Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Redemption and Retribution

Once upon a time, I had a friend. He was, I thought, the kind of guy who would come help me bury a body, no questions asked. A guy I would give up my right arm to save, if he needed it.

As these things sometimes happen, I came to realize that I was his friend, but he wasn't mine.

It was a long and painful and expensive lesson.

I won't bore you with the lurid details, but the gist of it was, he lied, cheated, stole, and put me and my family into legal jeopardy, and when push came to shove, left us holding the bag and ran like a rabbit. Brave Sir Robin ...

Eventually, he came back, but by then, I had stopped taking his calls. He pretended that he didn't understand why, and I smiled, was bland, and went on with my life, leaving him to cook in his own juices. Win some, lose some, and I had -- in a fashion -- won that one by bailing before I got burned any worse.

There came a point a few months later when I was passing his house one night and happened to notice a shiny new motorcycle parked in his driveway. He didn't have a job at the time, so I figured it was a visitor.

Nope. It was his, I discovered soon enough.

Man owed me money I had borrowed to lend to him, and was not paying it back -- never did. Every month when I wrote a check to the finance company, I got royally pissed off all over again.

Thinking about him riding his new motorcycle around did not help my calmness of thought in the least. He could afford a fucking Sportster and he couldn't pay me back? Oh, that was not a fun mindset for me, nosiree.

So. Another late evening, and I crouched in the bushes next to the driveway of my ex-friend's house, seriously considering whether or not I was going to dump half a pound of sugar into the bike's gas tank. (For those of you who don't know, this is supposed to be bad. It won't kill the engine immediately, but the story goes, once you shut the sucker off, the sugar'll crystallize all over everything, and required a complete take down to scrape off. Turns out, this is an urban legend: sugar doesn't dissolve in gasoline, and while it might clog the fuel lines like, say, sand would, it won't cause major problems. Not that I knew that at the time.)

I considered it. I could have done it easily without being detected.

But, after no small amount of consideration crouched in the bushes out there in the warm night, I decided not to do it. Turned and walked away.

In some religions, the thought is as bad as the deed, but I don't believe that, even though I do believe that bad thoughts don't help anything.

Why didn't I screw up the bike? It would have been justifiable payback in my mind for all the shit he had done. But I didn't, because our bonds had already unraveled, and I didn't want to do anything to connect us back together. I figured that he would self-destruct eventually, and when that happened, I did not want him to be able to point a finger at me and blame me for any of it.

Some crimes earn you a death sentence. Murdering a bunch of kids in a school. Blowing up buildings. Killing a cop during a robbery.

Some crimes not quite as bad can still earn a life sentence in the graybar hotel.

Fucking over your best friend might not get you stuck into a literal jail, but it does cost you.

Even so, sucker that I was, I would have forgiven the guy, if he had come to me hat in hand and apologized. For years, all it would have taken would have been, "Hey, Steve, I fucked up. I did a bunch of bad stuff to you, I know that, and I'm truly, truly sorry."

Really, that would have done it, if I had heard the ring of truth in it.

Never happened, of course, and twenty years later when he slouched round again, wondering what had gone wrong, I told him. Including the notion that an apology would have gone a long way to healing the rift. Too late at that point, of course, but even so, he still couldn't bring himself to admit that he had screwed up, and tried to lay it off on everybody he had known, including me.

So sad.

Sure enough, though, my best old-ex-friend blew his own doors off. Became an alcoholic, got busted for various things, ran through four wives, fathered a bunch of children who didn't think highly of him. (And later in his life, a couple who did think that way, apparently.) Wound up working a job which was far beneath his ability, and died young, due to his own excesses. Had a strong family history of heart disease, but smoked like a chimney, and knew the risks.

Such a waste.

I skipped my personal retribution upon him because I figured his karma was so bad it would get him in this life time, and it did. And, while he had family and friends at the end who loved and respected him, he didn't earn redemption in my ledger.

I use this a cautionary tale now and again. Be careful of how you treat people, because some things you do will earn you a life sentence ...


Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

"I came to realize that I was his friend, but he wasn't mine."

So far I've been lucky enough to be the observer rather than one of the players in that particular type of drama.

steve-vh said...

"If you lend a friend money and he doesn't pay it back, it is money well spent". Been there, done that. Lost one of my oldest freinds that way. Turns out two other mutual freinds had done the same thing and never told me because they new I didn't lend. That's how bad it was. Too bad, I still wish I had him back as a frind 20yrs later but there's no action to be taken on my part there.
This is why friends are so much more important to me than Family. Family can crap on you and they're still family. Now freinds however, can tell you to piss off.

Dan Gambiera said...

Valve grinding compound in the oil, not sugar in the gas tank.

Anonymous said...

Karma = post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, it wouldn't have been my choice to learn the lesson that way, but that's how it came down, and better to know how things are than not ...

And, while the sugar wouldn't have done the trick, it didn't matter, since I took the high road. Such that it was ...

Steve Perry said...

Well, if you believe in karma, the theory is that what you sow, you eventually reap, so sitting back and waiting for that to manifest in somebody else without making yourself a part of it is valid.

steve-vh said...

I keep telling my son, "the Universe will even things out some way. It always comes back to balance"

Michael B. said...

I'm sorry bro but that SOB would have caught a major wood shampoo. You wanna screw me over, I can deal with it but when it hurts my clan in any way shape or form you can bet your aunt Fannys panties that I am coming for a major piece of your ass. As my daddy always told me "sometimes an axe handle beatdown is in order for assholes"..and by reading that story homeboy would have caught a beat down of epic proportions!

Karma be damned, I have yet to loose one iota of sleep for busting some ding dong up who truly deserves it! And that dude deserved it in SPADES!

Steve Perry said...

Oh, the ass-whuppin' option crossed my mind. But at the time, I was trying to achieve the peace-love-
harmony Age of Aquarius mindset. Right at that place in time when, following the Beatles, we had left our dope-smoking days behind and started to meditate and do yoga.

Om ...

Yeah, I had martial arts, but they were reserved for defense-only.

I had a better way to nail him: For a while, this guy was on the lam -- couple times, both local and federal stuff -- and whilst on the run, hid under a pseudonym.

I used him and his phony name as the villain in a novel, at the end of which, the bad guy has his head lopped off with a sword.

It was not a flattering portrayal.
He might have sued me for libel, though I was sure that truth was enough of a defense for that. And since the cops were after him, I didn't worry much about him dragging me into court anyhow ...

(As writers, you should never do this, use your friends or enemies as characters in your books. Bad idea. Don't do like I did, do like I say ...)

People who knew this guy under the phony name and who read the novel called to tell him he should get a gun and to watch out for me.

In his mind, looking bad was much, much worst than getting thumped. I did a pretty good job of making him look bad..

Bad idea to fuck with Captain Karma.

Anonymous said...

"The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fellah
But more upon the just because
The unjust hath the justs' umbrella."

Steve Perry said...

I'm not a pacifist, and things arise that must be dealt with directly, by one's own hand. Sometimes those decisions are tricky, but often, very clear. You get attacked, you must respond.

That doesn't mean that if some dweeb cuts you off in rush hour traffic that you follow him and ventilate his automobile with your handy six-gun.

Eye for a toenail isn't the way to go, Israel nothwithstanding.

On a deep level, I knew my old ex-friend was going to self-destruct. When he ran out of friends, he'd turn the gun on himself, and sure enough, he did.

Knowing that his problems were all self-inflicted was much more satisfying than it would have been had I nudged him off the curb and in front of the bus.

I thought for a long time the guy was a sociopath, but he wasn't, he was just completely self-centered.
He felt pain. And when he hit the bottom, I dunno if he was self-aware enough to realize it was his own damn fault, but I was.

That was, to me, much more poetic justice.

Had he gotten rich, famous, and beloved? Maybe I'd have regretted not taking a metaphorical swing at him, but while he had that potential, I didn't think it was in the cards.

And living well *is* the best revenge.