I told this story in Tres Producers back in May – it met with some skepticism. I swear it’s as true as I can remember it. The kid was real as described; he was killed in a car crash after committing a robbery as described.
Recently I was flipping around the radio dial in the car and somehow ended up on the Cleveland oldies station, which is a very rare occurrence: they play the same songs over and over just like everyone else and I am very resentful that these great songs have had the juice drained from them do to promiscuous overplay.
On the other hand, it’s not the song’s fault; so once in a while I drop the attitude (I’ve had a bad attitude all week it is only fair to mention) and just dig on the tunes, most of which have worn deep, deep grooves into my psyche, like running water carving rock.
All the songs fit comfortably into their nested grooves until the spare, insinuating, literally haunting opening guitar riff of “Spooky”by the Classics IV (which is also on the new Six Feet Under soundtrack) came on – “daa-da-daa da-da-daa, daa-da-daa da-da-daa.”
The song has always creeped me out, but this time it really disturbed me. It bugged me so much I was going to pull over and try to figure it out, but then the memory came back to me while I sat at a light.
I knew a boy at South Shores elementary school who sang “Spooky” incessantly for months after its release in late 1967. He drew attention to himself and fit in – of a sort – by singing songs or reciting comedy bits upon demand: a court jester for elementary kids. Even younger kids commanded performances, and he complied:
“In the cool of the evening when everything is getting kind of groovy…”
He also sang the Spiderman theme from the cartoon:
“Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can,
Spins a web, any size, catches theives just like flies,
Look out! Here comes the Spiderman.”
He knew all of the lines to the Bill Cosby monologues: “Fat Albert, Hey, Hey, Hey.” He was unable or unwilling to communicate without borrowed words. Kids laughed with him, but mostly they laughed at him. He had a kind of unformed look, like the DNA didn’t quite line up the way it is supposed to. He wore big thick glasses; his mouth always had flecks of saliva around it; his clothes never fit right. The boy was small, but some whispered he possessed the superhuman strength of the disturbed. The children were, truth be known, a little afraid of him.
The boy’s mother was dead. He lived with his father, who was of grandfatherly age, and an almost grown brother. The year after “Spooky” came out we went on to junior high. I saw him occasionally on the grounds of the enormous school, but he averted his eyes against the embarrassment of recognition. The boy was always alone, off in a far flung corner of the school grounds. Once I was startled to see him crouched down between two bungalows nibbling on something he held between his hands.
We moved to Ohio when I was 14; friends told me about this when I visited about a year later:
One sunny Sunday, shortly after his 15th birthday, the boy told his father and brother that he wasn’t feeling up to going to church. As his elders drove off, the boy reached deep into the hall closet for his father’s shotgun. He could still barely reach the closet shelf on his tippy toes.
The keys were in the ignition of the other car. He had never driven before. The boy managed to back the car out of the garage and onto the street. He had watched his father do it a million times, and he had a real good memory. He hummed a song, his favorite.
The boy drove down the hill into San Pedro, careful to obey all of the traffic signs. Then he robbed a liquor store. Just like a real robber. The boy pulled the shotgun from inside his big overcoat like Clint Eastwood and made the clerk put all of the money from the cash register and put it into a paper bag. Just like a real robber. He startled the clerk – who had never been robbed by a small bespectacled white boy before – more than a little.
Then things went wrong. The clerk didn’t stay down like the boy told him to do. As the boy backed out of the store, the clerk came running out of the store screaming like a mad man: “Stop! Thief! Police! Stop!”
The boy didn’t know how much money was in the bag, but it felt good and heavy.
He peeled out of the lot, tires squealing, kicking up gravel into the caterwauling clerk’s face. He headed toward the freeway.
“Cops! They’re right behind me.”
He ran the lights, swerving around bewildered drivers as he had recently seen Gene Hackman do in The French Connection. He felt great, exhilarated even.
“Nya coppers. You’ll never get me alive.”
The boy/robber careened onto the freeway on-ramp, just missing a woman pushing a grocery cart. There was more than one cop car behind him now. The speedomoter read 60, 70, 85, 95. He thought of the words to “Hot Rod Lincoln”:
“Pulled out of San Pedro late one night,
The moon and stars were shing bright,
Rolling up grapevine hill,
Passing cars like they were standing still.”
There were cops up ahead now, too. They were blocking the road. The boy veered across the median at 85 and up onto the other side of the freeway. Cars were coming at him now and scattering and honking like huge metallic geese. He wrenched the wheel back toward the median and back onto the right side of the freeway.
“Hah, hah, hah, you filthy coppers.”
No spittle filled the corners of his mouth. He drove for miles, ten, then fifteen at speeds in excess of 100 mph. “This is fun!” They would probably have to give him his license early after this demonstration!
The cops had the road blocked ahead of him again, and they were on either side of him. He slammed the brakes as the world whirled around and past him. He skidded, almost rolled, and ended up on the median again.
He leapt out of the car on the passenger’s side so that the car was between him and the gathering horde of police. They looked agitated. He got the gun out of the back seat to show them that it was empty. He’d give the money back. He didn’t care about that now. Look at what he’d done! This was the coolest day of his life. He held the gun up to show the police that it was empty. He turned toward the police and yelled something.
No one heard what the boy yelled because several policemen opened fire on him simultaneously. The police ran up to the bent bloody boy. He looked very young. The empty shotgun lay cracked open at his side. He gestured to a female officer to come closer. The policewoman bent her ear to the mouth that sprayed red bubbles on her left cheek:
“Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you…”
Then he died.