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The International Writers Magazine
: First Chapters of a novel in progress

A Chink in My Armor
Casey Howell

'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.'

Born 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 the poor…that is to say quite by accident. Yes, I was the product of my father’s 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, he’s 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, "You’re 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 life’s deck. It leaves one holding the joker and saying, "What the hell. I’ll play the hand I’ve 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 was wild.

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 child’s play by comparison, but to my constant surprise I was able to achieve my goal. Thus I discovered another of life’s little disappointments – we never get credit for the creative genius that goes into misbehaving. Shouldn’t there be some kind of standardized test score that applies to this kind of innovative performance? Shouldn’t 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 A’s 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 man’s creation was routinely taught. I found it totally absurd that learned educators were not able to wrap their mind around the concept of mankind’s 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 didn’t 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

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