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I get two or three of them every month, letters from Mike. Sometimes they come with a little Jesus cross made out of some thread from a sock, sometimes they come with a real nice pencil drawing of a woman in a sombrero with big boobs. One time there was even a little pair of shoes made out of cigarette foils. That was real nice, too. Mostly they just come with a couple pages of bum-outs. The hand writing is always real nice though. Real nice.
“I reject sentimentality. This is my sentence, Carnal. My tiempo. I’m gonna do it for better or worse and I don’t regret a thing. Penance is a life long endeavor at the very least, Froggy. I do not regret a thing. This is me now.”
Definitely not the same Mike I started out with. Suckers who didn’t know no better used to think his name meant he was into ballin’. That’s funny to me ’cause we called him Money Maker on account of he was an ass man. Mike don’t seem to have that much sense of humor now though. He went stone-cold the second he put on that Mac Miller shirt.
He ain’t even Money Maker Mike no more. When we first started out he might’ve been Money Maker Mike but when he went to the joint I guess he changed his name to Big Flaco. Prison can change a man so I don’t judge. He’s Mexican now, that’s his business. All I can do is make sure the pipeline stays up and keep an eye out for plausible tax shelters. All I can do is be his point man on the streets. All I can do is hope Mike can still have a normal life if he ever gets out.
I remember when James was the worst of our problems. The good old days.
Mike was always five steps ahead. He was that guy who’d bring a picallo to a tuba fight and come home pregnant. The night the shit hit the fan I remember hearing some meathead shit talking Swayze. I knew right then there would be trouble. You don’t diss Swayze. Not to Mike. I saw it in Mike’s eyes, too. I knew he heard it. Sure, he’d wind it out long as he could but at some point I knew he’d fatigue. He could handle a lot but I knew he wouldn’t suffer some meathead bad mouthing Swayze forever. To be honest, it was kinda cheeky for the guy to suggest a Roadhouse reboot with Guy Fieri and Shiah LeBoeuf. When he moved on to describing his version of Point Break with Robert Patinson I abandoned sympathy.
“I’ll kill you last.”, I heard Mike groan through clenched jaw. He had the most deliberate detachment in these times. Whatever his disposition, Mike was masterful. He laughed at their jokes and challenged their small talk just enough to seem involved. He raised his glass to their toasts and he snorted approval at their feigned sheepishness when they were off color. He was seemless and settled the entire night. I had to pinch myself, I was watching one of the most skilled operators Quantico had ever produced.
After a spell he decided it was time and he gave me the look. How does one look communicate such a specific action? That look. It said, “Take the fire poker from beside the furnace, put it right into James’ eye, I’ll get the fat one and his friend with the freckles, you subdue the asshole talkin’ reckless about Swayze but don’t kill him. I want to torture him.” It sounds crazy but that’s exactly what was articulated in that look and if I’d hesitated we might still be in Lancaster.
The enlightenment does not phone first. It does not RSVP, it does not make it’s call Saturday casual. No. That old draft bolts out from the essence, bastard and urgent. Once the enlightenment has chosen it’s vessel, routine and control shrink from the blessed into a hazy yesterwhen, before singular obsession held rein.
Sometimes the enlightenment arrives a sacred charge imparted by the neighbor’s Doberman, one hot New York summer. Sometimes it is the imminent ring of a dread red phone, hotline to the world’s reset switch. Sometimes it is the pink beam refracting off of a religious pendant hanging from the neck of the delivery woman. Sometimes it’s a wild brier ablaze high upon Sinai. For Michael McCormick the enlightenment was a white rapper from the rust belt. Where the confluence of the Algonquin and the Alegheny formed the mighty Ohio, a beacon was shining. The enlightenment had chosen Michael McCormick and his Alabama home would soon lose a prophet to the call. Woe to them and so on.
Coral dusk Texas; the cowboy moves tri-tip out of temptation’s way. He must concentrate. Steak plate slides, bunching up gingham crossed juke joint table. Wagon Train on UHF.
The cowboy murmurs and the steak abides. There’s a thing. It’s a thing happenin’. Young one crossed dishrag-sky Pennsylvania. Young one named Mac Miller.
Like that steak shoved down table, the cowboy nudges an imperative across time and space. “Buy the T-shirt, Mike. Buy it and wear it and never take it off. Let it be your mask and cape. Let it be your sigil.”
And Mike does. He goes to Karmaloop with his mom’s Visa and starts down a path of legend.