirror view of your life brought on by the surprise ending of a two-year-old Smiths song. Is it really so strange? School ends but not in the way American teen comedies promised, and with the uniform off you become a kind of anonymous. No uniforms meaning you had to fend for your own looks and you were never one of the rich boys in Reebok Pumps or Le Coq Sportif polo shirts and lord knows no Fila. Then in September the hurricane comes and flattens the island. The prime minister tells CNN that it looks like Hiroshima, but you’re the only one out of 2.5 million who sees this as a fresh start. Flatten everything. Obliterate everything. Tidal wave wash, gale force sweep, cleanse, rinse, knock those fucking trees down, rip off a roof, rise out of an erased memory, who wanted their fucking name carved in that fucking tree anyway. Fuck up that witness.
 
Up on the North Coast they were filming a new Lord Of The Flies and the hurricane was the gift that saved them millions in visual effects. In Kingston, the hurricane blows down power lines, and sends your own house back to the 1920s so you and your friends crash at Hughie’s. Not the richest boy in your posse, but his house is in the hills, and it’s the first time you’ve heard a place described as split level. Best of all his house is the only one with Power.
 
Your own house, though prefab solid is flattened in every other way. No light, no water, no cooking gas. You line up late in the night, sometimes in just underwear behind people just as despondent as you, waiting for the water truck. In the day you hope your batteries will last through one more night of American Top Forty so you can hear Guns N’ Roses jump six spots to number six and Prince hold on to number one with “Batdance.” You find new ways to work the coal stove, and dinner is the same tinned mackerel your family had yesterday. Somebody is walking from gate to gate claiming to be selling chicken but how do you know the difference between a skinny chicken and a young vulture? But at Hughie’s house the hurricane never happened. Plug a blender in a socket and it blended, plug a radio in and it played, switch a light on and your face lit up with florescence. You’re shocked how you took these things for granted. At night, you and the boys leave as late as you can, packing blocks of ice in newspaper to surprise your mother with cold lemonade. But in the lone house with the power still on dumb boys grow up.
 
On the ground level, somebody brought a cassette of Inner City so through the house walls are bouncing to good life good life good life good life in the good life, good life! The VHS on top of the stacks is a shitty copy of The Witches of Eastwick. Somebody brought War Games, and right below it, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Rob, tall, stout threatening to but never becoming fat says,
 
“A wha kinda Pickney movie them yah boss, you no got no real man movie?”
 
“You mean First Blood?” Hughie says. He’s lying on the carpet in front of the TV and does not want to get up. You’re lying on the couch. Ray is in the old armchair playing with the dog and the other three are in the kitchen, cooking god knows what, turning up the cassette deck and probably showing each other how the cabbage patch is different from the wop.
 
“No, pussyhole.”
 
Rambo?”
 
“No.”
 
Rocky 4?”
 
“What, you fucking Sylvester Stallone? You tell me that you have plenty blue movie.”
 
It reaches the tip of your tongue but you swallow it. If you’re supposed to know what a blue movie is, they will give you shit for the rest of your adult life. For a good minute, you imagine a film that is actually blue, a genre made in bluish tint, or maybe they just mean movies made in Europe. Something banned, something controversial, maybe an action film where lots of people die.
 
“Don’t play none of them nasty movie in Hughie’s mother house,” Ray says, not even looking up from petting the dog.
 
Nasty movies. Naked people movies. Porn, like the movies that your neighbor up the street had on reels. You were more impressed that somebody on your street was rich enough to have his own projector. But through him you already read Penthouse, Hustler, Oui, Screw, Juggs, Viva, Swedish Erotica, Private, Pirate, and Playboy. But you’ve never seen an actual movie.
 
“And we not going see any movie because as per usual, Hughie lying out o’ him fucking teeth.”
 
“Brethren me no haffi lie ’bout nothing.”
 
“Me believe it when me see a man and a woman a fuck. Or maybe two woman a lick out the pussy.”
 
It’s at the tip of your tongue but you swallow it down again. There are movies of women licking women’s pussies? Porn for you was print: fuzzy camera, mood lighting, fogging machine mist with men thick but not erect and women spreading the same pink on every page. But no actual fucking. Nobody knew that at near 17 you still imagined people fucked as they did in R-rated movies. In soft focus and gliding over each other until somebody grabbed the other’s back, dug in with fingernails and gasped. You pushed it in, rolled around, kissed a shoulder, pulled some hair and Phil Collins sang “In The Air Tonight.” Tricky territory and you knew it. Anything you say right now would reveal your ignorance, so you open your mouth and say,
 
“Yeah, where it deh?”
 
Hughie stands there, leaning on one leg then the next. He looks upstairs then back at us. Rob hisses and says he’s a fucking liar. Hughie looks at me but I can’t show sympathy, I’m a real man who wants to see if he has any porn, thereby proving he is not a pussyhole. He huffs and puffs and runs up the stairs like somebody sent him to his room. I’m wondering if this was really going to happen and why would a bunch of boys always on the hunt for battymen risk a room full of stiff dicks. You had no idea that boys watched porn with other boys. What was the point of a bunch of boys all getting horny together? When do you jerk off? Where? Please god not with each other. You hope he comes back down with nothing. You’ll give him shit and hope it masks your relief.
 
Hughie comes back down with a blank VHS.
 
“Is my brother own.”
 
“So is not yours.”
 
“Is a blues, and it in my house, faggot,” he says and ejects The Witches Of Eastwick. Tape distortion. Warped lines, half erased scene from Alf, slant bars that bend into vertical bars, pops, plops, spots, a title that jerks up and down in a blur until Hughie adjusts tracking. Taboo: An American Miniseries. And just when you hope that the video is so old that nobody would see anything, or that the machine would chew the tape and choke it out, the picture clears up, spotless.

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Marlon James

About the Author

Marlon James was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1970. He is the winner of the 2015 Man Booker award for his third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings. His first novel, John Crow's Devil (Akashic Books, 2005) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and was a New York Times Editors' Choice. The novel was published in the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy in 2008. His second novel, The Book of Night Women (Riverhead 2009), won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The NAACP Image Award, and The Minnesota Book Award, and was New York Magazine's third best book of the year. Marlon was Go On Girl! Book Club's 2012 Author of the year.
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Marlon James