writes itself on the face,' " the old man recited, " 'and the body is
an automatic recording machine. To have a beautiful old age, you must live a
beautiful youth. For we, ourselves, are posterity and every man is his own
ancestor. I am today what I am because I was yesterday what I was....'
fidgety, Mike; I can feel it. What could someone else's great-grandfather know
about you? What could gray hair and sweetness know about hurt and frustration
and rage? Listen, Mike, he knows. Keep this between you and me, for there are
only a few people who even suspect it: The rage is in him, too! That's why you
need the old man, Mike. He has been stalking it. stroking it, staring at its
face since half a century before you were born.
Do you remember
that day you took me to your old neighborhood and told me about the moment your
life changed, your moment of revelation? Showed me with your hands how that kid
tore the head off one of your pigeons, how you fought back for the first time
in your life and lost control of yourself? Goddam, you said, you loved doing
that, and you destroyed him. It was great! No one would ever make you a victim
again, no one would ever stand in front of you when you let go of your rage, no
Listen. In 1921,
when Mr. Futch was 10, there was a 14-year-old in his school who terrified him,
a large, retarded boy who kicked aside anything in his way. Eddie was sitting
in the school yard one day during lunch hour, skipping rocks across the road to
a sewage drain, lost in his thoughts, when suddenly into his ear someone
shouted, "Didn't the teachers tell you not to throw rocks!?" and bashed
Eddie across the side of his head. What happened after that? Mr. Futch still
doesn't know. There was only blackness and silence, the whole world fell away,
and then he looked up and saw a whirl of open mouths around him, teachers and
children screaming at him, Stop! Stop! Stop! And he looked down and saw a pair
of bulging eyes and a hanging tongue just above his hands, and he realized,
gradually, that he was sitting on a rib cage, choking the life out of...out of
the kid who'd terrified him!
It took three
people to pry Eddie off. Everyone looked at him in a new way, and the bully ran
home gasping. But instead of exulting, Eddie felt hollow, as if a house fire
had just run through him, burned everything down to the basement and left only
ashes, cold ashes. Minutes were missing from his life. My god, he had literally
blacked out with rage. Where had it come from? Was there anything a man might
not do when he lost all control?
Maybe, Mike, it
had something to do with his parents. His father, Valley, was a sharecropper
who moved from Mississippi to Detroit when Eddie Futch was five, settled his
family in a section of town called Black Bottom and took a job in an automobile
plant. Valley Futch always seemed to have a handle on things, but there was
something about his grip that made people know not to test it. Maybe it was the
lead pipe he would clutch behind his back as he settled, in the very politest
of tones, a disagreement, or maybe it was the bulge in the breast pocket of the
suit he wore each time he went out visiting. One day, when Eddie was eight,
Valley went visiting for good. It was slow pain, confusing pain; for the
longest time, the little boy kept expecting his dad to come back.
besides the boy, his six-year-old sister, a four-year-old brother and Mama
Laura, young and scared, only 15 years older than her oldest child. Sure, Mama
Laura had a great big heart—she would be first to feed the hoboes passing
through during the Depression—but the rage was in her too. She would leave the
house to cook or clean or visit and put Eddie in charge all day, and Lucifer
himself couldn't guess what might come whistling at the eight-year-old's ear if
Mama Laura didn't find everything in order when she came home. Once, she
whipped him so hard and he screamed so loud the police came pounding at the
door. It set the little boy to breathing hard, just thinking what could happen
if he didn't keep control—just thinking about that one time she left and his
little brother set fire to the curtain and the fire engines came screaming up
You see what I'm
getting at, Mike? You couldn't tell Mr. Futch a lot of things. He grew up on
the same kind of streets you did, the same kind of scared. One morning, he went
outside at sunrise and found a teenage boy shot to death in the alley. Another
time, a woman slit across the throat. Two blocks away was the county hospital;
the sirens would shriek, his heart would hammer, he would race to the emergency
entrance in time to see one more grisly possibility. And at the end of the
month, if it looked like Mama Laura wouldn't have enough to pay the landlord,
she would throw open the doors and a slice of all that craziness would come
rarin' right into the home. A rent party, they called it, the kind that started
on Friday and staggered on till Sunday. Mama Laura charged all the drinkers and
gamblers for entrance, food and booze, and then maybe joined the good times
herself while her little boy, the man of the house, peeked around corners. Who
else was going to keep things under control?
How could he
escape? The chaos was everywhere around him, in his neighborhood, in his house.
One wrong move, and it was spuming up his throat; it was inside him! He had to
keep it bottled up, had to keep it caged...but how?
helped, he found—it calmed the molecules, and the people around him undid their
fists. So he worked at making his voice gentler and gentler. Neatness soothed
him too. He began to arrange everything in his room in perfect piles and then
went into his mother's drawers to refold and stack all her clothes.
"Haven't you got anything better to do?" Mama Laura would say, laughing
and shaking her head.