The International Writers Magazine: First
Chapters of a novel in progress
Chink in My Armor
soon became a student of the school of thought that teaches I might
not feel very sorry for what I did, but I am immensely sorry I was
at the precise moment my parents had taken two steps past abject poverty
and landed squarely on the lowest rung of middle class, I was thrust
into life with the apparent purpose of observing and monitoring absurdity.
It is a virtuous calling; however, the hours are endless and making
commentary on absurdities makes one very hoarse indeed.
The youngest of six children, I entered the world in the usual way of
that is to say quite by accident. Yes, I was the product
of my fathers lack of timing skills and am quite convinced if
the pill had been more accessible in 1957, I would not have made my
debut in 1958. I am the epitome of the old adage -- the rich get richer
and the poor get children.
I do not mean to give the impression that my life has been miserable
or that I have ever felt unloved or unwanted -- quite the opposite.
It may be my parents were programmed to love their children through
some mysterious ethereal spirit. Of course, it may also be that my parents,
feeling as if destiny had struck another blow, simply said "might
as well love him, hes here." When a newlywed couple is expecting
their first child, it is an excitement beyond description, although
to be honest, my father always claimed his proposal to my mother consisted
of saying, "Youre what?"
Percentage wise, I think when a couple in their forties find out that
child number six is on the way, it is often a less than jubilant occasion.
Hopes and dreams take hiatus while an overpowering feeling of despair
swells, perhaps a feeling of insurmountable bad luck dealt to you from
the bottom of lifes deck. It leaves one holding the joker and
saying, "What the hell. Ill play the hand Ive been
dealt." Apparently I was their little joker in the great poker
game of their life. They also apparently never quite realized that I
was going to play by my own rules of the game and in my game the joker
No matter how unintentional my arrival, my future seemed bright. I was
here and the family was keeping me. I was free to begin my life-long
pursuit of observing absurdity.
The feeling of being loved just because I existed was possibly my first
observation of absurdity. No tests to pass, no resume to be submitted,
no selection process to survive I was immediately given the job
of youngest son/baby of the family. I soon discovered being the youngest
of six had perks and jerks. As it turned out, I had to learn to deal
with the eccentricities of an unwritten Code of Conduct that existed
within my family and that I eventually came to think of as simply The
Code. The Code seemed to ebb through the fabric of my personality like
some loosely guarded secret. Ignoring The Code, or even worse, breaking
The Code, brought forth punishment ranging from a gentle reprimand to
a full-fledged ass beating (it was the early sixties, so it was still
allowed). Although the punishments caused no lasting damage, I might
add that I cannot, in good conscience, admit to them doing any greater
good either. If I was going to be a player in the game, I decided that
any Code-breaking behavior I undertook must provide enough pleasure
to offset a potential ass beating.
I soon became a student of the school of thought that teaches I might
not feel very sorry for what I did, but I am immensely sorry I was caught.
I also learned, too late, as is so often the case, that The Code was
not restricted to life inside the confines of a loving and forgiving
family. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that by some perverse
trick of fate, The Code also applied to real life. There were minor
differences in application, the chief difference being that Real Life
was not always loving and forgiving. Thus I discovered absurdity number
two -- the damn rules can change.
I do not wish you to think that I did not find satisfaction and reward
in doing well -- the ultimate reward of good behavior, of course, is
an existence devoid of confrontation, not to mention fewer ass beatings.
It was a noble goal, self-serving and futile, but a noble goal nonetheless.
As with most lofty goals that I was to set in life, I was doomed to
always fall just short of attainment. Curiously, when I set my sights
on goals that did not conform to The Code, I was able to attain my objective.
This, of course, became another absurdity goals seem to come
with their own set of mystifying rules. If I set a specific non-Code-approved
goal, such as conspiring to stay out all night without enduring the
requisite punishment, I was able to fully apply myself achieve that
goal. It might take weeks of planning, an elaborate web of concocted
fabrications (i.e., lies), and precision timing that would make any
successful bank heist seem like childs play by comparison, but
to my constant surprise I was able to achieve my goal. Thus I discovered
another of lifes little disappointments we never get credit
for the creative genius that goes into misbehaving. Shouldnt there
be some kind of standardized test score that applies to this kind of
innovative performance? Shouldnt we at least get a letter of recommendation,
if not from our parents, then at least from the school authorities?
Instead of the standard lament that "he is not living up to his
potential," could they not make it a full-fledged honor award?
He broke every rule we have on the books, but in doing so, he showed
elements of hard work, dedication, planning, and the ultimate execution
of a plan. By these virtues alone, this individual would be a welcome
addition to any corporation in America. Please consider adding him to
your staff. After all, does anyone actually believe that the execs at
Enron pulled straight As in ethics class?
The educational system alone was an absurdity all to itself. During
my formative years in the educational system, otherwise known as doing
12 to 16 with time off for bad behavior, I was exposed to concepts designed
to befuddle the mind of any young person. When I attended school, the
scientific theory of mans creation was routinely taught. I found
it totally absurd that learned educators were not able to wrap their
mind around the concept of mankinds creation by God, but seemed
to have no trouble believing that in the beginning there was nothing,
and then that nothing exploded -- forming everything. I mean, really,
I was supposed to accept the "Big-Bang Theory," without question,
but my educators refused to believe an equally valid "the dog ate
my homework" theory.
Of course, it must be noted that I came from a region in central Illinois,
a region that was possibly a little slow in coming of age. During my
entire childhood, up through graduation and beyond, the local high school
sports teams were called The Chinks. Was it politically correct? Of
course not! Did we know the phrase "politically correct" and
all of its implications? Of course not! After all, the most popular
local television show was called Captain Jinx. Captain Jinx was skipper
of the good ship Albatross. If we didnt get that, how in the world
were we to know that the "Chinks" moniker might be offensive.
The name was so pervasive in our local society that they even named
the local skating rink, no kidding, The Chink Rink. They might not know
PC, but by golly they sure knew how to turn a phrase. Once PC reached
the hinterlands, we realized the Chinks had to go, although I have read
several entries on a classmate website that say "Once a Chink,
always a Chink." Given the truest interpretation of this phrase,
that would seem to be an inescapable condition. In an attempt to go
to the other end of the spectrum to locate an inoffensive replacement
name for the team, certain locals proposed using the Illinois state
flower as the new designation. Others vociferously pointed out the absurdity
(there it is again) of having a gridiron confrontation between the Pekin
Marigolds and the Manual Rams. Friday night cheerleading would never
be quite as enthusiastic, nor would the throngs of raucous, bullying
fans shouting from the stands be nearly as threatening, if they were
required to yell intimidating encouragement to the Fighting Marigolds.
With a life begun under such conditions, is it any wonder I ended up
with more than a few chinks in my armor?
The first chapter in a book in progress; Like it. Let him know
© Casey Howell - March 2004
all rights reserved