A Tough Dose of Reality

I suppose there is someone in every town that feels the need to prove themselves. My guess is there’s always someone looking to be a gangster or a cowboy or tough enough to stand out in a crowd and have people call them “Crazy.”

In one of his crazy interviews, Charles Manson was asked, “Is Charles Manson crazy?” to which he replied, “Well, whatever that means. Sure, he’s crazy. He’s mad as a hatter. What difference does it make? You know, a long time ago being crazy meant something. Nowadays, everybody’s crazy.”

Without the pun, there was something crazy about this truth. This means there is a difference.
There is a difference between crazy and certifiable. Either way, in every town there is always someone looking to prove their ranks in the certifiable range.
They do this to stand out to be the “One” that no one messed with. There is always someone looking to be the gangster-type or the rock star with a “Billy the Kid” reputation and the battle scars to prove it.
The problem with the tough guy scenario is there is always someone around, looking to oblige, and make a challenge for the title. 

I watched a man stare down the barrel of a gun one night in the parking lot of a place called Panama Jake’s.
This was a good place for the underaged crowd because the door was 18 to enter and 21 to drink. However, the bartenders were far from strict and the ages were also far from accurate.
There were fights at the bar that often bled out into the parking lot. There were rival towns showing up to jump people from other neighborhoods — and then of course, there was a string of tough guys; all of them looking to prove themselves and all of them looking to show off their muscles and the fact that they were as crazy as they pretended to be — or mad as a hatter, or whatever that means.

On the night of the gun, I saw a man face down a bunch of kids. He was certainly much bigger than the group he faced. He approached closer and closer to the punk that was holding the pistol. “Go ahead. Pull it,” said the man. “Go head!”
It turns out the gun was actually a pellet gun. No one else knew that. The man that approached the kids certainly never knew it.
The kid that pulled the pellet gun received the beating of his life that night. He and his friends were jumped by others as well. They were kicked around the parking lot for a while until the punishment fit their crime. The group of kids bled and hopefully, they all learned a lesson.

When asked why he approached the youngster with the gun, the man told me, “Because sometimes people act crazy until they actually meet someone that really is.”
He told me, “Besides, no one ever hears the shot that gets them. If that kid was for real, I wouldn’t be standing here, talking to you. I’d be a chalk outline and stuffed in a body bag somewhere. “

Manhood is truly an elastic term. Manhood means different things to different people. Some people define manhood as strength; however, strength is relative. What does strength mean anyway?
Some people think manhood means to know it all or to always have the answer. Some people believe manhood is a work ethic.
And me, when I was a kid I believed that real men drink beer. Real men drink blackberry brandy when it gets cold outside. Men eat everything on their plate. They lift up heavy things. They know their way through a fight — they either address it or defeat it, but in no way shape or form does a man ever back down from a fight or a challenge.
No one can squash a real man, which, by the way is all I ever wanted to be. I used to say, “A real man never rats on his friends,” but I later changed this idea because as I grew, I learned that a real man does not have to rat on his friends. Real men are never in situations where this has to come into question.

With a cringe, I admit to my past. I admit to the late night illegal entries, crawling through someone’s house as if I were some kind of cat burglar or some big-time jewel thief. I made a few scores, which never amounted to much more than a few short term gains. I was a punk kid too. I just never pointed a pellet gun at anyone.

There were a few jobs that I did, which I can say that yes, looking back, I must have been crazy to do something like that.
I must have been out of my mind to think any of this was a good idea. In fact, I had to be crazy (or painfully afraid and insecure) to think that I had a good reason for something, like say, the time we torched a car because someone allegedly owed a friend some money.

None of this was ever confirmed by the way. Nor were the reports that this person hit a girl on more than one occasion. Nor were the rumors that this person did anything or said anything about me to some of my friends, but either way — I must have been out of my mind to be part of anything like this.
I suppose the idea of being crazy linked me to a shield which I could hide behind. I could use this as a guise of protection — and when accused, I answered the alleged accusation with the only answer that made sense.
I said, “ Tell that mother fucker that I said just be glad you weren’t in the car.”
The accusation never came to my face by anyone official, such as the police, for example. Instead, this came at me through a friend delivering a message. From what I was told, my message was received without comment. And there I was, a tough guy, right?
Wrong . . .
I remember driving by and seeing this young man standing outside in the cold winter streets in a pair of his boxer shorts with socks on and a sweatshirt.
He was looking at his car that was scorched from the flames. The swirling lights from the fire department rolled around the neighboring homes. There was a small crowd of neighbors watching the scene. And yes, mission accomplished. The young man was defeated.

I never shared this as openly as now however, if I am to share this then let me be honest. To be a tough guy means to be callous. Nothing matters. There is no emotion.
If I have to tell the truth then I have to be honest and admit that I felt badly.
I felt terrible because I know what it’s like to have people against me. I know what it’s like to be publicly humiliated and shamed. I certainly know how it feels to have a target on my back.
Was this manhood?

I have met people that spent most of their lives defying God — or at least defying their version of God and yet, meanwhile, in the worst of times, they’ve hit their knees (in one form or another) and prayed with all their might.
“Please God, just get me out of this one.”

I had a friend named Vince that told me, “It doesn’t work that way.”
Vince told me, “If you’re on one side then you’re on one side.”
“You’re either a tough guy or you’re not.”
“You can’t go back and forth,” Vince said.
“Man cannot serve two masters.”

I have seen my share of problems and seen the inside of overnight holding cells on more than one occasion. I have heard the retching and the dry heaves from the drunks in the drunk tanks and I have listened to their howling complaints echo down the corridor of a holding facility.
I have heard the in-cell jailhouse lawyers tell other inmates what to do about their charges.
I have heard the sound of men crying in little jail cells, awaiting their fate before meeting the judge.
I have also witnessed people rest comfortably in the same situations. Obviously, they had been there before. None of this was odd or off-putting to them.
Instead, this was only more of the same. Why bother worrying when they know they’ll get their “Three hots and a cot,” and why argue when all this does is build a resume of what it means to be a tough guy?

There was a young man that saw himself as an up and coming gangster. He acted and pretended. He lied a lot too but somehow, he landed a connection and became big enough in the cocaine world for law enforcement to notice. Truth is however, it wasn’t him that law enforcement noticed. They noticed the connections, which were much bigger than a small time dealer.

One night, the young man was taken into custody. The detectives grabbed him off the street with no one else around. They used the young man because he was weak — so they leaned on the young man until he broke.
Rather than take a charge, the young man gave up as much information as the detectives needed.
Fortunately, the young man had parents with enough money for a good attorney. He signed a deal and got away with this.
Needless to say, the young man had to move to another town. He was on good behavior for a short period but as the old saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
Eventually the young man went back to his old tricks. He talked a big game and convinced a few of the younger lackeys to join him in a business proposition.

There was a leak of information about a local business that was not so local to them. The young man and his crew broke into the local business. The heist was bigger than expected.
There was a lot of money hidden in the basement, which they found and splurged between the group.
The young man acted like he was the boss of all bosses. He acted like something out of a movie. The problem is he bragged. He showed off like a peacock and spread his feathers.
He and his little group were out one night. They ran into a group of girls, which, of course, the young man wanted to impress one of them. He acted like a tough guy with all the angles. He was a real criminal and organized like a true mobster.

To be impressive, he told a girl about the entire job he pulled off.  Turns out as unlikely as he thought this could be, the girl was a longtime, family friend of the local business owner.
Next day, the young man was picked up and brought in. They leaned on him and the same as last time — the young man broke.
He broke the same ways as last time. He gave the police every name. He tried to negotiate the problem the way he did during his first arrest; however, he forgot one pertinent part of the deal. He spilled his guts before having a lawyer draw up the papers to sign a deal. 

After his confession, the young man asked, “Okay, how is this gonna work?”
The detective explained, “They’re going to hold you overnight and then you’ll be in front of the judge in the morning.”
“But I just told you everything you wanted to know,” replied the young man.
“What do you think this is,” asked the detective.
“Let’s make a deal?”
“You can’t just roll over on your friends and expect to get away with this!”

It was said the young man was in a holding cell alone to await his time before the judge. And one by one, shortly thereafter, all of his friends involved were paraded past him. And one by one, the escorting officers pointed to the young man sitting alone in a cell and said, “Look, there he is. There’s your friend right there.”
The snickering laughter by the officers echoed with curses like, “Fuckin’ rat!” down the corridor. 

I suppose my friend Vince was right. If you’re on one side then you’re on one side. There is no back and forth. You’re either a tough guy or you’re not. Man cannot serve two masters.

Sometimes I see these young kids and I watch them flex. I see them in some of the facilities I’ve spoken in.
I’ve seen them in the precinct before questioning. I’ve seen them at schools after some of my presentations.
They’re crazy, alright. They’re mad as a hatter (or whatever that means) but what’s the difference? Being crazy used to mean something. Nowadays, everybody’s crazy until they find themselves facing crazy right in the eyes — and suddenly, there’s nowhere to hide. Mommy and Daddy are gone and all that’s left are the consequences that have to be paid.

Want to know what manhood is?
Manhood is literally none of the above. Manhood is being brave enough to be who you are without the need to flex or pretend to be someone else.
Real men do not need to hide from who they are. Only boys do this.
I used to be a boy for a really long time.

Now, I’m only a man . . .

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