a revelation by Martin Goulding
Uncle Henry was a big bum-crack exposing sort of guy, overly tight shorts, always adjusting himself in public, you know the type. He was genial enough, but I hated taking him to social events, because he drank Port and Coke–only.
His wife pushed him down the stairs a few years ago, resulting in a back injury, which forced him on social welfare, permanently. My girlfriend had little time for Henry and once in a drunken snitch, claimed she would have rolled the old guy down the front steps way before his wife did the act; that is the sort of sympathy he evoked in women.
Henry was by most standards, a family embarrassment. We tolerated him because he was a relation. He had no talents or interests, apart from obscure music by an instrumentalist called Klaus Schulze.
One night when Henry was really laying into the Port and Coke, he started waffling on about Klaus Shultz; he asked me if I knew anyone who liked Body Love (possibly his least known album).
“Yes,” I said, “the Dalai Lama loves K.S and that album is his favorite, he listens to it every night, I read this in a e-zine somewhere.”
There was no truth in this at all, of course. But Henry was sensitive about K.S. Body Love was his only real passion.
That is, until he found he had a flair for the Mall Claw Machine. The claw comes in several forms, you would have seen them, they have varieties of soft toys or chocolate bars as prizes. A black cabinet houses a small stainless steel crane-like-claw, activated on payment of a coin. The player must get the claw to hover over the selected item and lock on to it. It’s a bit like trying to net fish, with a tree branch, very difficult and calibrated so the player has around a ninety-nine percent chance of not snaring the selected item.
It must have been in his long bouts of depression that he started experimenting with the claw, I used to joke with him when he would start on about how bad his life was and how that she-devil of a wife had rolled him down the stairs in utter contempt.
“Henry”, I would say “You have a lot to be depressed about, old mate, best face facts!” speaking in this vein, with a grin on my face would tend to lighten him up a bit.
When Henry took over the claw, his whole demeanor changed; intense concentration would weld him in place. He went from a low self-esteem welfare-sort-of-guy to a full-bore, Mall Machine Cognoscente. He moved like a demon in intent. That crane-like-claw would come down time and again. Mars Bars, Crunchies, Kit-Kats, Cadbury Chocolate Bars all gave it up to the invincible hand of Uncle Henry: Mall Maverick.
A crowd of kids (and a few cheeky adults) would gather and hands would grab each candy as it dropped into the outlet. On one occasion I had to call over Freddy Dick, the rotund mall security guy to uppercut a few of those cheeky adults, who over-stepped the mark and tried to return for seconds.
Henry began helping out at a local welfare group, The Bad Ass Poor Kids Society or BAPKS as it was known. Who knows if he felt by giving a bit of time and energy to others he may overcome his sense of worthlessness, or if he just had too much candy.
One Saturday, he asked me if I would help him out with a tribe of BAPKS kids, his plan was to take them to the Mall and win some goodies on the claw. This, he felt may engender a bit more respect from the kids. I got the impression the kids struggled to accept him as credible role model. I agreed to help out and promised to meet him there in an hour or so.
When I arrived I noticed the kids were running riot and Henry was sitting near his beloved machine with a look of extreme angst on his face.
“You’re not going to believe this. They’ve changed the coin receiver on the claw, it no longer accepts quarters but requires some bullshit coin called a third.”
“A third!?” I cracked up laughing.
Tears welled up in Henry’s eyes.
“No such coin, that’s insane!” I added.
“I know what this is about, this is about me winning all the chocolate bars and never spending more than one coin, it was a friggin’ public service. I won the candy and gave it to kids. The owner could have claimed it as a tax deduction for gifts to charity, instead of making up some horse-shit story about ‘thirds’, just ridiculous.”
I felt a wave of sympathy for Henry, but in the back of my mind, I suspected the machine owner was watching us on a remote camera and snickering with joy.
Just then, out of the blue, His Holiness the Dalai Lama walked passed, he had a small entourage of minders with him and I nudged Henry” Look its H.H, Un—freaken—believable!”
Henry saw the man and yelled, “H.H, we both love Klaus Shultz, man-oh-man, Body Love— his best album–you know it?” Henry jumped up and “double thumbed” H.H, followed by a controlled air punch.
In apparent response, H.H gave Henry his characteristic pranam–prayerful gesture–and his face beamed a great smile. He even said “Yes, Yes!”
Henry was a transformed man after this chance encounter. He quit the claw and the Port and Coke, deciding to become a monk in the same order as the Dalai Lama. We keep in touch.