Photographic image © 2017 Stuart Gelzer
Victor is to Joel an uncle, where days after Joel turned ten years old, Victor takes him to the boxing gym, because one year prior, Victor tickle-boxed Joel and Joel raised his guard and slapped back and bobbed in promising ways.
Joel follows his uncle Victor into the gym and thinks maybe Victor knows a person there, or has some business there, or walked in there in error, because when Victor borrowed Joel from Joel's mother, Victor said to her they were going to the theater to see Return of the Jedi.
Inside, Joel is stopped in his tracks by a combination, hit first by the burn-smell of the sweat-work, then by the grunt-sounds of bodies throwing heavy punches and of heavy punches hurting bodies, then by the sight of men's noses and teeth and muscles arranged in ways never intended at birth. All these things together cause Joel to gag. Still, he puts on the gloves and squares up in front of the bag.
Victor turns Joel's hips and shoulders, closing him off to the bag. Victor slaps the bag playfully and calls it a "wise guy, eh." Victor tells Joel about leading with the left and saving the right, about not lowering his hands and not turning his face away when he's hit. Joel hits the bag and hates the feel of Victor's old sweat inside the duct-taped gloves. Victor scolds Joel when Joel looks away from the bag to see the body that just fell to the mat inside the ring.
Joel feels finished boxing before Victor feels finished instructing.
On the walk home, Victor takes from his pocket a box of small cigars and tells Joel about the Army and how they passed the time by boxing in the barracks, and Victor stops walking and leans down and shows to Joel a scar above his eyebrow where he was cut badly by a punch and had to see the medic for stitches. Joel doesn't see the scar and doesn't think it's there but doesn't say this. Joel likes the smell of Victor's cheap cigar and says that instead. Victor offers Joel a cigar, and Joel puts it in his mouth. The tip tastes like cherries.
Victor extends a book of matches to Joel. "Aren't you going to light it?" Victor says.
Joel says nothing for a moment, then says "No," because he decides he's being tested.
Victor asks for the cigar back so it's not wasted.
Joel does not see Return of the Jedi until he is twelve.
Victor is to MaLynn a customer, where MaLynn is a new server at a diner and is told by the other servers to take Victor's table that morning, because the other servers know Victor, and they have organized a rotation to take his table.
Victor's eyes go wide at the sight of MaLynn. MaLynn greets him and asks if he'd like to start out with some coffee, but Victor doesn't answer right away, and MaLynn sees his eyes move down to her nametag. Victor mispronounces MaLynn's name and she corrects him. When he laughs and makes a joke about kids' names these days, MaLynn sees Victor's teeth are brown and dying, and his jaw moves at odd angles when he speaks. MaLynn thinks his mouth probably smells awful. Victor's eyes go back down to MaLynn's nametag and stay there long enough for MaLynn to understand he's actually staring at her tits instead, but she doesn't say this. MaLynn knows she needs to take his order so she can help the next table, and she says that instead.
In the kitchen MaLynn sees there is a calendar on the wall with Victor's name written on it. The calendar has a server's name signed up on each day so they can understand with a sense of fairness whose turn is next.
Victor eats his breakfast, and MaLynn checks back as infrequently as she can, and she slips a sweater on over her uniform and bites hard on the inside of her lip when he calls to her. Victor asks MaLynn if she has a boyfriend. Victor tells MaLynn she is in terrific shape. Victor continues to mispronounce "MaLynn" and laughs like a stooge when he does.
"Hey, do you do that yoga? You look like you might do yoga," Victor says to MaLynn through his brown teeth and crooked jaw.
MaLynn does do yoga.
"I figured you did," Victor says. "I've been sitting here looking out the window at that yoga place across the street with all the big windows open in front. Cracks me up. I stop over there sometimes and watch them. Anyway, before you were probably born, that building used to be a boxing gym. No windows in front. Full of big, sweaty guys beating the shit out of each other. Now it's all glass in front and full of women in leotards. That's more fun to watch, anyway. Do you go to that place?"
MaLynn says she does not, which was not the truth before this moment, but will be from this point forward.
MaLynn goes into the kitchen and writes "MaLynn" in today's box on the calendar.
Victor is to Richard a fellow soldier, where the two men share a room in the barracks and share space and time like Richard has never experienced before, because the circumstances of Richard's civilian life did not require it, but now it was necessary to trust the man next to you as if he was the same man as you.
Richard learns from Victor to be a better poker player, and he learns to play Sheepshead as well, because Richard had never heard of Sheepshead, because Sheepshead is only played in Victor's home state of Wisconsin. Victor shows Richard, too, how to kick the beer vending machine hard in the gut so it dispenses cans without quarters, and Victor fills his duffle bag until the seams are strained by cans of beer. Victor then asks Richard to carry it back to the ping-pong room because Victor injured his back during drill, or strained his neck in his sleep, or because Victor had carried it last time, which is never true.
In the ping-pong hall, Victor and Richard pass out the beers and Victor does his Three Stooges impressions, which are not as funny at the beginning of the night as they are later on. Someone who is not Victor or Richard suggests the wife game, where every man in the room removes from their wallet a picture of their wife or girlfriend, and each is placed on the ping-pong table, and every time a beer is finished, the drinker places his empty can next to the picture of the woman he'd most like to fuck at that moment. Richard sees Victor agree to the game and remove his girlfriend's photo from his wallet. Richard thinks to himself, just last week, Victor had received a letter from his girlfriend of 18 months, wherein she had said she was moving on because Victor wasn't making her feel missed or loved. Victor cried about this to Richard, but Richard doesn't say this. Richard thinks the picture of her is one of the most beautiful he's ever seen, and he says that instead.
Hours into the game, Richard sees the photo of his wife has no cans next to it. Richard is sad for his wife and places his own can there. But someone sees Richard do this and calls Richard out on this violation of protocol. Richard then hears more words from behind him, a mottle of words, unclear, but Richard feels the words are about his wife, and he feels he hears the word "cow" or "sow" or "plow," and there is an embarrassing pressure behind his eyes.
Richard turns around and sees the words are spoken to Victor. Then Richard sees Victor not hesitate to punch the speaker in the mouth, and the speaker is on the floor with his hands cupped, holding a pool of blood.
"What did he say?" Richard says to Victor.
"He didn't say anything," Victor says. "Don't worry about it."
When Victor finishes his beer and walks to the ping-pong table to place his can, someone says Victor's name, and when Victor turns around, he's hit in the head with a full can of beer. Victor goes to the infirmary and gets six stiches above his eye.
Victor is to Harold a son, where Harold is done working for the day and has eaten his dinner and is now in front of the television with a brandy and a cigar and Ed Murrow, and Harold hears Victor at the kitchen table with his sisters, teaching them how to play poker.
Harold hears fragments of Victor's words, and hears pennies and nickels sliding across the table and jingling against one another. In time he hears protests and cries. Goddamnit, Harold thinks. Goddamnit. Then comes the sound of Harold's wife trying and failing to "moderate," and the sound of Victor crying now, and nothing is ever handled properly, and Harold has to handle everything, and Goddamnit. Harold goes to the kitchen.
When Harold enters, everything stops.
Harold sends his wife and his daughters from the room and tells Victor to stay. Harold sees the pennies and nickels piled up in front of Victor, and he sees where his little girls were sitting, and sees nothing in front of them. Harold is disgusted by Victor taking advantage of those dumb girls, and he says this. Harold knows his wife had no idea what was taking place at the table, and Victor, by talking back, was taking advantage of her, too, and Harold says this, also. Harold is in control, and Victor better know his place, and this, too, is said, because anything Harold thinks is put into just as many words.
"Men don't take advantage. Do you want to be a man?" Harold says to Victor.
Victor does not answer.
"I see," Harold says. "Then we're going to drink like the men of the house."
Harold calls to his wife. Harold tells her to get a pair of tumblers and set them on the table. She does what Harold says. He tells her to put brandy in his and she does. But when she moves the bottle to fill Victor's glass, Harold slams his hand over it. No, he tells her. And he points to the bottle of vinegar on the counter and tells her to get the Tabasco from the refrigerator. Harold's wife looks hard at Harold, and he looks hard back at her and tells her to get the bottles and mind her damn business. Harold's wife hands him the bottles but leaves the room.
Harold pours Victor's drink tall and stirs in the Tabasco with his finger and tells Victor to drink if he wants to leave the kitchen with all his skin. Harold and Victor empty their glasses. Harold pours more. Harold and Victor drink again, and Victor gags and coughs and cries, and Harold pours more. Harold pours more, and there are more tears, and Harold and Victor drink again, and Victor vomits on the floor.
Harold makes Victor clean up his own vomit, and while Victor does this, Harold counts the pennies and the nickels on the table and tells Victor the amount. Then Harold places it all in his pocket and tells Victor the money is his because he's the one who earned it by working so damn hard every damn day.
When Harold returns to the television, Ed Murrow is gone for the night, and all Harold can find are the Goddamn Stooges, and he knows all of this was the fault of his wife.
Victor is to Amanda a cousin, and one of some distance and seniority, where Amanda had previously known him only as a roamer at family Christmas, or at reunions, had known him as a man of aggressive and alienating conversational manner who was to be avoided when possible, but it wasn't always possible, so here was Victor dancing with her at her wedding.
Victor was first in line for the dollar dance. Amanda watched and went feverish and anxious when she saw Victor hand over his dollar and hop toward her with his pelvis pushed out and arms shaking from side to side. Amanda fake-smiled and stretched her arms out to keep him at a length. However, Victor worked inside of her arms and took Amanda by the waist with both hands and pulled her close to him.
Victor says to Amanda that she looks so "wow wow wow," and Victor looks down at her body and says he always knew she'd grow like this, from the time Amanda was five and Victor was 30 he knew this, and Victor says they don't see each other often enough. Amanda hates how the white dress now feels filthy. Amanda smells on Victor's breath free beer and cheap smoke. Amanda wants to push away and have this whole event end immediately, but she doesn't say this. Amanda notices the line for the dollar dance getting long, and she says this instead.
Victor takes leave of Amanda and gets into the line again.
The second time through, Victor's hands fall lower on Amanda's waist, below her waist, in fact, so his hands are on her hips. Amanda reaches down and moves one hand up and takes Victor's other hand out to her side so they're not dancing as high school lovers. "You're doing this right," Victor says to Amanda.
"I don't like dancing very much," Amanda says to Victor. "I don't like this."
"Not the dancing," Victor says, and he laughs like a stooge. "The wedding. The party. God, your husband is a lucky shmuck. I was never that lucky. I was too dumb to be lucky."
"I think the point of luck is you can be dumb and still have it."
"Well, either way, I blew it, and here I am."
"Yes, here you are," Amanda says.
"Twice I blew it actually. Now look at me. That's life!"
"I think I need to switch partners again."
"God, but just look at you. I'm proud of you," Victor says. "Holy smokes!"
After another, less subtle cue, Victor takes his leave and goes again to the end of the line, but doesn't make it back to the front before the music ends and Amanda is whisked away.
Over the remainder of the night, Amanda is asked by many dear bridesmaids and friends who the old man is who keeps talking to them and touching them and offering to buy them drinks.
Amanda asks her father to talk to Victor. She asks this too late.
Amanda hears from her sister that Victor has crossed a line. Amanda hears Victor made a suggestive comment to his nephew Joel's wife, and Joel punched Victor in the mouth, Joel who was a boxer and may have broken Victor's jaw, and groomsmen escorted both men from the building.
Amanda is more than willing to spend future Christmases with her new husband's family.