Parks Department Men’s Room: Thursday Afternoon by Donald Zagardo

Hours have passed – seems like forever. We were due back in Tech right after lunch – it’s now two o’clock. “Hey, you dicks, let me out of here.”  Me spending Thursday afternoon smoking weed with a bunch of lunatics in a Parks Department shitter next to Thomas Edison Technical High is not what my momma had in mind when she sent me off this morning with a goodbye kiss and a wink. 

“Shut up! And who you callin dicks?” Jamaal is the biggest and dumbest of em, a good six feet two or three inches tall, maybe more. Not bad for a high schooler? He usually brings cheap cigars and empties the crap tobacco all over the bathroom floor. You don’t mess with Jamaal. What an ass-clown he is. Curtis brings the dope. Curtis is a dope, but everyone hands him a five-dollar bill. He refills the cigars with marijuana, makes a profit every time, and that’s OK.

“Do well baby boy, make your mamma proud.” Sure momma, I promise. I will, but how can I do that if I can’t even get out of this damned shitter?

Dwayne stands guard outside the building like he’s in the army, or robbin a bank. I think he’s pretty smart, at least he can breathe some city-fresh air out there. Dwayne is kind da fat, so it’s better for everyone that he stands outside in the cool drizzle. Guarding against what? I don’t really know. What would Dwayne do if the real cops showed-up? What could he do? Poor Dwayne. There are eight kids crowded into the Parks Department men’s room today, just like every other day, two blunts lit at a time, lots of smoke and it’s a small room. Oh damned! Let me out of here!

Me and Cameron are standin in the back. There’s a little rainy-day rat in the corner near us. The biggest guys are close to the door. Cameron is so skinny. I’m young, but not so skinny. C and me – I call Cameron C – are freshmen, the rest of this mob are sophomores. One girl only, named Margo. She can beat up most boys and has a great jump shot to boot. She plays High School girls’ basketball. Damned! Will I ever be a sophomore? They pass a marijuana cigar to me. I blow some smoke. It’s really strong. I’m wobbly a little but must get back to school ASAP. “Better late than never.” I heard Assistant Principal McDaniel say, more than once. If I’m late, she’ll let it slide. “Beggars can’t be choosers,” another favorite, often used McDaniel phrase. 

“Let me out of here, you dumb-ass dopers.” Too loud, oh shit! Lester has his huge AKG headphones on, so he can’t really hear me. Thank God!    

“Hey, who the Fs stoppin you? Dumb-ass kids. Just get your sorry-butts out of here!” Thank you, Rashad. His mouth says yes, but his body says no. Rashad pushes me hard into the back wall, into Cameron who crunches between me and a hard place, making a sickening sound when he does. The rainy-day rat scrambles away, to parts unknown. C’s phone falls to the wet floor, not too far a fall, not too hard. I stare at the phone, conscious, worried and afraid. 

“Don’t even think about it,” C says to me. “They’ll kill you on the spot, you know they will. Then they’ll kill me just for fun, seriously.” Painful thoughts pour into my head. If I make a call and live through this day, I could spend the rest of my high school years hated, shunned and tormented by the cool kids. Oh damn, but still C’s phone is right there.

“Let us out of here, you dopers,” I demand, plea and beg, but they all just laugh. A snickering tussle-line of fat and muscle, closing-in. I pick up C’s wet phone from the floor, dial 911 and scream “Help us.” Not sure that they heard me the first time, I scream it again, “Help us.”

Big Rashad throws his first punch directly to my head and I stagger, then fall to my knees. I’m soon flat on the floor, out-cold for who knows how long? I’m returned to wakefulness by C’s sharp cry, who’s worried that I’m dead or something, and the sound of sirens getting louder by the second. There is great commotion and laughter in the small room as the weed-mob tries to decide whether to flee or make a stand. With the help of C, I find my feet. My pants and shirt are soaking wet, but I’m alive for now.

I explain to the cops what happened and that I was the one who made the call. I’m safe with them for now, so is Cameron. Jamaal, Rashad and Lester got picked up by the police and held at the station for two hours. They were released with no charges, but later suspended from school for three days. The police never caught up with Dwayne – he’s smart, like I said. When Rashad and the others get back to school next week, I’ll have to hide-out with Vice Principal McDaniel or transfer to another school, far away. Who knows what will happen? But I know V.P. McDaniel will sympathize, forgive and protect me. Fools don’t frighten her a bit. I just hope my dear momma will understand and cut her baby boy a little slack. My mom’s a fine woman, she really is. Wish me luck.

Donald Zagardo is a former Professor of Modern History at St. John’ University. He has a life-long passion for literature of all kinds. In the past few years he has directed his writing efforts toward short stories – searching for unusual topics. He is presently assembling a collection of his own work. Donald lives and writes in New York City and enjoys international travel, foreign languages and photography.

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