Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Hickory McCracken Chronicles: Chapter 1: "Bring it all back to me"

Old Dog Shipman, Manny Weinberg, yah, now these were names old’ Hickory McCracken knew and knew well. I’ve written about him before, McCracken was a brawler, a bruiser, a bouncer and last I had heard he was working as a debt collector in Montreal somewhere. This was back in the late 80s, early 90s when I was coming into the prime of my teen years and McCracken was probably about early 20s. He has making money hand over fist, quite literally, in bare knuckled boxing competitions that were popping up “underground” in old Montreal and Toronto. He was a knock out master.  They say he had only trained with a boxing club for a couple years when he was a kid and never did much actual sparring. He preferred to “get paid if he was gonna get hit.”  Old Hick’ fell off the grid soon after the mid 90s and I hadn’t put money on one of his fights since I was a young man. That’s why it’s kind of strange that one night, down at the One Lucky tavern; I had a most unusual altercation. 

The One Lucky, immortalized in the stories by The Square Corner, had been my haunt for a few years now. I had been on the wagon for about 6 years, but since my wife Benita had divorced me, took my daughter Milly, and returned to Columbia a couple years ago, I started drinking and drinking hard. Who am I you ask? I’m just a writer. An ethnographer by trade I guess, getting paid to observe the human condition, but for a short while, I covered the local boxing scene for a small sports paper, of which paid me absolute shit, but it kept me out of bars and groceries in the cupboard. Anyway, Hickory McCracken was a major headline for me. Nobody threw the haymakers with more intensity and precision than this guy - no one that I knew of in my short stint as a boxing writer. I’d spent countless hazy evenings down at the One Lucky ripping fight tales and pulling taps with the likes of Terry Cooper, Basil Fontaine and hell, even Bert Sugar used to belly up to the bar some evenings. The One Lucky was a dive, but a colourful one. It probably had the most character out of all the bars in one city. One strange night, I was sitting on my usual stool but the place was practically empty, save for “Beer Mugs” Moran toweling off high ball glasses and an old Asian guy that basically slept through the day in his booth at the back side of the tavern. I was shit faced. I do remember however, going back and forth with Moran about a) when the actual opening hours were for the bar and b) UFOs. Since I had more time on my hands these days, divorced and laid off from my paper job, I’d become a bit of a tin foil hat conspiracy connoisseur.  I remember shouting something about an FBI “alien” experiment near Roswell, New Mexico and Mugs laughing at me calling me “one of those people” which seemed to really eat away at me.

“You believe in that shit?” Mugs would say before a chuckle. “I didn’t say I’m an advocate for every story out there, I’m just saying it’s possible!” I’d reply in slurred certainty with a tinge of drunken annoyance.

“I believe in them, I saw one myself,” came a booming response from a dark table far at the back by the pool tables. 

Now I’d heard that voice before, it was deep, raspy and self-assured.  A voice from my past. This was a voice that seemed to have an easy gait, for a voice, much like the saunter and slow stroll of a weathered athlete. I immediately sobered up a couple notches. I slowly looked back into the dank, smoky air of the One Lucky and saw a hulking silhouette underneath the neon Miller High Life sign. I felt my hands start to tremble a bit. My balls recede deep into my scrotum. It was the one and only. I knew. I just prayed he wouldn’t remember me or at least anything negative I had written about him years ago. Oh God, how I prayed.