It all began in 1987, when I was barely 14. I yearned to feel something more, to do something noble. I sought a deeper meaning for my life, outside of the mundane existence I witnessed many of the working-class adults in my neighborhood struggling with. Rather than succumb to the doldrums of comfort, I wanted to matter. And a twist of fate presented me with a convenient way to fulfill those needs.
My youthful innocence screeched to an abrupt end the night I met Clark Martell.
I stood in my alley zoning out, high on weed, when the shotgun roar of a car bursting down the backstreet broke the calm. A primer-black 1969 Pontiac Firebird screeched to a skidding halt in the gravel beside me. With the amber glow of the streetlamp lighting the car from above, the passenger door snapped open, and am older dude with a shaved head and black combat boots headed straight toward me. He wasn’t unnaturally tall or imposing physically, but his closely cropped hair and shiny boots smacked of authority. Over a crisp white T‑shirt, thin scarlet suspenders held up his bleach-spotted jeans.
He stopped just inches from me and leaned in close, his beady, ashen eyes holding mine. The whites surrounding his granite pupils looked old, timeworn, intense. Barely opening his mouth, he spoke softly, with a listen-closely-now attitude. “Don’t you know that’s exactly what the capitalists and Jews want you to do, so they can keep you docile?”
Not knowing exactly what the hell a capitalist was, or what “docile” meant, my nervous instinct was to take a swift draw from the joint and involuntarily cough smoke straight into his face.
With stunning speed, this guy with the penetrating gray eyes smacked the back of my head with one hand and simultaneously snatched the spliff from my lips with the other, crushing it with his shiny black Doc Marten boot.
I was stunned. Only my dad had ever hit me like that.
The stubbly, sharp-jawed man straightened up and gripped my shoulder firmly, drawing me in toward him. “I’m Clark Martell, son, and I’m going to save your ******* life.”