It was late at night and snow was falling. I was driving home over the bridge. Suddenly, I spotted an old man standing on a girder, staring down into the icy water. He was wearing a T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up, his hair greased back in a James Dean style. There was a tattoo on his arm and a cigarette dangling from his lips. I recognized him as a character I hadn’t seen in a while, Mr. Macho.
He squatted as if to jump.
“DON’T DO IT!” I screamed.
He glared at me. “Why the hell not?’
“Because you have plenty to live for.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, buddy boy,” he said. “It’s cause I got nothing to live for that I’m jumping. Good-bye cruel worl–“
“Wait!” I yelled. I climbed up the guide wire and joined him on the edge. Up close I could see the age lines on his face, and the white in his hair. His tattoo read “Mom.”
“What’s wrong, Mr. Macho?” I asked.
“The world has no use for guys like me,” I said. “I’m useless. I’m a has-been.”
“Nonsense,” I said.
“Oh, yeah?’ he said, leering. “You want a cigarette?”
“I don’t smoke.”
“Want a swig of whiskey?”
“I don’t drink.”
“See what I mean?” Tough to get a date
He reached into his back pocket, pulled out a flask, and took a gulp.
“Nothing I do makes sense anymore. When I was young, they taught us smoking was cool. So we smoked. Now you’re an idiot if you smoke. Women come up in restaurants and say, ‘Would you put that thing out?’
“When I was young, they told us real men knew how to drink. So we learned how to drink. Now they say only fools drink. Big, strapping young men come into a bar and order Evian water. What the hell is that?
“When I was young, going to war was good. Fight for your country. Join up quick. Now you only join up if you want to, and even when we have a war, the big question is always ‘Is this really necessary?’
He pulled out a comb and ran it though his straggly hair. He looked down at the water, and I figured I should say something quick.
“Listen, Mr. Macho,” I said. “Things change. There must be some new trends you approve of.”
“Like what?” he said. “Used to be you saw a pretty gal in the secretarial pool, you hung around after work trying to get a date. You try that now, you get slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit. Look at what happened with Clarence Thomas.”
“Well, nothing. Used to be you took a gal out, you paid for dinner, paid for a movie, then you tried for a kiss in front seat. It was normal behavior. You do that now, it’s date rape.”
“Well, nothing. Used to be the more women you slept with, the bigger a guy you were. Now, you go down to the corner and tell your buddies you had six girls this week, they say “Are you nuts? Get to the hospital quick!”
He leaned forward.
“Ain’t no room for a guy like me in a place like that. Good-bye cruel wor–“
“WAIT!” I yelled, grabbing his shirt. No heroes since The Duke
“Now what?” he said.
“Things can’t be all that bad,’ I said. “Surely there are some manly heroes still around. What about movie stars?”
“John Wayne?” he said.
“Well, no. But there are other macho types. What about Steven Seagal?”
“With the ponytail?”
“Hmm. How about Arnold Schwarzenegger?”
“He mumbles. I can’t understand a word.”
“Forget it. You can’t even admire the boxers anymore. Who’s the toughest guy around? Mike Tyson, right? He sounds like a girl, and spends half his time in court. And what about professional athletes? They either carry briefcases or wear 14 pounds of jewelry.
“Let’s face it. My era is through. I’m a has-been. Nobody wants me. These days, you’re not supposed to smoke, drink, fight, yell, curse, tell dirty jokes or sleep with women. That’s masculinity?
“Nah. There’s no point in being a real man anymore. You only get laughed at.”
He shrugged and jumped into the river.
And I never saw him again.
I know what you’re thinking: I should have stopped him. And I thought about it. But what else could I say? I guess it is pretty confusing being male these days, unless you’re Alan Alda. So I figured I would let Mr. Macho go out the way he wanted.
After all, it’s the ’90s, and to quote the male credo of this decade:
A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.