Payback is a thing you gotta see,
Brother do any damn thing to me.
~ James Brown, The Payback
I can be rather melancholy at times. This is not meant in its traditional meaning of “sad” or “depressed,” though. Rather, it’s a term I picked up a few years ago that describes a certain, rather pensive, often detached personality type. (Now, if you know me, you certainly know that I’m not always this way. But, I definitely can be at times.) Anyway, it explains a lot about why I’ve always been rather skeptical about things — why, for example, I used to sit in church and, instead of praying, I’d just watch everyone else, fascinated by their unquestioning faith.
Anyway, years ago, my melancholy side provided a theory about the way a lot of guys communicate. When men hang out together regularly (specifically, groups of social friends or office workers), there are often long stretches of time — sometimes for years on end — during which every single utterance between them falls into one of the following three categories: (1) lighthearted jokes and/or smartass remarks, (2) sports talk, and (3) miscellaneous, painfully shallow communications. Maybe it’s not just guys who do this, come to think of it. When’s the last time anyone at your office — anyone at all — ever said anything truly important? And, don’t get me wrong … I’m not a killjoy or anything like that; I like a good joke as much as the next guy. (If you read these stories, you should be able to tell what kind of a sense of humor I have.)
On rare occasions, I’ve seen this paradigm of normality shift and watched the lightheartedness disappear. Emotional events like the sudden unexpected death of a family member or friend, an injury or divorce, someone getting fired, or even a good old fashioned roach infestation, can trigger a pause in the normal all-joke banter within a small close-knit group of guys. You get serious for a minute, and a space opens in which an earnest conversation can take place for once. Picking up where I left off in the last installment, you need to understand that the atmosphere in the park gazebo that night was such a rare moment — myself, Alec Baldwin, and Michael Keaton, sobering up in the moonlight.
This story relates to a particularly evil resident of my neighborhood, Jeremy Irons. Right away, I didn’t like the guy. He sort of had that unfortunate first impression with a majority of people. By the time I’d reached 16 years old, I’d developed a healthy hatred for the man — not for anything specific he’d done to me, of course. But, for general indications I’d had. These included, but were not limited to: (1) his regularly leaving his dog outside on no more than 5 feet of chain (on even the bitterest winter days when the wind chill would sometimes hit 30 or 40 degrees below zero); and (2) his inability to ever wave hello at his neighbors.
Everything about the guy went bad, now that I think about it. You know the dog I mentioned? The entire neighborhood watched it die one day — although I must say that the dog’s passing was viewed by some as strangely triumphant. Mr. Irons had brought the dog to the entrance of our neighborhood up along the highway, where almost every community resident gathered one afternoon because the Olympic torch relay was going to pass by.
It was a bright, breezy, comfortable day at the top of the neighborhood. People spread out among the tall pine trees that lined the woods at the entrance to our little cranny of the world. Perhaps fifty to sixty people showed up; many brought snacks and lawn chairs and blankets, and some waved American flags or tossed frisbees back and forth with friends as we waited for a glimpse at the famous torch.
About a half-hour before the torch was to pass, the young lab seized a rare opportunity to escape his torturous captor. The dog committed hari-kari. That is to say, of course, he threw himself directly into the path of a monstrous tractor trailer traveling at roughly fifty miles per hour. This was no accident. He didn’t run along side of it and inadvertently fall beneath it; in fact, he leapt into the truck’s path, demonstrating a desperate will, if you ask me.
Well, the mood turned from festive to somber, of course, as Jeremy quietly gathered the dog’s remains and marched alone back down to his home about a half-mile away. He never witnessed the torch relay — although the relay itself had been permanently relegated to the day’s denouement instead of its climax.
I specifically mentioned being 16 years old, above, because that’s the year I acquired my first electronic keyboard, a Korg Poly-61 synthesizer. This was a state-of-the-art machine at the time. I’d abandoned classical piano lessons in favor of playing mind-bogglingly easy-to-play tunes like Van Halen’s Jump, Bon Jovi’s Runaway, and Journey’s Separate Ways in a high school cover band. (Beethoven’s Fur Elise will only get you so much recognition with girls, after all.)
Besides a classic synth sound, the Korg Poly-61 could imitate a helicopter almost perfectly. If you really practiced, you could start out with a helicopter in the distance and have it get louder until it sounded like the thing was hovering in the room. Well, I hated that bastard Irons, you know. One night it occurred to me that it might be fun to torment the guy. I knew very little about the man, but I heard he was a Vietnam veteran. I thought it might be fun to aim my amplifier out the window at night and play ominous chopper noises directed at his house. That’s really fucked up, I know. And, of course, I don’t advocate playing mind games with veterans. But, when you truly hate someone, you do what you can to get at them.
Whether I ever drove the guy nuts is anyone’s guess. But, I now know the bastard had it coming, and then some. Instead of a cruel teenager acting out on his hatred of a cranky old jerk, I view my torment of the guy as simply an instrument of the bad karma he’d brought upon himself.
In any case, recall the gazebo and the serious conversation. Michael Keaton sat up and said, “You guys remember Mr. Irons?” We nodded. Everyone knew the guy. In addition to the wacko information I’ve provided already, he was an elementary school teacher, and his daughter was quite attractive and only a year or two younger than us. “I never told anyone this before,” he said, “but lately I’ve been thinking about something that happened to me in grade school.”
You see where this is going, of course. To make a long story short, Michael told us that Mr. Irons had apparently molested him years ago. It’d been brewing for ages in Michael’s head and, judging from the description, it had finally come to a boil. Or maybe it wasn’t brewing in his head; perhaps it was a case of a repressed memory that had surfaced recently. I’m not sure.
Within days after that night, I’d heard that someone had thrown a cinder block through the Irons’ front picture window. Smashed the whole fucking thing in. The culprit was never caught, although a few guys (myself, Alec Baldwin, and Michael Keaton) knew damn well who did it — and we weren’t saying a friggin’ word.
Here comes the melancholy side of me again … Now, I’m no priest, cleric, monk, holy man, or other type of person prone to preaching. But, I think it’s philosophically interesting to consider the karmic circumstances here. This story illustrates quite an extended incubation period — nearly 10 years — for the “payback” of a crime. And, I don’t mean to imply that the score was settled, either, as it seems to me Mr. Irons may have additional cinder blocks in his future.
Michael apparently made a career of it; he went on to become a cop, doling out justice for a living. I’ll bet you any amount of money that, every time Michael throws some criminal up against his squad car, a little of that rage bubbles to the surface.
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains his personal blog, “Hawthorne Crow,” and a web design blog, “Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine.” He also contributes to various Medium.com publications. Find him at JPDbooks.com, his Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or via email at Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest novel, CHROO, is available on Amazon.com. If you enjoy humorous literary tales, please grab a copy!