Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rockem Sockem

I once had a good friend. His name shall remain anonymous but for convenience sake, let's call him Barry Brach. 

Barry was an ex-con.  At age seventeen he had been sent off to the state slammer for sending someone to the promised land.  Manslaughter.  He killed someone in a fight. Barry did several years hard time at a time before the American penal system had embarked on the kinder, gentler, hug-a-thug approach to corrections.  Like war, Barry never talked about it much and I never asked.  I first met Barry at a bar where several of my hoodlum friends and myself used to warm up before setting off on our wild weekend forays.  Barry was alone and simply walked up to me and asked if I wanted to arm wrestle for a beer.  Since he seemed somewhat on the slim side and I was pretty good at the sport, I agreed.  To my surprise, I quickly lost.

Barry and I became good friends.  We had personalities that went well together.  We did the normal things that twenty-year-old idiots do, like shoot pool, play tennis, frequent pubs, chase chesticles, and do as little labor as possible.  Although Barry was slim, he was a natural athlete and at 6' 2" he excelled at any sport he played.  But Barry also had some kind of macho hang-up.  I call it a little man's complex.  At every opportunity he tried to impress upon me how tough he was.  We were once at an upscale club with a few other characters.  After two or three beers, Barry suddenly, and for no apparent reason, threw a bottle against the brick wall.  The shattering sound, of course, drew the immediate attention of a bouncer.  With one swing, Barry knocked him out cold.  This, in turn, summoned forth the spirits of four more bouncers and for longer than one might imagine the unequal contest continued.  Since Barry was acting like a maniac, none of those with him, including myself, felt obliged to get involved.  At length, Barry was overwhelmed, dragged kicking and punching back to the office, placed in a straight-jacket by the police, then hauled away to jail.

On another occasion, we were shooting eight ball at a bar in the boondocks.  It was a quiet Saturday afternoon in rural America.  A fellow came in, a bit drunk, I thought, and loudly asked the old bartender if he knew who had stolen the side mirror off his car.  By his looks and actions, it was obvious that the man suspected us of the deed.

"What do you mean coming in here saying we stole your mirror?" said Barry as he stopped the game to confront the man.  "We been in here for an hour.  What the hell would we want with your mirror?"

"I'm not saying you did or you didn't," the man stared back.  "I'm just saying if the shoe fits, wear it."

That reply, thought witty, was not a wise one.  Hardly had the last word left the man's mouth than he was on his back, unconscious.  Judging by the little tavern owner, a former carnival worker named Sporty, one might have imagined World War III had just broken out.  Throwing his hands in the air, he ran around the pool table several times, exclaiming over and over in a nerve-cracked voice, "No sir, no sir, none of that in here. . . . You take it right outside. . . . Oh my, no! No sir, no sir, none of that stuff in my place."

Barry also thought that he was a lady's man.  He had dark hair and a small mustache and he imagined that his face was a dead ringer for Clark Gable (actually, I thought he looked more like Jack Palance).  Whenever Barry met a girl that seemed promising, he always shot her that sly, Gablesque smile with raised brow which he thought was sexy and irresistible (I don't remember even one female falling for it).  Barry also loved mirrors.  Seldom could he pass his reflection without stopping to stare, shifting his profile from one side to the next, combing his hair, then flashing that "charming" Gable smile.  And whenever anyone showed up with a camera, Barry was always first in line.

I was at his parent's home once.  Barry wanted to show me a painting that he had done while in prison, or the "joint," as he called it.  The subject was a ragged old man in prayer.  Actually, the painting was very good.  But I couldn't help but marvel at the home itself.  While Barry, along with an older brother and a younger sister, were hedonists and pagans, the parents were Christian crackpots.  The couple had an unsettled, far away look in their eyes and apparently they prayed morning, noon and night, nonstop.  There were framed prints of Jesus on the walls, lambs and doves on the shelves, praying hands that lit up, crosses that glowed in the dark, Last Supper place mats on the table, and other assorted talismans intended, I suppose, to win over God on the one hand and keep the devil at bay on the other.  My impression was that the couple had earlier lived a life steeped in sin and wickedness and had only recently seen the light.  Obviously, they were trying to make up the lost ground with blinding speed. Whatever the cause and effect, the Brach home was a dysfunctional den of crazy fanatics and party beasts.

I lost track of Barry after I got married and moved away.  I do remember running into him once or twice in the next few years and learning that he had caught his new bride in bed with  someone other than himself.  My old friend must have been mellowing and maturing quite a bit at that point since the Barry Brach I once knew would have severely killed or mortally murdered the cuckolder on the spot for such an outrage, rather than walking out the door forever, as he in fact did.