Friday, August 27, 2010

Joe Connelly, Bringing Out the Dead, 1998; King Motherfucker Rat, 1999

For years I've been wondering where I'd put some notes I'd made on a conversation with homeless guy by the office I was then working. Tonight I found them, written in the end pages of Bringing Out the Dead, Joe Connelly's amazing 1998 autobiographical novel of a New York City paramedic who's losing his mind. I was reading it one night in 1999,  when I left the offices of The Chronicle of Higher Education late. I covered the new research in the humanities; hardly the cops beat. It was good work, a license to travel around the country asking dumb questions of brilliant scholars, but it felt a little removed from the world, and the setting didn't help -- an antiseptic office plaza that looked, in real life, like an architect's rendering. A really boring architect's rendering. At night it was deserted, which is why a few homeless guys napped on the benches. I don't remember how I struck up an acquaintance with this guy, Joe, but I did; and on this night, March 29, I ended up scribbling down his words in the back of Bringing Out the Dead.

"The knife or the gun, they don't know nobody," my notes began. Joe was talking about an argument he'd had with a friend that had come close to violence before Joe walked away. "Let that shit rest in the past," he continued,
bury that motherfucker, call that shit dead and gone. Cause he is the sweetest, goodest kinda man when he sober, but get him a drink -- I can handle mine,  I can drink a beer, I can even drink liquor -- he don't know all to stop. Then he let the 'nigger' out."
Joe was black; his friend was white.
"Nigger" this, "Nigger" that. The racist type of shit -- holy shit, look at that rat!
A big rat was sniffing around a bench a few yards off.
You gotta see it cause he BIG. He on patrol.  Yeah, now look at him. In the alley -- ok, I sleep in the alley, but we don't got rats there, it's only when I come over by the clean buildings here. You tell em, that's dangerous, here in the clean buildings. That motherfucker. Somebody eat their lunch out here and he be on patrol. Then somebody set their sandwich down and that motherfucker rat take the sandwich and the hand, too. Cause I seen movies about them -- No! Don't throw nothing at him. Leave him be, cause you get him mad a dozen -- maybe 14 -- come out. I seen movies, they live in colonies, the peoples do. And they got a king motherfucker rat, he big as a dog, like this he stand up. I seen him. I hit him with a pole, like this, and king motherfucker rat stood right back up.