Some Skinhead Shit: (Cut in half/1,242 words)
David laughed at Laurence’s joke and buzzed the call box. It was December 21st and they were heading to a holiday party. They were given two instructions, bring a case of good beer and wear an obnoxious holiday sweater.
The call box came to life, and the gate unlocked itself. The hallway was littered with fliers and water-soaked Readers. They could hear the party bouncing off the walls.
They immediately realized that they were the only ones wearing Christmas sweaters and tried taking them off before they were spotted.
“Don’t even think about it,” Stephanie scolded them. She’d dyed her hair again. “Look at this beer. That’s good stuff. Can I get one?” Everyone took a bottle from the case and David opened them with his church key. Since starting work at his restaurant he’d become a beer connoisseur and never left home without his church key, a large metal beer bottle opener.
“So where’s this brewery from?” Laurence asked, who desperately tried to keep up with David.
“This shit’s basically impossible to get. They sent a hundred cases into the city. This Santa Stout has notes of teriyaki and soy. It’s fucking wild. I’ve been dying to get some.”
Laurence always found that the parties in Logan consisted of an interesting mix of people. A bunch of bearded dudes with ink covering their arms, some guys talking about fixed-gear bikes in the hallway, and skinheads eating chips and salsa. Stephanie and her friends were the equivalent of working-class social debutantes and seemed to know people who worked at all the best bars and restaurants along Milwaukee Avenue.
Stephanie was always given free food and drinks at the hipster bars. She and her girlfriends were twenty-four, attractive, and party animals. Laurence always felt an attraction to Stephanie, but feared doing something about it. He feared losing Elizabeth, his long-term girlfriend. But if he was honest with himself, he feared being rejected by Stephanie.
For the first hour of the party David and Laurence hung out together talking about fantasy football. Nobody came up to them and they didn’t approach anyone.
“This is lame. Why did we come across town to stand here and talk to ourselves?” Laurence shouted out. “Let’s party!”
“Wanna beer,” Laurence asked a young man with a shaved head and wild tribal piercing in his ears.
“Fuckyeahiwantabeer.” The skinhead ripped the metal cap off and took a big swig, most of which dribbled down his face and neck. “What the fuck kind of beer is this? This is some fucking good shit.” He took another swig.
“Give me another.”
“Actually I brought this for everyone…so…” Then he reached into one of the pockets on his Santa sweater and offered a PBR that he pulled off the table.
“I’m looking for a couple guys who are looking to get into some skinhead shit!”
Laurence and David looked at each other unsure of what he meant by “skinhead shit.”
Laurence asked what he meant by that.
“I mean do you two guys want to get into some shit,” the skinhead’s voice began to pitch sharp as his eyes flared up. “I’m talking about some skinhead shit!” His words were connected like some sort of train at full speed.
Stephanie opened the door to her bedroom and the two darted off to safety. The bedroom was full of patchouli and bong smoke. There were two twin beds. He could almost smell the sex. He wanted to crawl into one of them and inhale the pillows. If he could split himself in two, he’d give one to Elizabeth and one to Stephanie.
“Look at that.” David checked out a woman about ten years older than them wearing a light blue dress. “God, would you look at that! I can’t keep my eyes off her. I’d love to roll that.” Without hesitation David walks over to her with a bottle of Stout. Laurence watches as she took it and they begin to make small talk. “Come over here,” David said.
“Can I help you buddy?” a man asked as he wrapped his arm around the older woman and introduced himself as her husband. His arms were as big as Laurence’s legs, and he had a long goatee. Laurence watched as David started to get very nervous, thinking back to the night he talked with someone’s wife and how he had to escape through a kitchen and run to the Brown Line station in Lincoln Square.
“Want a beer?” David handed him his the last bottle of stout. “Look I came here with my buddy Laurence. We’re sick of not meeting other people. If I wanted to just talk to him, we could’ve stayed home. So what’s your story?”
The couple told their story. She was a real estate lawyer who just opened her own practice, and he was the chef at a restaurant in Logan Square called Lux. “I’ve been there. I had your beef jowl and black barley, charcuterie plate, and the frozen soufflé.”
Just like that, they were best friends. David had this way with people and could talk himself out of any situation. Stephanie came over with a half a joint. Laurence didn’t typically smoke pot, but when it came to him he took it and sucked it hard, pulling it deep into his lungs before passing it on to the chef. It came around a second time. Then they took a shot of whiskey and started smoking cigarettes.
Laurence’s blood became a little too rich and he passed his comfort zone into an unfocused state where the room felt slippery. He went out of the bedroom to find the bathroom and joined the line in a narrow hallway that connected the bedrooms with the living room. The skinheads had hijacked the radio and sang along to some sorts of crap rock from the seventies or eighties.
After Laurence took a piss, he made his way to the living room looking for a bottle of something, anything to keep the buzz going. But everything was empty. He had no idea what time it was, maybe eleven, maybe two. The skinheads were singing, “Don’t stop belieeeevin’, Hold on to the feeeeeelin’”. Laurence just started laughing at their horrible taste in music. Then the skinhead leader walked over to him, grabbed Laurence by the shirt, and threw him against a bookshelf. “You think this is funny?”
“Actually I do, bro. I was in college once too, bro.”
“Bro? Are you calling me bro?”
Laurence started laughing out of control. “Yeah, man. You fucking love Journey, therefore you must be a bro deep down.” The skinhead starts punching Laurence. One, two, three…then from the other side of the room, the chef ran over and punched the skinhead. One shot was all it took. The skinhead was out cold. There was blood dripping from his face like a leaky faucet. The skinhead looked dead, limbs blown out and collapsed against the dirty hardwood floor.
“Stephanie, sorry about this,” the chef said. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.” He indicated to David, Laurence and his wife. They walked down the narrow stairwell into the night. There were a few heavy snowflakes falling and the sidewalks were covered with a bit of slush. Laurence could smell his blood and Mexican spices from the taqueria on the corner.
“You two are heading back to Lakeview right? Let’s split a cab,” the chef said as he flagged one.
– – –
As writers we must learn to cut our writing down to size. Most writing instructors recommend cutting 10 to 15 percent. I decided to cut it in half for experimental purposes while attempting to tell the same story. Instead of simply erasing text, I crossed it out. This way I could still use this information as I condensed the text. So basically the top of my document was the original version with large sections crossed out.
The first set of cuts focused on the backstory, which is always the first place to go for cuts. In the same document, I copied and pasted the edited text with everything that was crossed out under the banner or Version 2. Assume that when you look at the amputated draft, you will be able to connect the dots and have the text make sense.
Smaller cuts should also be made; e.g., She’d dyed her hair again, little stripes of green along one side became She’d dyed her hair again. Twelve words became five. Working within the sentence is something I love. This brings me to William Carlos Williams statement, “No ideas but in things.” Words show the world, but I’m of the belief that fiction needs to show how a character understands the world; we are interested in how characters assemble data and find meaning. This edit cuts the visual image of the green stripe of hair, and instead focuses on the fact that Laurence notices that she has died her hair again. This says something about Stephanie and Laurence, more so him and his slightly voyeuristic relationship with her as an object of affection. So I will riff on W.C. Williams: Not only things but perception. If you are a writer spend an hour with an old story or essay—chop it down. Do so dramatically. Do it for yourself as an exercise. Kill your darling prose—be brave.
Jacob Singer lives in Chicago and is the editor of Hysterical Realism, a webzine dedicated to exploring the genre of fiction typically associated with Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, Richard Powers, and Thomas Pynchon. His work has appeared at Handshake Media, Chicago Foodies, and Euskal Irrati Telebista (Basque Radio and television).