Memoirs of bullies and summer pools in the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
We knew we were dealing with a different kind of animal when he caused the widow Myers to be placed in orthopedic traction. Sure, he strutted around like he owned Waning Years Manor (the senior living community where we’ve been hung out to dry), like he could ring our necks, and bed any bird he pleased. But there had been no hard proof. Talk on his part and speculation on ours. That is until he put his money where his mouth is. And word had it that the widow Myers had never been happier to be bed ridden. She’d be more than willing to endure the crippling effects of another shag.
After this first incident, me and the boys kept a keen eye on one Zachery Cooper. Or “Coop,” as he liked to remind us. “Call me Coop, turd breeches.” That was me. He had nicknames for the rest, all following the same adolescent logic: shit knickers, poop bloomers, etc.
It was quiet for a couple of weeks after the widow Myers, that is until the spaghetti dinner. The dinner was hosted by a boy scout troop that comes and bugs us once a month. I was sitting with a couple of the fellas I play canasta with and their wives. We were accompanied by one of the scouts (they plug a kid into every table so they can stare at us like we’re lepers, and then we’re obliged to tell him he’s a good boy for doing so). This particular young man was quite the specimen – he had red matted hair, yellow mucus crusted around his nose, and acne that matched the marinara. I left the dinner hungry.
But before the festivities came to an end, Harold Cummings who was seated three tables away, stood up with his hands around his throat. He was struggling to breath. A group of scouts looking to earn their First-Aid merit badge swarmed around the poor bastard. But before we knew it, Coop plowed through like a bulldozer sending the pee-wees and plates of pasta flying everywhere. Harold was lifted into the air like a ragdoll. Coops arms wrapped around Harold like a pair of pythons and squeezed (I swear Coop looked out into the crowd as if he were posing at a Mr. Universe contest). Not only was the meatball ejected, but so were Harold’s lungs and liver.
With disaster ‘averted,’ Coop disengaged his arms and Harold dropped to the ground like a bag of bones. In a moment of triumph, Coop raised his arms over his head and flexed his biceps. This brought down the house. The old biddies and prepubescent geeks gave him a standing ovation. That evening, Coop had his way with the widow Jenkins.
That one hurt. The fellas knew I’d been sniffing around Mrs. Jenkins’ petunias ever since Mr. Jenkins croaked two years ago. I guess Coop didn’t get the memo. Not that it would have mattered. What could I have done? Coop was naturally big and in better physical shape than most forty year olds. But on top of that, he had his own Dr. Frankenstein who was shooting him up with all the latest PEDs out of Germany. That was the rumor anyhow (someone had a doctor who knew a doctor who was connected to Frankenstein).
Even worse, Mr. Muscles seemed to be putting on quite the performance behind closed doors. Mona, Mrs. Jenkins, was never the same again. After being with Coop, Mona reverted back to her days as a school girl. She was carefree, nimble, and flirtatious. The medical staff at Waning Years chalked it up to the progression of her Alzheimer’s. But we knew better.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, which caused the fellas and I to take action, presented itself at the annual pool party. Normally we looked forward to the first pool party of the summer. However, now that Coop would be in attendance, we knew the whole affair would devolve into a showcase for his physique, and result in him being pampered by the female residents. And that’s exactly what happened.
I sat at the other end of the pool sipping my Virgin Colada (alcohol interferes with my meds) and watched as Mona rubbed suntan lotion onto Coop’s chest and another resident, Mary, held an Arnold Palmer up to his lips to drink. Sure, he may have been seventy years old, but in that moment, he was nothing less than a god. I was seething with envy.
My thousand-yard stare was interrupted when, Jim, my roommate, tapped me on the shoulder. “Check out Saul. He ain’t looking too good.” I shifted my gaze and saw Saul as he was being escorted back to the clubhouse by his wife Dotty. He was beet red and sweating as if he were in a sauna. Everyone gasped as Saul shook and wobbled while holding onto his walker. He hit the pavement.
Someone shouted, “Heart attack!” But before I could shout back, “Heat stroke, moron!” Coop jumped to his feet and punched his fist into his palm, and announced, “It’s Coop time!” Though the proclamation caused me to choke on my Colada, it actually seemed to mitigate the fears of others. Saul wasn’t so lucky.
Coop jumped into action and leapt over three chaise lounges. He was crouched over Saul’s sunbaked body before anyone else could assist. Coop’s massive fists started to rain down on Saul’s bird like chest. You could hear his ribs cracking. At one point, Coop grabbed Saul by his shirt collar and lifted him towards his face. “Stay with me little buddy. Don’t leave me you bastard!” I’m pretty sure Coop had no idea who Saul was. Coop then slapped him across the face, which caused Saul’s dentures to fly out of his mouth and land in the pool. To this day that’s where they remain, floating calmly in the sun.
Once Saul was finally brought to the hospital, it was reported that he had five broken ribs, a punctured lung and zero dignity. Coop had little to worry about; he was protected by the Good Samaritan law. When questioned by the officer who appeared on the scene, as to why he slapped poor Saul, Coop replied, “That’s how we did it in the Navy.” He received a pat on the back.
The following Saturday we devised a scheme to be rid of Coop. The inspiration came from the matinee movie that was playing in the visitor’s lounge. That weekend’s feature was Cape Fear. You guessed it. We were basically going to hire guys to smash Coop into another dimension. Sure, it doesn’t take a genius to hatch that scheme, but when you’re over sixty you need all the inspiration you can get.
Jim and I were on good terms with an orderly known as Big Herc. His real name may have been Kevin, but I’m not sure. Anyways, Big Herc looked just as you would imagine. He did not disappoint. Jim and I were always slipping a few dollars here and there to Herc, and he would sneak in contraband. Nothing crazy, just food, cigars, and once in a great while, pills for whatever happened to be your pleasure or pain.
When we presented our proposition, his response was, “Hell no! I need this job. I ain’t going back to the pen for beating some old man ass.” We asked if he knew anyone who would be willing for the right price. We assured him that we weren’t looking to kill Coop, we just wanted him out of commission for a good long while. Herc shook his head like a sad puppy and took a deep breath. “Let me make some calls. I’ll get back to your crazy old asses.” He returned in less than fifteen minutes. “You want this done, you need to put up six hundred. They want three a piece.” And with that, Operation Muscle Relaxer was put in motion.
To our surprise, the ambush was gonna happen much sooner than later; the very next day at 5am, when Coop was to head out for his morning jog. Supposedly, Herc’s contacts were already preparing to hightail it out of town on account of some other business. Our payment was a cherry on top. Jim and I scrambled, searching through shoeboxes, sock draws, books, and the contents of our freezers. We scrounged up two hundred and sixty dollars. Herc offered to take our bank cards and drive to an ATM. We graciously declined. Jim made a last-ditch effort and paid a visit to Dotty, Saul’s wife. A half hour later, he returned with the remaining balance. “What did you tell her?” I asked. “I told her the truth. She was more than happy. Saul’s penis don’t work no more,” Jim reported. Did it ever?
That night I tossed and turned as if the Cuban Missile Crisis were underway. My mind began to race as I examined different scenarios. What if Herc’s associates were to go too far? What if they had weapons? Even worse, I thought back to Cape Fear. It didn’t work for Gregory Peck. Mitchum creamed those guys. Could a seventy-year-old man on steroids get the better of two thugs in their twenties who may or may not be on steroids? These were pertinent questions pertaining to my own pathetic survival.
Just as I was beginning to get comfortable, not only physically but mentally with the fact that I had placed a hit on a man, I rolled over and saw that my alarm clock read 4:45 am. Fifteen minutes hence, Coop would go from being an iron man to a man living inside of an iron lung. I couldn’t let it happen. Despite everything, he was one of us. And the thought of two youngsters doing him bodily harm, well, it sickened me.
Jim was sound asleep, so I shuffled past his bed and headed out on my own. I had hoped to intercept Coop while still on my floor, but no luck. With my stomach in knots, I waited for what seemed like an eternity for the slowest elevator on the planet. The clock was ticking. Once I arrived on the ground floor, I walked past the front desk where the night nurse was staring down at her phone, too occupied to notice the world around. Coop was sitting in the vestibule; watching, waiting. I noticed that his concentration was focused on two young thugs who were lurking in the parking lot.
“Mornin’ turd breeches,” Coop said to me as I stepped into the vestibule. “Coop?” I uttered. He raised his hand to stop me. “No worries, I’m just sizing-up these boys. Should make for a helluva finale.” “What are you talking about?” I asked. “You guys do this? The thugs?” I became tongue tied as I searched for a reasonable and legal explanation. Coop chuckled. “Don’t worry. I’m glad you did.” “What’re you saying?” “You think I want to die like the rest of you? Have you seen how they die around here? It’s disgusting.” I couldn’t have agreed more.
Coop stood up and began stretching his arms and chest. “This is how it should be. Fight till the last breath. Well, here goes nothin’,” he said as he began to walk towards the doors leading out. “Kick their asses,” I said. The automatic doors slid open and Coop stepped through. Before they could slide shut I called out to him, “Coop?” He turned to look at me. “Mona Jenkins, how was it? What was she like?” He gave me an earnest look. “She makes a nice cup of tea. You should stop by her room sometime.” I smiled and gave him a nod.
There was a part of me that wanted to be at Coop’s side walking towards certain death. There was another part of me that wanted to run back to my room and hide under the bed. I split the difference and walked back into the foyer where I hid behind a pillar. Scared but curious, I snuck a peek and watched Coop as closed the distance between himself and his executioners. I told myself that I would look away once he made contact – but he never did. Coop stopped in his tracks and fell to the ground. He began to vomit bile. The two thugs booked it.
It turned out that Coop had stomach cancer and two months later, he was dead. People had mixed feelings about his death just as they did about his life. But one thing was certain, Coop made us feel. And that still beats the perpetual numbness of most days. He was also an inspiration. Through Big Herc we got connected to a Dr. Frankenstein down in Mexico. Any day now, we should have all the supplements we could ever want. And once they kick in, we’ll see whose left standing and crowned king of the hill.