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.I was getting madder and madder, and I was sure my own newly shiny skull was giving me away like a barometer.But I would rise above.“No,” I said coolly, though cool I was not.“No?” Frank said, mock disappointed.“No?” Alex grunted, homicidally disappointed.He brushed by me, stomping toward Frank.“See, this is why I’m here,” he said.“This is just the type of lesson you have missed without a dad.”“Oh God, no, Alex!” I shouted.You may not be surprised to find out that my shout had no noticeable effect.Alex ran up and locked up with a suddenly worried-looking Frankie.Had to admit the very, very rare sight of a disconcerted Frank was not an unwonderful thing.but I couldn’t enjoy it for long.He looked at me desperately for help as my enraged uncle grappled with him in a kind of Greco-Roman tango.“Please stop,” I said from pretty far away.“Hey, really,” Mike said, inching up closer to them.“Cut it out.This is really foolish.”“Ya,” Frank said.“Shut up,” Alex barked.“Not so tough now, huh? Not so smart with your mouth now, huh?”“Well, I didn’t think—”“Shut up,” Alex snapped again.“Well, you asked me a question,” Frank answered.I thought it would fizzle out in a few seconds when the players realized how stupid they looked.They didn’t; it didn’t.Frank, for his part, seemed to be doing a reasonable job of just restraining Alex, who was going at him like Don Quixote at a windmill.Until Alex grew rapidly, visibly tired.He flailed, struggled.Grappled.Then finally let his arms fall to his sides.Without further incident, Frankie let go of him.Which was when my ex-con uncle made his move, smacking Frank crisply on the side of his head, snapping that head sideways.A whole new ballgame.Frankie’s face was red, his hair was asymmetrical, and he was serious.He grabbed Alex by the shirt and Alex grabbed him by the shirt and they pushed left and right trying to wrestle each other to the sidewalk.What I did not expect was Mikie jumping in.He didn’t jump in the way rowdies jump into a brawl.But he did jump in seeming to believe Frankie was the one needing help.“Aw cripes,” I said out loud as I scurried over and.Never ever thought I would have need for this combination of words, not in my lifetime, not in any possible context.But here goes:I jumped in.I couldn’t believe it even as it was happening.The whole crowd of us toppled over like a great, big, idiot sundae.Frankie fell backward with Alex on him, with Mikie on him, with me on him.It hurt, four guys falling comically, more than you would expect it to.I took it upon myself to speak for the crowd and shout, “Ouch,” when my knuckles first hit the pavement, then my head followed as I rolled off the mound.I reached back to use my new muscles and start pulling jokers out of the pile.Deep, deep humiliation set in as I had this vision of what was going on.It is a gift I have, a gift given to me by God or Santa or whichever giveth/taketh away being assigns these things out, to keep me from ever getting delusions of grandeur or of dignity.It is the ability/misfortune to actually visually witness myself at the nonsense of my life as if I were a regular paying customer like you, rather than the mere victim of it all.Sometimes I’m blessed enough to see things that aren’t even happening in the literal physical sense but only metaphorically like the time I saw clearly the scene of the Last Supper in which all of the apostles were me and at the center was Jesus, holding a brownie way up over his head and making all twelve of me jump for it.But that was different, though no less humiliating.Here I could see myself and my uncle, with our hysterically glowing heads, fighting it out on the street with my two oldest friends, like a pair of Mr.Freezes vs.Batman and Robin.And if you are thinking right now that I’ll say, how could it possibly get any worse, forget it.Just forget it.I’m not biting that hook ever again, no way.A spell was broken, fortunately, when I pulled Mikie up.First he spun on me in a kind of hostile way.Then his face was there, looking into mine.And, we got it.He all but rapped himself on the head with his knuckles and gave himself a duh.Together we got the rest of it cleaned up.Mikie pulled at Frank, and I grabbed Alex.Without words, Mikie started walking him away down the street.I waved him on, nodding, hurrying him along.He nodded, waved, disappeared.To leave me sitting on the curb with the man.“Well, how stupid was that?” I said.Expecting, I guess, exhaustion to bring agreement.“Very stupid,” he said weakly.“And humiliating.”“Right.” This was going too well.“You should have hit him.God, you take a lot of crap off people, Elvin.”“I do not.”“Yes, you do.And your dad wouldn’t want that.Your dad would want to know that you were taking care of yourself.That would be important to him.It’s important to me.I want to help straighten you out before it’s too late.”I thought about it.No, that’s too strong.I attempted to think about it.But it was futile.I simply could not manage to relate to what he was telling me, no matter how genuine his intentions were.“It was just Mikie and Frankie, Alex,” I said.“Ya, and if you can’t straighten out those two cream puffs—”“You weren’t exactly mopping up the floor with them yourself, Uncle Alcatraz.You know what I think, I think maybe you were never in prison at all.”It was a joke.See, if I said you had never gone to jail you would see that as a good thing.His gleaming but scuffed white head dropped into his hands.He stared at the small swatch of ground in between his long, skinny feet, though one of them was mostly shoe.When he spoke it was soft and muffled and cracked so I was forced to lean in to him to hear properly.“I used to be a lot tougher than that, I swear.”“It’s okay,” I said quickly, before he cracked open the antidepressants.“It’s not okay.”“You did fine.”“I was a disgrace.”“You were not a.well, how do you mean?”“I used to be tough.I wanted to show you how to be tough.I’m messing up everything now.”“No, no, no, not at all.Listen.All right, I’ll tell you, I sort of have been wanting to do that, stand up to those guys, shut them up for a while.Been waiting a long time, in fact.Like, ten years.If it weren’t for you, I never would have even done it.It was kind of fun, in the end.Kind of a rush.I just might do it again.”“Now?” He perked up, raised his head, breathed a tiny bit faster.“Um, maybe later.”“Oh.Okay then.”I put my arm around his shoulders.It felt very weird.Even the sight of my hand on another guy’s shoulders looked foreign and peculiar enough to cause me to stare.I couldn’t think of another person I had done that to.Mikie? I don’t know.Probably.Would figure.Why wouldn’t I? But I couldn’t recall, or picture, it.Frankie? I’d probably remember.No, not necessarily.Didn’t matter.I could do it, could have done it already.But it must have been pretty far from natural since here I was sitting bald and bruised on a curb, and fixated on the sight of my arm around a shoulder of a similarly bald and bruised guy.And he was all grown up.“Thanks,” I said.He smiled broadly, and no longer looked anything like all grown up.I got up, stood over him, helped him to his feet.He felt very light, more like opening a door than lifting a whole person.“I really was a lot tougher before.I swear it.”“Before what?” I asked.“Before everything.Before your dad died.Before I did stupid things.Before I spent too much time in prison.Before I came out.Before I got sick, then better, then sick again.Before I lost it [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]