Day 20 (Night): Back to Vieques
I had been on the mainland for three days and figured I should go check on the house in Vieques. The thieves keep track of which houses are occupied and which ones are not.
Jack drove me to the dock in Fajardo and I got my ticket. We had two hours before the ferry took off so we headed to the closet bar. I drank a beer while I listened to Jack’s stories about fighting. He loved to fight.
“This punk ass Rican was busting my friends balls one night in San Juan. They started arguing and then he swung at my friend. When I saw that I just attacked the guy. I had him on the ground and was kicking him in the stomach when the cops pulled up. First thing they told me after breaking up the fight was that the guy I beat up was an off-duty police officer. I spent a few weeks in jail for that one,” he said.
“Damn, what was that like?”
“It wasn’t bad, really.”
“Yeah? I figure they’d give a gringo a tough time in a San Juan jail.”
“Nah. I done been in jail before. It’s all about how you carry yourself. You just gotta look like the type of motherfucker you don’t want to mess with,” Jack said.
“What’d you go to jail for?”
“A lot of things.”
“Okay. What’s the longest you’ve ever been in jail.”
“Three and a half years.”
“Yeah, lost a good deal of my youth because of a stupid bar fight.”
“Well, it was really was stupid. I got into an argument with a guy over a pool game. I turn around and walk away and he hits me across the back with a pool stick. He used a weapon so my instant reaction was to grab a big beer mug and hit him with it. I smashed it into his head, right behind his ear, and he fell to floor kind of funny. Turns out he had a brain aneurism. He got brain damage and now he’s slow for the rest of his life.”
Jack looked at his beer blankly.
“I had three and a half god damn years to think about that. I feel bad for the guy and I called his wife pretty often, but I always go back to the fact that he hit me first,” he said.
“Damn, that’s some bad luck. What’d you do all that time in jail?” I asked.
“Read, kept to myself, I don’t know. When you first get in jail all the gangs approach you and ask you to be on their side. The Latinos, the blacks, the skinheads, all of them. The skinheads are the most powerful gang in all the jails because they can get whatever they want from the outside. I said no to all of them and they told me ‘good luck’.”
“Did anyone mess with you?”
“On my birthday I got beat up like fifteen times. This black guy hit me with his tray in the cafeteria and next thing I know ten of them are stomping my ass.”
I stopped talking and drank my beer.
“Sorry. I don’t mean to ask so many questions. I just never been to jail and wonder what it’s like,” I said.
“It’s definitely something you could do with out. It’s not really anything you want to experience.”
“Yeah, sounds rough.”
“It’s damn rough, but fuck it. That’s life. People think they’re alive but they’re not. We’re all dead, all of us, we’re already dead and most people don’t even know it,” he said. “Now I just do whatever the fuck I want because none of it matters. If someone wants to fight, I’ll brawl, nothing will stop me.”
“What if you just don’t fight? What if you just walked away?” I asked.
“Walk away? Listen, I look at it like this: If you’re about to fight someone what’s the worse that can happen? You get your ass beat. And getting your ass beat will last a lot less time in people’s memories than being a pussy. If you walk away you’re a pussy and everyone in town is going to say ‘Jack’s a pussy.’ I just can’t live with that.”
“I guess you’ve got a lot of pride.”
“Yeah, you could call it that.”
“I used to fight in middle school. If someone picked on me enough times I would find them in the hallway and demolish them. Really though, I don’t look like it, but people thought I was crazy. They never laid a punch on me while I beat them senselessly. But after that, I decided fighting wasn’t worth it. I just avoid it now unless it’s absolutely necessary. You can talk your way out of most things,” I said.
“Yeah, some people are good with words, but I just start swinging. My father said, ‘never throw the first punch.’ I always thought that was retarded. If you throw the first punch you’re already one step ahead of the other guy.”
“Did you fight a lot in school too?”
“Yeah, but I always got beat up when I was young. I was on the wrestling team and lost every single match my first year. I was all drowning in my self-pity and shit. I was pitiful. But then one day I saw this kinda nerdy guy lose it. Get this. There were these two brothers that would always pick on this nerdy kid at school. One day they pushed him and he fell and broke his arm. The nerd’s arm was in a cast after that and the brother’s kept bullying him. Then one day on the bus, the brothers were sitting behind him, flicking his ears and calling him names and I just watched him turn redder and redder. He was breathing heavy and then he got up and just went apeshit on the brothers. He sent both of them to the hospital for stitches.”
“Wait, how’d he beat up two guys?”
“With his cast! He used that thing like a club. It was brutal. I watched the whole thing. Blood. Everywhere. After that day I realized something very important: it doesn’t matter who you are or what size you are. If you work up enough balls you can take on anyone.”
“Courage. That’s all it takes,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s not muscles, it’s not anything but what inside you.”
“So you were a wrestler too?”
“Yeah, after that I grew a mohawk , dyed it blue and never lost another wrestling match,” he said.
It was almost time for the ferry so we walked to the beach and smoked a joint. I realized the next day was New Year’s Eve and asked Jack what he was doing.
“I got no plans. Come back and we’ll go to San Juan and get some new year’s pussy,” he said.
“Ha, I don’t know about that, maybe you will. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
I got on the boat half-drunk and half-high with a camera full of photos from San Juan and the Sugar Mill. I was happy. I realized I’d been lacking good male friends in recent years. Jack reminded me of the friends I used to have. The kind of guys that would send you on your way with a good buzz. The kind of guys that lived like maniacs and were honest about it.
Jack was a good guy.
© Diego Cupolo 2010