Why you should care
Because two-fisted teachable moments are few and far between. Maybe.
Lisa burst through a door at the bottom of the stairs inside of a club where we had all been sitting in the concrete stairwell.
“Shorty tried to rape me.”
The year was 1982, and the location was a club called 2+2 on the Lower East Side, when the Lower East Side was the last place on earth anyone ever imagined getting gentrified like it mostly is today. Back then, it was a Breugel-esque trip through a kind of urban hell where news about rape –or drug dealing, beatings, muggings, arson ad felony – wasn’t news at all. But Lisa’s clear and declarative statement about what had just happened with her and a known associate spread a certain amount of confusion.
“Shorty? Nahhhhh …”
“You guys don’t fucking believe me?” It was the NYHC heyday — leather, studs, braces and boots, and a heady devotion to both hardcore punk music and hardcore punk was the order of the day.
“But Shorty …” Shorty was a drug-dealing hanger-on who had been hanging on since the ’70s, and outside of the fact that it was rumored that he had beaten some woman up for crimes or trespasses unknown over in Tompkins Square Park, it was all we knew about him really. Well, that and he was now being accused of attempted rape.
“I can’t believe you guys don’t believe me!” And Lisa launched into what was now a screaming argument that I had thus far stayed out of. But when I spoke finally, I spoke a sentence that seemed to seal the deal for everyone there: “Out of all of the things she could have come in here tonight and said, why would she say this one if it wasn’t true?”
We grabbed a baseball bat and the big chains we all wore as belts and jumped into the late-model, wood-paneled station wagon that one of us had gotten from some salvage yard and began cruising the Lower East Side and deeper into what used to be called Alphabet City, all the lettered avenues. In search of Shorty.
After a 15-minute circuit, we found him on 3rd Street, screeched the car to a stop on the sidewalk, full Starsky and Hutch style, and jumped out.
“Hey, man. … Shorty, man …” He paused with a “What’s up, guys?” and so we said, “Lisa said you tried to rape her.”
“That bitch is lying and …” and before he could close out the sentence, the beating had begun, and I could feel the bloodlust rising in my throat. I knew as sure as the sun is going to rise and the moon is going to set that Shorty was going to be very lucky to leave this in anything other than an ambulance.
“Wait, wait …” The most levelheaded, a Russian brown belt in judo named Freddy, of a group that included me and Pete, who was later claimed by the Marines and a lengthy service in the Middle East, paused a bit. “If you don’t tell us the truth, it’ll be worse for you because it means that you think we’re stupid, and we’re not stupid. So what really happened?”
“Nothing.” And we beat him again, kicks into stomps, and Freddy held us off again and repeated, “If you don’t tell us the truth …”
“OK, OK … she was sleeping in the front seat of the car and I reached over for the cigarette lighter, and it accidentally fell out …”
“It” being his penis, and we all stopped in the face of some almost face-saving, big-balled audacity. I mean we, all of us doing the beatings at least, had penises and had absolutely zero occasion to claim that they had “accidentally” fallen out. But it was summertime, Shorty was wearing shorts, and so we could see how it made sense to him. And even if it came with some spin, it was some version of the truth. A version that made us laugh a bit. Just a bit. Before we started beating him again.
A beating that would have continued until the aforementioned ambulance showed up, if not for the sound of metal on stone and a whistle from up above. Looking up, we could see one of the building’s drug dealers tapping his gun against the windowsill while saying, “We don’t need cops down here. Leave him alone. Now.”
In the heat of the hunger for rectitude, we looked, all three of us at the same time, at the front seat of the car and the baseball bat and chains spread across the front seat, and thought about challenging the order to let the guilty go free. But a .45 and a second-story perch point seemed to indicate that we were going to do what he said.
And not before we told Shorty, “If we ever see you again, we’ll kill you.”
While vigilantism is no kind of solution for something like this, the fact that, according to the Justice Department, rape goes unreported 60 percent of the time, well, it just seemed kind of weird that many would take the beating much more seriously than the (attempted) rape itself. Especially as there’s no other felony crime that someone could commit as routinely as men commit rape that’s greeted as routinely, if not with outright passivity, then active disinterest.
But as a father of daughters, I’d like to see it go a little differently. I’d like to see college fraternities that behave badly (read: house rapists) de-housed and rapists jailed, and I’d like women who have been raped to understand that the full force and weight of the law is there for them, as well our understanding.
Why? Because it’s much more feasible than trying to cover the country in a wood-paneled station wagon armed with a baseball bat.
In the end, though, we did see Shorty again. And we beat him again. And we were stopped again. And, even if it was that second beating that got him gone … revenge? Not nearly as satisfying as justice.