Fire in the Hole

Saturday morning I emerge from my tomb-like bedroom into the living room. Will is sitting on the couch in his underwear. He’s lithe and strong with no body fat. I wouldn’t want to have to fight him, but then I pretty much don’t want to fight anyone. I’ve seen him and his brother go at it. They both gave as good as they got and fought each other to an draw – it looked exhausting and painful – not to mention pointless.

“Morning,” he says.

He’s got an empty “Café Bustello” can between his legs and he’s pulling apart firecrackers, one after the other and emptying the black powder from inside them into the coffee can. All while watching a “Cops” re-run.

“Heya,” it takes a second for me to make sense of the scene, “Well that’s one way to spend a Saturday. I guess.” I’ve seen him do this before. He’s making a pipe bomb. As a 16 year old, Will has yet to outgrow his fascination with fire and things that go BOOM.

He laughs. “Yeah, well just wait till this mother blows. Then you’ll see… shit will be worth it.” I assume by “it” he means the time he’s putting in unrolling all these fucking firecrackers.

“You gonna blow up anything in particular? Anybody in particular?”

“Nah, it’s just for fun.”

“Cool.” I say and I watch TV for a few minutes. A grizzled black man gets arrested after running from the police. When the cop asks him why he ran, he tells them he doesn’t know. I know how he feels.

I retreat back into my room and shoot a half a bag of dope. Suddenly the world is a bouquet of roses. When I come back up the stairs the living room no longer looks like a grimy man-hovel but an idyllic urban garret. With the afternoon sunlight shining on the exposed brick walls I imagine this loft could be just as well be in Paris during the belle epoch. Except we have “Cops.” So it’s better.

I sit with Will for an hour. Eventually Colin wakes up and joins us on the couch. It takes another half hour of him smoking pot from the ridiculously large house-bong before we go outside and he loans me $2 to get a coffee and a bagel from the deli. Thankfully he doesn’t make me grovel – not that it’s in his nature to do so – I just would if he made me, if he asked. I’ve got my drugs covered for the next couple of days (if I can control myself and just take the amount I’ve rationed that is) but I have no spending money whatsoever. I’m going to have to sell some books or cds something in order to make it through the workweek.

The weather is nice, so when Will declares the bomb ready, the three of us head over to the East River park, entering it just North of the Williamsburg bridge. There are just the earliest signs of spring in evidence as Will skulks down the walkway past the basketball courts, under the bridge and beyond. Colin and I follow – smoking cigarettes and watching him scout the perfect spot to light the bomb. The path narrows and cuts between the river’s edge and a chain link fence with tangled brown underbrush obscuring a heavily graffiti-ied cement structure inside.

Will identifies the building as a possible candidate for testing his homemade munitions. We follow the fence inland and find a gap in the chain link. Once inside it’s clear the cement structure is home to lord knows how many vagrants.

We step onto the top of a tiered cement amphitheater. Every surface, save for the dirt floor in the center, is covered in graffiti and there’s trash strewn everywhere. There are 4 or 5 homeless men clustered around a heavy-set drunk woman, who looks like she might be Native American. Near the homeless people, on the far side of the structure is a blocky outcropping of a cement building with pipes coming out of it. I assume that structure serves some kind of municipal function. Will walks along the top tier of cement to the other side and approaches the homeless people.

“Yo, yo!” he shouts, trying to get their attention. They have a little fire going in an improvised campfire-ring and they’re having a grand old time, laughing, smoking and passing around a bottle. They patently ignore Will.

“Hey you guys, I’m talking to you!” Again he’s ignored, so Will steps closer, he’s only 5 feet away from them. “Hey, I gotta tell you guys something…”

A little troll-like dude finally turns from the fire to face Will. “What you want?”

“I just wanted to warn you. There’s gonna be an explosion!”

“Yeah?” the man says.

“Yeah, I’m gonna blow up some fireworks and…”

“And what?” he asks.

“I don’t know. Maybe the cops will come? Just look out is all. I just wanted to warn you.”

The guy nods and turns back to his party. He doesn’t tell his friends, he just joins them and starts jockeying anew to get closer to the Indian woman. Will shrugs his shoulders and heads to the center of the amphitheater. There’s a packed dirt floor, but I imagine there must be concrete underneath it. He pulls a metal spatula out from his sweatshirt and starts digging.

“Hey, that’s my spatula!” Colin shouts.

Will looks up at him and shrugs.

“Idiot,” Colin says and sits down next to me. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do about him.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“School. He’s gonna flunk out at this rate. Then where will he be?”

“Got me. I sympathize. I’ll try and talk to him.”

“Thanks. But, I’m not holding out a lot of hope. He just won’t fucking listen. He’s gonna get kicked out. Then who knows if I’ll ever be able to get him back in. Or if he’ll even want to.”

After a couple of minutes Will finishes digging. Colin and I come down and inspect the 4 inch crater Will he’s managed to scrape open before he hit the concrete underneath.

“It’s not tall enough to fit the can…” Colin says.

“Yeah. Duh. I’ll just lay it down like this.” He illustrates and puts the coffee can in sideways.

“But if you do that it leaves the top totally exposed. We won’t be able to watch it without getting shrapnel in the face!” Colin says.

“Don’t worry.” Will walks a few feet away and pulls a 3 foot sheet of concrete up from the dirt. “Hey, gimmie a hand here?”

I step over and dig my fingers underneath the opposite side and help him to push the slab so it’s propped on top of the can. “How long will that wick take to burn down?” Will has taken a wick from a cherry bomb or some other firecracker he bought in China town and transplanted it to the plastic cover that’s duct taped over the can. The wick is then stuck directly into the black powder, buckshot and the bb’s he uses in his pellet gun.

“I don’t know… 10, 15 seconds?”

“Shit, you gonna do this?” I ask.

“Fuck yeah.” Will pulls the lighter from his pocket and I start running toward the periphery of the amphitheater. I don’t want to be anywhere near the fucker when it goes. “Hey!” I shout at the homeless party, “cover your ears!” Again they fail to acknowledge us. Colin is right behind me and when I turn I see Will bend over and set the wick on fire. He follows us.

I jump over the cement edge and duck behind the highest tier of concrete. Just the top of my head is exposed. Will and Colin join me. There’s a pregnant pause with just the sound of the homeless party happening across the amphitheater penetrating the silence above the ambient city noise. And then…


The fucker blows and it is LOUD. The concrete slab, that is maybe 3 inches thick, shatters and 2 or 3 big pieces fly 6 feet into the air and land 5, 10 feet away. No doubt about it, the explosion was heard many blocks away.

The homeless party meanwhile is in complete distress. One of the dudes is on the ground and I wonder for a second if he’s been hit by shrapnel or a chunk of concrete. The woman is screams, “What the fuck!?”

Will and Colin are laughing hysterically and Will jogs forward to inspect the damage. Even though I had my hands over my ears, I’ve got the concussive ringing that you hear like after a concert. I follow them to the blast spot. There’s now a small crater in the cement.

“Everyone ok?” Colin shouts up at the homeless people.

We can only hear bits of conversation, “What the fuck?” “Crazy motherfuckers,” “Dumb ass white boys.”

“I guess they must be ok.” Will says.

We inspect the lowest tier around the bottom of the theater. You can see divots in the stone where the metal collided with it from the blast.

A couple of the homeless guys stumble off towards the exit. The ones left behind, including the woman slowly recover and resume the party.

“That was pretty loud, huh?” Will looks up. A stupid grin on his face.

“Yeah Will, that was pretty loud alright. Nice going.” His brother says sarcastically.

Will looks up, “Shut up, Colin.”

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