Johnny Too Bad – Part 1
This is a sort of raw and mostly unedited version of a new thing I am writing…Part 1…Figured I try it here. To get some feedback mostly and to maybe test out my legs. It’s been a while since I wrote like this.
As for content. Yes there is a good portion of this that could be called autobiographical…As for what part. Well that’s not really important.
And yes, later I will formally rewrite and edit it.
Part 2 will come in the next few days. Which should be the whole thing….But man these things have a life and heart of their own and if they ask to talk more…I’ll let it.
Thanks for reading.
He woke up late this morning. He should call in to his job, at least make an effort to sound ill and book the day off. But the truth was he couldn’t be bothered. Talking seemed like a monumental effort. In fact just opening his eyes felt like a torture. So he just lay still. There in his bed in his shitty little apartment over the coffee shop. Somewhere just down the road he could hear the approach of a streetcar and mixed in with that all the other noises you’d find in this crazy and rampant neighbourhood. It was familiar enough now that he seldom noticed it. But today he did. Today he noticed that and much more.
Like the smell of blood that drifted so slightly from the floor beside his bed where he had heaped his clothes the night before. It’s a smell he knew in the same way only a doctor might. An organic and coppery smell. It ticked off a part of his brain that reminded him of fear, pain and loss. An ancient place. A familiar one too.
It reminded him of waking up one night as a kid and finding his mother holding part of face on with a red soaked kitchen towel. She had said the wrong thing at the wrong time to his drunk father. And he put her through the wall.
And the smell and the sensation told him about laying in a parking lot an eight inch gash across his abdomen and his life leaking out into a puddled mixture of rain, oil and blood. The police officer crouched beside him talking calmly and slowly, but a look in his eyes said this was bad.
But mostly today the smell reminded him of Too Bad, or what was Too Bad. And the sensation of cradling a friend he’d had for 30 years in his lap as he lost the fight to stay in the game. The man’s fingers accidentally slipping into the massive exit wound while looking for purchase and trying not to let the quickly slackening body fall. The feeling of flesh, tissue and slippery skin barely registering.
Gunshot wounds are never like in the movies. Mostly movies make them seem almost heroic and even at worst they look like some convulsive dance. In real life a man who’s been shot goes either into full-bore lose-his-mind fucking panic or he slips into shock. Either way there is no noble feigning and fall. The face gets ugly, it clenches and grimaces. He howls or moans, calling for God and mother. That’s just the start. See a bullet is a mean motherfucker. It goes in real nice, the film industry has that right. But it picks up muscle, bone and tissue as it blows through the body and then just explodes out the back. More often than not it rattles around the body a bit and doesn’t come out in a straight line either. It’s a disgusting and humiliating mess. A mortally wounded person will shit and piss their pants and even begin to vomit. And then there is no death rattle, no release and no reaching for an invisible hand of an angel. Instead the death just comes and in a wheeze and gasp the victim is gone.
Too Bad went like that. Except just moments before he went he looked up at his friend cradling him, saw the tears and rasped “Fuck Hank…I fucked up didn’t I?” and that was it.
And that was all Hank could think of this morning, in that shitty apartment he’s allowed become a home for one of the old boys from the old neighbourhood. A shitty apartment he’d lived in for six years. Ever since his girlfriend packed up his meager belongings in green garbage bags and told him to kiss his three-year old daughter goodbye. She’d met a guy a work who was better looking and made more money than him and he might as well know he fucked better too. That last part was put in just to take one last cut at him as he left. And truth was it stung a bit…No it fucking burned like a bad burritos just beneath his heart for a couple years after. Even now if he thought about the betrayal and the lies he’d blindly believed, it still burned. The heart, it’s a motherfucker. And he’d sworn off women after that. For a while anyway.
He took a job at a factory. Never going to make him wealthy. But it paid the bills. The new man moved his girlfriend and his daughter away to some small town where he chased any get rich quick scheme that was dangled in front of him. And so without the benefit of a car and a little girl too small to travel alone he saw her once every few months in best case scenario. He’d make the four-hour round trip to pick her up on the bus and get her back for a weekend. It was hardly what he wanted, but life sort of worked that way for him.
Born into poverty, abuse and need. He knew about losing before he ever knew that life didn’t have to work that way. Hell in fact Hank had potential to be something incredible. A bright kid, talented and observant. He had an intuition and logic that made him a naturally creative machine. But life got in the way. The violence, the fear and the hunger came before school work, the future or hope. Still the school board caught up to him and tried it’s best to give him a chance. They bussed him a long way across town to go to school with rich kids who had more opportunity than potential. It was an honourable thing to do. But all it did was make it harder on Hank. He’d sit by himself on the curb across from the school eating a bag lunch and writing in notebooks, stories, poems and secrets. Never showing anyone. Just doing it because all he knew was he had to. Because the only thing in his life was the pervasive and constant feeling of being ashamed, He never quite knew why, but he knew shame. And that was his life.
Except in the old neighborhood.
Because one day in grade three a new kid showed up. A black kid who was just moved into the hood from another government-run project where his mother lived. He’d been sent to live with his grandparents. And where he was from that meant just moving hoods. It wasn’t a move up or better, though the grandparents were kind and there was never junkies and pimps in their house. It was simply out of the frying pan and into the skillet, so to speak.
Hank watched him walk in and the made eye contact. They buffed up and huffed a little. In a way that only young boys do. The teacher Miss Harrison introduced him “Class this is our new student Michael Brown.” to which the little black kid bristled “My name is Too Bad, Johnny Too Bad and you better remember that.” The kid had a faint accent that told of how he was born in Jamaica to a mother and an absent father. The teacher backed up a second then regained her ground and replied “Michael we don’t use nicknames in our class, we like to know each other by the names our parents gave us.” Too Bad looked hard and mean in a way no eight year old ever should and he said “Bitch I said my name is Too Bad, why don’t you get that pin out of your bottom and listen.”
The teacher immediately rushed him out of the class and to the office as the rest of the kids cheered and laughed.
Hank knew two things after that. One, the kid would always be called Too Bad and two, he liked this guy. He had guts.
So when Too Bad came back to class three days later Hank set it up so he could sit next to him for an art project. And they made friends the way kids do. Talking about television shows and superheroes.
Soon they spent most of their time at school together. Recess and lunch were time for pick up sports and Too Bad and Hank always made sure to play on the same sides. And when school yard scraps broke out as they always do in these poor places Too Bad and Hank were there for each other. You took one you got the other,
And this stuck in the neighbourhood too. They became the terrible twosome. They started commiting petty crimes by thirteen and then getting pinched for more serious bits by the time they were sixteen. What they got nabbed for don’t matter. It was just part of growing up where they did and being the guys they were.
They also started drinking and doing drugs together. It almost goes without saying. At first it was beers stolen from Hank’s dad and then a bit of smoke bought from some local slick. Then they started making a few bucks doing what they called “shopping trips” which meant they took orders from people and then headed off to the mall to shoplift whatever the “customer” wanted at a ridiculous discount. When they were done they’d get the customer to buy them a bottle at the liquor store and they’d pick up some kind of dope, something to get them numb.
Well you know how it goes. It happens all the time.
Rehabs, jails, skids and comebacks. Girlfriends and wives, come and gone. It sort of works like a radio, you can buy a thousand different kinds of radio but when it gets right down to it, only the box changes…It’s all the same on the inside.
But through it all they stayed in contact. Never too far apart. A visit to a rehab to offer encouragement, a trip to jail to say hello and drop off a few bucks on an account for smokes and candy. Even the occasional hospital visit when the streets turned mean.
Eventually Hank got out. Well getting out implies some motivational foot stomp and happy ending. What actually happened was Hank took a job at a warehouse to satisfy a prick of a parole officer and he saw this woman riding the bus each morning. She was pretty and looked like she might make a man feel lighter and contented after a good vigorous roll across the bedroom floor. All tits and hips. So one day he screwed up the nerve to introduce himself and ask if she wanted to meet for a beer after work that Friday. Her name was Katy she said and she’d been waiting for him to ask since they first made eye contact.
Well come Friday, a beer and a half down and they were at her little apartment in a heap of twisted clothes, limbs and smells. And he was right. She gave him a workout and a half and a couple times she shuddered and rolled her eyes making him feel like the master of the universe. After ward they went hard in the shower and again on the kitchen counter. It was a relationship founded in sexual acrobatics.
But then Hank and Katy grew closer, in a slow and cautious dance. It was always easier to fuck and growl than it was to whisper and confess. But they did and soon he came to know she lived out a hell on earth equal to his own. And that she was a soft and gentle beauty, unique and kind. She’d leave him notes in his lunch and he’d pick flowers for her from the park down the street. They talked about dreams and the things they never dared to share. And Hank knew he loved her. Better than he knew anything else in his life.
So when she said she was pregnant about six months later Hank was cautiously excited. Maybe he really was done with his old life. He had a good woman, a baby coming and job. The blue-collar dream.
In and out of it all Too Bad came and went. Mostly phone calls. Because he got pinched on a big prize case and the judge was going to send him away a long time.
Too Bad and Katy got along great, like old friends. In fact at times Hank got a little jealous, because he could see the sideways glances she threw and the ones Too Bad didn’t hide. He didn’t think they’d ever go too far. But still. There was still a bit of the street in both and what feels good now is a powerful pull.
Then Too Bad got the rock dropped on him. He was given a ten-year ticket, which meant doing seven before he’d see the sun again.
And well Katy and Hank moved along, with phone calls from Too Bad and an occasional trip out to the federal prison to see him.
Katy gave birth to a girl they named Emily. And aside from missing his friend, Hank figured things were stacking up in his favour for once.
Until that day he came home to three green garbage bags and a cardboard box. And an invitation to get the fuck out.