Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A word about Chris

All of the following is true. It is always tempting to exaggerate for comedic effect, but in this case, it really isn’t necessary. This character writes himself. If you read about him in a book, you’d think “No way, this author doesn’t have a clue.” Well, maybe this author doesn’t, either, but this dude is real.
Let’s talk about Chris.
He was mentioned in my last post regarding his improvisational skills with Bunsen burners (yes, he did indeed make a small-scale flame-thrower). I will not include his surname; not just to protect his identity, but because if he looks anything like he used to look, he could break me in half without even trying.
Our boy Chris was a skinny kid. Then he moved away for a couple of years around grade 6. While gone, he apparently was given the Super-Soldier formula, because he came back brimming with muscles. He was far away the strongest kid in high school, and it wasn’t “big farmer bulk.” No, it was all “cover of Muscle Mag” ripples. Intimidating, and his behaviour really made it worse.
Chris was the son of the local mortician/funeral home owner. He had a coffin in his bedroom with one of those life-size bodies you could mail order from Fangoria magazine... at least, that’s where we all hoped he got it from. Another half-size body dangled from the ceiling in a classic hangman’s noose. He slept with a machete between his mattress and box spring. For kicks, he would dig graves for upcoming funerals with a shovel. By himself. For anyone that’s ever buried a pet or dug a fence hole, you will have a vague idea of just how much effort it is to dig into Manitoba clay to any depth beyond about 15 centimeters. Chris went down the full six feet.
His van was hand-painted with designs that I can’t specifically remember, but definitely made me look away. The grill was threaded carefully with long coils of rusty barb wire. For the most part he was friendly enough to talk to, but every now and then he’d look into or through you, and you knew - you just KNEW - he was thinking what you might look like without your skin.
A couple of incidents truly stand out. The first happened in a classroom, about five minutes before class started (the teacher was gone, still filling up with coffee in the staff room). Chris had acquired a butterfly knife somewhere (perhaps from some mugger who’s neck he’d twisted) and was standing near the front of class practicing with it. Whirl, whirl, snap, the blade is gone. Whirl, whirl, snap, the blade is back. He was really very fast with it. It was hypnotic, and kind of hard to follow.
Then another kid walked into class, blithely unaware of his surroundings, and Chris stabbed him in the chest.
Now, obviously he had the knife blade tucked safely into the handle, but the rest of us sure didn’t know it. Half of us surged out of our seats in shock. The “stab” victim just stared dumbly at the hilt of a knife jutting out of his chest. Dead silence pervaded, then Chris chuckled a little and went back to flicking the knife around. Our hearts slowly returned to normal speed.
The second big incident was on the sidewalk in front of the school. Chris had a dark trench coat on. A cop car drove by, no big deal, and Chris took a wide-legged stance facing the side of the police car. Then with dramatic slowness, he reached into his trench coat, withdrew a dull black pistol and leveled it at the passing police cruiser.
You can’t imagine a more sudden reaction. The cop car laid on the brakes with a squeal, leaving a twenty-seven foot skid mark (yes, I measured it after the fact, I was a compulsive nerd even then). Two officers came surging out of the car and bundled a passive, mildly amused Chris into the backseat before tearing away. We thought we’d never see him again.
Of course the gun was a fake. Back then it was easy to find realistic looking pistols without that tell-tale red plug in the muzzle. Probably the cops knew it was fake, too, but it did occur to us kids that in Chicago or New York, a move like that might have gotten you shot, not just arrested.
Chris was back after a one day suspension to continue to scare and entertain us, by the way. That’s about all such an offense warranted back then. Ah, how times have changed.

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