Me and Nitro

The Curious Fate of Nitro Villechaize

Intimidation is a curious thing. There was a little guy that went to my high school that was quite a bully. He’d strut down the halls, shoving and yelling and tormenting and punching. No one could really remember why he was justified to be such a bastard, yet no one would ever fight back, it was assumed that anyone acting as such is doing it because they can back it up with fists, knives, or guns. Successfully analyzing a bully as one blessed with minimal powers of personal introspection acting out feelings of inadequacy and insecurity is a good pastime while you stay in the hospital. One day another little guy, a new kid not smart enough to stay away from the bully, stood up to him and beat the fuck out of him. The spell of the bully was broken for all most of us, which taught me an important lesson: to be intimidated, you must first believe.

One rainy Saturday in New Orleans we decided to find a town with a stupid name and take a road trip to it. Cheesequake, New Jersey, and Truth or Consequences, New Mexico were too far away to make on one tank of gas, so we went to Hernando, Mississippi, a nice little hell hole a bit south of Memphis. The AAA guide said they had a Motel 6, a liquor store, and a Popeye’s Fried Chicken, 3 elements sure to make any overnight trip a successful endeavor. Me, Lester, Ed, and Martelle all hopped into a bashed up old Duster and hit the road, our luggage no more than a crumbling cooler full of sodas, beers, and gas station ice. A box of tapes wedged between the glove compartment and the floor mat meant that riding shotgun was devoid of it’s usual superior legroom, but other than that slight inconvenience, things couldn’t be better. Riding in a car filled with best friends and good music is one of the nicest things about being alive. It’s also a sure fire way to get in trouble.

We hadn’t quite gotten to Hernando yet, but we were getting antsy. Ed was trying to load a squirt gun with bongwater, spilling most of it on himself in the process, and Lester kept trying to light the back of my hair on fire. My hair is interesting in that it doesn’t really dread up after not being washed for weeks, it mats, so I get these hockey puck sized clumps of brown nests woven tighter than any truckstop Indian rug. Consequently, my hair doesn’t burn, it smolders. You can get it going pretty well with some patience, but it smells like hell, and there’s always the problem of the fire getting out of control, but it was a trick that came in handy while doing bonghits on the highway. If we got pulled over, all the cop smelled was burning hair and cigarettes, and there ain’t no laws about setting yourself on fire, at least not in Louisiana. However, as you can imagine, having your hair burned without your permission gets to be a drag after a while. Martelle had to piss, so we pulled off the highway into a town that had a sign for a university. I won’t say which one, because we fucked a lot of shit up there and I don’t want it coming back to me, but let’s just call it Michael Bolton University.

MBU, as it turned out, was a religious school that focused primarily on musical studies, seminary skills, and phys ed. We learned this by parking the Duster and walking into the student union where a rack of pamphlets explained everything. The place was sparsely decorated – a junk food machine, some flyers for campus revivals on the walls, a semi-circular couch centered around an old television. There wasn’t a lot of activity for a Saturday afternoon, just some guy sitting on the couch with his girlfriend watching Alabama play Auburn, which I vaguely recall as some sort of Southern rivalry, but I try not to retain that sort of information. The guy was really into the game, and the girl looked bored, at least until we walked into the room. Her look of boredom turned into slight panic as she nudged her boyfriend’s attention in our direction. For a second they shared the same grief stricken look, as if Mongols had broken down the drawbridge and were set to start pillaging. Lester picked up on their fear like a dog, walked over to the couch, and sat next to the guy. I sat on the other side of Lester.

The guy looked like a mixture of Nitro from American Gladiators (then the only television show that could hold our attention other than the Simpsons and Cops) and Herve Villechaize, Tattoo from Fantasy Island. He was bulging with muscles to be sure, but at 5 foot 5, I suppose he felt he had to be. He had a crewcut and a whisper thin mustache, a species that seems to grow best in the climate of America’s Deadly Triangle (Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas). The girl was kind of cute, black shoulder length hair, wearing a gray Alabama sweatshirt. The pickings must have been pretty slim at MBU for her to settle for this guy. Maybe he had some personality going for him, but making your date sit though more than 10 minutes of football is up there with vomiting on yourself as far as turn ons go. There was a long uncomfortable silence before anyone spoke, we stared at him and he stared at the TV.

Lester finally broke the silence. “So who’s winning?”

Without even looking away from the screen Nitro answered. “Bama.”

“Are you guys hungry at all?”

“No.”

Lester shouted across the room to Ed who was doing pull-ups on the vending machine. “Hey Ed, get this guy a Twinkie!”

Ed fished through the change in his pockets and pulled out enough to make a Twinkie twist and fall off the metal spiral into the plastic staging area. He tossed the Twinkie across the room to Lester who unwrapped it and offered it to Nitro.

“I don’t want it.”

“Aw, c’mon. Eat it.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Lester’s eyes narrowed and he got a bit more forceful. “Eat it.”

It was Nitro’s turn to narrow his eyes. He sized up Lester, took the Twinkie, and slowly, painfully ate it.

Lester watched him eat. “Hey Ed, I think this guy wants another one.”

“Jeez, what a pig, but if he wants another one, I’ll get it for him.”

Lester unwrapped it and handed it to Nitro. “Eat it.”

I suddenly realized what was happening, the Force Feed. Lester and Ed were famous for a few good tricks. One was Dollar Wrestling, where they’d challenge strangers to wrestling matches, first one to get pinned gives the other one a dollar. Many nights were fully funded by Dollar Wrestling. (When I went back to New Orleans last year, it was nice to see that they had progressed to Beer Wrestling). Another great trick was The Steak Diversion. Lester would walk into a supermarket or a drug store, leather jacket, stupid spiked up hair, army boots, and start screaming. Maybe he’d smash a watermelon on the flood or knock over a detergent display. Maybe he’d sing “Que Sera Sera” at the top of his lungs or juggle gallons of milk. Whatever, the trick was, while Lester was being a good natured jerk, Ed would walk in, dressed in a nice shirt and pants, and steal steaks. 3 or 4 top sirloins. Maybe a block of cheese if it was late enough. It was a good scam.

The Force Feed, however, was not a scam. It was a mean trick. Between the two of them, they would get you to eat yourself sick before you knew what happened. They got me with it at their apartment once, when I first started hanging out with them. Half a sandwich here, couple pieces of pizza there, a candy bar, a tray of cookies, nachos, and pretty soon I was feeling like total shit. Everyone started laughing. “You fucking pig. Why stop now? Let’s go get you some dinner, our treat.” Yeah, good joke. It’s scary to think that out of all the guys I grew up with, I was the most normal, by far.

But the Force Feed was not always lighthearted. The lame kids who would stop by Lester and Ed’s apartment in search of free drugs or cute punk rock girls usually wouldn’t stop by again. I once saw Lester make some poor rich kid eat an entire bag of pork rinds at knife point. “Eat up you little bitch! You wanna go slumming? You’re really slumming now, huh Mr. BMW?” The guy sprinted out of the apartment as Lester went into the kitchen to look for a tin of oysters. Looking back now, it all seems a little fucked, but to a dumb 17 year old kid, it was just cheap entertainment (Lester swears that the scene in Seven where the killer makes the Fat Guy eat himself to death is directly linked to a lifted conversation of his back in 1989).

“I don’t want to eat any more.” Nitro was putting up a pretty flaccid defense for one so buff.

“More? You want more? Hey Ed, he wants more!”

I counted six Twinkie wrappers on the ground. Nitro was turning green. Interestingly enough, his girlfriend was getting a bigger laugh out of it than we were. Cool girls are quite refreshing in the Deep South, where most women are convinced that their entire purpose on this Earth is to go to church and make sure their men get to work fed and go to bed laid.

“I’ll take one,” she said.

Lester smiled. “See buddy, your girlfriend can take it. What’s your name girlie?”

“Don’t tell him.” Nitro tried his best to sound authoritarian with frosting caked on his lips.

“Amy.”

“Hey Ed, Amy here needs a Twinkie.”

“This machine is out of Twinkies. Sno Balls or Orange Cup Cakes?”

Amy answered “Cup Cakes.”

Ed tossed and Amy caught. She opened the package and offered one to Nitro. “No, I don’t want it.”

“Eat it.”

Nitro ate the cupcake, and got up to leave. “Fuck this. You can stay with these guys if you want.”

“You’re not going anywhere.” Lester grabbed him by the back of the shirt and pulled him back over to the couch.

“C’mon Lester, this is getting boring. Let’s go.”

“No way man, this guy’s still breathing.”

“Remember what happened to the last guy,” Martelle said, not even looking up from a pamphlet about the avoidance of sin and the advantages of healthy living he was reading in the corner.

“Yeah Lester, the Diabetic Coma Guy,” I added. “Remember how messy that got?”

“Yeah, but that guy was sick to begin with.”

“Kicking the shit out of him afterwards didn’t help either.”

Nitro’s eyes were getting wider and wider. Lester turned to Amy. “What do you think?”

Amy thought about it for a second. She looked at Nitro, probably wondering if he had it in him to eat any more, wondering if she should punish him for whatever abuses he had dealt her in the past, wondering what things would be like after we left and it was back to him and her. She let the moment get painful, let Nitro twist and wiggle on the end of Lester’s hook. “Can we stop watching football?”

“Yes.”

“OK, he’s done eating.”

“If you say so,” Lester let go of Nitro and smacked him on the back of the head. “Hey man, are you gonna leave all those wrappers lying around? What a pig!”

We piled back into the Duster and hit the highway. At some point Amy had given Lester a crumpled piece of paper with her phone number, which he uncrumpled and showed off with a huge grin. Lester actually drove back to the school a few months later and stayed with her for a week, but I don’t think it amounted to much more than a few nights of sex and a couple dozen donuts. As for the rest of our trip to Hernando, it must have been fun because I don’t remember a thing.