When I hear a
snark’s been killed, I figure the cops’ll nail a fag within
hours, but it doesn’t come down that way. The paper says that
Tommy Goen died from a single gun shot to his head, near point-blank
range, in his own backyard. And there are no clues, no smoking guns,
no shells. All the snarks think a fag did it, and all of us fags think
it’s a snark. But everyone knows guns are owned by snarks, not
And everyone knows that all of us in drama, whether we like chicks or not,
we’re all fags, not to mention all the academics. Here are the real differences.
Fags do drama; snarks make drama. Fags make their grades; snarks float and
flunk. Fags like girls; snarks fuck them blind. Fags will go to college; snarks
will sleep. But it goes further. Fags are mostly white; snarks mostly not.
Fags drive first-generation Explorers their dads give them. Snarks drive vintage
Chevies that hop up and down with a touch of a lever under the dash, or they
strut around in saggy jeans. Fags have money; snarks jingle coins in their
pockets. Fags rent the robe for graduation; snarks spike the dropout rate.
Fags eat lunch out; snarks commandeer the cafeteria. Fags take a chick to homecoming
and buy her a huge mum with long streamers. After the game snarks sit in their
cars and wait for us fags so they can steal the mums and our girls. And don’t
forget about sports. The football team is half fag, half snark; they call a
truce to play on Friday nights. They try to win one game a year, homecoming,
usually against a smaller team from out of town. And of course, I’ve
only been talking about the guys. All the girls are either fags or snarks,
too. MetroMagnet has no independents. You’re either a fag or a snark
or you’re dead, quite obviously.
Tommy Goen wasn’t always a fag. That’s probably what got him killed.
Well, I don’t know that for sure, but I do know he was sick of all the
fighting and had started a movement to get the two sides talking, publishing
little articles of understanding in the newspaper. Then poof, he was gone.
Unlike the rest of us fags who transfer in from the better parts of town, Tommy
lived in a house across the alley from the school. He once invited me over
to rehearse a scene. Lying on his bed and staring out his window, I could see
the huge smokestack rising out of the auditorium. The mother he left behind
is Mexican, his father Anglo. White name, tan skin, but if he hadn’t
told anyone, no one would’ve known. He could have passed as a fag, I
mean, if he’d wanted to. But he wasn’t like that. He felt that
if he did what God wanted, he would be safe. He told me that once between dance
rehearsals and each of us was downing a bottle of PowerAde.
“God told me, ‘Tommy, you have the power. You should win them to
respond?” I said, having acquired my parents’ tolerant
but snotty view that God may exist but only in your mind.
“It’s so hard, man,” I said. “We’re the fags.
We stand for everything that is decent. Snarks are dropout druggies.”
they’re not. Not all of them.”
“See! You’re a fag at heart,” I said. “You can cross
“That’s just it,” he argued. “There’s nothing
to cross over. Underneath the crap, we’re all the same.”
I have to respect his passion, if not his opinion.
One night I go out to my car after Grease rehearsal, and these snarks,
about five of them, jump me. Start patting me down for my keys, which are plainly
in my hand. When I jingle them in one guy’s snarky face, he grabs them.
Snarks tie me up with some skank’s pantyhose and leave me in the middle
of the MetroMagnet parking lot. Then they drive my car all over town, in and
out of bars all night long, crashing clubs with phony IDs, I’m told.
Meantime, I schlub my way home and sneak in through my bedroom window.
The next day, when my parents see my Explorer isn’t in the drive, it’s
too late. The cops have already found it in a cotton field south of town. Nothing
left but a charred skeleton. Nada. My parents are pissed off, not because of
the car so much, but because I didn’t stand up for myself, didn’t
call the law. My father says, “The police might have been able to find
those thugs in traffic and stop them. Now they’ll see you as an easy
mark.” Parents always use the word “police,” as if it’s
a term of endearment, as if they’re our friends. Where was the nice policeman
when the snarks turned my car to charcoal?
The fag girls feel sorry for me, the snark girls laugh behind their hands.
Other fags offer me rides until I find an old Corolla my dad buys for me. The
make that obnoxious laugh as I walk to my new wheels.
It’s said they patented the sound when a principal caught onto their
yellow bandannas around the neck, trying to get around our no-can-do dress
code. We can’t wear earrings either, so snarks invented this laugh that
makes like a loud snore attached to the syllable “ark.” It’s
such a great sound that even the fags imitate it when no one’s listening.
If you want to make fun of one of your fag friends, you snark him, like this. Snaaaaaark!
That’s when I get into real trouble. I’m snarking my friend Lenny
in the hall one day, when a snark overhears me. He tells me to meet him in
the parking lot after school, where all the snarks park. All day I debate it.
Should I, or should I get a bunch of my fag friends and rumble? Uh huh. Right
before the bell rings at four-thirty, I head for the lot east of the building
and loiter for the longest time. The traffic slowly ebbs away, and there are
only a handful of cars left. I walk up to the one with five guys, a ’63
Impala painted midnight blue. The inside of their car is swarming with smoke.
“You snark pretty good, bro,” the guy in the driver’s seat
says, holding smoke in his lungs. I know who he is by face. “You must
really be one of us, bro, if you can snark like that. Ain’t that so, my
friends?” His friends agree with some mumbling sounds. “Why don’ you
snark for us right now and join up? Join the right side. The good side. Let’s
hear you, bro.”
Now this is what I’ve heard from the fags ever since I started MetroMagnet
High. Fags are the right side, the good side. It’s hilarious to hear
the same words coming out of their mouths, that they think they’re the
holy anointed ones.
“Whatayou want?” I ask.
“Learn my name first. Roy Boy,” he says, extending his hand for
a snark shake. Good thing I know how to curve my fingers at the tips and snatch
my hand back and place it behind my ear before it gets burned. “And these
are my bruthahs.” He gives me all their snark names, which I
immediately forget. “And what about you, bro, what’s yo name?” Not
one of them is black.
“What kind of fag name is that? You look more like a Jerm. Yeah, we’ll
call you Jerm. Get in, Jerm.” Roy Boy looks like he’s eaten about
a million tortillas in his life, but he hops out of the Chevy and I hump the
The scrawny guy on the right gives me a gold toothy smile and tries to hand
me a joint; his mustache looks like it’s been drawn in with pencil. We
drive around for a while, hopping the car up and down when were stopped
at a light. I’ve always thought that looks pretty stupid, and nothing
about the experience changes my mind. Roy Boy plays some Mexican polka shit,
but since he appears to have nothing but an AM radio, he doesn’t have
much choice. Then someone pulls out a cassette, and Roy pushes it in where
the dial gives way to an opening. The angriest chicka chicka boom boom kind
of rap comes blasting out of huge speakers hidden somewhere in the back. Sometimes
in the night, I can hear this stuff pound through my bedroom walls and crawl
up my skin as one of their cars roams around town. Finally, the bros end up
at K-Mart. I can’t say which one, because the cops might come back and
study the security tapes.
“We be tired of this shit,” Roy Boy says, punching the stop button.
The car is filled with a deafening something, not silence exactly. It seems
we’re in the middle of a huge bubble filled with this sweet-smelling fog. “Go
inside and get us Sean’s newest D.”
“I don’t have any money,” I say, coughing.
“Give me your wallet,” Roy Boy says, fingering my cash.
“Whatayou know!” I say.
“Yeah, this ought to be plenty.” He takes what I have and rolls
it into his shirt pocket. “They all be sittin’ on a display by the
cash register. We all wanna D. You got a credit card?” he asks, sifting
through my ID shit. “No Visa?” he says, sticking the wallet in his
pocket. “You can have it back after we’re through. Junior here’s
goin’ in with you. You won’t even know he’s there.” He
means the skinny guy with the gold smile and pencil mustache, who now passes
this itty-bitty roach to someone in back.
“Oh, I get it,” I say. “But where am I suppose to stash ’em?”
“You talk funny,” says Junior.
One of the bros in back throws me his skanky parka, you can’t really
tell what color it is. Both pockets have been expanded to slide things down
into the lining. At a light Roy shows me how deep they are. “Thanks,” I
say, without considering it might sound snotty.
After I step out of the car and put on the parka, I start thinking how I could
break into a run, but Junior’s right behind me. Even if he’s whanged
out of his mind, I have no doubt he could chase me for blocks. Besides, the
guys in the car wouldn’t be far behind. I’ve long trusted my instincts
to get me out of a jam (I love forties flicks), but this seems too hard. This
one is designed to make me fail. Even if I do get out with all their Ds, what
then? They’ll find some other test for me to fail.
I walk through the big sliding doors and grab a cart. I look behind me, but
Junior has vanished. Then I wheel the cart around and see him perusing this
wall of bagged candy. Next thing I know, he’s located a black overcoat
he likes. In his Dockers, he looks like one of the managers going to lunch.
I make my way to the music section. Yep, right there by the register, which
is unmanned at the moment, stands the cardboard display with Sean’s latest.
I can’t see Junior anywhere. Maybe now I can figure out how I’m
going to do this, if I’m going to do this. Yo, I think. You
have to do this. You have to, or you’ll be one dead fag. Then it
hits me! A fag for a snark. A snark for a fag, and back and forth it’ll
go until we’re all dead.
I begin inching my way over to the stand, thinking how I might slip the jewel
cases into my pockets. I mean, every one of them is set in a plastic frame
that’ll trigger an alarm if I walk out. I pick one up and begin to finger
it. Maybe, with the brute strength held within in my fingers, I can get the
frame off the CD and pocket it. Suddenly, someone crashes into the stand, knocking
it over, and me with it. I get up.
“Oh, man, I’m sorry. God, I’m so clumsy.” It’s
Junior, sounding so unsnarky I think I might sign him up for an audition.
The sales clerk comes running from an aisle or two away. While she’s
futzing with all the CDs on the floor, I feel Junior brushing up against me,
but he won’t let go. “Go to the back,” he whispers. “Run
out the door when no one’s looking. And put this on.” He hands
me a red ski mask. Uh huh.
It seems totally stupid, but I get up and start to move. He bends over and
helps the clerk put CDs back on the stand, getting all flirty with her. And
she’s eating it up, like a good little snark girl should. I’ve
seen her in the halls at Metro; she works for the office, delivering messages
to teachers and students.
I sprint to the back, putting my hands in the parka’s pockets. God, near
the hem of my coat, I can feel the plastic cases bouncing off my ankles. In
the restroom, I pee forever. Emerging, I linger in the hallway where employees
seem to swarm like bees. I get a drink from the fountain and loiter, get a
drink and loiter some more. Finally, the hall clears out, so I run to the back
wall and shove the emergency door open. It begins to scream, this claxon. Blaam,
blaam, blaam! And it keeps going as I run down the alley. I sprint as
if someone might start shooting at me, all this plastic clanking together in
the lining of my coat. There at the end of the block, there’s Roy’s
Impala. I jump in, and he careens around the corner. The old heap can move
pretty fast if you push it.
“Just now came outside,” a voice in back says. “They couldn’t
ID us for nothin’.”
Pretty soon Roy Boy’s on the freeway heading toward the center of town.
“What about Junior?” I ask, breathless.
“Don’t worry about Junior, he’ll be home in time for dinner.”
All the bros laugh. At me. It would seem.
“Hey, Jerm, where’s my D?” asks Roy Boy.
I reach into my pockets and distribute CDs. The bros express sounds of gratitude
and crack open the frames around the jewel cases, screeching the cellophane.
In a few minutes, each one tosses his D out the window and a few miles later,
all the plastic crap.
“What the fuck?” I say.
“Only fags listen to that shit,” Roy Boy says. “Let’s
bag some tamales at Josie’s!” He takes the cash from his pocket,
my cash, and tosses it my way.
It feels really strange going to MetroMagnet the next day. If I were running
for office this very morning—before the fags figure out I’ve been
inducted into the snarks—I could win by a landslide. Usually, it’s
very close, a fag winning by a small margin, although snarks have been known
to get everyone in their ranks to attend school on election day and sometimes
win a tight one, too. Anyway, it’s the day of Tommy Goen’s memorial.
The hall is filled with teachers wearing black like nuns, fags in black, snarks
in black. There’s a certain dignity, everyone’s quieter than usual,
and it seems very strange. The principal comes on the horn and announces the
revised schedule and says the memorial will be at ten in the auditorium. We’ll
get out in time for an early lunch.
I go to a short first period, where my English teacher Mr. Nunez teaches us
a poem called “Daddy.” It’s complex, with all these symbols
that no one but him can see, like they’re a secret code written in lemon
juice. Someone says, “Why doesn’t Syl rhyme things, and everyone
would know what she’s talkin’ about?” We write a class poem
about Tommy in small groups, each group has to write a stanza. But the only
rhymes I can come up for death are beth, reth, keth, seth, teth, neth .
. . and no one likes my ideas anyway. Here are the first two lines written
by a redhead named Cass.
Tommy Goen’s is goin’ down the line.
He’s an actor, his dancin’s ever so fine.
Of course, the poem makes no sense when we read all six stanzas together, but
it doesn’t matter, the day’s already fucked. Who cares about some
pathetic poem that makes even me cry before it’s over. I slink down the
hall and up the stairs to second period. Yikes, Roy Boy’s coming right
“Yo,” he says, stopping me before I can get to my next class.
“Yo, Roy,” I say. “Poor Tommy.” He raises his hand for
a snark shake and I do the same. We look ridiculous, pulling our hands away
at the last second.
Roy doesn’t say anything. And he doesn’t look so tough now. He’s
shorter than me. I could probably take him, if I was into that kind of shit,
but I don’t even like to wrestle. Maybe real fags like it, you know,
all that slippery contact, but not me. I can still remember all the tag team
shit I did in eighth grade, all that onion underarm BO. “Me and the bros
be sittin’ front and center, see you there.” And he’s gone.
Shit. I can’t sit with snarks. Not at Tommy’s memorial. Well, I’ll
get lost in the balcony, I’ll say some teacher made us sit up there because
the lower level was full. Second period goes by like a flash, I can’t
even remember what we do. It’s my algebra class, I think maybe we do
homework. Teachers like to keep their classes on the same page, and if a morning
class is cut short, then they have to kill time in the afternoon to keep us
all together, so they kill time in the morning, too. They tell us this like
it’s a big secret.
At ten to ten, the principal comes on and begins directing us to the auditorium,
one grade at a time. It might work in junior high, but no one can get two thousand
snarks and fags to sit where they don’t want to. And it’s wild,
as I watch from the balcony, these swarms of kids dressed in black, sitting
down and then getting back up. It’s hilarious. No one can tell a fag
from a snark. I laugh until I feel a tap on my shoulder. It’s Junior.
“Hey,” I say, trying to sound breezy.
“Roy Boy wants you down with us,” he says, pointing.
“How’d you make out yesterday?” I ask.
He cocks his head. “Shut up, doofus.”
“That’s the smartest thing I’ve ever heard a snark say.”
“Roy wants you with us. Now.”
I follow him along the balcony steps and into the hallway. We snail our way
down the back stairs, pushing against traffic, pushing our way in and out of
the groups of bustling bodies to the front, where the king of the snarks sits
dead center on the front row. There’s an empty seat on both sides of
him. He pats the one on his left, and I sit down. Some guy—I think it’s
a snark, I’m sure it is, because he looks snarky—begins playing
the old Hammond organ in the pit. It’s the same kind of organ that jazz
groups use in dives on Saturday nights, but he has it sounding like cathedral
music, all this sound coming out of the large grilles on each side of the stage.
Making me sad, very sad, yet joyful, too, I can’t explain it. Before
an assembly, kids are usually talking a mile a minute. The principal normally
pounds his shoe like a Soviet dictator (we saw a video in history) to get us
quiet, but today, there’s this swish of bodies moving from one place
to another, trying to find a seat that isn’t next to someone they hate.
“Ladies and gentleman,” the principal says (he’s a fag, too). “Please
locate a seat so we can begin.” He pauses. “Again, I have to ask
you to please find a seat at once.”
The crowd heaves a sigh, politely telling him to shut up. He stands there until
all you can hear is the rustle of clothing, the soft roar of air conditioning
rolling over our heads like a breeze. He cues the organist and a soloist. This
redhead, a fag chick from theatre, begins to sing “One Hand, One Heart.” I
don’t recognize it at first. Then, oh yeah. West Side Story.
It seems totally wrong. I mean, isn’t it a love song? But as I listen
to the lyrics, I think it could be like Mr. Nunez’s poem, a symbolic
elegy, begging us all, fags and snarks, to join together. One hand, one heart.
Something inside me gets all gnarly and rebellious. No fag’s going to
tell me, I mean, no snark’s going to tell me
then it’s over
and this minister comes to the podium.
“Tommy wanted you to talk today,” Roy whispers in my ear. “He
told me before he died. ‘Get Jeremy Cobb to say something at my service.’”
I do a Daffy Duck double take, my eyes rattling in my head.
“Tommy offed himself,” he says. “I saw him do it.”
“But the police, the papers,” I whisper back. “He was shot
Roy points an imaginary pistol, held as far from himself as he can, about a
foot and a half, and pulls the “trigger” with both thumbs, steady
as a rock. I jump.
“What happened to the gun?” I whisper.
“Gone by the time me and Junior got there,” he says, checking his
“Why would he do it, Roy?”
“Dunno,” he whispers.
“Come on!” I shout.
The minister, Rev. Bob, stops speaking, and at least ten fags go “Shhhhhh.” I
bow my head, staring at the ugly brown linoleum floor that the school board
needs to replace but probably won’t because the district is too poor,
the state legislature too stingy.
“He wanted you to say something at the service today,” Roy whispers.
I look at him, covering my mouth, wondering what I could possibly say.
“You were the only fag he ever liked. If anyone can bring the school together,
it’s you, he said.”
“Jesus Christ,” I mutter behind my hand.
“I’m just telling you what he said.”
“You two young men on the front row,” says Rev. Bob, a tall, silver-headed
man. “You seem to have a lot to say. Why don’t you come up here
and share it with us.”
I search his voice for anger or sarcasm, one of the adult tones, but he seems
sincere, bidding us with his finger to come to the podium. Even the organist
plays a little traveling music, something with a great beat. It’s way
cool but totally wrong, like we’re running up there to accept an award
or something. I stand and so does Roy, and we walk to the side steps and make
our way up to the minister.
He asks us our names and we speak into the microphone, magnifying our voices
into these monstrous echoes. “Now which one of you is a fag?” he
asks. His face is red from having to use that word. Cold silence. “All
right, then, which one of you is a snark?” He faces the audience. “Why
don’t all you fags out there stand up?” There’s an immediate
buzz that swells across the crowd. “No one? Well, how about you snarks?
Come on, stand up!” Again, a roll of hushed whispers. “Well, now,
I’ve been told that this school is overrun with the two of you, fags
and snarks, but now, in the light of day, no one will stand to avow his association.” Rev.
Bob’s sweating, and it sours his cologne, whatever it is, something cheap,
like a poor parishioner might give at Christmas, the most he can get for his
money. I reach for the microphone with my right hand, and Rev. Bob releases
it. I’m silent for a few seconds, gathering my mood. Then I stand with
one foot crossed over the other, like Tommy used to.
“You may not know who I am,” I say, “but my name’s Tommy
A large hiccup shoots across the auditorium, as if Tommy’s risen from
the grave. I know
the symbolism is cheap
but I feel something very
deeply and begin to speak, almost as if the words are being pulled from my
“Yes, I was a snark, until I died, I was a snark.” Then everyone
sees where I’m going and settles down. “Every day I went to school
with the fear that a fag was going to kill me, not with a gun—but with
words or with silence or by not speaking, by not acknowledging my existence
as a human being.” I immediately toss the microphone to my left hand and
say, “My name is Jeremy. And if you can’t tell,” I say in
a slightly lower voice, “I’m a fag. I dress like a fag—you
know, Abercrombie Fitch, Tommy H on a bad day. I drove an Explorer until some
snark burned it to a crisp.” It draws a laugh. “It isn’t funny,” I
snap. “What’s next? Are we gonna burn each other’s houses
down?” I pause, handing the mic back to “Tommy.” “Yeah,
fellow snarks, no one killed me. I shot myself, like this.” I hold the
microphone out and snap it with my thumb to get a bang out of the crowd. Then
I toss the mic back to my left. “And how do I know Tommy killed himself?
you ask. Because someone very close to him, a snark, told me, a few minutes
ago.” Roy steps forward. With his head down, he scuffles across the stage
and stands next to Officer Vestra, the school cop, and holds out his arm to
be taken away. Officer Vestra motions for him to wait. “I have no reason
to doubt what Roy Boy told me. Now, the question is why, why would Tommy, who
had so much going for himself—I danced in the line with him on Grease—would
take himself out like that? He was headed somewhere. And I don’t mean
Broadway, he wasn’t that good. But he was headed somewhere.” I bend
down and rest my forehead on the podium a moment; when I look up everyone sits
still. “Tommy cared. He wanted
it was his biggest wish to join us
all, fags and snarks into one.” Charged air seems to boil across the room,
like a low rumbling of thunder. Then a groan, shuffling feet. “Shut up!” I
shout. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. “It’s time we all shut up and
listened to what’s going on around us.” Snarks and fags fold their
arms in defiance.
“I’m sorry,” I say, holding the mic over my chest a moment,
gathering my thoughts. “I have no moral authority. I stole five CDs yesterday
so some snarks wouldn’t kill me. And look at all of us today. You can’t
even tell where the fags take up and the snarks leave off. There’s a fag,” I
say, pointing. “You there, and you, and you, and you,” pointing
to my buddies from drama class. Each one of them stands. “And look, there’s
a snark, another, and another, sitting right there between two fags. Why don’t
y’all shake hands, and none of that gang shit either,” I say. Miraculously,
they do, these half-dozen students shake hands like real people. “Now,
I can’t expect the rest of you to do this, not this very minute, it would
be like a fagfest at some church where everybody hugs a neighbor.” Slowly,
black-clad students turn and talk to someone close by. Some hold hands. And
some cross their arms. “Change takes time,” I say. “Even if
I hand the mic back to Rev. Bob, who leads us all in prayer—an ecumenical
doozy that honors the Baptist god, the Catholic god, the Hindu, the Muslim,
the Jewish gods, all of them. And it isn’t patronizing like some ministers
can make a prayer sound, but sincere, calling for the dialogue to continue,
saying the obvious, something about Tommy Goen’s death not being in vain. After the amen, I grab the mic away and holler, “And tomorrow, everyone
wear red!” Uniting under one color has worked for a day, why not a second,
a third? A whoop goes up, and for a moment I’m fooled. But I know that
tomorrow we’ll all be dressed in our old garb, and that we’ll all
be fags and snarks again, jockeying for position in a world that demands it
of us. I step down from the stage and go to lunch with my fag friends.
While at Arby’s, some guys lean out their car window and snark us, disgorging
that stupid laugh that now sounds as crude as a fart. But we’ve never
seen them before in our lives, and we finish our subs with curly fries as if
it’s a normal day. Back at school we go to third period, where a cop
interrupts our history class to talk to us about how stupid gang life is and
how we ought to love and respect our parents, who’ve worked hard to
get us where we are today in Cowpie, Texas, USA, Earth, the universe, a speck
in the eye of God. I’ve heard this somewhere before, but somehow he makes
it sound brand new.
As a man in my fifties, I wrote “Snarked” on a lark,
to see if I could create a story from the point of view of a high school student.
in the mix, I also had a desire to defuse, exploit, and transform emotionally
charged words that come from a more or less contemporary vernacular that
pervades our world. Beyond that, I had no agenda. The story took me to its
conclusion, which is where I always hope a story will end.