Raymond Howell awakened much like he did every morning, to the sound of Bryant Gumbel’s soft voice commenting on some tragedy in some part of the world. Ray reached out, his eyes still closed, and grab the remote and hit the mute button. It was too early for somber banter from plastic newscasters.“Shut up, Bryant.” he said to the tv and buried his head under his pillow. He finally rolled over and opened his eyes to the bright streaks of sunlight that hit the opposite wall through the curtains and quickly shut them again. He glanced at the the digital clock. It blinked 9:13. He sat up and drew his knees to his sharp chin and watched the dust playing in the sunlight. He reached over and grabbed a half empty can of Coke from the night stand and swallowed. It was too warm, too thick and too sweet but it wet his throat. Then reached for his cigarettes, lit one and and inhaled deep. He exhaled and took another sip of his Coke and sat listening to the house. He didn’t hear the TV downstairs so he guessed his mother wasn’t home. She was probably out at garage sales in the neighborhood or rummaging through the consignment shops downtown for more “deals” as she liked to call them. Garbage was what Ray called them. He glanced at the television. Bryant was laughing at some joke Willard Scott had made apparently. Ray had fallen asleep, as was his habit, with the TV on. He had been watching the late night Creature Feature. Some cheesefest about a 2-headed guy. That was probably why he fell asleep fifteen minutes into the movie. He had been hoping for a kaiju flick or maybe a Hammer film, but he got drive-inn fodder…Oh well.
He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat there smoking. He remembered dreaming. Something about that girl at school. The black haired vixen that sat across the room from him in his History class. He usually didn’t have good dreams after falling asleep to the Creature Feature, especially not ones about girls, but she had been on his mind a lot lately. A lot. He drew on his cigarette and blew smoke rings. he sat there trying to remember the dream, then rubbed the sleep from his eyes and stood up and stretched and grabbed his glasses off the night stand.
He was fifteen years old, bean pole thin and gawky and he wore glasses that slightly magnified his eyes; not much, but enough to to earn him the nickname of X-Ray from the kids at his school. He yearned for contacts and a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The first had been promised to him when he turned sixteen, and the second was a pipe dream no amount of push-ups would ever deliver. His hair was bleached blonde, cropped close except for a few dyed green spikes on top, that his mother loathed but couldn’t talk him out of. He also was the proud owner of a hole in his left earlobe that had a ring in it with a cross that dangled on the end of a little silver chain. His mother hated that, as well.
Ray walked over the bedroom window, hitching up his red pajama bottoms, and pushed aside the curtains and looked out on a sunny Saturday morning, the sunlight glowing in the lenses of his glasses. He looked out at the cul-de-sac at the end of Preston Drive, his neighborhood, the - “suburban hellhole”, he called it. He looked directly across the street and saw Mr. Krenshaw mowing his lawn. Ray thought this was a complete and utter waste of time seeing as how the lawn was pristine. Hell, it was immaculate. The grass was never more than an inch tall at anytime and perpetually green year round. A weird, technicolor green, that hurt your eyes to stare at it too long. Ray often wondered if he watered it with toxic waste. But there he was nevertheless, every Saturday morning, on his riding lawnmower, in his polyester pant suits, straw fedora and loafers, mowing away at it. He even had a pipe in his mouth. He reminded Ray, for all the life of him, of the guy on the cover of that first Devo album, only slightly older. Ray suspected Mr. Krenshaw might be an android. Next door to the lawn mowing Mr. Roboto, was Mrs. Thompson unloading her groceries from the back of her station wagon. He watched as she struggled with the three brown paper bags as her two twin boys, whom Ray like to call the Thompson Twins, which always made him chuckle, ran around like a couple of spastic chimps on speed, in between her and her front door. That isn’t going to end well, he thought as he looked to the left of of his own house at the house that was currently under construction. The yard was hard scrabble and lumber scraps. The construction was taking forever on that house. Not surprisingly the construction crew wasn’t working on it this morning, either. He had overheard his mother telling Mrs. Thompson that the developers were running out of money. Good, he thought, maybe they wouldn’t finish building. There were enough assholes on this street, already.
Ray hated this neighborhood. He hated his neighbors. He hated this street, this cul-de-sac. He hated living here. When his parents separated, his Mom got the split-level home here on Preston Street in Mayfield Heights. His dad moved into an apartment in Cleveland. He got to spend a few months with his dad in the summer but he had the pleasure of living in this hellhole the rest of the year. The city was only 20 minutes away but it may as well be a million miles away as far as he was concerned. He looked up the street at Higway 271. He could see the Luna City arcade, the Circle K and further along he could just see the sign for the Good Times Video store, the only bastions that held off being completely bored to death out here in the ‘burbs.
He turned away from the window. He could feel the sun, warm across his back and shoulders. He passed under the lazily revolving ceiling fan and walked over to his stereo and began sifting through his cassettes - Devo, Bauhaus, Black Flag, Husker Du, New Model Army, The Human League. He found what he was looking for; The Dead Boys. He began humming to himself as he popped the cassette in the tape player and started dragging his stereo speakers across the room to his bedroom windows. He hoisted up both windows and propped the speakers up on the window seal, facing outward on his unsuspecting neighbors, mindlessly going about their Saturday morning routines. His Mom was probably going to give him a lot of shit for what he was about to do and he would more than likely get grounded. “What do I care?”, Ray said, exhaled cigarette smoke, cranked up the volume to max and pressed play.The thump of the bass from the intro to 'Sonic Reducer’ boomed in his room and rattled the windows. Mr. Krenshaw, who just finished mowing his weird, possibly radioactive lawn, looked across the street at Ray’s house, and frowned, clenched on the pipe between his teeth harder and shook his head in disgust. The guitars shrieked and Mrs. Thompson, currently struggling to get her key in the front door of her house and juggling three bags of groceries, got startled and dropped one of her grocery bags on her front steps. It exploded, sending canned goods and produce flying everywhere, like shrapnel. The Thompson Twins screamed in delight and started chasing cans. She groaned and glared over her shoulder at his bedroom room. Other neighbors who were watering plants, washing their cars or jogging on the sidewalk, all stopped and looked at 521 Preston Circle in surprise.
“Hey, you freakin’ zombies!” Ray shouted over the music, “Wake up!” His voice rolled over the cul-de-sac leaving dogs barking and Stiv Bators moaning behind it. “ I’m not gonna be like you,” he shouted, the cigarette clamped in the corner of his mouth. “ I swear to God, I’m not!”
Raymond Howell, X-Ray to his friends, son of Diane and Andrew Howell, stood in the middle of his bedroom in his bright red pajama bottoms , his chest sunken and sallow and raised both of his middle fingers in a triumphant Fuck You to everything around him on this beautiful Saturday morning in Mayfield Heights, a suburb of Cleveland in the great state of Ohio, in the month of May in the year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and eighty seven.