The Chameleon Complex—Chapter 56 Garin

Garin, a tough kid from the Bronx, always said he didn’t give a fuck. I totally dug Garin the way I’d dug Ramon back when I was a kid. When anyone corrected Garin, he said, “You know what? Fuck you! How ’bout that?” in his best Tony-Montana-from-Scarface voice. I liked hanging out with him because I felt like a badass and safe to be his friend. Someone said, “Hey, man, that’s a nice suitcase,” and Garin replied, “What? A black man can’t have a nice suitcase?” and puffed himself up to fight. I guffawed to encourage him. 

      Garin looked very intimidating if you didn’t know him. Still, he once got into a fistfight with another buddy over a pyramid of empty beer cans that got knocked down. Garin got the worst of it, and I kind of feel bad about it now, because I might’ve been able to stop the fight. But I’d vowed not to be codependent while in the army, not to play the role of middle child, facilitator, peacemaker, track and cross-country captain, and rescuer. I was being who I thought I should be—a badass infantry chameleon who liked fights—when in fact, I felt vulnerable. I didn’t want my friends to fight each other. I wanted to be peacemaker, but I consciously decided to be merely the observer, and I promise you that I really thought at the time, “And if the boys want to fight, you’d better let ’em,” from Thin Lizzy. It was kind of my army mantra.

      When we got wild in the café across from the fort, a couple plainclothesmen said, “We’re officers in the US Navy, and you men are too loud.” Garin stood, pushed his face close to the officer’s face, and said, “Well, I’m a private in the US Army, and I don’t give a fuck.” I felt obligated to stand, because backing up a buddy outweighed spending a night in the brig, losing a stripe, and being transferred to South Korea. Thankfully, the officers backed down, and later Garin bragged about me having his back. I’m not saying I’m proud of this; I’m just saying that despite the army’s brainwashing about the importance of rank, my loyalty to friends still trumped everything. Of course, the army also trained us to have our buddy’s back. If I were sitting in that café today with my family, I’d think, Wow, what inconsiderate jerks. Grow up. It’s hard for me to remember myself in that way. At the time, I was proud of it. At the time, I thought, Yep, there’s another anecdote.

      One night in Georgetown, Garin and I were barhopping again. As we took opposite sides of an alley to relieve ourselves, a couple of men walked past and told Garin that he’d better tuck it in. I don’t know if they were racists or they just didn’t see me. But, of course, Garin said, “You know what? Fuck you! How ’bout that?” It turned out that they were plainclothes cops, but even after seeing their badges, Garin said he still didn’t give a fuck. So, the cops pulled out blackjacks like you’d see in old black-and-white gangster movies. I told Garin to slug the one on the left, and I’d punch the one on the right, and then we’d run like hell, serpentine through M Street traffic. I was confident that I could get away. I was an idiot. I suppose our prisons are full of idiots like I was. But I wasn’t really an idiot; I was a chameleon. Always keep in mind that at the time, I thought it was cool to be a bit antisocial. I waited for Garin to hit first, but he didn’t; he wasn’t a runner like me, so he just allowed himself to be handcuffed as more cops arrived in patrol cars. A crowd formed, and young people taunted the cops for hassling a black man. Some cop flung a young guy onto his car hood and then body-slammed another onto the sidewalk. I thought, Jeez, this is exactly the kind of stuff I’ve been wanting! This is better than a bare ass shattering a windshield! This is a good story, man! Apparently, the cops still didn’t have a beef with me, so I just bailed Garin out of jail.

      A few months later, Garin was a witness to a murder in DC and made himself scarce as the CID (US Army Criminal Investigation Command) searched for him. He called me, but I was nervous by then, not wanting that kind of fun, especially as my discharge date approached. Garin wanted money, but when he came over, I wasn’t there; I’d decided to extract myself from his drama. I’d had second thoughts about that whole badass thing by then. I mean, Garin was a badass, but he seemed serious about it and not just goofing around as I was. Isn’t hitting a cop a felony? If I had a felony conviction, I couldn’t be a psychologist today. See what I mean about being luckier than I was smart? How many people have ruined their lives because of poor judgment, rough company, being jacked on testosterone or cheap beer, and having a yearning to create youthful anecdotes? I should’ve thanked Garin for submitting to the handcuffs. I didn’t, though. He’d only feel uncomfortable and say, “You know what? Fuck you! How ’bout that?”

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