Imprint Volume: One
Popcorn is one of my best friends and always will be. I’ve known him since I was fourteen years old, and as of this writing we’re talking a twenty-nine-year friendship. No matter the stage or plane of life, jail bars or barbwire, no matter the geography involved, we connect with a metronomic sense of rhythm. I cling to friends with hearts of gold. He and I speak our own language.
We first met on the church youth group bus on the way to some regrettable event. He was playing his Gospel Gangstaz cassette, and when I heard the music, I had to go over and talk to him. When I saw he was wearing a giant sized Jnco shirt just like I was…forget about it. In that epoch, if you had Jnco in common, it was mathematical proof that you were required to be friends.
This was the early-to-mid 90s origin of Focus on the Family fear-inspired dogma era, and both of our mom’s didn’t want us listening to actual rap music. So the weird esoteric thing we both separately stumbled upon at the mall was this strange sub-sub-sub-genre of hip hop.(1)
Bonded 4 lyf.
When Popcorn got his first car, it was a glorious ride. A white ‘92 Pontiac Firebird with intricate red decal on the hood on some low profile shit.
I didn’t ask where he got the car. As a classic Philip K. Dick protagonist, this guy has always made it through on street-smart barter. I didn’t even ask why after about six months he was driving the thing around with no hood. I mean, the hood of the car was just completely gone, and the entire engine was exposed to the elements. I’ve still never seen anything like it. (2)
Cruising that thing around town like it was a Ferrari Testarosa, running red lights and passing fools on the shoulders. Drag racing the Kmart parking lot and generally taking my life for granted every time I got in and closed the god damn door.
One cold autumn’s twilight, we rolled the Firebird in to Acme Auto junkyard in the City of Kankakee, apparently just before closing time. I can’t remember which one of us needed a part for our car, but just like 95% of things I’ve been involved in, it really did start innocently enough. I can’t even remember if we found the part, or if we were even supposed to be back there searching on our own with no employee assistance in the first place.
I watched Popcorn tinker with some cars out there. Arms still free from ink, fresh faced and young enough he bore no tattoos. I think about now, how he taught himself to tattoo in prison. A gun he fashioned from an electric razor. The needle derived from the spring of a ball point click pen, and the ink from the very same. Honing his skills in his cell, he’d tattoo himself prison blue.
I remember being highly impressed during Dixon visitation dates where he’d show me his new work. He once tattooed on his own stomach in jail, in secret, in the dark, and by default upside down – three skulls.
Hear no Evil, See no Evil, Speak no Evil.
Sacrificing bodily real estate for the honing of his craft. For the artistry and passion, he developed a demand. He then traded his creative services as currency in prison for goods and safeguard, ingeniously manipulating an undocumented gray market economy. A true fucking hustler.
I remember asking him once on a visit to Centralia, why his right arm didn’t have many tattoos. His reply? “Because I’m right-handed”. The gritty truths always seemed to bounce past my naïvety. At least at first.
There wasn’t a living soul around while we searched the auto scrapyard. With dry leaves rustling past, the sun had set. It was time to go. We drove back toward the giant steel gates to exit, but as we approached, we noticed they were closed. We got out of the car. The galvanized steel gates were locked and secured. We were sealed in the junk yard.
Ok look, the first problem here was that cell phones were not a thing at the time. I mean perhaps if you were Gordon Gekko or Zack Morris, but not if you were some Kankakee County schlubs at the turn of the century. My Motorola pager only went one way.
With razor wire at the top, and not a lot of know how in terms of scaling something like that. Even if we did manage to get over the perimeter we’re then on foot for miles in the dark. Plus, the Firebird would still be in the junkyard. We checked the shop, but we already knew it would be closed and vacated since the front gates were locked. If there was a dog around, we luckily didn’t see one.
Sitting there filtering through ideas, we definitely contemplated an attempt at ramming the gate down with that hoodless vehicle. The idea of being impaled by steel pole through the windshield wasn’t an appealing gamble, even for us. Though, Popcorn being a thug immortal probably would have done it if I had thoroughly expressed it as a good idea. I’m not saying I didn’t consider it as my panic cloud began to surround and suffocate. I mean, it wasn’t my car, as my then-life philosophy held. But I did ultimately grasp it as a bad idea.
We drove back through the junkyard to see if there was maybe another gate or a way out. Passing jauntily creaking stacks of cars lit by headlamp, we passed through and discovered an empty field back there east of the interstate.
It appeared our two options would be to either sleep in the graveyard of automobiles all night until the repot man strolled through at 4 AM… or just start driving the open pitch black vacant landscape of god knows what to god knows where. Option B felt somehow better.
Pedal to the metal. Because in what other way has that cat ever lived his life?
We rumbled that muscle car over frozen tractor ruts and sheepsfoot cuts for what felt like ten solid minutes, heat blazing through the vents in the October night, and “Bury Me a G” blasting through the stereo. Sheer darkness over brush and mounded soil, rocky clay and garbage debris of all types, we were flung about inside the vehicle like twin ragdolls.
It was a land not meant to be traversed by glam metal mullet car. Afraid to drive too slowly out of fear of getting stuck, Popcorn just floored it to see what would happen. To this day I cannot believe the tires were still intact.
That memory of holding on for dear life in the Firebird leads me to think about other instances that occurred with that car.
A few months prior to the auto yard event, Handsome B. Wonderful got set up for a two-eleven out in Bradley. Two meatheads approached him while he was playing basketball at a park. The dude was outnumbered two to one (if you don’t count his off-brand bitch ass trick of a homey who hid in the shadows like a mark ass busta).
Feeling cold steel at the back of his head while they robbed him, they broke his jaw and left him on lying on the moonlit basketball court.
Sipping meals through a straw for six weeks, spittin’ through the wire years before Kanye. Hard as nails, the down time only gave him pause enough to plot out revenge. He didn’t call the cops. That’s not what cold ass gangsters do. I saw Kenny G put his fist through a wall as a hushed rage grew. I had a feeling it was a little too quiet during those weeks.
All I knew about next was Popcorn driving around in that white muscle car wearing a Michael Myers mask like a horror version of Don Johnson in his Daytona, scoping the streets for scum. Two Louisville sluggers resting on the passenger seat, looking for the guys pulled the jack move. He somehow located one of them at Gala Lanes in Meadowview and waited for him to exit.
When that flabby gutterball rolled out of the bowling alley, the tableau was this; Popcorn standing beneath a yellow, flickering streetlamp next to the Firebird in that Michael Meyers mask. Just staring at him, trunk popped, breathing through the vinyl, holding the two baseball bats aloft like a seven-ten dome split.
He strongarmed the kid, and forced him to apologize through tears, to Handsome B. Wonderful over a parking lot payphone.
I’ll be honest. I never did ask what happened next. (3)
Pummeling our way through that open field in some random south or east direction away from the junkyard, we had an honest new concern. Was the Firebird going to make it…or would it shit out in the middle of nowhere by that point? No way to call a tow truck. Even if we could, there’d be no way to explain where we would be.
The car really should have died that night. But it kept going – charging on with the WWF muscle of Brutus the Barber Beefcake, Kentucky waterfall flowing in the cool night breeze, coasting over iced tundra in a pair of neon Zubas.
From the black void of beyond, we approached a back country road. No street lighting, so the gravel path came out of nowhere. We swerved on to it, skidding rocks and dust thirty feet into the air, the car two-wheeling and almost flipping the over a drainage ditch.
We stopped and sat.
Taking that all in, the hoodless beast still cranking and humming, we lounged back for a minute.
Lighting a pair of wood tipped cherry brandy Black ‘n Milds we watched the smoke blend with steam from the overheated engine. Through ambient orange dome lighting, it swirl off in the night sky. Neither having the energy to even acknowledge what had just taken place.
Popcorn dropped me off in Cobb Park and he made his way home to Chebanse.
The truth is, that would be my last ride in the Firebird. The car would meet its fateful demise a few weeks later, Sugar Ray at the shotgun, plunging into a retention pond behind Barnes & Noble.
All bets were off. Debts were forgotten. All wrongs were scrubbed free in the stormwater basin of that dumpster lined baptismal. Soaking clean the sins, the mangled corpse sunk to the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake like a disheveled Jason Voorhies.
Until this writing, the ’92 Pontiac Firebird, rest its soul, was never spoken of again.
(1) Of course we owned all of the normal CDs like Dr. Dre and Bone Thugs, too, but what better to play at church than gangsta rap that talks about murdering the devil? Look we’re still going to rebel in our own way here, folks, and I’ll be honest, that first Gospel Gangstaz record was pretty fucking solid.
(2) His mom did locate the hood, even without actively looking for it, randomly in a Kankakee area post office alley. It was just…sort of…there. To remind her.
(3) Nothing happened next. Hilariously enough he just made kid cry and apologize like weeping toddler. Also, forever curious about who had the 35 cents in their pocket to make the payphone call. Was it Popcorn in his Michael Meyers mask, or the other guy?
One thought on “The Popcorn Grimoire: The ’92 Pontiac Firebird.”
My hunch is the other guy coughed up 35 cents with Ryan’s encouragement. Ryan and Ryan …I was peacefully oblivious to what you guys were up to back in those days. Thank you for sharing, I love it!
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