the angry men

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
a professional gambler finds himself on the verge of a nervous breakdown for reasons he cannot explain.

Submitted: June 02, 2019

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Submitted: June 02, 2019

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The Angry Men

by AJ Alexander

 

The angry man drove the Odyssey at an even clip on I-55 as music blasted from six finely tuned speakers. Coffee, music and cigarettes were a staple for the three hour drive - that, and a Mickey D’s Double Bundle. He couldn’t wait to see the golden arches above the tree line.

He wasn’t angry now; he was happy. Perhaps elated was more like it. He’d just won five thousand at The Horseshoe, playing a no limit poker game he couldn’t possibly afford to play in, let alone lose in. But that’s what the angry man did. He always took the toothpick to the lumber yard. He was legendary for it; plus, he had to do it. He had a wife and kids.  And the bills were stacked high and deep.

He lowered the volume on the radio when the cell phone rang…it was his dad. He picked it up and said hello; and after a few minutes of idle pleasantries, the conversation went dead. Nothing for the men to talk about. The angry man told him thanks for calling, and father quickly said goodbye.  

When he arrived in Jackson he went straight to the bank, and after making a deposit he drove to the townhouse - where nearly three hundred pounds of long haired, downtrodden human lumbered from the vehicle and walked tepidly through the front door. His wife and daughter came bounding across the living room to greet him. He looked around as they leapt into his arms.  “Where’s the boy?” he asked in between kisses.

“At work,” was her answer. Then, he played with his daughter while she went to cook dinner.  

Strands of salt and pepper hair fell across his face as he scribbled feverishly in the notebook on his desk. He was taught to always record his results. Then he turned on the computer, where scores of bills and high interest, short term loans awaited payment. A hand on his shoulder interrupted him. “My folks want us to come over tonight,” she told him, putting a plate of beef brisket beside him.

The angry man winced. It was the last thing he wanted to do, and the wife knew it. He took a deep breath and turned to her, smiling. “Not a problem,” he said cheerfully as his daughter jumped in his lap.

The wife knew the angry man was irate over the in law visit. So, as he showered, she casually disrobed and climbed in. And when it was over, she laid him on the bed and gave him a rubdown. He was looser than cream corn by the time he arrived for the inquisition, and the usual assault on his integrity.

It was very late when they arrived home, and the angry man went to check on his son. As usual, he had the earphones on, his face stitched to the computer screen as his father swung open the door to his room. The young man smiled and paused the game. “How’d you do, Dad?” he asked curiously.

“Kicked butt and took names, kiddo,” he told him. The boy gave him a thumbs up, then went back to gaming as the angry man closed the door.

After that, the wife put the daughter to bed. Then she came into the bedroom and climbed atop the angry man, riding herself to orgasm as he exploded inside her. It would put him to sleep in minutes.

The following afternoon, as he hovered over the barrel grill cooking burgers and franks, the house phone rang. It was his mother; and after exchanging a few pleasantries, the conversation went dead. Nothing for mother and son to talk about. The angry man said he was in the middle of cooking lunch, and mother quickly said goodbye.

He no sooner hung up the phone when it rang again. He picked it up and menacingly said hello. This time, it was the Texan – the man who booked on air. The Texan was angry, too. The angry man listened as the Texan whined like a government mule; drug addled son, dead beat gamblers, the ex who called morning noon and night to complain, it was all standard fare for the long term friends. “That’s a lot to put up with,” the angry man told him sympathetically. There was little else he could say. But the statement was so benign and out of character, the men burst out in laughter. It was their only remedy.  

But it bothered him greatly when his mentor had the tit in the ringer - for it was the Texan who taught the angry man how to gamble. Oh, maybe not how to play poker, but certainly how to manage the business. His anecdotes were simple and easy to understand, and in the type of colorful language reminiscent of people who refused to work for a living. When it came money management, the Texan stated, ‘you milk the cow, you don’t eat the cow’. If asked about going broke - ‘I’ve been booking and betting in five decades. Went broke in every one of ‘em. If you can’t handle being broke, you can’t be a gambler.’ Those, and other mercurial sayings, were scribbled on post-it notes littering the wall above the angry man’s desk.

One of the Texan’s favorites was, ‘a scared man can’t gamble, and a jealous man can’t work.’ But he wasn’t referring to gambling. He was referring to whores. And not just brothel whores and masseuses at jack joints. He was talking about new millennium whores – younger women who dated older men. Vicious, evil things, the Texan said. Slithered on their bellies and backs like reptiles. They lived where men with pockets full of personality play.

That the angry man’s wife was twenty years his junior meant little, for she was different; and even if the Texan were right, he didn’t care, for poker was his true mistress anyway. That, and he was too far along in the journey to want to call it quits. From a length of time standpoint, she was his most successful relationship.

In the beginning, he loved her with all he had. He felt she understood something. Then they got married. After that, he met her family. Perhaps he should’ve met them all sooner.

He ate his burgers while counting the benjamins. Though grateful he banked eleven hundred after the flood of payments and late fees. in another two weeks a whole new round of bills would arrive, including the mortgage. Not to worry, the son told him. “You can do anything, Dad!” he shouted from his room, a thought to which the wife concurred.

So the next morning, the angry man packed a bag and left for the coast, where tournament losers fresh from the red ass would find their way to cash games. And over the course of three days, the angry man lit ‘em up. He sat in the parking lot of What-a-burger eating and talking to the Texan, who was kicking ass and taking names himself. And the men laughed heartily as they swapped stories of how hip slick and cool they are - and how stupid everybody else on the planet was.  

The entire family was gone when he arrived home. And while the son came back after work, the wife and daughter were nowhere to be found. He called her cell, but it went straight to voicemail. Next, he called the in laws, who didn’t answer, either. Regular as clockwork.

The boy went back to work with still no sign of stepmother and sister the next morning. The angry man told him not to worry. “They’re likely at her parent’s,” he said, trying to believe it himself.

The wife arrived later that afternoon. And though daughter was, indeed, at the in-laws, the whereabouts of the wife remained a mystery. She offered some excuse concerning old people and a flat tire on a rusted hunk of automobile, but the angry man stormed out of the house in midsentence. That’s when he remembered another of the Texan’s sayings…

‘Learn to stomach it.’

Five months passed, and the summer turned to winter. The boy went to live with his natural mother, and didn’t speak to Dad for months. The in laws were unrelenting. And the wife’s disappearing acts continued unabated. It was more than the angry man could take, and it affected his results at the tables.

The Texan had problems of his own. His oldest robbed him of thousands before stealing - then wrecking - the new car. And the police said they couldn’t do a thing about it. Something about established residence neither men could comprehend. The Texan begged the ex to take the son in, but naturally she refused, saying she’d already done her time, and since he sits there with all that fucking money he could afford to help their only son – the one they had when trying to save the marriage, she reminded him.

“Perhaps I should take a drive to see you,” the angry man suggested.

To which the Texan replied, “I think that’s a good idea.”  

It was four in the morning when the angry man left. He packed a satchel the night before, and stuck it in the van so ‘the wife’ wouldn’t know he was leaving. And he didn’t want to see his daughter’s face, either - those sparkling green eyes pleading with him to stay as he walked out the door. If only he could take her with him.

By this time, the angry man only had a few hundred dollars on him. So he did the only thing he could do – he gambled at every small stakes game along the way, trying not to think of the wife and what she was doing – and who she was doing it with. One loss and the trip was over. He’d be stranded on the side of the road with only maxed out credit cards to keep him company. Somehow, he amassed over three grand by the time he arrived at the Texan’s door. The toothpick won out again.

The men were all smiles as they greeted one another, though life’s tensions were evident. But that didn’t matter to the angry men. They ordered pizza, made ice cream sundaes, dog cussed everyone they knew, and watched tv until three in the morning. It was as fine an oasis as they could muster. And, of course, they gambled with impunity, laughing and cajoling the whole way through. It was as if nothing else mattered. It was as if they hadn’t a care in the world. That the Texan had a heart attack – and the angry man a stroke – some years before, was meaningless; just put the needle in, and let the adrenaline flow. The angry man hit the tables while the Texan booked games on the computer. After that, they’d meet for dinner and another round of sundaes and late night tv. It was a process they repeated for weeks on end.

And the Texan lambasted those no good whores, while the angry man laughed and lambasted everyone else.

Eventually, it was time to leave. Though the Texan implored the long haired downtrodden one to stay, he knew he’d have to find his way home. Maybe he was just having too much fun, he thought. Maybe he needed another self-imposed beating. Maybe the wife would give it to him. But maybe – just maybe - he was leaving for the sake of his kids. The Texan wasn’t sure which as he waved goodbye from the driveway.

Another year would pass, finding the angry man more despondent than ever. The games manifested into one big blur. He stopped recording his results, choosing instead to live hand to mouth. He no longer cared if he won or lost. He didn’t want to go another round. But he didn’t want to stay home, either. And gambling to pay the bills became his only excuse to leave, even though he hadn’t paid the mortgage in months. It was a real conundrum, and one he couldn’t think his way out of. It caused many a restless night.

One day, he came out of the shower and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He looked horrible; his fatness, his thick, uneven beard, his long straggly hair. And those bags under his eyes were unsightly. He went to the nightstand, where an old scrapbook lay inside a drawer. Pulling it out, he found a picture of himself ten years earlier. He was handsome back then. Back then, he didn’t have the tits which flopped before his very eyes. He held it up to the mirror so he could view both picture and reflection simultaneously.

Something struck a chord when he awoke the next day. And without saying a word, he went to the tables. He turned off the phone, too; he didn’t wanna hear from the Texan or ‘the wife’. He didn’t wanna hear from anybody. He booked a small win in a low stakes game and went home to spend time with his daughter, which pleased them both to no end. He did this over and over, and made sure he talked to his son at least once a week.

And over the course of the next few months, he slowly but steadily began losing weight. By his 50th birthday, he dropped nearly thirty-five pounds. And the games he took with measured stability. One chip at a time, one hand at a time. Distancing himself from money and marital worry. By the end of the year, the angry man was down to a respectable two hundred ten pounds, and his money troubles were behind him. Satisfied of his weight, he began working out, slowly at first, then with the same measured pace as he took the poker games. He went to the barber and cut his hair. And he trimmed the beard to a nice, clean shaven Fu Manchu.

‘The wife’ was astounded. So were friends and neighbors. Seemingly overnight, he was a changed man. She went to tell him how proud she was, and he responded by saying, “I want a divorce. You take the house and Aubrey, and I’ll give you some money to get started. But that’s it. I want no more of you or your fucking family…and I’m getting out of the games, too.”

The Texan was ecstatic when he heard the angry man was leaving the whore. Even better, he wasn’t gonna fight over money property and prestige. But when it came to quitting the games, they parted company right there. “I never knew a gambler who left with money in his pocket,” he told him. “And I never knew a gambler who left and was happy being away from the action, either.”  

He was gonna miss the Texan; twenty plus years of friendship was hard to walk away from. The angry man knew the Texan didn’t wanna be left standing alone when it came to gambling. He knew the older you got, the lonelier you got - especially in that business.

It took another year to depart for good. But when it finally happened, it was liberating. The Texan was amazed; of course, the angry man couldn’t depart his company, for the Texan was too close to his heart for that. “Tell me the stories one more time,” he shouted over the phone.

He got divorced and purchased some land in the Ozarks, and built a small, off the grid cabin complete with solar panels, water catchment systems, and LED lighting. Next, he took half an acre and started a mini farm. A year later, he took another acre and got animals, mainly chicken and goats. Then he built an addition to the cabin, and a shed for supplies. And a year after that, he had the cable company provide a line for tv and a phone. It cost a little extra, but the angry man didn’t care.

He was about four miles from the town of Gainesville, Mo., but from his property – where tall, thick white oak and birch littered the borders around the homestead - it looked like the middle of nowhere.  

In the summers, he’d take his daughter to the Ozarks and abroad, traveling to amusement parks and places kids love to go. The boy took a job and left for California. The angry man got a letter once a year. He missed him, but he was grateful his son finally was able to stand on his own. It took much hard work, after all.  

And life was all he envisioned…

But still, the anger remained.

Unsure what the cause of it was, he asked the Texan for advice. “Maybe it’s pussy,” he proffered sympathetically. “I know for me, whenever I left a whore I’d pine for years. The pain of the succubus is one that keeps on giving, years after they’ve bled us to an empty husk and moved on.”

But that wasn’t it. ‘The wife’ – or the ex-wife – was a total disaster. Her life was a train wreck. She’d become nothing more than low hanging fruit to him. She really was new millennium, he told the Texan, who smiled knowingly - and when no good whores reach the age of forty without a man for full feed, the rest, as they say, is history.

He had no draw to her, or any woman.

He still had those post it notes, however. Only this time, they were on a chalkboard hanging on the wooden wall of the cabin. And one night, not being able to sleep, and angry as he’d ever been, he got out of bed and started picking through them. There must’ve been dozens. ‘Laugh to keep from crying’. ‘The Three B’s.’ ‘The Three C’s. ‘When you’re on a date, she’s on the job’. These, and many more, littered that grizzled, garage sale chalkboard. But there was one in particular that caught his eye…

‘Family and children will disappoint.’

Something about that swelled a magnitude of emotion inside the angry man. And he sat in his rocking chair clinging to that small, yellow piece of paper, staring into an empty fireplace, alone with his thoughts. Alone, high in the mountainous Ozarks….

Alone.

It was a word which followed him everywhere. Born on the east coast, where father worked tirelessly and mother socialized with friends, it left them very little time for him. Most of the time, they stuck him in a floor crib, or in front of the tv when he got older, with nothing but a bag of Wise potato chips and a small glass of juice to keep him company. As a frightened, scrawny little kid who was easily bullied, he was quick to be blamed for everything – and left to fend for, and figure things out, himself. When he was nine, they left the city for the suburbs, and things got progressively worse. A few years after that, they moved south, where the relationship with his parents took an even more vicious turn. And a few years after that, back on the east coast, he was by now all but isolated from the rest of the family. He was, and remained, a very frightened and lonely young man.

The angry man never connected with his parents. Perhaps a better way to put it was they never connected with him. And any friends he’d make – an arduous task for any child, balanced or otherwise - father’s relocating or mother’s character assassinations would soon take away. To make matters even worse, they fawned over younger brother, and heaped large vats of confidence eroding mantras the angry man’s way whenever they had the chance. And always, they did these things once they isolated the angry man, so this way, the abuse continued unabated – and they came away looking like the caring, loving parents they hoped other people saw them as. He was, after all, the easiest to punish, the easiest to retribute whenever life threw them a curve they didn’t like.

So by the time he was an adult, he was woefully unprepared to handle the rigors of life, and his connectedness with others was suspect at best. Jobs came and went. Career opportunities fluttered by the wayside. And relationships were fleeting and short lived. He would spend his entire life unconsciously trying to disprove the vicious theory he was a loser – unworthy of the family which raised him. In the end, it became nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

One day, he found himself in a casino. And to his astonishment, he found he had a knack for gambling. Blackjack, with its rudimentary mathematics he easily grasped, paid dividends on a regular basis. And he took to it like a duck takes to water. And soon thereafter, he met the Texan, who taught him all he’d ever need to know.

Finally, he found what he was looking for – a way to grind out a living while being insulated from the things in life which caused distress. A place where things made sense. Alone, but in the company of others. Alone when he traveled to think things through. Where highways and hotels provided sanctuary and refuge. There were women too, of course, ones whom he’d lavish with fine meals and dancing before taking them to his posh suite for an evening of champagne and vigorous lovemaking. And in the morning they would leave…

And he was free to be alone again.

This way, he could never – ever – be hurt.

He’d met the boy’s mother while during a break from the action, and a more incompatible couple the world has never found. And when she left him, she used their son against him, extracting as much money as possible before allowing him ‘the privilege’, as she put it, of spending time with him, which broke his heart to no end. Alas, he hadn’t the tools to defend himself from attack - and without the emotional stability that begins in early childhood, nor with a family he could turn to in times of despair, the angry man let his relationship with the boy fall by the wayside. And he fell into a deep, dark depression which plagued him for years to come. Only the solace of the open road, and the exciting chatter of the cards, kept him from losing his sanity. It pacified him. It gave him purpose. But it kept him in ignorance of his condition, too.

Ten years to the day after that debacle he met the new millennium, who was quite adept at recognizing the pain from within. She really did understand something. And during the three year courtship, he found happiness with another at last. Nothing about their dating life would’ve indicated to him what a vicious, no good, lying sick ass piece of crap she really was, that she was as detached as any human, completely self-centered, totally about her and no one else. For her love and support, her quiet demeanor, her astute way of taking him in her arms and making him feel not only loved, but respected, turned out to be nothing more than the very act which he’d seen his parents display countless times in the presence of others. It was why she seemed so familiar when they met.

The quiet respite of the Ozark Mountains, and the angry man’s peaceful environs, now seemed a prison to him. Unwittingly, he’d constructed a place which, by its very nature, almost ensured permanent and complete isolation. It was a common human failing. And he felt the bonds of self-destruction begin to lash at his being, as they’d done oh so many times before. It brought tears to the angry man’s eyes.

Still, alone as he was, it did provide time to process, to reconstruct back to the unflattering point of departure, where the thread of living unconsciously, deviously, took its root. And he found it, like so many do, in his upbringing and in the deepest parts of his memory.

But he wasn’t upset at the family, for their philosophy worked effortlessly for them. That they couldn’t see his was a different path was his failing, not theirs. His responsibility. His decision. That much was clear to him. He had no right to attempt to mimic their act – and no one else to blame but himself when it blew up in his face. He knew the calling of his life; and, he chose to ignore it.  

At 55 years of age, the likelihood of change was almost nonexistent. But that didn’t stop the angry man. He wanted to be different, he wanted to live a better life. But rather than change his surroundings, he decided instead to change his perspective. Looking about his home now, he saw the beauty in what his soul helped create with his own hands. He listened to the animals as they frolicked in the yard. He tasted the fruit which was grown from his soil. And he saw that it was good.

Pictures on the wall, that smiling face of his daughter, showed just how successful he really was. And though he wasn’t close to his oldest, he could still hope that some parental wisdom impacted him favorably. Finally out of himself, he could only imagine what his abandonment had done to that boy. That he seemed to have overcome it pleased him to no end. He could feel the icy hardening of his essence melting away as he sat in that rocking chair, staring into the empty fireplace, allowing him the experience of the beauty of this reality – a reality which may not have come if the anger hadn’t remained. It was the true meaning of his being alone.

But he wouldn’t remain alone for long. As other tracts were purchased, a small cluster of homesteads popped up, full of folks longing for the simple, rustic, quiet life of the mountains. They were kind, friendly people. They made fantastic friends and neighbors. And the angry man welcomed them all.

The Texan visited the following summer, remarking how spectacular the former undeveloped land was looking. It was but a remnant of the pictures he’d sent after purchasing it. “You’ve come a long way,” he said as they sat on the porch drinking a Moosehead. “Lemme ask you – do you miss the action?”

The angry man thought about it for a moment before answering. “No, not really,” he said. “My only regret is I never really got to know some of those guys I played with. And I knew them for years, too…I mean, I knew ‘em from the games, of course, and I saw ‘em often at the casinos. But I never really knew them, you know? It’s not like we took time to go to movies or dinner or hang out together.”

“No – you’d have to trust the bastards to do that!” he replied with a laugh.

The angry man agreed. But when the smartphone chimed in with the baseball results, the Texan removed himself from the porch and retreated inside, where he could be heard screaming at some anonymous face for some unseen slight only the two men knew. To which the angry man nodded, for he understood completely.

He remembered the homegrown marijuana which was stored in the shed. It would make a nice addition to the day, he thought – perhaps, it might even bring a smile to the Texan’s face. After all, it always did his own.


© Copyright 2019 AJ Alexander. All rights reserved.

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