Sunday, April 25, 2010

Last Call, Last Stand - Part 16

In the end, no one could ever resist Mackey Sr-not even me. He proved it daily, in a constant ritual pissing contest. He was a ragged redneck with a glib tongue and a good coke hookup, and he learned to take both of those and run with them until he succeeded. So I suppose I learned that lesson from him as well. But that day's lesson was of a different nature, philosophy perhaps, although I doubt he ever used the word.

I am surprised to find myself still hating him, even after all these years.

He had taken me to the stump behind the second trailer I sometimes used as a fighting platform for my dandy Mortal Kombat action figures. He chewed his cigar and pontificated, standing tall under the brilliant (valium?) blue skies while fire blazed in the trees around it. I remember a distinct taste of something rotten on the wind, maybe a dead dog or deer upwind somewhere. At this stage I still had to look way up with him.

"Jon boy...I..I know I been hard on ya, son, and I sure as shit don't like them faggot wizard books you are always readin', but I guess I never told ya why." He sucked on the cigar that even then I found ironic in a Freudian way. "It's a hard world, Jon Boy. And ain't no mother fucker that won't stick it to ya if he can. You can be quick, and sly...and I seen it in ya, boy, you got the gift o' gab same as me. But it ain't gonna work every time, and you gotta learn to take it like a man."

He had taken my hand, his own scarred digits gripping my wrist tightly, and was now holding it on the stump. His hammer was out in his other hand. At this point I began to panic; even at that age I could tell a long string of overenthused crack pipe fueled babble from a legitimate philisophical point. It's easy; just wait until it stops making sense. It stopped making sense about the time he lifted the hammer over his head.

"They'll make ya weak, boy, make ya a bitch, if you can't man up and swallow the pain." He paused, and there was a stern silence unbroken even by ambient nature, though the dull roar of terror in my ears prevented me from even putting up a decent struggle. "You know I seen some shit about some Jap monks or somethin, they make you lift a scalding hot kettle with your forearms, just to make a man out of ya. And you gotta know how to burn when your time comes. They'll hurtcha Jon Boy, they'll cutcha good and bloody, but they don't love ya son, and I do." My understanding of his critical lecture disappeared beneath a red vortex of pain that centered on the stump and grew to encompass the whole world. My screams were far away.

"See it? That's your pain, Jon Boy. Seize it, see?" He held up his own spotted, hairy knuckles, showing me all the old scars. Then he jacked it across my face in a swift, single motion. "And stop that Christfuckin' squawkin, boy. You're a man."

I chomped down on the next scream, not because I felt that manly, but because I had just looked at my hand. It was already swelling with blood running between my knuckles, and moving it sent glass shards blazing up and down my nerve endings like hell's angels on Highway 65. My pants were warm; only years later did I deduce that I was pissing myself. All I knew then was that Mackey sr was looking down at my crotch and obviously didn't like what he saw.

"You little pisspants faggot!" he snarled, his eyes glazing with that cracked out goshawk rage, and reached for my other hand which I snatched back. In the same motion I reached up with the good hand and grabbed his screwdriver off his belt. Holding it in a rear grip I jammed the flathead edge right into his inner thigh, eliciting a wheezing grunt of pain.

He staggered back a step while I curled up on the ground and clutched my wounded hand, moaning. He looked down to the screwdriver sticking in his leg, and back at me, and suddenly bellowed a harsh, wheezing laughter. The miracle of crack cocaine enabled him to pull it out smoothly, without flinching. "Well hell, boy-at least you got balls," he said, and that was the end of the subject for him.

That was September 11th, 1993-my 13th birthday.

He took me to the hospital, bought me ice cream and a dirty magazine for lying to the doctor, gave me a real birthday present-a Led Zeppelin cd, and assumed that his lesson of "Man up and take the pain" stuck with me.

We never talked about it again. But if we had, I would have told him the real lesson I learned while "Rainbow in the Dark" blared in my headphones and I waited in the ER for my turn to lie to the Dr, surrounded by welfare chumps and battered wives and junkies hoping to get a good RX by stabbing themselves in the neck. The lesson has nothing to do with taking pain. It wasn't even about how to sell your sons vicadins to some junkies in the waiting room to pay for his birthday present.

No, the lesson I learned in the long grass from Jon Mackey Sr that day was "Every motherfucker wants to fuck you, so fuck first, fuck hard, fuck fast-and don't listen to a fucking thing anyone says about it."

It was easy to apply that lesson in the 2009 flood. The only question was one of aesthetics.

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