Dedicated to my truest friend. Though nameless, it hasn’t let me down and always scares the crap out of people so that I never have to kill. May it serve me well while I have it, and may I be able to afford something better, because Hail Marys make for good movies but lousy reality when you’re trying to survive.
If life is impartially recorded, then it appears to be an unbroken river which twists, turns, rises and falls from the moment it begins until it ends.
For better or worse, the totality of our lives can not be recorded. There’s always a gap, then more than one, then there are the moments quiet and otherwise when we think to ourselves and nobody but we will ever know what they were about, or be able to judge the physical and social impact of those thoughts.
Because we can’t record it either, what we call life is really a broken series of snapshots, like a cartoonist’s flapping pages with long and short breaks in between.
And so this story begins in one of those snapshots, its effects still rippling a quarter of a century later…
“He was struggling to make sense of everything around him, but every moment of the day spent there was an exercise in mental S&M coupled with a sense of bewilderment that bordered on incomprehensibly insane 'alienness', if there is such a word to describe how both sides viewed each other. The expectations didn’t match reality. Where he thought to once again be free of uniforms such as he wore for so many years one country and one continent ago, he wore a blue blazer (suit jacket), white shirt, tie, grey pants, grey socks with the school’s colors at the top and black shoes. His spirit chafed against the imposed uniformity, the tie choked him and he found it hard to think with the damned thing around his neck, while the combination of wool and polyester made static electricity shocks an unpleasant fact of life whenever he opened a door.
Where he used to sit in his assigned classroom waiting for the teacher to come, he now had to hump a bag stuffed with 30 pounds of books and sundries from class to class. Lockers? There weren’t any. Shit, Americans didn’t know how easy they had it… His school lacked the magic of Hogwarts long before J.K. Rowling even thought of penning the first Harry Potter book, but it had many things in common: there were self-important and stern teachers, a combination of hall and class monitors. The students were divided in ‘houses’ which made a lie of ‘Ex Unitate Vires’, toilets were assigned not only by gender as normal, but also by seniority, with grades 8 and 9 sharing those on the ground floor, the 10 and 11s on the first floor and 12th graders on the top floor. Okay, so shit flows downhill, but this is ridiculous my man/woman. Then there were rules and punishments. So many of them that he always thought going to school every morning was like going to prison.
Come to school late enough, and you either had to spend your weekend writing out enough crap from the chosen textbook that you puked, or were put in detention during lunch break and deprived of food, even when you are forced to rely on others to get you there, be they parents or bus drivers with their own schedules. Don’t do your homework or assigned project and you’re going to have a teacher play golf with your butt. Argue with a teacher or debate things to the point at which they couldn’t reply and you’d be branded a troublemaker and dealt with- sessions with the guidance counsellor were in there, but so were corporal punishment and the possibility of suspension or expulsion. Rules, rules, more rules… Fucking rules, it’s like being back in the old country for fuck’s sake, he always thought. Still, if there was one thing he’d learned in seven years of hell was how to play with rules and people after evaluating the system in which he operated, so he got by. Yeah, they had rules, but the weak elements were the limits they had and the inflexible yet somewhat disinterested mindset of the teachers, which made them ineffective enough at wielding power that he could twirl a few things on his fingers.
Nevertheless, if a system has a frequency and amplitude it operates on for its own benefit and that of the user, there is what lies beyond those limits of what can be accommodated that matters, for this is where pain comes from. Well, he was about to find one of those limits, as well as what lay beyond it.
Summer was over and autumn was all around. The temperature had dropped sufficiently for the headmaster (Americans call them “principals”) to authorize wearing that damned dark blue polyester blazer, long-sleeved shirt and tie. Maybe the collar was tight, or maybe he just didn’t like wearing what felt like a leash around his neck. God knows, but he sure had an intense dislike of ties. It felt like blood was pooled below his neck and was struggling to push above the collar. His brain felt sluggish, panicked, unable to come up with quick responses. God damn it, but it sucked!
Still, it wasn’t the tie or uniform that did it. Nope, it was Mother Nature playing with the stomach. Man, all of a sudden he felt his guts turn to liquid, a cramp hit him and he doubled over, trying to control his breathing so he didn’t lose control over his sphincter. Right then he wished he was a Sphinx staring at eternity with placid contempt, let me tell you, but it wasn’t on the cards. Instead the cards showed an immediate need to prevent an explosive detonation in his briefs along with wildly blinking arrows towards the toilet. He went fast, burst in (okay, so the door was closed, but it was a dynamic entry nevertheless) and went for the nearest stall.
SHIT!!! No joy, it was occupied. So was the second, third, seventh or whatever. Uh oh, this is bad… Gotta get to a crapper and drop trou’ NOW or else, goddammit! Okay, alternatives? Go upstairs, stat! So he did, and while that toilet was a bit crowded, he found a stall. Alright! Get in, lock door, loosen belt, unbutton pants and let them fall, grab jockeys and yank the motherfuckers down, hike and hold shirt and frigging blazer, squat and- RELIEF! Luckily there was still “white gold” (he’d learn 9 years later what the term meant) and business got taken care of. Now composed, he straightened himself out and unlocked the door. He opened it and… There stood a skinny mountain of a guy two years his senior with a switchblade knife in his hand. What the fuck?
It turned out this guy wanted to stab him to death for being in a toilet reserved for grades 10 and 11. ‘But that doesn’t make any sense, what was I gonna do, shit myself in public?’ he thinks. The guy moves in. The switchblade has a green handle, the button is bright steel, the blade sharp and point even sharper. Motherfucker! Students are not supposed to carry weapons, what the fuck is this? ‘You mean to tell me some dumb asshole wants to kill me for using a toilet? What’s wrong with the people in this fucking country’? But there’s the guy holding a knife and that’s what he wants to do, believe it or not. He looks him straight in the eye, aware that none of the students in the toilet would help him, and calmly explains the situation, starting from the cramp all the way to the desperation that drove him to this particular shit house, bringing up the human angle and unavoidability of necessity in order to elicit some sympathy or empathy and prevent being stabbed.
God damn it, but it sucks to have to rely on the hope there’s a spark of humanity or decency in the guy who’s trying to kill you. He spoke in an even tone, unwavering in his desire to live, constantly looking for a way out that wasn’t there and he hoped. Somehow common sense prevailed, threats of death were made regarding a next time and a promise made not to use that toilet again. The switchblade was folded and placed in a pocket, the guy stood to one side still swearing and he got the fuck out of there. Every system vibrates on a certain frequency and has a set amplitude for the waves within it. He’d just found a guy willing to go to extremes to step on whatever went beyond it. That was clear, but so were other things.
First, it became clear that while there were rules, some were not enforced because doing it was a pain in the ass- this is how a guy could not only bring a knife to school but have the gall to pull it on somebody without fear. Second, it was ‘as clear as the balls on a tall dog’ to quote Steve Tyler of Aerosmith that if security was a joke, there was only one thing anybody serious about being safe could do, and that was to take charge of personal security and rules be damned because it’s better to be judged by one (no jury system in this country) than carried by six. Third, due to locals’ xenophobia and his home country’s relative geopolitical weakness, it was unlikely those in charge would protect him or launch a government-level protest along with ensuring remedial action was taken if he got killed. So, on to number four, which was an offspring of number two- get a weapon to protect yourself.
The day went on without him saying anything about the incident to anyone, but wheels were turning. He couldn’t get a gun because he was an immigrant and underage. The thought of a Kevlar vest didn’t occur to him, but if it had, the vest would’ve been too expensive. Brass knuckles? Tempting, but not terribly helpful. Putting enough coins in a sock to use as a cosh was years before he thought of such things. Still, he had to do something. A knife! Yup, that’s it. Okay, what kind of knife? Fixed blade is not good. What happens if it falls out of your pocket or waistband? What if somebody spots the bulge? What if you cut yourself? No go. Hmm… Switchblade? Ideal, but too expensive for his savings. A folding blade knife? Nope, takes too long to open if you’re in a close quarters fight. Wait a minute, what about a push-blade knife? It’s compact, you can wear a moon bag under your blazer and keep it inside and it has a pretty strong psychological impact when you pull out something small and at the push of a button it not only gets bigger, but becomes instantly deadly too. Damn, that’s the ticket.
So, he went home, took off his uniform and dressed in civvies, then visited the pawn shop a few blocks up the street. They had the knife he was looking for and he spent his savings on the damned thing. Next day, the moon bag was around his waist, the knife in it and a warm feeling security coupled with very hot defiance and decision to never back down from another threat on his life made things better. He couldn’t resist showing it to one of his compatriots, but he never had to pull it on anybody for as long as he had the thing. Luckily so, because it turned out the blade’s internal locking strips were made out of cheap metal and wouldn’t have held up to the pressure of a stab, which he found out a few days later when he tried to stick it in a tree trunk. Still, he learned a hard lesson that day. If you want to stay alive, don’t depend on the system and take whatever measures you can to stay alive until somebody can help you- if they’re willing, that is. Most won’t lift a finger, so it’s up to you to get busy living or get busy dying. Hell, the risk is always there, so death is not much of a factor when you realize that the only thing left to do when you’re about to kick the bucket is to do what you can to ensure that your death is as expensive as possible. In other words, if you’re going to die, take the other guy along. After all, what’s society gonna do, cry and/or condemn you? Fuck them, what difference does that make to the dead? None, as he found out nine years later.
Twenty-five years went by, but to this day he’s got something made of hard rubber, harder plastic and even harder steel no further than half an arm length at all times, even (or especially) if going to the toilet- because a man has no better friend than the good quality weapon he carries in a world and country which has only the thinnest veneer of docile civilization above the savagery which always lurks beneath. Why? Simple. Those who live by the sword, knife, gun or any other weapon, get to live at least a day longer than those who do not, for this is the world of the survivor, the strong and ruthless, those determined to survive instead of dying heroically or stupidly.
‘Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’- that’s goddamn right’ said Ellis Boyd “Red” Reddington played by Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption movie. Which have you chosen? Which will you choose?"