They jumped Lenny Silverstein as he was sweeping up the sidewalk just in front of Shoppers Food Warehouse in New Carrollton. They beat up on him savagely and when he went down, holding his head, trying to protect it with his hands and arms, they kicked him in the left ear. After that Lenny couldn’t hear on that side any longer. Shit like that happened in our neighbourhood all the time. Whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians…we all beat up on one another for no reason. Out of the blue. In ’86 I got jumped by a bunch of metal heads behind a strip mall for no reason that I could think of. They didn’t take anything; no wallet, no car keys, not my bag of cassettes I had just bought at Penguin Feather… nothing. They just beat up on me and laughed. After that, I went home to an empty house and broke into my mother’s liquor cabinet and nursed the throbbing with some Wild Turkey. Weird what happens to the body after harsh trauma. You can feel your heartbeat in every inch of flesh. It’s like your body is underscoring the fact that you’re alive and that you should be thankful or something. But I don’t know, there seemed to be no logic for any of the attacks. Just frustration, I guess. And poverty. People with no way out pissed off at the world or…other people or…I don’t know. We beat one another mercilessly in vain. ‘Cause afterward were still poor. Poor and black and blue. It just happened. It was part of your day.
Lenny Silverstein sustained atrocious head wounds. He never remembered why he was sweeping out front at Shoppers Food Warehouse in New Carrollton that sweltering afternoon. He never remembered much of anything before that. Seventeen years effectively erased with a couple of kicks to the head and ribs by some kids who just wanted a laugh. After a couple of months on the second floor of Doctors’ Hospital, Lenny Silverstein went home to rehabilitate himself at his mother’s little rancher just off Good Luck Road. During the next few years he took to manufacturing his own toy soldiers, giving them the appearance of people in his present life. One looked like me. But with a beard. With his creations Lenny would set up the most elaborate, realistic scenarios from the Vietnam War, which he would then photograph. No one understood how he knew so much about the Tet Offensive, Battle of Dak To, Hamburger Hill, or any of that war’s history. After his ordeal Lenny couldn’t read anything without enduring debilitating migraines, and before that he couldn’t remember. And most of us that knew him doubted he was a Vietnam War scholar before the incident anyway. Lenny Silverstein never mentioned anything about the Vietnam War when he was well.
Last year, in May I was sent a link to an article in the local paper where I grew up. Lenny Silverstein had died in the middle of Shoppers Food Warehouse–the same place at which he was so brutally attacked decades before–from a brain aneurysm. He collapsed while buying a pound of oranges and half a dozen store brand, glazed doughnuts. In the years that I had been gone, Lenny had become a Big Brother to several at-risk boys from the neighbourhood, and his work with kids trying to put their lives together from traumatic experiences like sex abuse, physical abuse, or drug-addicted parents became quite well known in our little shit ‘hood. He had started some sort of apprentice type program for these kids who had hours to kill after school, before their parents got home from their shitty jobs. It was a toy-making course or something, in the toddlers’ reading room at the New Carrollton library…and all the toys that were made by the fellas were then donated to local churches or battered-women shelters. I don’t know, I don’t remember what the article said in detail. But one of the reporters at the paper had received a thick envelope with scores and scores of Lenny’s battlefront photographs. On the front of the envelope, under the journalist’s name and the paper’s PO Box address was written: “This is my world.”
“When the teenagers kicked my head to pieces…they wiped all memory of everything. What’s the first thing I’m gonna work on? My imagination. I built Dak To Town for me. For my therapy.”