Shut Up, Little Man!

Stories and anecdotes : Shut Up, Little Man!

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The Burned Pizza Incident at the Pepto Palace —

Once upon a time when community still existed, it certainly must have been a comfort now and then to talk with one’s neighbors about issues of common concern, about the neighborhood, and about how a local problem could be collectively solved. Of course, this has become unthinkable in most modern metropoli, and engaging with our neighbors was totally out of the question at the freak hotel that was 237 Steiner. Come to think of it, we only knew one of the people who lived in our building beyond the requisite nod of acknowledgment or a cool "What’s up?" The other apartments were filled with down-and-out drunks, lunatics and losers, misfits and colorful characters: a crackhead, a male prostitute, a child-beating single mother, and our friend: a young gay black man with a six inch stove-pipe starched straight-up haircut died bright flourescent blue (we called him "Bluehair"). And, Pete and Ray.

"Shut up, little man."

"Shut yer fuckin’ mouth, you fuckin’ queer!"

"Shut up, little man."

"Don’t call me ’little man,’ you fuckin’ piece of shit!"

"You are a little man."

"I’m a lot tougher ’an you will ever be, you lyin’ cocksucker!"

"SHUT UP LITTLE MAN!"

Pete and Ray were fighting. Pete and Ray were always fighting, but this one had carried on day and night for over three weeks. This one was epic. As the arguments continued ceaselessly, there was a palpable menace in the air. It was as if Pete and Ray’s irritability had become airborne and infectious. The whole apartment building was on edge.

"I despise you."

"Good!"

"I mean it, Peter Haskett, I really despise you!"

"You already said that, little man."

"Good! Then, shut your fuckin’ mouth, cocksucker! Shut your fuckin’ mouth."

The verbal fight then came to blows. Then, there was a tremendous THUD against the wall that cojoined our apartment to that of Pete and Ray. A rumbling, another thud. And, then silence.

For about an hour there was no sound coming from next door. Silence from nextdoor was very unusual. I thought that Pete and Ray had either knocked each other out or had finally killed one another. Later, we heard the familiar sound of a siren in the neighborhood, only this time it came closer and closer until it sounded as if it was idling outside our building. Naturally curious, Mitchell and I stepped out onto the walkway that linked our apartment to the other apartments on our level. Sure enough, a large red fire engine had parked in front of the Pepto-Bismal Palace, its siren spinning a bright red lightbeam across the facades of the houses across the street. Mitch alerted me to a faintly perceivable smoky smell in the air. A fire! Looking around rapidly to locate the source of the smell, I caught a glimpse of black smoke billowing out of Pete and Ray’s open kitchen window. The firemen hustled up to Pete and Ray’s door, banging loudly, and calling out for them to open the door. To no avail. Finally, a moustaschioed fireman forced the front door open. Mitchell and I were wide-eyed and curious, if not a bit anxious and concerned, standing but ten feet away from where the firemen entered. I quipped that Pete and Ray were trying to fully perfect their domestic version of Hell by adding the smoke and flame.

Several other fellow dwellers of the Pepto-Bismol Palace were now on the walkway with us, as were several on the second tier walkway above. A young black girl saw that it was coming from Pete and Ray’s place and in an endearing little voice called out: "Shut up little man." Then, someone from the walkway above called down: "Shut up, little man!" Mitchell yelled: "Shut yer fuckin’ mouth!" Then, bluehair cried out from above: "Shut up, little man!" Mitchell and I again: "Shut up, little man!" And, suddenly, in unison all the families and freaks at 237 Steiner were standing out on the walkways, smiling and laughing and shouting out a communal chorus: "Shut up, little man! Shut up, little man! SHUT UP, LITTLE MAN!" to the bewilderment of some of the firemen who had come to help the first. This was a moment of true solidarity.

For some reason, perhaps because we were separated from Pete and Ray by a thin wall, it had not occurred to Mitchell and I that other people could also hear them fighting. But, it now was more than obvious. Then, as the firemen began to come out of Pete and Ray’s little Inferno, our neighborly "Shut Up Little Man" choir was quieted by our collective curiousity. The last fireman exited, nodding his head back in forth in obvious disgruntlement. Angrily, he turned on his heels and yelled back into Pete and Ray’s apartment: "Next time you sons-of-bitches decide to cook a pizza don’t get all drunk and pass out!"

No End