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Kaplan 23 Robert Kaplan Howard Beach When the bat strikes the head, it does not do so with the same sharp crack with which it first strikes the sidewalk, building a momentum of up and down, up and down: rising above the right shoulder, descending hard and steady until it strikes the smooth white concrete that stops the perfect arc and does not flinch or bleed; and the sound it makes before it once more begins its ascent is nothing less than an ultimatum. When the bat strikes the head, it has already shifted out of that vertical stroke into one unmistakenly horizontal; one so smooth and elUptical that a magician's white-gloved hands could circle around it and without changing one single degree of force or velocity could turn it into a hawk, a bluejay, a carrier pigeon with a message tucked under its wing. But there is no magician, and the only hands are those that hold the bat securely, the wrists shifting as the motion shifts and accelerates until the bat strikes hair and bone which unlike the sidewalk only slow it down temporarily; and the only message is the voice as it flies out of the mouth— "Niggers, get the fuck out of the neighborhood"— the way the voices of Nazi storm troopers cried "Juden Juden Juden Juden." There are no gentle words here; no sounds or syllables with which to turn away. Yes, the bat is just a piece of wood that unUke the man whose arms are swinging it is not responsible for its actions. Yes, the words are just a coUection of letters that individually are not to blame. StiU, when that man stands half-crazed and threatening, armed with a bat and a song we all become niggers, all of us: 24 the minnesota review fags and dykes, kikes and spies, dumb broads who always ask for it in one way or another. We're all at the receiving end of that bat, are chased down brightly-lit streets, hide ourselves behind trash cans only to be found out and hit, hit once more and then once more again; feel the rush of blood and the flapping in the ears; close the door only to wonder what we have closed in or out; stay home for one reason or another. We're all names on that list, that great big nigger list that loses names by the dozen each day: Michael Griffith, Howard Beach: killed for being black in a white neighborhood; Benjamin Linder, Nicaragua: kUled by the contras whUe working on an irrigation project; Robert Livingstone, San Francisco: killed by 3 fag-bashers who beat him with a lead pipe and shouted "This one's for Anita"; Name Withheld, New Bedford: raped by 5 men on a pool table when she walked into a bar to buy a pack of cigarettes; walking home late last night and all the streets I would not walk down and even that choice is a luxury that has never made me feel particularly safe. Howard Beach is a close-knit neighborhood. Everyone knows who belongs and who does not, it's easy to tell, but Howard Beach is really slippery sidewalks and fast boulevards and quick little houses and Howard Beach is really vowels and consonants, just the letters a-z, it's a rule of grammar: no punctuation allowed, no special symbols, no numbers, no proofreader marks no nothing just vowels and consonants live there and they check real close. Howard Beach is reaUy apples and oranges, cherry pie, Yankee Doodle Dandy, stars and stripes primary colors black and white... When Michael Griffith careened through Howard Beach, a fear-crazed wounded bird flapping desperately from window sill to trash can, blood leaking from his broken wing, hounds barking and howling drooling all over each other getting closer and closer; when Michael Griffith finally flapped through the fence onto the Belt Parkway it no longer mattered Kaplan 25 whether the hounds went through the fence after him or if the barking he still heard was only the barking of his brain stuck on some fearful primal loop; if the lights he saw were headlights...


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