Nackles: A short story for the holidays by Donald Westlake

This winter I bring you a tale almost as delightful as Krampus, and nearly as chilly. I’ll always remember being curled up with an OMNI magazine, sipping coffee and reading this little piece for the very first time. I have since learned much more about this gem from HeartInAJar.

NACKLES:
By Donald Westlake, writing as Curt Clark.

Used without permission.

Did God create men, or does Man create gods? I don’t know, and if it hadn’t been for my rotten brother-in-law, the question would never have come up. My late brother-in-law? Nackles knows.

It all depends, you see, like the chicken and the egg, on which came first. Did God exist before Man first thought of Him, or didn’t He? If not, if Man creates his gods, then it follows that Man must create the devils, too.

Nearly every god, you know, has his corresponding devil. Good and Evil. the polytheistic ancients, prolific in the creation (?) of gods and goddesses, always worked up nearly enough Evil ones to cancel out the Good, but not quite. The Greeks, those incredible supermen, combined Good and Evil in each of their gods. In Zoroaster, Ahura Mazda, being Good, is ranged forever against the Evil one, Ahriman. And we ourselves know God and Satan.

But of course it’s entirely possible I have nothing to worry about. It all depends on whether Santa is or is not a god. He certainly seems like a god. Consider: He is omniscient; he knows every action of every child, for good or evil. At least on Christmas Eve he is omnipresent, everywhere at once. He administers justice tempered with mercy. He is superhuman, or at least non-human, though conceived of as having a human shape. He is aided by a corps of assistants who do not have completely human shapes. He rewards Good and punishes Evil, And, most important, he is believed in utterly be several million people, most of them under the age of ten. Is there any qualification of godhood that Santa Claus does not possess?

And even the non-believers give him lip-service. He has surely taken over Christmas; his effigy is everywhere, but where are the manger and the Christ child? Retired rather forlornly to the nave. (Santa’s power is growing, too. Slowly but surely he is usurping Chanukah as well.)

Santa Claus is a god. He’s no less a god that Ahura Mazda, or Odin, or Zeus. Think of the white beard, the chariot pulled through the air by a breed of animal which doesn’t ordinarily fly, the prayers (requests for gifts) which are annually mailed to him and which so baffle the Post Office, the specially garbed priests in all the department stores. And don’t gods reflect their creators’ (?) society? The Greeks had a huntress goddess, and gods of agriculture and war and love. What else would we have but a god of giving, of merchandising, and of consumption? Secondary gods of earlier times have been stout, but surely Santa Claus is the first fat primary god.

And wherever there’s a god mustn’t there sooner or later be a devil?

Which brings me back to my brother-in-law, who’s to blame for whatever happens now. My brother-in-law Frank is—or was—a very mean and nasty man. Why I ever let him marry my sister I’ll never know. Why Susie wanted to marry him is an even greater mystery. I could just shrug and say Love Is Blind, I suppose, but that wouldn’t explain how she fell in love with him in the first place.

Frank is—Frank was—I just don’t know which tense to use. The present, hopefully. Frank is a very handsome man in his way, big and brawny, full of vitality. A football player; hero in college and defensive linebacker for three years in pro ball, till he did some sort of irreparable damage to his left knee, which gave him a limp and forced him to find some other way to make a living.

Ex-football players tend to become insurance salesmen, I don’t know why. Frank followed the form, and became an insurance salesman. Because Susie was then a secretary for the same company, they soon became acquainted.

Was Susie dazzled by the ex-hero, so big and handsome? She’s never been the type to dazzle easily, but we can never fully know what goes on in the mind of another human being. For whatever reason, she decided she was in love with him.

So they were married, and five weeks later he gave her her first black eye. And the last, though it mightn’t have been, since Susie tried to keep me from finding out. I was to go over for dinner that night, but at eleven in the morning she called the auto showroom where I work, to tell me she had a headache and we’d have to postpone the dinner. But she sounded so upset that I knew immediately something was wrong, so I took a demonstration car and drove over, and when she opened the front door there was the shiner.

I got the story out of her in fits and starts. Frank, it seemed, had a terrible temper. She wanted to excuse him because he was forced to be an insurance salesman when he really wanted to be out there on the gridiron again, but I want to be President and I’m an automobile salesman and I don’t go around giving women black eyes. So I decided it was up to me to let Frank know he wasn’t going to vent his pique on my sister any more.

Unfortunately, I am five feet seven inches tall and weigh one hundred thirty-four pounds, with the Sunday Times under my arm. Were I just to give Frank a piece of my mind, he’d surely give me a black eye to go with my sister’s. Therefore, that afternoon I bought a regulation baseball bat, and carried it with me when I went to see Frank that night.

He opened the door himself and snarled, “What do you want?”

In answer, I poked him with the end of the bat, just above the belt, to knock the wind out of him. Then, having unethically gained the upper hand, I clouted him five or six times more, then stood over him to say, “The next time you hit my sister I won’t let you off so easy.” After which I took Susie over to my place for dinner.

And after which I was Frank’s best friend.

People like that are so impossible to understand. Until the baseball bat episode, Frank had nothing for me but undisguised contempt. But once I’d knocked the stuffing out of him, he was my comrade for life. And I’m sure it was sincere; he would have given me the shirt off his back, had I wanted it, which I didn’t.

(Also, by the way, he never hit Susie again. He still had the bad temper, but he took it out in throwing furniture out windows or punching dents in walls or going downtown to start a brawl in some bar. I offered to train him out of maltreating the house and furniture as I had trained him out of maltreating his wife, but Susie said no, that Frank had to let off steam and it would be worse if he was forced to bottle it all up inside him, so the baseball bat remained in retirement.)

Then came the children, three of them in as many years. Frank Junior came first, then Linda Joyce, and finally Stewart. Susie had held the forlorn hope that fatherhood would settle Frank to some extent, but quite the reverse was true. Shrieking babies, smelly diapers, disrupted sleep, and distracted wives are trials and tribulations to any man, but to Rank they were—like everything else in his life—the last straw.

He became, in a word, worse. Susie restrained him I don’t know how often from doing some severe damage to a squalling infant, and as the children grew toward the age of reason Frank’s expressed attitude toward them was that their best move would be to find a way to become invisible. The children. of course, didn’t like him very much, but then who did?

Last Christmas was when it started. Junior was six then, and Linda Joyce five, and Stewart four, so all were old enough to have heard of Santa Claus and still young enough to believe in him. Along around October, when the Christmas season was beginning, Frank began to use Santa Claus’ displeasure as a weapon to keep the children “in line,” his phrase for keeping them mute and immobile and terrified. Many parents, of course, try to enforce obedience the same way: “If you’re bad, Santa Claus won’t bring you any presents.” Which, all things considered, is a negative and passive sort of punishment, wishy-washy in comparison with fire and brimstone and such. In the old days, Santa Claus would treat bad children more scornfully, leaving a lump of coal in their stockings in lieu of presents, but I suppose the Depression helped to change that. There are times and situation when a lump of coal is nothing to sneer at.

In any case, an absence of presents was too weak a punishment for Frank’s purposes, so last Christmastime he invented Nackles.

Who is Nackles? Nackles is to Santa Claus what Satan is to God, what Ahriman is to Ahura Mazda, what the North Wind is to the South Wind. Nackles is the new Evil.

I think Frank really enjoyed creating Nackles; he gave so much thought to the details of him. According to Frank, and as I remember it, this is Nackles: Very very tall and very very thin. Dressed all in black, with a gaunt gray face and deep black eyes. He travels through an intricate series of tunnels under the earth, in a black chariot on rails, pulled by an octet of dead-white goats.

And what does Nackles do? Nackles lives on the flesh of little boys and girls. (This is what Frank was telling his children; can you believe it?) Nackles roams back and forth under the earth, in his dark tunnels darker than subway tunnels, pulled by the eight dead-white goats, and he searches for little boys and girls to stuff into his big black sack and carry away and eat. But Santa Claus won’t let him have the good boys and girls. Santa Claus is stronger than Nackles, and keeps a protective shield around little children, so Nackles can’t get at them.

But when little children are bad, it hurts Santa Claus, and weakens the shield Santa Claus has placed around them, and if they keep on being bad pretty soon there’s no shield left at all, and on Christmas Eve instead of Santa Claus coming out of the sky with his bag of presents Nackles comes up out of the ground with his bag of emptiness, and stuffs the bad children in, and whisks them away to his dark tunnels and the eight dead-white goats.

Frank was proud of his invention, actually proud of it. He not only used Nackles to threaten his children every time they had the temerity to come within range of his vision, he also spread the story around to others. He told me, and his neighbors, and people in bars, and people he went to see in his job as an insurance salesman. I don’t know how many people he told about Nackles, though I would guess it was well over a hundred. And there’s more than one Frank in this world; he told me from time to time of a client or neighbor or bar-crony who had heard the story of Nackles and then said, “By God, that’s great. That’s what I’ve been needing, to keep my brats in line.”

Thus Nackles was created, and thus Nackles was promulgated. And would any of the unfortunate children thus introduced to Nackles believe in this Evil Being any less than they believed in Santa Claus? Of course not.

This all happened, as I say, last Christmastime. Frank invented Nackles, used him to further intimidate the children and spread the story of him to everyone he met. On Christmas Day last year I’m sure there was more than one child who was relieved and somewhat surprised to awaken the same as usual, in his own trundle bed, and to find the presents downstairs beneath the tree, proving that Nackles had been kept away yet another year.

Nackles lay dormant, so far as Frank was concerned, from December 25th of last year until this October. Then, with the sights and sounds of Christmas again in the land, back came Nackles, as fresh and vicious as ever. “Don’t expect me to stop him!” Frank would shout. “When he comes up out of the ground the night before Christmas to carry you away in his bag, don’t expect any help from me!

It was worse this year than last. Frank wasn’t doing well financially as he’d expected, and then early in November Susie discovered she was pregnant again, and what with one thing and another Frank was headed for a real peak of ill-temper. He screamed at the children constantly, and the name of Nackles was never far from his tongue.

Susie did what she could to counteract Frank’s bad influence, but he wouldn’t let her do much. All through November and December he was home more and more of the time, because the Christmas season is the wrong time to sell insurance anyway and also because he was hating the job more every day and thus giving it less of his time. The more he hated the job, the worse his temper became, and the more he drank, and the worse his limp got, and the louder were his shouts, and and the more violent his references to Nackles. It just built and built and built, and reached its crescendo on Christmas Eve, when some small or imagined infraction of one of the children—Stewart, I think—resulted in Frank’s pulling all the Christmas presents form all the closets and stowing them all in the car to be taken back to the stores, because this Christmas for sure it wouldn’t be Santa Claus who would be visiting this house, it would be Nackles.

By the time Susie got the children to bed, everyone in the house was a nervous wreck. The children were too frightened to sleep, and Susie herself was too unnerved to be of much help in soothing them. Frank, who had taken to drinking at home lately, had locked himself in the bedroom with a bottle.

It was nearly eleven o’clock before Susie got the children all quieted down, and then she wen tout to the car and brought all the presents back in and arranged them under the tree. Then, not wanting to see or hear her husband any more that night—he was like a big spoiled child throwing a tantrum—she herself went to sleep on the living room sofa.

Frank Junior awoke her in the morning, crying, “Look, Mama! Nackles didn’t come, he didn’t come!” And pointed to the presents she’d placed under the tree.

The other two children came down shortly after, and Susie and the youngsters sat on the floor and opened the presents, enjoying themselves as much as possible, but still with restraint. There were none of the usual squeals of childish pleasure; no one wanted Daddy to come storming downstairs in one of his rages. So the children contented themselves with ear-to-ear smiles and whispered exclamations, and after a while Susie made breakfast, and the day carried along as pleasantly as could be expected under the circumstances.

It was a little after twelve that Susie began to worry about Frank’s non-appearance. She braved herself to go up and knock on the locked door and call his name, but she got no answer, not even the expected snarl, so just around one o’clock she called me and I hurried on over. I rapped smartly on the bedroom door, got no answer, and finally I threatened to break the door in if Frank didn’t open up. When I still got no answer, break the door in I did.

And Frank, of course, was gone.

The police say he ran away, deserted his family, primarily because of Susie’s fourth pregnancy. They say he went out the window and dropped to the backyard, so Susie wouldn’t see hi and try to stop him. And they say he didn’t take the car because he was afraid Susie would hear him start the engine.

That all sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Yet I just can’t believe Frank would walk out on Susie without a lot of shouting about it first. Nor that he would leave his car, which he was fonder of than his wife and children.

But what’s the alternative? There’s only one I can think of: Nackles.

I would rather not believe that. I would rather not believe that Frank, in inventing Nackles and spreading word of him, made him real. I would rather not believe that Nackles actually did visit my sister’s house on Christmas Eve.

But did he? If so, he couldn’t have carried off any of the children, for a more subdued and better behaved trio of youngsters you won’t find anywhere. But Nackles, being brand-new and never having had a meal before, would need somebody. Somebody to whom he was real, somebody not protected by the shield of Santa Claus. And, as I say, Frank was drinking that night. Alcohol makes the brain believe in the existence of all sorts of things. Also, Frank was a spoiled child if there ever was one.

There’s no question but that Frank Junior and Linda Joyce and Stewart believe in Nackles. And Frank spread the gospel of Nackles to others, some of whom spread it to their own children. And some of whom will spread the new Evil to other parents. And ours is a mobile society, with families constantly being transferred by Daddy’s company from one end of the country to another, so how long can it be before Nackles is a power not only in this one city, but all across the nation?

I don’t know if Nackles exists, or will exist. All I know for sure is that there’s suddenly a new meaning in the lyric of that popular Christmas song. You know the one I mean:

You’d better watch out.

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Stay Hungry: Someone Is Always Moving the Cheese

While there are probably hundreds if not thousands of business axioms about the constancy of change, it is never more important than to an organization as it is to an individual to be flexible, to be hunting, chasing new opportunity. While this is especially true of sales leaders and the hunter roles in business development, it is certainly a necessary and desirable trait for every worker.

Heraclitus as a Herald for All Time
cheese
So many great quotes have reached us from antiquity and yet many more must have been lost through the ages, but one of the all time best is the phrase, “there is nothing permanent except change,” written by Heraclitus. This simple idea conveys more than an observation, it is also a message, almost a call to action. If you sit and wait, rigid and unready, the change that approaches will not only surprise you, it may overturn your whole situation, and it is very unlikely you may make the best of it as an opportunity so much as you will bemoan the very process, which was in itself completely predictable.

Staying Nimble to Get Nibbles
In his landmark 1998 business book, Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, Spencer Johnson put into parable the concepts required of humans from the earliest mammoth hunters to the modern day workforce; that times change, opportunities which were once close by and easy to come by can suddenly become few and far between, and that the best, most flexible, hungry hunters will always be on the lookout for possibilities and payment (“the cheese”) regardless of sea change, allowing them ample ability to win and grow by staying nimble. The book was such a simple approach, and an easy read, that it reached all levels of business and average readers. I once met a 7 year old boy who told me it was his favorite storybook, taught to him by his father, my friend, a cobolt trader.

Staying Hungry
In an earlier post on this blog, I discussed the phenomenon that occurs when we plateau and how that is, in my opinion, a necessary part of the process, both physiologically demonstrable in fitness and exercise practice as well as from a psychological perspective both from a group and an individual level. What is important to remember, in the case of the soon-to-be-missing cheese (whether we like it or not), is the fact that those who keep in practice and are adaptable will always be the most likely to survive intact, and possibly thrive, in an environment that requires that adaptability. This is true on a career path as well as at department, division, and enterprise levels. Taken further, the concept can be applied to corporate and market forces, and even whole countries, regions, and market groups like the European Union or the North American Trade Agreement (even to military coalitions such as NATO now working with formerly diametrically opposed nations). The rule here is that by continuing the search for the next opportunity, we prevent the “fluster and bluster” that occurs when change comes. Winners will face that with a wry smile and a knowing grin, already having options at the ready or preparing quickly.

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SOLD in 60 MINUTES

When someone at my current company asked me to share a company-wide “Sales in 60 Minutes” presentation so that each employee had a more business development-oriented mindset, like our department’s sales hunters, I felt that everyone, every single person in our company needs to remember if we disappoint, we get fired. Maybe not that day, but definitely soon. And if that happens often enough, we are through.

Moved to a Sale
SOLD in 60 MINUTES
The heart of what every employee, regardless of duties or station, need to keep in mind first is that everything we do, we do for our customers. We are in business to solve their problems. They reward us for doing so. It really is that simple. So how we interact with them, and what they take away from every interaction, is what Jan Carlzon refers to as a “moment of truth”. It is up to us to make each of these moments both memorable, positive, and successful.

In a Nutshell
While there are hundreds of mantras out there, or ideologies to what a customer needs in any interaction, it boils down to:

  • Reliability – doing something when you say you will.
  • Emotion – being optimistic, helpful and under-promising to over-deliver.
  • Asking for help – bringing sales staff or customer service as soon as appropriate.
  • Continuity – ensuring what people see is the same across materials, websites, email, etc.
  • Tenacity – always asking how else we can help and exploring cross-sell opportunities.

Referrals
More money is made through trust and connections than any outbound mail campaign, online ad, or sales call. It is of the utmost import that if, in the circle of your acquaintance, you find a person happy with your services, be particularly careful to ask for his or her recommendation, so the world at large convinced of our good works. One of the greatest lessons I learned in sales training from David Sandler was that the moment when someone is signing the contract or giving you the official go-ahead is the best time to ask for referrals. This turned out to be very, very true in my real estate practice and now, in global banking.

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April Follies: Running With Risk

For the All Fool’s Day holiday, take a moment to look back at the recent and even distant past mishaps that could have been larger leaders. The difference between FriendFeed, MySpace and Facebook is measured in many billions of dollars in revenue.

Coffee for $5 a Cup?
Kraft Foods had hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in research showing that the North American market was ready for neighborhood cafes, but they didn’t jump on it because they are used to being in the food business. Instead of selling products for delivery into neighborhood stores and grocers, they shied away from investing in opening corner coffee shops in every American city from coast to coast. The result: Starbucks ate their lunch.

Rand McNally
How on earth did you miss the boat on internet mapping? Because it wasn’t a priority. The firm that used to be the only name in maps of the roads and cities of North America became a sideline to companies with a dotcom in their moniker. They have since retooled and now offer a great amount of their data in GPS applications, as well as in the new version of their website where the user can receive travel packages related to directions searching. Late to the game, but points for making headway after missing the boat on the first wave.

MF Global
If you want to take a firm with a reputation approaching 300 years of solid, profitable business, and completely demolish it, what is the easiest way? Betting on short-term gains in the high risk, high reward casino we call European debt. After an amazing run since the 1700s beginning with the sugar trade, MF Global had positioned itself as a focused, conservative company for financial gains, selling in the world’s market. Somehow this all unraveled in a matter of weeks as the European currency crash and debt crises in Greece, Italy and Spain caused deep discounting. MF Global was still shopping for a buyer to bail its way out of a $6.25 million bet on the situation.

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Spread Too Thin

While some corporate choices lead us down a garden path to delightful gains, some journeys can delay growth as an organization. Worse still, some decisions can sink the entire ship by sapping energy and resources from an enterprise’s core competency.

Too Big to Succeed?
In initial drafts of this post, I struggled with the conflict of how much I love using Google Search, Google Maps, and a variety of other Google products with the difficulty I was experiencing with Google Apps, a platform of services including Google Docs services like word processing, spreadsheets, and Google’s GMail for business email service. I found the extremely low per-user fee charged to businesses using Google Apps and free availability of some services to be at odds with professional use when support is required; for a period of time last year, the spreadsheet service was completely unavailable for edits or uploads. However, I was wrong. My thesis was planned to be “Spread Too Thin,” based on the idea that by taking on so many tasks, and by becoming a Jack of All Trades, Google might become the anecdotal Master of None.

I Stand Corrected
While complaining about services which in some cases are completely developed to compete with existing models (maps.google.com is now in many ways better than the MapQuest.com who dominated the market years ago, or launching Google+ to integrate social networking directly into the Google suite and in effect take on Facebook and Twitter), I underestimated the work that appears to go into this kind of Google growth. The leverage of large monopolies is always fraught with peril, because if a firm becomes too large and exerts its own girth in order to control the market, it runs the risk of competing unfairly. But looking at this in-depth, Google appears to target large opportunities, in fact bringing its considerable cannons to bear only on sizable markets, even when they appear unrelated to existing lines of Google business. When a small company is achieving remarkable growth, as in the case of Groupon.com, Google makes all efforts to acquire the firm and acquire the intellectual property, only competing when required.

Redux
I now consider the progress made on new and exciting (sometimes seemingly unrelated) fronts for Google to be not only what is currently called “creative destruction” or constructing “disruptive technology” but better still, the achievement of Google’s mission: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. It’s a win because they succeed far more often than they fail.

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From $4 A Share To $404: How Apple Succeeded

This is a post I have been planning for some time. It’s important because of the way Apple has made their fortune over the last four decades. I’m not going to begin discussing solid supply-chain economics, a lesson they learned in the 1980s era when manufacturing crashes and industrial  firms were all playing catch-up to “Kaizen” and “Just-in-time” strategy. I won’t delve into the recent Apple cash management victories, with solid debt principles, product launch timing and an $80+ billion war chest. I’m not even going to wax poetic about the incredible mind that was Steve Jobs, and how we miss him. These are all true, but they’re not the real story.

I’m going to draw your attention to Time Machine. This simple innovation is exactly how Apple Computer beat the bigs. It’s how a group of guys and girls from simple beginnings got to become that American fable of building a better mousetrap, founding a company in the “garage” and going on to superstardom and independent wealth.

Time Machine is the story of how something people do regularly with computers became simple, without technology innovation (although that followed) but simply with an analogy.

In the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, backing up files from a personal computer, or network of computers, was an ugly endeavor. Leading vendors offered great leaps forward in storage capacity: Terabytes of information could be saved to tape, disc, or off-site server farms. The problem was, no matter how often you remembered to back up, or automated the process, it was a technical nightmare. Special interfaces were required, and the media you saved to had to be labeled, catalogued and libraried. This sounds like it could be an orderly process, but the devil wasn’t in the details. It was in the one time you needed to restore from backup. This almost never worked.

It wasn’t the users that failed this, or the sysops who were tasked with the backups, or even the companies like Iron Mountain or Western Digital that were providing the highly complex data solutions. It was the system itself. People had to determine which of the last 2 or 3 backups had the version of their files, and often one of those hadn’t run right, so restoring from saved versions just didn’t match up, and could take hours or days in larger organizations.

Apple defeated this problem with an analogy. Instead of making users bend to a complicated catalogue system, they changed the inner workings of their technology to a simple mental understanding. By giving users an in-operating system dial to “travel back in time” to see what files were in a folder, Apple made this easy. It is this same understanding of what users want that forces them to test, test, and test again the methods for user interface in their iPhone, iPod, iPad, and computers. There is plenty of highly technical custom possibility beneath the surface, but for most users, Apple makes it easy on us. If you shake the iPhone when iTunes is open, you get a random playlist. This is something humans understand, without needing to “learn” the interface.

Can we take a step back from our own daily walk and ask, “what do the customers want?”

That’s when we can really break through our own pattern.

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Sure, We Know What Makes a Man, But What Can You Do About It?

Spies who don’t brag.

Players who don’t kiss and tell.

These are the fabric that make up our world of winners.

Anachronisms. People who matter. Those who follow the rules, not the nancypants playtime discussions of what we learned in school, whether you go to a strip club on someone’s bachelor(ette) party or not, whether you hold the door open for a little old lady. Let’s talk about the rules of the game, the rules of engagement, the rules of war. Remember all’s fair in love and war?

Bobby Green, Jr., was a guy living in Los Angeles when the 1992 riots erupted in the days after the Rodney King verdict was announced. He woke up that morning in a culture of violence, and like it didn’t matter to him, he found himself watching on television, on CNN no less, as down the street, an intersection he knew was on-camera. People were burning cars. Guys were hitting other guys with baseball bats. Somewhere in the distance, there were gunshots. Then, on TV, Bobby saw some white bread truck driver pulled from the cab of his rig. He saw, live on CNN, someone hitting the trucker, a guy it turns out was named Reginald Denny, with a cinder block. You know, a 40+ pound block made of concrete? They were hitting him with one. In the head. Bobby follows the rules. This doesn’t happen. It just doesn’t. He left the safety of his house and went down the street, in the chaos and the mayhem, raced to the corner and intervened. Stopped the madness. Took Reginald to the hospital. Because that’s what you do.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger the Third is a regular hero. He’s the pilot who got up on January 15, 2009, days before the Obama inauguration, the country still reeling from the financial meltdown, unsure of his pension, his paycheck, his future, but secure in the sense that he follows procedure and work gets done. This isn’t a Captain in the sense that he is in charge of the airplane when it’s in the air, and some flight attendant does a sloppy salute and calls him “Skipper”. This is a Captain who graduated from the US Air Force Academy when planes were dogfighting over Viet Nam. This is a Captain who flew F4 Phantoms and followed procedure, no matter how hot the spot got. He launched his US Airways passenger flight from La Guardia airport and didn’t wet his pants when an engine blew out, when the plane dropped in a way he later described as “the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling,” it didn’t stop him from following the rules. He realized the plane wouldn’t make it to a runway in time, and he was over the planet’s most populous city. He did it right. He ditched the plane in the Hudson River and miraculously, everyone lived. Even the little children.

Narces Benoit is a story we are only just learning. The video speaks for itself, and the reality is something that will eke its way out in the trials to come. The man saw some loco gunfight happening in front of him in Miami, and it doesn’t matter if the police were justified to shoot a man. You already learned right from wrong and you know no one in America, not one person in the United States, has the right to hide the truth. So when the cops murder someone directly in front of you, and you capture the video on camera…. You are doing what is right. But when the cops point the gun at you, and demand you give up the footage? When the patrolmen take away everyone’s cell phones and stomp on them like a gang from some 1980s sci-fi movie, you already know the rules are blurring. Narces sat through an arrest. He sat through questioning. He had a policeman’s handgun pointed in his face. Through the whole of it, he had his SD memory card in his mouth to keep the truth safe from the machine. Was he rattled? Probably. Did he give up the chip; spit it out so they could crunch it like a mobile phone under a government-issue boot? No. Because them’s the rules.

Why are these men the triumvirate of heroes? Because each of these guys, they didn’t have to question right from wrong. They know the rules. They follow the rules. You know it too.

The reason you lump these three men together is simple.

It’s got nothing to do with honor; it’s got nothing to do with respect. They have that. They earned it, or maybe they always had it and by their actions they demonstrated the right. You put them in one group not because they are who you aim to be. You put them together because if you are ever, and I mean ever, in a bar, and any of them are in a bar with you? They don’t pay for shit. It’s not a medal, it’s not a salary. It’s not something they can take to the bank. But you know it’s right. You can feel these heroes are worthy, and you follow the rules. You pick up their check.

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