Pyrrhic victories…Scatological defeats…Ken McElroy, Akku Yadav and other forms of human waste…
I prefer it when things work out in my favor. Likewise, I get a little bitter when things don’t work out in my favor. Seems natural enough. It is a basic equation, a measured understanding of my demands on the world and the world’s willingness to accept them. Sometimes, though, it is difficult to tell which is which. A victory may not always be the best possible outcome, and defeat may not be as bad as it seems. The victory that carries within its womb the incubating seed of defeat is what is known as a Pyrrhic victory, in which an initial success actually dooms a person or a group of people in the long run. The cost of the victory is such that it might as well be a defeat, which seems doubly cruel, but also somehow artistic, like with a flick of the wrist the Great Scorekeeper can affect a blistering reversal of fortune.
I witnessed a fine example of this recently. I was at a bar. Go figure. There were two bartenders working, a man and a woman. One customer asked which of them made a better martini? The woman immediately insisted that she did, that her martinis were the best, that nobody could make a better martini, that she could not be beat. The guy-bartender just shrugged and said he was pretty sure he was the best at making a martini, and he could prove it. The contest was afoot. The two bartenders set about making their version of a martini and before long placed their drinks in front of the man who had raised the question. The man tried them both and said it wasn’t even close. The woman’s martini was much better. It was obvious just by looking at it. The girl-bartender’s drink was frosty, with a silvery refulgence and two ripe olives. The guy-bartender’s drink looked swampy, warm, polluted. The olives he had used were falling apart, kind of diseased-looking. The girl had won, and spent the next few minutes vaunting over her superiority.
It became clear, though, in the next hour or so, that things might not have been so cut and dry. The girl-bartender no longer had time to boast as she became overwhelmed with every drink order in the place. All the customers wanted her to make their drink, because the guy-bartender working alongside her clearly sucked at it, and it was then that I noticed the guy-bartender standing in the corner with a smirk as the whole crowd passed him by to place their order specifically with the girl who had so thoroughly routed him in drink-making expertise. As the night wore on the guy-bartender opened a few bottles of beer, flirted with some women, watched television. The girl didn’t have it so easy. She was showing signs of fatigue. Her hair was coming out of its braid, her forehead was glistening with sweat and she seemed bewildered by the non-stop pleas of all the customers surrounding her. It was beginning to look like the guy had made the bad drink on purpose, allowing her to take the victory and every single drink order for the rest of the night along with it while he kicked back and enjoyed himself. All other things being equal, I admired the man’s ability to sense the bigger design.
The real test of wisdom is pattern recognition, I think. To be able to recognize the cause and effect of complicated interaction and figure the probable outcome is a valuable talent. It becomes extremely important, though, when it is a matter of life or death. Chaos is order not yet understood, as they say, and the agents of chaos who cannot predict disasters, especially the ones they themselves create, are often beaten by their own mess. At least that is how it should be. It is a fine thing to see some bastard get hoist by his own petard, to suffer the moral arc, to be hit with the rebound of his villainy. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when a person is lying on the floor of a courtroom with something like a hundred stab wounds, a severed penis, a face full of chili powder and nobody around to come to his aid, he may want to rethink where it all went south.
That said, the award for best ending to the worst individual goes to Akku Yadav, who is about to celebrate the tenth anniversary of being knifed to death by something like two hundred women from the lower caste of India’s Nagpur District. After brutalizing a territory of slums for the better part of a decade–raping poor women, threatening their families and being constantly released by his friends in the police department–Mr. Yadav met his demise in 2004, fittingly, on the floor of a courtroom where he was about to be granted bail. This was Mr. Yadav’s Pyrrhic victory. There is little doubt that Mr. Yadav was eager to be bailed out, was looking forward to his freedom, was probably thinking where he would have dinner that night, when out of nowhere a frenzied mob of victimized women set upon him to revoke his bail, permanently. Even the two guards who were standing next to the prisoner fled for their lives. Knifing a criminal to death is a messy business, and the potential for collateral damage is high. The police officers guarding Mr. Yadav understood this all too well. When the decision is whether to hold onto your job or your balls, most men will go with the latter every single time.
I was reading about Mr. Yadav recently and his defeat struck some chord of familiarity. I was reminded of the twisted tale of old Ken McElroy, the pig thief, rustler, extortionist, and general reason that shit-kicking rednecks who flout the law rarely win any major humanitarian awards. Mr. McElroy, the wild pedophile from the midwest, was able to dodge the law for twenty years while he terrorized the small town of Skidmore, Missouri. With a fancy lawyer he could sidestep any criminal charges brought against him. He was known as a kind of “Teflon Don” type, maybe more of a “Slick Hick.” Better rhyme scheme. Anyway he had the system beat, that is until the summer of 1981. Free on bail pending appeal for attempted murder, the folks of Skidmore walked down to the bar he was drinking at early in the morning and plugged him with a salvo of bullets. “I meant whiskey shots,” were his rumored last words, and that was about it. His child bride escaped the massacre unharmed, or at least she didn’t get hit by any bullets. It is anybody’s guess as to the general psychological damage.
Another Pyrrhic victory, America-style. If ornery Ken McElroy had been put in the safety of a jail cell instead of being granted a release, he might’ve been around to whoop it up another day. Although the tears shed for these guys could probably be counted on one hand, it still seemed worth remembering that a lucky break doesn’t necessarily mean total triumph and that the boomerang effect can be severe.
I was wary of this recently when I encountered another contest in which alcohol was a factor. This one was known as “El Borracho Loco.” It started out harmless enough. Two men, in a test of pain tolerance, brainless endurance and stomach strength had challenged each other to a tequila drinking match. There was a unique part to it though that had to do with the salt and the lime. Not only did they have to go shot for shot with the tequila, but instead of licking the salt, drinking the tequila and sucking on the lime they had to snort the rock salt up their noses, take the shot and then squeeze the lime into one of their eyes. Loser had to pay for the tequila consumed. The whole bar watched in horror and fascination as the two men snorted the rock salt, drank the cactus juice and then squeezed a big fat lime into an eye, gurgling, yelling and pounding their fists as they did so. Round two was equally brutal. Money changed hands. Shouts and threats drowned out the normal meringue music. Beads of sweat raced down the bar manager’s face as he stood near the phone, ready to call the paramedics. Round four. Round five. One man’s nose was bright red as all his facial capillaries burst, and the other guy looked possessed, his eyes red like cherry tomatoes. The crowd badgered them, called them bed-wetting toddlers and insulted their mothers. They had finished off a 750ml of Don Diego Anejo, which put the bill at about $180 when one of the men just fell out of the chair, clinging to the ground. In no time his wife stomped into the bar.
“You all should be ashamed of yourselves,” she told us as she paid the loser’s tab and dragged her husband feet first down the wheelchair ramp outside the cantina. We all knew we’d probably never see him again. He’d either be going through a divorce or recovering from alcohol poisoning in the immediate future. I was out twenty bucks as I had bet on the guy who lost. He was a well known rugby player from the neighborhood who seemed crazy enough to drink himself to death before defeat. He was always showing up from his rugby matches with braces, slings, dislocated fingers and such. I figured the tequila would be a cinch.
The second man declared himself the winner, did another shot of tequila just for the hell of it and then staggered off into the night. And this is where it got messy.
The next day it was all over the news. A “truck driver” had been arrested for spilling 350 gallons of human waste from his septic truck all through his neighborhood west of Atlanta, starting at the middle school and meandering all through the streets in a mindless odyssey to either find his house or a fast food restaurant before the police caught up with him. The smell was so bad it had residents running for their lives in every direction as shit sprayed from the back of his truck. The police and the local news crew wondered how the man didn’t realize he was creating that type of mess, but those of us who were at the bar that night knew.
“Remember the winner of El Borracho Loco the other evening?” said the bar manager when I ran into him soon after, tapping the newspaper he was reading and shaking his head. “He is about to get hit with some kind of monster cleanup fine and his job driving shit around is in the toilet.”
I nodded. Some victories just weren’t worth it. I called it a day and went home to sit like buddha in the detached interspace of thrilling victory and crushing defeat.
More Alembics to come.