Monday, December 12, 2011

Something That Made Me Laugh Until I Cried - 12/12/2011

My response to this week's writing group prompt, "Something That Made Me Laugh Until I Cried."

Evidently, weddings are sort of a big deal. Up until couples started staging their events for YouTube, the ceremony tended to be serious and solemn. The binge drinking and antics of embarrassing friends and family were reserved for the reception. Weddings tend to be particularly stately and dignified in the south, where I live, making the episode that I am recounting here even more ridiculous.

My sons, Rick and Josh, graduated from Catawba College, near Charlotte, North Carolina. One of their dormitory suite-mates and best friends was Jamie Gillis from Fayetteville. Through them, I came to know Jamie and as a result was invited to his wedding some years after they graduated. The wedding was held in Salisbury, in the Catawba College chapel.

On the rare occasions that I have been inside a church I like to be close to the exit in case a fire and brimstone situation develops. On this day, I took my usual place in the back of the chapel, far from where Jesus hung out above the altar.

The bride (I have forgotten her name) had already shot past me heading for the alter and my son Josh had still not arrived. Somewhere between "speak now or forever hold your peace" and "sickness and in health" Josh took a seat next to me in the pew. With my eyes, I silently questioned why he was so late. He didn't say a word just opened his jacket. There was a perfect imprint of an iron seared onto the front of his shirt.
At this time it is important for the reader to be made aware that I do not possess an inside voice. For some reason I was blessed or cursed with a very powerful, monotone, speaking voice without benefit of modulation or restraint. Any attempt on my part to whisper generally results in a volume level not much different from my normal speaking voice. Sometimes, I am told, my private voice actually resonates more than my regular speech. That was a problem for me in school, as confidential communique murmured to the person in the desk next to me often reached the teacher's desk full voice. Also, on this particular day, the acoustics of a church amplified that which was already too loud. I believe that design is intended to keep parishioners conscious.

I began to laugh. It was not a chuckle or a snicker. It was a full-fledged guffaw. My amusement triggered laughs from my sons. While their laughter was somewhat courteously subdued, compared to mine, they exceeded the acceptable decibel limit for a church service. I could not stop. The more I tried to control myself, the harder I would laugh. Just when it seemed I had gotten my mirth managed, Josh would again flash his shirt at me.

Soon, everyone in the minster, including the wedding party, was looking back at us. It was not Christian charity reflected on their "shut the fuck up" faces. They take their church ceremonies seriously here in the Bible Belt and any joyful noise must be sanctioned by the congregation and approved by the church council. Just before it seemed we would be ushered out, I managed to regain some command of my emotions and display a modicum of dignity. It is a good thing, because I could not have walked on my own power. I would have had to genuflect to the parking lot.
I never actually stopped giggling, I just was able to confine the sound to my own general area by burying my face in a hymnbook. Tears, drool, and snot will probably prevent any future back pew believer from opening to hymn 234. That page is most likely sealed forever.

I am certain this was the hardest I have ever laughed in my life. At least at something appropriate to discuss in this venue.

Monday, December 5, 2011

First Time Away From Home - 12/5/2011

The prompt for this week's meeting of our writing group was: "First Time Away From Home." This was my response:

The first time Matt killed someone the degree of difficulty was high. It has gotten exponentially easier since. That he was only a child when he took his first life was certainly a factor in the effort required. The guy was one of Matt's mother's boyfriends. Everybody asked him why he had stuck a butcher knife through the drunken, sleeping, guy's throat. He remained silent. He was embarrassed to say that it was because the guy repeatedly tried to touch his wiener. Matt was exiled to juvenile detention where he remained until, at 18, he would be transferred to big boy prison. At 11, Matt was among the youngest, smallest, and whitest inmates at the Tarrant County, Texas facility. That meant that he also had to be the toughest and the smartest.

There was a plethora of wiener-touchers in juvie, both inmates and guards. After Matt had maimed several older convicts and they still would not leave him alone, he formulated ways to kill some of them. He used all of his abundant free time thinking of ways to create murders that appeared to be accidents or suicides. It became a game. The authorities could not link Matt to any of these deaths, but the streetwise thugs knew and as a result he gained mucho respect among the gen pop. Even the guards steered clear of him. "That motherfucker is crazy," was whispered in the exercise yard as he walked by.

By the time he reached his 17th birthday, he was reluctantly crowned the king of the institution. Others came to him for protection, which he gave to those most in need. He divided most of his time between the exercise yard and the library. As a result, both his body and mind were superior to most of his cohabitants.

At 18, as promised, he was transferred to the Texas State Prison at Huntsville. In his nearly 7 years at Tarrant County, Matt had caused the death of 12 wiener-touchers and other creeps. Eleven were inmates and one was a particularly sadistic guard. Some people need killing. He had not had a visitor during his entire incarceration. Evidently his mother was unforgiving about the death of her boyfriend.

Through the criminal grape-vine, Matt's reputation proceeded him to prison. He was seldom challenged and pretty much kept to himself. He only killed 2 men in Huntsville.

A byproduct of his self-absorption was that he was considered a model prisoner and since his only misdeed was committed as a juvenile, he was paroled a week before his 21st birthday. He had spent nearly half of his life incarcerated.

As he walked through the iron personnel gate to freedom, leaving the only home he had really ever known, he had no idea what he was going to do. Other prisoners had told stories of the wonders of the outside world: soft women, hard liquor, and fast cars dominated the fables. He had never experienced any of these pleasures. He had $267.00 in his pocket that he had earned from prison work projects and a duffel bag containing his scant belongings.

Since the prison was located right in Huntsville, he was able to walk the short distance to the city center in just a few minutes. Matt decided he was going to treat himself to an alcoholic beverage. He found what he assumed was a bar since it had neon signs in the windows advertising many kinds of beers. Above the door was the name, The Manhole.

He walked out of the hot, Texas, sun into the cool, stank, darkness of the tavern. He waited a minute for his eyes to adjust to the gloom and then ambled up to the bar and took a seat on a stool.

The bartender asked, "what'll it be, handsome?" Pretty friendly place, Matt thought.

"I don't know. What do you recommend?" he answered, smiling.

"You look like an appletini kind of guy."

"OK, I'll try one."

"Make that two" a voice two stools over said as he slithered onto the stool next to Matt.

As the drinks were delivered, the intoxicated man introduced himself, "I am Adam." He rubbed Matt's thigh as he spoke.

Adam leaned over and whispered something into Matt's ear as his hand moved up to his crotch. Matt experienced a Deja Vu from ten years ago. The same words, fetid breath, and wiener-touching.

Matt put his hands over Adam's ears and with minimum effort, snapped his neck. The man slumped and quietly slid off the stool to the floor. Matt drank down his appletini, savoring the tart flavor as it burnt a trail down his throat. He had no idea how much the drink cost, so he just laid all his money on the bar, told the bartender thanks, picked up his duffel bag, and walked back home. The bitter taste of his hour of freedom still on his lips.