Da’Quarius Sherman Masters sat on the stool in the makeshift dressing room they had given him. He was only moments away from joining his mothers, Helen and Rose, on the set of the Cooper Anders show. He didn’t want to be there, but he didn’t have a choice. Helen and Rose had taken up separate sides of an argument that revolved around him being abused by a police officer. He knew everyone involved wanted him to give a statement and tell them if he supported the police’s decision or not, but he didn’t know what he was going to say. All he could think about was his uncle Paulie and what he had learned about his past.
“Five minutes, Mister Sherman,” Cooper’s assistant said, sticking her head in without so much of a knock.
“What if my dick was out just now?!” Da’Quarius shouted as the skinny, brunette left. “Damn white bitches. No respect for the black man unless dey wanna piss off dey fathers.”
Freedom Lane: Da’Quarius Can’t Breathe
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
TWO DAYS EARLIER
“Help!” the old woman shouted. She was lying on the ground between the sidewalk and the street. She tripped, and now she couldn’t get back up. “Help!”
“I’m comin’, biddy,” Da’Quarius said, running over from the opposite side if the road. “Keep your diaper on.”
“Help!” the old woman continued to wale. “Help me up.”
Da’Quarius bent down and took the old lady’s outstretched arms. “I got’chu,” he said. “Umma pick you up nice and slow.”
The old woman started to come up from the ground, but Da’Quarius felt his grip loosen, and she fell softly in the ground again. “Dammit,” the old woman said. “Get me up!”
“Da fuck you think I’m tryin’ to do?” Da’Quarius asked. “You heavier den you look. Umma see if I can get some help. Is dere someone I can call?”
“Don’t you call anyone!” the old lady snapped. “If you do, I’ll spit in your eye!”
Da’Quarius started laughing. “You remind me of Helen,” he said. “If she were a little crazier.” He had her up on her feet a moment later.
“This damn city won’t fix the cracks in the sidewalk, and I tripped!” the old lady said. “Look at it!”
“OK,” Da’Quarius said. “I see it. You sure dere’s nobody I can call?”
“Who’re gonna call?” the old lady asked. “The cops?!”
Da’Quarius started laughing again. “I didn’t know if you had family that can give you a ride home,” he said.
“I walk two miles every day!” the old lady snapped. “Can’t you see me walking my two miles?!”
Da’Quarius lost it. He broke down into a fit of laughter he couldn’t control. “Stop it!” he said, holding his stomach from laughing. “I can’t breathe!”
Da’Quarius was suddenly in the ground, and the world was out of focus. He was staring at the street, unable to move. He noticed a pair of shiny black shoes in the corner of his vision as his body was turned over and hand-cuffed. He was painfully dragged to his feet and tossed into the back of a police car. He fell across the backseat, closed his eyes, and slept.
Tony took something he’d been hiding in the freezer and brought it to his friend’s office in the pizzeria, Pauies Pizza on State Street in New Haven. His friend and boss, Paulie, was busying himself with his nightly regime of paperwork, but Tony knew tonight should be special for him.
“Congratulations, boss!” Tony said, entering Paulie’s office and waving and bottle of Sambuca and two empty glasses.
“Oh!” Paulie said, looking up. “Congratulations on what exactly?”
“You really don’t know what tomorrow is?” Tony asked.
“Don’t bust my balls,” Paulie said, rubbing his eyes under his reading glasses. “Just tell me so I can get this shit done over here.”
“Come on,” Tony said. “Blow it off for tonight. It’s not every day that a pizzeria turns thirty-five years old.”
“Holy shit,” Paulie said. “Has it really been thirty-five years?”
“To the day,” Tony said, putting the glasses down and unscrewing the cap of the bottle of Sambuca. “I know I wasn’t here for the whole thing, but this is a milestone.”
“You’ve been here for most of it,” Paulie said as Tony filled the glasses. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Sure you could’ve,” Tony said, handing a glass to Paulie. “But your food would’ve sucked.”
Paulie laughed. “To another thirty-five years,” he said. “May this place out live us both.”
“To Paulie’s Pizza!” Tony said, raising his glass. “A staple to pizza-loving New Haven!”
“What else?” Paulie said, thinking. He looked at Tony, and a slow smile spread across their faces.
“Fuck Frank Pepe!” the two said in unison. “Salut!” They drained their glasses.
“Give me another shot of that,” Paulie said. “I got another toast.”
“Sure thing, boss,” Tony said, filling Paulie’s glass and then his own.
Paulie took the glass and turned to the photo of the black woman with the afro and missing front tooth on top of his file cabinet. “To you, Shronda,” Paulie said, toasting to his deceased fiancé. “Paulie’s Pizza was as much your dream as mine, babe. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you!”
“Salut!” Tony said, draining his glass once again. He didn’t want Paulie to recant the story of Shronda’s death after she and Paulie were hit by the drunk driver. The lawsuit was how Paulie was able to finally finance opening his pizzeria thirty-five years ago.
“One more?” Paulie asked, passing his glass back to Tony.
“Sure,” Tony agreed. “One more.”
Rose walked back into her house with Da’Quarius after he spent all day and most of the night at the police station following his tazing and arrest for helping an old lady. She was furious at Da’Quarius when they called her house after his arrest, but now she was furious at the police for what had happened.
“Is Da’Quarius alright?” Helen asked. She was waiting up for Rose to come home.
“He’s fine,” Rose said, hanging up her jacket.
“Good,” Helen said, getting up and walking quickly to Da’Quarius. “Now I can kill that little fucker myself!”
“Calm down, biddy!” Da’Quarius said, deftly dodging the angry Helen. “I didn’t do nothing.”
“Double negative!” Helen shouted, still shuffling quickly after her adopted son. “Means you did do something!”
“Da fuck?!” Da’Quarius shouted, leaping over the couch. His dog was now barking and jumping all over the furniture too. He knocked over an end table and a lamp to get between Helen and his master.
“Stop it!” Rose shouted. “Both of you! Da’Quarius really didn’t do anything! He was falsely arrested for helping an old woman that fell over!”
“What?” Helen asked. “Why were you helping an old woman?!”
“You mad at me for dat too?!” Da’Quarius said. “Damn, biddy. You cold.”
“Don’t you know what to do when you find an elderly person on the ground?” Helen asked. “You find a pillow, put it over their nose and mouth, and help them die with dignity.”
“Helen!” Rose snapped. “He did nothing wrong!”
“Bah!” Helen said, waving a hand at Rose.
“I hate to say it, seeing as I was a police dispatcher for the bulk of my career, but the police are in the wrong here,” Rose said.
“I hate to say it, seeing as I’m an ex-convict, but the police were right to taze him,” Helen said.
“How could you say that?” Rose asked, her hands quivering over her mouth. “He was helping that woman.”
“He could have just been easily been mugging her,” Helen said.
“He’s your son!” Rose said.
“I don’t mean Da’Quarius,” Helen said. “I mean any other one his people.”
“Da’Quarius was the one who got tazed and arrested!” Rose retorted. “And don’t call them his people.”
“They are his people!” Helen snapped. “You hippy.”
“Come on, Dutchie,” Da’Quarius said to his dog. “Let’s go for a walk, an’ let dem sort dis out.”
“This place is the my life’s blood!” Paulie said, slurring his words. The bottle of Sambuca now had only have the booze in it. “My name will be on that sign for a damn century.”
“A century!” Tony shouted. “Salut!”
“Salut!” Paulie echoed, draining another glass. “Madon. I don’t think I can drive home tonight.”
“You can crash at my place upstairs if you need to,” Tony said. “You own it after all.”
The two laughed again. “Da’Quarius better do a good job running this place when I’m gone,” Paulie said. “I’ll haunt him if he doesn’t.”
“Da’Quarius!” Tony said, raising his glass. “Salut!”
“No more,” Paulie said. “I’ll be pissing this out of my ass in the morning if I keep it up.”
“I got a crazy idea,” Tony said. “Let’s get tattoos!”
“No way,” Paulie said. “I’m way too drunk, and it’s way too late.”
“I got a tattoo gun upstairs,” Tony said.
“What the hell are you doing with a tattoo gun?” Paulie asked.
“A buddy of mine lent it to me, and I never used it,” Tony said. “I’m going to get it now. I can use some ink.”
Paulie laughed. “Not me,” he said, pouring another drink as Tony ran off. “The only tattoo I need is the Italian flag that’s already on my ass.”
Paulie noticed his office line was ringing. “Who’s going to call here this late at night?” he asked. He picked up the phone. “Paulie’s Pizza. Paulie speaking.”
“Paulie,” Helen’s voice said on the other line. “It’s me. Da’Quarius got arrested.”
“He what?!” Paulie said. “I hope you whipped him senseless!”
“Rose won’t let me!” Helen exclaimed. “She’s blaming the cops for tazing him.”
“He got tazed?!” Paulie said, trying to focus. “For what?!”
“Helping an old lady up from the ground,” Helen said. “They thought he was mugging her.”
“Don’t whip him for that!” Paulie said. “They shouldn’t have tazed him.”
“You sound like Rose,” Helen said. “I gotta go. She’s coming back for round two of this argument. I just didn’t want you to worry.”
“I didn’t,” Paulie said. “Not until you called to tell me that.”
There was a dial tone as Helen hung up. “Shit,” Pauile said. “Damn cops in this city are getting nuttier by the day.”
“Why?” Tony said, coming back in with his tattoo gun. “You get another parking ticket?”
“No,” Paulie said. “They tazed and arrested Da’Quarius for helping an old woman who fell over.”
“What?!” Tony said. “These racist cops and their stupid vendetta against the blacks. It’s getting out of control.”
“You think that’s what it was?” Paulie asked.
“You ever hear of a white kid getting arrested for helping an old woman off the ground?” Tony asked. “Doesn’t happen. Racist cops make me sick! They’re going around executing any criminal if they’re black now. It’s all over the news!”
“Whoa with that tangent,” Paulie said. “You’re cut off.”
“Fuck it!” Tony said, waving an arm at Paulie. ” I know just what I’m going to tattoo on myself.” He took off his shirt and plugged in the tattoo gun.
“You sure about this?” Paulie asked.
“Yeah,” Tony replied. “It’s about time someone made a statement this bold.”
“This I gotta see,” Paulie said, sitting back in his chair to watch Tony mutilate his own body with the tattoo gun.
The following morning, Rose sat with her family during TV time wearing a “Black Lives Matter” shirt that the Garcia brothers had given her (they were apparently distributing cop-hating tee-shirts all over the neighborhood). It seemed that he was gaining some kind of popularity from his recent run in with the New Haven Police Department, and they had released his name to the public, making it worse on everyone involved. Helen was upset about the shirt, so she made her own “Elderly Lives Matter” shirt with a black marker.
“You make no sense, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. “How you gonna wear dat shirt after you told me dat I shoulda killed dat biddy in da street?”
“Elderly lives do matter,” Helen said. “And they should end with dignity.”
“Oh no!” Rose said, ignoring the exchange between her wife and son. “There’s a video on TV of what happened to you!”
“What?” Da’Quarius said. “Turn it up.”
“There’s a new twist in the case of the thirteen year old black boy that was tazered by New Haven police and arrested for helping and old woman,” the news anchor said. “A video taken from a cellphone was released on the internet today. That video shows the tazing and the events leading up to it.”
The anchor was gone, and the video took its place. Da’Quarius saw himself helping the old woman up and nearly drop her. Whoever was taking the video turned the camera to show the police car coming down the street, just short of where he was. There was some muffling of the sound as the cameraman moved, and when he got the video focused again you could only see the street and hear Da’Quarius saying “I can’t breathe!”
“This cameraman sucks!” Helen said before being shushed by Rose.
There was another shot of the leaves and sky, then Da’Quarius being tazered with no warning. He twitched on the ground.
“Holy *bleep*,” the guy taping said. “That kid just got tazered!”
“The New Haven Police Department still hasn’t released the name of the officer,” the anchor said. “Al Shapton is set to be in New Haven by the end of the week to make a public statement.”
“Sharpton?!” Da’Quarius said. “I thought that mo’ fucker would stay out of New Haven after he got his limo flipped after da riots.”
The Reverend Al Sharpton rode in his limo towards New Haven. He was fixing his hair when his assistant, Tasha, read something on her cellphone that she felt important enough to break this ritual. “There’s been a development in the New Haven case regarding the boy that was tazered by the police,” she said.
“Did he die?” Shaprton asked. “That’d be great. For me, I mean. Not so much for him or his family or the black community in general. I could use it, though. For sure.”
“It’s not that,” Tasha said. “The boy that was tazered turns out to be the same boy that indadvertedly started the New Haven riots.”
“That Da’Quarius kid again?” Sharpton asked. “Fuck this. Turn this car around and get me as far away from New Haven as possible! Let Jesse take this one if he’s stupid enough. I’m sure there are blacks somewhere else that I can exploit for profit.”
“Will do,” Tasha said, poking at her phone some more.
Paulie woke up with his head on his desk and a head-splitting migraine. “Shit,” he said, getting up and rummaging through a drawer for something for his head. “I’m not that young anymore, I guess.” He stretched and winced at the pain in his lower back from sleeping at his desk.
“Cut that noise out,” Tony said from the floor. “I need a few more hours of sleep.”
“Then do it upstairs,” Paulie said, popping a couple of pills in his mouth. “And put your shirt on. Why the hell are you shirtless anyway?”
“Don’t you remember?” Tony asked. “I got a tattoo last night.”
“You went through with that tattoo gun?” Paulie asked.
“I guess,” Tony replied. “I got some ink across my stomach. Check it out.”
Paulie squinted to see Tony’s tattoo. He had wrote the phrase “Black Lifes Matter” across his stomach. “You stunad,” Paulie said. “It’s not only misspelled, but it’s upside-down.”
Tony looked down. “It looks OK from where I’m standing,” he said.
“That’s why you’re not supposed to tattoo yourself,” Paulie said. “Madon.”
“Shit,” Tony said. “I gotta get this removed. Can I have the day off?”
“Sure,” Paulie said, looking at his watch. “It’s the afternoon anyway. I think we both took it off by accident. The crew can take care of things today. I’ll take a nap at home and come by to close tonight.”
“Will do,” Paulie said. He got up and started fixing anything that had fallen over in his office. He noticed the picture on top of his file cabinet had fallen over, so he picked it up to right it. He sat down with the picture and used his shirt sleeve to wipe the dust from the glass. He sighed as he looked into the face of Shronda, just the way he remembered her.
“Unca Paulie?” Da’Quarius asked, startling Paulie.
“Kid,” Paulie said. “What are you doing here?”
“Helen and Rose are fightin’ ’bout da cop dat arrested me,” Da’Quarius said. “I came by to see if you needed a little help today.”
“I’m actually headed home for the day,” Paulie said. “Tony and I did a little celebrating last night, and we may have overdone it.”
“I see dat,” Da’Quarius said, spotting the almost empty bottle of Sambuca on Paulie’s desk. “What’s goin’ on?”
“It’s Paulie’s Pizza’s thirty-fifth anniversary today,” Paulie said with no hint of mirth.
“Congrats,” Da’Quarius said. “So why you look so upset about it.”
“I forgot about it,” Paulie said. “I had no idea it was about to pass me by. If Tony hadn’t reminded me last night, I wouldn’t have even noticed.”
“That’s not that bad,” Da’Quarius said. “People forget dates all the time.”
“You don’t understand, kid,” Paulie said. “If Paulie’s Pizza is thirty-five years old today, then I almost missed the fortieth anniversary of Shronda’s death. I opened this place five years to the day of our accident with the money from the payout from the rich bastard that hit my car.”
Da’Quarius didn’t say anything at first. “Shit,” he finally said. “Is dat why you’re holding dat picture?”
“This place was her dream, kid,” Paulie said. “She even named it. I told her it should be ‘Shronda’s Pizza’ for talking me into it and seeing my potential, but she insisted that ‘Paulie’s Pizza’ sounded much better for a pizzeria. I almost named it after her too, but I trusted her opinion over my own. That girl never steered me wrong. Not once.”
“I’m sorry,” Da’Quarius said. “It woulda been cool to meet her.”
“Oh yeah,” Paulie said, putting the picture back on top of the file cabinet. “You two would get along for sure. How about a toast? One last shot should help my hangover a bit before I head home and dunk my head in a tub full of ice-water.”
“I can’t do dat,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m thirteen!”
“One shot won’t kill you,” Paulie said. “Shouldn’t anyway. We’re toasting to Shronda for God’s sake!”
“Damn you pushy when you hung over,” Da’Quarius said. “Just gimme da glass.”
Paulie handed Da’Quarius the glass. “To Shronda,” he said.
“To Shronda,” Da’Quarius echoed.
“Salut!” Paulie called draining his glass.
“Salut!” Da’Quarius repeated, draining his own. He immediately started coughing as he fought the urge to vomit. “That shit’s harsh. Da fuck you make me drink dat for?!”
“Misery really does love company I guess,” Paulie said with a shrug. “It was much better cold.”
“I guess I’ll go back an’ listen to da biddies yell ’bout cops tazering me an’ shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Maybe I’ll puke in a sewer on da way home too.”
“I tell you what,” Paulie said, getting up with a wince. “Come by my place at six-thirty tonight. Give me a couple of hours to nap.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Da’Quarius said.
Da’Quarius went back home after he left Paulie’s to find Helen and Rose sitting in the den with the TV off. They were silent. They had finally stopped arguing, but Da’Quarius found the silence ominous.
“Welcome home,” Helen said, still wearing her home-made ‘Elderly Lives Matter’ shirt. “Rose has some news for you.”
“Don’t do that!” Rose snapped. Her ‘Black Lives Matter’ shirt was replaced with one that said #ICantBreathe’. “We made the decision together, and you know it.”
“I got nagged into it is more like it,” Helen said under her breath.
“Look,” Da’Quarius said. “Dis all happened to me, and I would rather just forget it. I don’t want another thing like da New Haven Riots taking place in my name. It’s bad enough dat da police released my information to da press.”
Rose and Helen looked at each other but didn’t talk.
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “What did you do?”
“Do you know who Cooper Anders is?” Rose asked.
“No,” Da’Quarius answered, sitting down with a sigh. He knew what Rose was about to say before her lips started moving.
“He has a show,” Rose said. “He rented a studio here in New Haven, and he wants to interview the three of us.”
“And you agreed?!” Da’Quarius said.
“It was a lot of money,” Rose said. “We’re going to put it away for your education fund.”
“So you better go to college!” Helen snapped.
“You biddies,” Da’Quarius said, caving into the guilt trip. “I guess you already sold me down da river. Might as well talk to this honky mo’ fucker.”
Paulie and Da’Quarius drove with little conversation. Da’Quarius was happy that Rose and Helen were getting along again, but he was still mad at them for booking the interview Cooper Anders without even asking him if he would be OK with it. He wasn’t even paying attention to where Paulie was driving.
“We’re here,” Paulie said, parking the car. Da’Quarius looked out the window to see that they were in a cemetery. Paulie got out and Da’Quarius followed, still not saying anything. He didn’t think it was a good time to crack a joke to his uncle about taking him to one of the creepiest places possible.
“This is her,” Paulie said, stopping at a tombstone. “This is where my Shronda sleeps.”
Da’Quarius lowered his head. He didn’t know what to say.
“Do you know why I brought you here?” Paulie asked, breaking the silence.
“No,” Da’Quarius answered. “Maybe something to do with what I’m going through?”
“I’m sorry I haven’t been here for you since this whole tazer thing happened,” Paulie said. “My mind has been a little preoccupied when it wasn’t intoxicated.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Da’Quarius said. “You’re always there for me. I can handle it if you need a break from all my bullshit to deal with your own shit.”
Paulie chuckled. “You remind me a lot of her,” he said.
“Cuz we’re both black?” Da’Quarius asked.
“No,” Paulie said. “She was smart but hid it well. She came from a broken home in a bad neighborhood, but she strived to do more with herself. Most importantly, she put up with my crazy family.
“I see this stuff that you have to go through. It was probably worse for black people when she was growing up, but she’d probably understand what you’re going though with this police bullshit.”
“I think Helen and Rose are havin’ a harder time dealin’ wit it den me,” Da’Quarius said. “And I don’t even know what Helen’s point is anymore. I think she just wants to side wit da cops. It’s too bad Shronda isn’t here to help me through it.”
“It is too bad, kid,” Paulie said, putting a hand on Da’Quarius’ shoulder. “It’s been forty years almost to the minute since that drunk piece of shit nailed my car. If he had hit on my side, then it would be her standing here. Sometimes I wish it were, but I don’t know if I’d want her to go through what I went through.”
“Unca Paulie,” Da’Quarius said. “Why did you wait five years to open your pizzeria?”
Paulie looked down. “The guy that owned the place where Paulie’s is now was a friend of the family,” he said. “I knew he was going to sell and retire, so I waited. Other locations came and went, but I wanted that one. It took years, but he finally decided to sell it to me and move south.”
“Why?” Da’Quarius asked.
“That intersection of State and East Street right outside the front windows,” Paulie said, looking up. “That’s where the accident happened. That’s where Shronda…”
Paulie put his head in his hands and wept. “The rich son of a bitch that did it got out of his car and walked away like nothing happened. The police had to run after him. Privileged piece of shit thought he didn’t have to stick around.” He eventually fell to his knees and Da’Quarius put a hand on his shoulder and let him finish.
“I’m sorry, kid,” Paulie said, getting up. “I shouldn’t have let you see me like this.”
“It’s alright,” Da’Quarius said. “I shouldn’t have asked about her.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Paulie said. “It feels good to talk about it sometimes. I need to get you home though. You have a big day tomorrow, Mr. Big TV Star.”
“Oh yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “I guess I was hoping that wasn’t real.”
“Come on, D,” Paulie said.
Da’Quarius followed Paulie to his car, but he had one more question. “What ever happened to the guy dat hit you?”he asked.
“Oh,” Paulie said. “Guy tried to say it was my fault when it went to court. The guy ended up paying out the nose, because the cops put him through the ringer. Found witnesses. Got testimony The whole nine yards. The police aren’t all bad you know, even if a few have lost their ways over the years.”
“I know,” Da’Quarius said. “But what happened to that guy after?”
Paulie shrugged. “Nobody knows,” he said. “Just disappeared into thin air one day. These things happen from time to time, capice?”
“I get’chu,” Da’Quarius said, walking towards Pauie’s car.
Da’Quarius left the the dressing room and made his way towards the stage. Cooper Anders was sitting there with Rose and Helen. They had already taped the segment about the two concerned mothers and their son. Da’Quarius wondered if Helen and Rose continued the debate for the cameras.
It didn’t take long for Da’Quarius’ question to be answered.
“And we’re back on the Cooper Anders Show,” Cooper Anders said. He was tall and had very short pale-blonde hair on his head. He wore a navy blue suit jacket, a white button-down shirt, and no tie. Da’Quarius thought he looked like the guy from the child predator show that Helen made them watch. “We are now being joined by Rose and Helen’s son, Da’Quarius. Hello, Da’Quarius.”
“Hi,” Da’Quarius said. “‘Sup?”
“Your mothers seem to be having a disagreement with your situation with the police,” Cooper said. “Has this been going on long?”
“Ever since the day I got tazed,” Da’Quarius said. “You see, I was helping this old…”
“We’ve already seen the video,” Cooper said.
“Let the boy talk!” Helen said. “You’ll see that he got what he deserved. How dare he think he’s above the police!”
“I didn’t say…” Da’Quarius stammered.
“He didn’t say two words to that officer,” Rose cut in. “He was only trying to help an old lady, and he was assaulted for his troubles. He was tazed even after he told the officer he couldn’t breathe. He’s lucky the officer didn’t pull a gun.”
The crowd cheered at Rose’s last statement.
“Bah!” Helen said. “I hate cops, and I know this one was right. What’s that tell you?”
“That you’re wrong!” Rose said. The crowd went nuts again.
Da’Quarius had barely gotten two sentences out, and he wanted his time to speak. “What you gotta remember is…”
“We have your Twitter feed form the day of the incident,” Cooper said, talking over Da’Quarius. “Can I read some of your tweets?”
“Uh…” Da’Quarius said, trying to remember what he tweeted that day. “I guess you gonna do it no matter what I say,” he said.
Cooper brought some light-blue cards from inside jacket. “‘Oh my lawd’,” Cooper said, reading Da’Quarius’ tweet from the card. “‘This old lady just fell down. She screamin’ like a horny dolphin.’.” There were boos and hisses from the crowd. The only one amused by the tweet was Helen.
“Should I read another?” Cooper asked.
“Go ahead, bitch,” Da’Quarius said, getting fed up.
“‘Old lady falling down on fleek’,” Cooper read from his next card. “There’s a picture attached to this one. Let’s see that picture.” A picture of the old lady lying on the ground came on the monitor behind Da’Quarius. The audience gave a collective groan once more.
“Last one,” Cooper said. “‘#OuchMyHip’.”
Rose was sitting with her head shaking while Helen was cracking up.
“Do you find this amusing?” Cooper asked, addressing Helen.
“What’s fleek mean?” Helen asked, still smiling.
“Does parading Da’Quarius’ tweets excuse the police officer for tazing him?” Rose asked. “Are you trying to make my son out to be the bad guy here?”
“I’m just pointing out that your son made some really off-color remarks before attempting to help the woman on the ground,” Cooper said. “The fact is that your son still getting tazed because of his race is still atrocious.”
“Then why air them if you’re not going to use them to vilify my son?” Rose asked.
“Fox News was going to do it,” Cooper said with a shrug. “Might as well get your opinion on it.”
“Back up a second,” Da’Quarius said. “Did you just say that I was tazed because of my race?”
“We’ll be back after a quick commercial break,” Cooper said, looking at the camera. “We have a special surprise in store when we return. Stay tuned.”
“And were back,” Cooper Anders said into the camera. “I know this has been a trying time for your family, but there’s one person who’s opinion should be heard.”
“Yo mother’s?” a visibly mad Da’Quarius said.
“No,” Cooper said. “Your mother’s.”
“You dirty bitch,” Da’Quarius said under his breath.
“Let’s bring out Latosha Sherman,” Cooper said.
Da’Quarius’ mother came out screaming at the audience as she did on Maury when she paraded kids that weren’t her own to get Paulie to take a DNA test on air for her own selfish reasons. Nobody ever found out what those reasons were. She was larger than life with her afro and gap-toothed smile.
“Miss Sherman,” Cooper said. “Would you care to share your reaction to the vicious attack on your son.”
“It’s fucked up,” Lotasha said.
“Can you try not to use obscenities?” Cooper asked.
“You jus’ gonna bleep dat shit,” Lotasha said. “Let me tell you ’bout dese white-ass cops dat think dey can beat and kill us jus’ cuz we black. We will rise up and riot the fuck outta dis city again!”
Da’Quarius tried to stop the conversation again. “Dat’s not…”
“You don’t think that’s perpetuating the stereotypes against your community?” Cooper asked.
“If I could understand what you jus’ said, I’d slap you silly,” Lotasha said. “Let me talk ’bout something really important for one minute.”
“By all means,” Cooper said, motioning to Lotasha with his hand.
“Last month, I was abducted by aliens,” Lotasha said. “Dese green mutha fuckas probed me like crazy too. Dey took me outta my home, brought my ass into space, and took advantage of me.”
“Oh God,” Helen said, rolling her eyes.
“What’s this have to so with your sons situation?” Cooper asked.
“Da aliens knocked me up!” Lotasha exclaimed, somehow thinking that this was an answer to Cooper’s question. “I want you to bring dem on your show. Give dem a DNA test if dey think my unborn child is a full human!”
“You’re off your fuckin’ rocker,” Helen said.
“Come at me, you wrinkled bitch,” Lotasha said.
“Gladly, astro-ho,” Helen said, standing up. Security came in to keep the two apart. The audience roared.
“I thought this was a news program!” Rose pleaded.
“It is!” Cooper shouted over everyone. “I just want to talk about your son getting tazed by a white cop because he’s black.”
“The cop dat tazed me was black!” Da’Quarius shouted.
The auditorium went silent. Everyone was staring in disbelief.
“Someone recently showed me real emotion,” Da’Quarius continued. “He shed tears for a woman he buried forty years ago, and dey were different races. After I saw dat, all this tazer business feels like bullshit. I don’t care if his finger slipped or he thought he was right in what he did. I just don’t care anymore. You’ll forget this as soon as a Kardashian gives birth to a two-headed hermaphrodite anyway.”
“Are you excusing the cop’s actions because he’s black?” Cooper asked. There was a murmur throughout the audience as they adopted his thinking.
“You’re one stupid-ass bitch,” Da’Quarius said. “Stop trying to make a headline outta dis. The cop was wrong for what he did. Period. His superiors will punish him, and I’m content with that. Now shut the fuck up about it.”
“Yeah,” Helen said. “You goddamn pansy fruit.”
There was a gasp from the audience.
“Helen,” Rose whispered, forgetting about the mic. “Cooper is actually a homosexual.”
Helen laughed. “If your mom’s pumps fit, right?”
Cooper shook his head.
Helen, Rose, Da’Quarius, Paulie, and Tony all gathered at Paulie’s Pizza later that night to celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of the pizzeria. Rose and Helen were getting along again, thanks to the airing of their grievances on live TV. Da’Quarius was happy the news media has already moved onto its next cycle of non-news: Helen verbally gay-bashing Cooper Anders. ‘#PansyFruit’ was the top trend on Twitter that night.
“That was quite a show,” Paulie said. “I hope all of you got it out of your system and learned your lesson.”
“I sure did,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m never helping another old lady ever again.”
“That’s a horrible lesson,” Rose said
“I disagree,” Helen said. “They’re all out to get you, kid. I wouldn’t even hold the door for an old bitch pushing an even older bitch in a wheel chair if I were you.”
“Madon,” Paulie said. “That’s my big sis.”
“What happened to Lotasha?” Rose asked. “Does anyone know where she went after the show ended?”
“Who cares,” Helen said. “I hope she crawled back into the sewer.”
“Helen!” Rose said, putting her hands to her mouth. “She’s pregnant!”
“Helen’s right,” Da’Quarius said. “She only comes ’round when she wants money for nuttin’. I doubt she even pregnant.”
“I almost died laughing when she said she as abducted by aliens,” Paulie said. “Could you believe that?! Friggin’ aliens!”
“It’s not funny,” Tony said, bringing over a pitcher of soda. “It’s nonsense like that that sets those of us who have actually been abducted back. It’s hard to get taken seriously with people like her making a mockery of being abducted.”
“Wait a second,” Da’Quarius said. “You’ve been abducted by aliens? Like for real?”
“For real,” Tony said, holding his right hand up. “At least a dozen times.”
“Madon,” Paulie said. “You’ve never heard him talk about this?”
“No,” Da’Quarius said.
“Well you just opened a whole can of worms,” Paulie said. “Tell him your story, Tony.”
“I was eight when they abducted me for the first time,” Tony said. “There was a bright light in my bedroom window, and it looked like daytime. Then, four tall, gray, black-eyed aliens came in like they were made out of fog. They lifted me up, using only their minds and teleported me out of my room. I was taken aboard their flying saucer in outer space, and they put stuff up my butt.”
Everyone listened to Tony’s story intently. They only interrupted to have him clarify a statement or make a joke. The story ended, and another was told. Nobody brought up the tazing or the turmoil that followed. It felt like a fading memory, and that’s where it belonged.