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West Side Story
By Claudia Lonow

I got out of the Linda Dykke situation, ironically, through the intervention of a mutual mulatto acquaintance named DiDi. But my friends and I still knew that we needed help and protection if we were to survive the mean hallways of I.S. 70. So me, Kathy, Karen, Nina, Johanna, and a girl we called "Kate the Whore," joined a white gang of Irish and Italian boys called the Go Club. Where they were going, we were never sure. The leader was Piggy, an attractive psychopath who gave me the nickname "Crapaport" -- a clever play on my real last name of Rapaport. Oh, Piggy. What a wit! His second in command was Mex. Mex and I dated for a single party. We spent the whole time in a dark room making out. He nibbled at my neck so compulsively I worried he would disconnect my head. I wouldn't let him finger fuck me, so he dumped me the next day. The gang did have one black guy in it named Ulysses that we called "Black Ulysses," without a trace of irony. The gang contained other ancillary members, many of whom were, like myself, in the theatre department. Chief among those was a boy I liked named Jeffrey.

Both Jeffrey and I were in the Go Club, but also in our junior high production of Gypsy. This was my first attempt to follow in my parents' acting footsteps. I was playing Dainty June, a humiliating role that required me to sing and dance with a girl dressed like a cow. The girl in the cow suit hated me, and whispered invectives at me through her snout. Jeffrey was in the chorus. I did everything I could to get next to him during rehearsal, in the hopes he'd ask me to the Junior Prom. But he never really noticed me. Or perhaps he did and the whole song I did with the angry cow put him off. After opening night, there was a party at the school. Per usual, Jeffrey didn't pay any attention to me.

Eventually, he and a bunch of the guys left the party to find some fun. They drank, smoked pot. They got really fucked up. They started kicking metal garbage cans down the street. A man coming home from the grocery store stopped and told them to cool it. They laughed and swatted the groceries out of his arms. The man, a black belt in karate, moved to defend himself. Jeffrey took out a switchblade from his back pocket. The man, confident that he was more than capable of protecting himself against a thirteen-year-old boy, reached for Jeffrey's arm. But Jeffrey surprised him and lunged. Blade met skin and blade won. The man clutched his belly, surprised. Jeffrey screamed, "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!" as the man crumpled to the floor, helpless. It was West Side Story come to life. All singing, all dancing, all stabbing.

The next day I heard the story from my parents. Turns out the man with the groceries that Jeffrey killed was Paul Crossgroven, my stepfather's best friend from acting class. The best man at my mother and stepfather's wedding. The overly-curious shit taster. I couldn't believe it. The boy I'd wanted to go to the Junior Prom with had stabbed my stepfather's best friend. I was one degree away from violent painful death. I felt like I'd killed him myself.

Several months later, Jeffrey called me. I don't know how he got my number. Because he was a minor and Paul had a black belt, Jeffrey had beaten the rap on self-defense. He had been moved to a special school...for murderers, I guess...and was going to a therapist. He told me he was sorry, and asked if we could get together. But as cute as he was, I just couldn't fathom dating a killer. I said no. That was the end of me and Jeffrey, not to mention me and the Go Club. After I left I.S. 70, I went to the High School of Music and Art, and started taking acting classes, thus replacing the Go Club with a new gang of boys who had loud, nasally singing voices, and who all grew up to be homosexuals.

The thing that haunts me even now is this: Paul Crossgroven didn't deserve to die. He was a nobody, and all his dreams, fears, aspirations, and failures were ended in one blazingly stupid action taken by a thoughtless child. But then again, do any of us deserve to die? I mean, what the hell do we do to deserve death besides live? Not that we really deserve to live, either. But once we're dead, does it matter how long we lived, or if we ever achieved our goals? Does anybody care? If they do, there's nothing we can do about it anyway. We're dead. It's over.

For Paul Crossgroven, this moment here, with me telling you this story about him and how he died, is the most fame he'll probably ever achieve. I hope if he can read this, he's taking a well-deserved bow.

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