When you wind up inside, you gotta learn how things are done.
You look for the players. The connections. Who can get you what you need? What’s it gonna cost you? Are cigarettes valuable currency or will you have to do some pretty freaky shit with the lunch lady for an extra yogurt at chow time? Some of those lessons you just gotta learn from bitter, bitter experience. The rest can be learned by observing.
I'd been in the institution for about a week when Gordon arrived. He was a stout fellow, pushing fifty years and fifty inches tall with a thick Schicklgruber moustache. He came in on movie night and, in a slight break with protocol, he was also given the honor of choosing the evening's selection. A wad of smuggled $20s buys favors.
Gordon wasn't particularly a Mel Gibson fan. He hadn't seen any of the Lethal Weapon films, nor was he even remotely familiar with Mad Max. He was, however, appreciative of explosive anger and free-flowing anti-Semitism. So when the evening’s movie choice was between the latest Katherine Heigl abomination and Gibson's Get the Gringo, he made his choice without hesitation.
The rest of the group wasn’t so enthused. The borderline personality patients muttered vows of thousand-fold revenge under their breath, and all four of "Icy" Earl McNulty's personalities had something negative to say about it. But when Get the Gringo started, with an impressive high gear chase sequence laced with Gibson's dry smirking narration, we were all similarly hooked.
There are echoes of Payback right from the onset. Gibson is the titular "Gringo”, a man without a name or even fingerprints. He’s a scheming sociopath with no redeeming qualities beyond the sheer competence at what he does. We meet him as he and his mortally wounded partner are in clown masks fleeing cops along the Mexican border. The partner dies coughing up blood all over bags of stolen cash. After a desperate crash, the Gringo ends up in a corrupt Mexican prison called “El Pueblito”.
The intake system of El Pueblito is similar to that of "Our Lady of Perpetual Howling", the facility at which I had found temporary residence. It's the inmates who give you the grand tour. The long-timers. The lifers. Everyone sizes you up. They test your resolve. But if you've got a sharp eye you can pick out the members of the staff who are sympathetic to your wants and desires.
Ronnie, the orderly who ran the rec room, was the guy who could get you anything you wanted. He showed up with a fresh batch of Thorazine and a bucket of caramel corn twenty minutes into the movie. Gordon slipped a twenty into his waiting palm and sent him on his way. I watched carefully, studying how the transaction worked. Not that they were being too secretive of it, seeing as how Ronnie asked the room if anyone else needed him to smuggle anything in for them. Corruption runs deep, but it does not run silent.
There are echoes of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome as the Gringo gets tangled up in the power struggles of the ruling crime family. His ultimate goal is really not important. It has to do with escaping, getting the money back, revenge, and so on. It's how he navigates the system along the way that powers the first half of the film. His quick adaptations and clever cons and robberies make you root for him even as he’s displaying a total lack of morality. When he meets one of the many kids who are being raised in the prison along with their inmate parents, he displays somewhat of a soft side even as he’s telling the kid the quickest way to kill a person with a home-made shank.
The film takes an even darker, more violent twist half-way through. What began as a story of a man moving stealthily through the criminal underworld of the prison suddenly explodes into a big, loud, nasty action flick. It’s got slow motion bullet wounds through eyeballs, guys blown up with grenades, dismemberments, and even organ thievery. It’s not shy about any kind of horror visited through violence and nobody is spared their share of the brutality.
Mel Gibson’s action career is cut from different cloth than that of his contemporaries Stallone and Schwarzenegger, but there is a style in his ass-kickery that is all his own. The man knows how to deliver a solid action movie. As co-writer of Get the Gringo, there's that definite flavor of his interest in physical suffering, especially of the hero. It’s interesting to see his psychology play out on screen.
And it’s goddamned entertaining. While the manic depressives may have been in the fetal position by the start of the third act as people were getting blown up and picked off with wicked head-shots, I found myself standing and cheering along with the psychotics. Even Claudine, Icy Earl’s Southern teen nymphomaniac alternate personality, called the big shoot-out “the shit, y’all.”
The film winds down somewhat predictably. It veers itself towards a happier ending than it deserves. With the carnage that had played out up to that point it’s hard to imagine there was much studio interference telling them to “lighten it up”.
As the credits rolled I gave Gordon a big hug in appreciation for his fine film selection. We had learned much about appropriate human contact during our daily group sessions, and I felt this was a good opportunity to put it into practice. I was also able to quietly pull the remaining cash from his pocket with one hand as my other gave him a hearty two-slap on the back.
Ronnie made his rounds at the usual time. I made him the offer of the entire bundle of cash for a few minutes in the staff bathroom. He hemmed and hawed a bit, but in the end, he was all about the money. A smarter man may have wondered why I would pay so handsomely, but he just pocketed the cash, opened the door, tapped his watch, and told me to hurry it up. It wasn't the scented bath soaps and privacy that attracted me as much as it was the big window which opened freely to the world.
I've been in Ronnie's trunk for an hour now. Based on what I’ve seen of him so far, he’ll figure out that I’m gone and simply not tell anyone. He tends to call such issues “the morning crew’s problems”. This may be a bit more serious than ignoring a backed up toilet, but he can’t be bothered with these types of things on “Game of Thrones” night.
I suppose he may face repercussions. He was the one responsible for us, after all. But the rules never seemed to matter to him. He needed extra money for the mortgage payments on his new house, so he made the choice. My only fear is that if he is fired he won't be able to keep up those payments. From the appraisal paperwork I found in the trunk it looks perfect. With nice, narrow, silent walls.
Image courtesy of the author