Kings of Destruction

20 Feb 2006

All that talk of rum reminds me of another story ... I guess I'll have to preface, it though, with some sort of explanation since it's not strictly a Midwestern story. You know, I was watching a DVD about a year ago called "An Evening with Kevin Smith" (the guy who wrote and directed several films such as "Clerks," "Chasing Amy," "Dogma," etc.). On the DVD , one of Smith's actors complained that Kevin didn't like it when other people veered from the script while filming, and yet Kevin did so himself on occasion. He made some great remark that I can't completely recall now (and, which I'm also way too lazy to actually research) -- something to the effect of, "Yeah, well, I wrote the movie. So, when I improvise, it's like doing another draft." So, that's kind of the vibe I'm going after in this section. I'm revising the entire concept of the book to include a few similarly unusual things that happened to me, but not necessarily in the Midwest. However, since I'm a recovering Midwesterner, I think these things are still somehow relevant to the book. After all, the perspective here counts for something; and, I don't think that has changed all too much in twenty years.

It's easy to rationalize one's own actions as harmless pranks, even when they were clearly wrong and somewhat destructive. For example, I remember waking up early one morning wrapped in the Union Jack --still drunk enough to have no hangover yet --wondering about the night before. And then slowly it returned to me. That's right, I did scale that flagpole after all, carrying a pair of scissors in my teeth like a pirate. And, somehow, hanging on with just one arm twenty feet up over the boulevard, I cut that awesome looking flag down. And, I probably did worse things than that. (Well, okay, I definitely did.)

But, then there are the purely destructive types. I'm not talking about your marginally destructive kid -- because we had plenty of these where I was from. They almost seemed ordinary to me, in fact. I'm talking about the special cases, those for whom vandalism was a calling, those for whom the destruction itself was the main allure. And, that's the difference between run of the mill mischief and pure destruction. Well, maybe. I don't know.

Patrick lived one floor below mine in school --well, for the entire half-semester he managed to matriculate at the school. [I've named him Patrick in this memoir because, in my mental movie version of this book, I've cast Patrick Dempsey as this character, even though he's way too old now to play a college freshman.] At first blush, he seemed nice enough, like most of the other rich Jersey brats. He liked to drink beer, and had a real affinity for barbecue (qualities any Midwesterner could appreciate). He smoked like a fiend, though. By the time I'd met him, he'd filled most of an entire Bacardi bottle with cigarette ashes -- not the butts, just ashes. I asked him what in the world he wanted to do with the bottle.

What was interesting to me was that he looked as though he'd never really considered this. "I don't really know," he said. "But, now that you mention it, when it's full, maybe I'll piss in it and then throw it through someone's front window or something." In other words, he didn't consciously understand why he kept them until I'd asked. This impressed me in some strange way -- not in the way that one is impressed, for example, to see someone perform a flawless Chopin waltz on a piano; but, similarly, the way one can be impressed by being in the vicinity of an artist. And, to further clarify this point, when I say the word "artist," I'm referring to someone who has taken his or her talent and applied it in such a way as to be considerably more effective (either in a positive way or a negative way) than all the rest of those in his or her category. This guy was so utterly destructive that he instinctively knew not to throw his ashes away. Even as the cogs and wheels of his brain cranked and spun in his ordinary waking life, a parallel set of diabolical gears cranked and spun the other way, always preparing for an opportunity to destroy something.

I didn't get to see the many lapses of civility that got the kid placed on probation early on. But, I did by chance witness his swan song --the coup de grA¢ce, if you will, that ended his college career. I have to admit; there were moments of artistry involved unlike anything I've seen before or since. We had wound up at the same building late one night. I can't recall why I was there -- waiting for someone, I believe. And, I don't know why he was there either. I also don't recall what kind of conversation we had, but I remember him eyeing up a payphone in the hall. I wondered if he planned on vandalizing the phone, perhaps ripping the handset out or some other usual act of stupidity. But, he didn't. He just kept running his hands over it, around it, behind it, as he spoke to me completely normally, they way you might talk about the weather.

In the mean time, my other friend had finished his business and we began to leave. However, before going, I glanced back in Patrick's direction. Instead of standing next to the payphone where he once was, he was now engaged in an all-out war on that telephone. Neither of his feet toughed the floor at this point; he was entirely *on the wall*. His feet straddled the phone and he had wedged each hand behind the phone, straining with all of his might to pull the entire device from the wall. And, so you had this amazing moment of effort going on, for perhaps four or five whole seconds. If you'd turned your head to the side the right way, I suppose it may have looked like he was standing on the floor attempting to lift some two hundred pound dead weight. It almost defied gravity, come to think of it. But then, the whole system gave way. The wall cracked open and Patrick, the payphone, and heaps of plaster and wooden lath went flying outward, crashing to the floor with an unimaginable clatter.

Well, I knew damn well to vacate the premises pronto. But, I did stand outside to listen to the aftermath for a moment. One of the resident assistants came flying down the stairs shouting, "What the hell happened here?!"

While I couldn't see inside at this point, I guessed that Patrick must have been standing there dusting himself off frantically. I heard him attempt to talk his way out of it. He took on an incredulous tone that suggested he was equally as shocked as the resident assistant. "I was just standing here minding my own business," he said, "and some freak came through and tore the phone off the wall." For perhaps the first time in his life, no one bought the line of bullshit he was issuing. And, Patrick bought himself a one-way ticket back to New Jersey .

Anyway, hang with me, folks, for another quick tangent (tomorrow), and then I'll get back into the Midwest proper.

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