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The Little Wretches: Music

Miracle

(Robert A. Wagner +/- The Little Wretches)
Robert A. Wagner
A fictionalized account of a very real incident involving John Creighton. I wrote a collection of vignettes, The Ballad of Johnny Blowtorch, assembling the various Creighton-related anecdotes, all fictionalized, of course. John Elerick and I wrote a screenplay based on the vignettes.
MIRACLE

They say you have to perform three verifiable miracles before you can be canonized as a saint. Real miracles. No sleight of hand or illusion. It sometimes takes hundreds of years to get someone canonized. By that time, where are the eyewitnesses? Some of these saints, you can't even verify that they really existed, much less that they performed anything miraculous.

You ever seen a miracle?

This one time, it was one of the first warm nights of spring, and the streets around campus were overflowing. Every kid from the dorms who'd been cooped up all winter was walking the streets. All the homies from The Hill were on the corners. You didn't even need a jacket. Cars circling the blocks, radios blaring. A hundred different beats.

And kids in those days didn't wear headphones. Everybody had a boom box. And the music you're blasting is your manifesto. Hear this? THIS is who I am. That’s MY song. That’s MY style. Everybody is making a statement.

All the noise. All the lights. All the people. And you're young, haven't seen this before. You're just swimming in it. We weren't even twenty-one, couldn't legally buy a drink, as if that stopped any of the bars from serving. Well, John was older than us. He had an ID, but we weren't out to buy beer or anything. We were just out watching the parade of people, feeling great.

Everybody knows The Dirty O, The Original Hot Dog Shop, corner of Forbes and Bouquet, right? In those days, it really WAS dirty. This was before it expanded. You know how crowded it gets now? Well, it did the same volume of business in those days, but in one-quarter of the space.

Whoa, motherfucker, watch where you going.

Tell your bitch to stay out the way.

Two beef sticks, chili, cheese, ketchup, and a fish, mayo ketchup and onions.

Somebody need learn how to use soap. Somebody stink.

There's a legal limit to the amount of take-out beer that can be served to one customer at one time, that's why the O sold nine-packs of sixteen-ounce cans. Cans don't come pre-packaged in nine-packs, but they'd split six-packs so they could sell you the maximum. Schlitz Malt Liquor, Old German, Pabst. At those prices, you didn't care. You bought the special.

When people are out in huge numbers like that, the cops are always ready to tune somebody up. I mean, the cops are out-numbered, what, two-thousand to one? The potential for things to get out of hand is enormous. And if a riot breaks out, all these businesses, all these bars, can you imagine the loss of property, the bad publicity for the university? So the cops have to make a statement.

The cops would be on all the corners. "No loitering. Keep moving. Keep moving..." A few of the cops would were legitimately warm people, but they had a job to do. Look at them cross-eyed, there'd be a dog straining at his leash to get at you.

"I'll keep moving, motherfucker. But I move because I choose to move. Nobody tells me when to move."

So every night, some poor dark-skinned bastard had to be chewed to pieces. Shouldn't be necessary. What are you, an idiot? Can't you see those dogs? But somebody's got to be a soldier, and the dogs don't require an invitation.

We're outside The O, across the street, where Flo's Records used to be? Remember Flo's? Lowest prices. Best selection of cut-out albums in town. Well, Flo's is closed for the night, but there's a little parking space, a yellow line on the curb to keep the storefront clear, but room enough for a truck to pull in for loading and unloading. This Cadillac pulls up in Flo's space. Illegal, right? Shouldn't be the end of the world, though.

There's a fine looking thing in the passenger seat, blonde wig, spaghetti straps, couple of gold chains and gigantic ear rings. And the driver is some dapper old dude, at least sixty years old, dinner suit, fedora, alligator shoes. He's crossing the street for a nine-pack. And he's probably thinking that the cops won't write him a ticket as long as he keeps the engine running and his girl is in the car.

Well, there's this young cop, a campus cop, not even a real City cop, one step above a security guard on the law enforcement ladder, but he's always got to be a hard ass. He's always beating on people, looking for a confrontation. Blunt. Sarcastic. We call him "Blondie" behind his back, but we'd never dare say it to his face. Blondie is outraged that the Pimpmobile would dare to park on HIS block. So while the grandfatherly dude is inside the O, Blondie calls the K-9 Corps from the two nearest corners.

As soon as the old dude reappears, Blondie has his nightstick around the dude's throat. The mama in the passenger seat was shrieking with horror. The dogs are loose, so there's two German Shepherds with their teeth set in. I don't know if it's instinctive or something they train, but these dogs get a grip and start shaking their heads as though they're trying to rip off a chunk or a body part. The dogs go for the throat and the crotch. The one dog can't get at the throat because Blondie has already claimed it, so this dog has the guy, I swear, it's like he's grabbed this guy by the ribs and he's going to yank them right out of the guy's torso.

And the other cops have brandished their clubs. They're wailing on the dude. The guy can't even think of putting up a fight. No resistance. He's limp and flopping like a rag doll with every blow.

They wouldn't do this unprovoked, would they? Maybe he's a heroin dealer. Maybe the trunk of the car is full of automatic weapons. Who knows? There's got to be a reason. Whatever, he was helpless from Blondie's first move, reduced to red pudding held into shape by the remaining shreds of his dinner suit.

Did someone call for an ambulance?

Two police vans pull up, and they tossed what's left of the old guy into the back of a van. Now, Bouquet Street is one-way on that block, and the vans have pulled in from the opposite directions. So before they can pull out, one of the vans has to go into reverse, and there's so many people around, somebody's liable to get run over. So the cops have to clear the block.

And the cops are all worked up. Their adrenaline is going. Their endorphins have kicked in. They've broken a sweat, the initial fatigue has passed, and now they're ready for more. So who wants some? You want some? Who wants to be next?

One cop looks at us, “Get moving now or we’re taking you all in, the whole line of you.”

People immediately start moving away. They want no part of this. Most of us are raised to never talk back to a cop. But, you know, I was also raised that to see injustice and fail to act is cowardice. Turn your back on the problem, and you’re part of the problem. We can’t stand back and do nothing, can we?

One of our friends, Julia was her name, she’ll KILL me for using her name, she can’t let this offense go unchallenged. She mutters under her breath, “You’re a racist motherfucker.”

The cop’s not going to let himself be challenged.

“What did you say?”

“I said you’re a racist.”

She conveniently left out the part about “motherfucker.”

“That’s what I thought you said.”

He drags her kicking and screaming and tosses her into the van with the remains of the old dude.

Shit, now we’re going to be up all night trying to get her out of jail.

And she’s succeeded in having the cops whipped back into a frenzy. They’re swinging their clubs at invisible bodies as if to show the crowd what will happen to YOU if YOU don’t get the fuck out of here right this very second.

So I’m obediently backing off with the rest of our friends, and we’re nearly a half block away, when I look up and see John in his red ski cap. He’s a tall dude and you could see his red hat above the crowd. Before we knew him, we used to call him, “the Guy in the Red Hat.” And there goes the red hat right into the circle of cops.

They spared Julie by not beating her, but now you know what has to happen. The cops cannot allow themselves to be challenged a second-time. John is going to have to suffer for this.

So how are we going to find a phone number to call his parents? Who’s going to call and give them the news? We CAN’T jump in to help. John, get the fuck out of there! What if he needs first-aid? Put pressure on the wounds to stop the bleeding. Don’t move his neck or he could be permanently paralyzed. If the bone is sticking out of the skin, that’s called a compound fracture.

But instead of beating on him, the cops just kind of gaze at John. Puzzled. They start looking at each other. "You gonna hit him? I ain't hitting him, you hit him."

John says, "You can't do that, can you?"

Now, we're a half block away. There is no way we should have been able to hear him so clearly at that great a distance. He had an almost whisper-in-your-ear tone of voice.

"You can't do that, can you?"

The cops, simultaneously, relax their battle stances. Their arms go to their sides. Their weapons return to their belts.

"You can't do that, can you?"

Cop says, "Is she with you?"

John says, "Yes, she is."

"Take her home and tell her to watch her mouth."

Blondie opens the hatch, and Julia climbs out of the van, wiping the old dude’s blood from her hands to the legs of her jeans. John wraps his arm around her shoulder, and they turn and walk away. Everybody’s looking around. It’s over. It can’t be over just like that, can it? Did you see what that dude did? Even the cops are wondering what just happened here.

Nobody who saw it will ever forget. If this wasn't an actual miracle, and that's for Popes and Cardinals to decide, then it was, at a minimum, the most courageous thing I've ever seen. But I'm saying miracle. I'm saying the only other man who could have gotten away with that is Jesus.