Cool Hand Luke


By Tim Barlow

Drinking it up here, boss.  Typing it up here, boss.  There’s a world we’ve created here, full of empires and rules.  It’s a small little work camp in the middle of nowhere.  There are bosses and a blind judge to keep us in line.  And in this work camp we’ve created ourselves a little ecosystem of sorts.  We got traditions and nicknames and places where I can tell another person, “that’s my spot”, and he’ll move, because he’ll know deep down that I’m right.  It’s our place.  We work hard during the day on the roads and in the ditches.  If it’s hot, I’ll say “Taking it off here, boss” and I can take my shirt off.  And if my brow sweats, I’ll say “Wiping it off here, boss.”  Last week a hawk was darting and flying high up in the sky.  The judge with no eyes signaled to Squirrel to fetch his gun, and wouldn’t you know it, he plucked that hawk right out of the air, mid-swoop; man o’ man, that boss with no eyes can shoot.

When Luke came into our work camp, he got the usual run-down on rules from the bosses and all the ways you could end up earning yourself a night in the box.  Being late.  Not working hard enough.  Not eatin’ all your dinner.  And then Luke comes into the bunk and heard us telling the new fish about our own rules, and he heard us giving out nicknames, and you know, I don’t think he thought too much of our having more rules of our own when we was already in a work camp.  And he scoffed at the nubes all scrambling to fit in an’ earn a spot.  I don’t think Luke saw much point in the ways we managed through our little prison way of life.  He’d say give to the boss, what’s the boss’s, but with a grin, like he didn’t think the boss had anything worth havin’ in the first place.

Some men are like magnets and people just can’t but help themselves but wanna be near them, and Luke was one of those magnet types.  He ate with us, and worked with us, he joked and fought with us, and we all grew to like him quite a lot.  But it was the eggs that sealed it; most amazing thing I ever saw.  No man can eat 50 eggs, but Luke did.  50 eggs in one hour.  Finished at the last second, and we all thought it must’ve been some kind of miracle.  It was then that we all probably would’ve followed him most anywhere.  Even Dragline who pretty well ran things inside for us inmates, a rock of a man, was as happy as a lit’l kid following Luke around like a lost sheep.

Time was good, but it was a little while after then that Luke set himself to escapin’.  Some of the guys thought it was cause his mama had passed, and he wanted to pay’s respect.  But I think he just wanted to show us that these fences and bosses and rules weren’t much to worry ourselves over.  And so he’d escape, and then shortly thereafter, get himself caught.  He’d be gone awhile, but get picked up some place, out West, and brought back.  And at first Luke seemed to be having himself a time with it all, but the bosses don’t take kindly to men who won’t stay put in this here prison, and so they started to the beatings and to making him work long after the day was done, having him dig holes in the yard and then asking why he’d gone an’ dug holes in the yard and start to hitting him again.  Luke fought through much as anyone could, but he wasn’t just another inmate to us, and so when the bosses finally broke him and laid him out before us, well I’m shamed to say it, but we left him.  He was supposed to be different.  We all thought of him as the real warden of this prison, but instead he got himself broken.

We never should’ve doubted.  Luke stayed broken and buried awhile, laid low, even so the bosses dropped their guard and started treating him no different than a pet dog. But it was then, when the bosses thought he was finally beat for good, that he played his Ace from down inside his hole, rising on up to escape again.  And though this one turned fatal and Luke’s gone, us still on the inside still talk fondly about how ol’ Luke kept grinning till the very end, never lettin’ this work camp of a life fully turn him.


Reaction to Home for the Holidays

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By Tim Barlow

My dad’s birthday was this week; it snuck up on me.  I still need to send a card and a gift.  He actually has really good taste in music, and by that, I mean that we like a lot of the same music, so he’s much easier to shop for than my mom.  But they always sneak up on me: my Dad’s birthday, Mom’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, I don’t even know my parents Anniversary, like not the day, the month, or what year they’re on; ugh, I suck.  It’s not that we’re not close, I mean, yes, I do not live close to home anymore, but we still talk pretty regularly.  Mostly it’s with my Mom, though occasionally my Dad says a few words here and there, but we talk.

Kind of a busy week; in addition to it being my Dad’s birthday, I also learned a new word.  It came up in something I was reading, and I had to look it up: Solipsism.  Its definition felt close to me, I knew this idea it conveyed.  I had used the word Myopic before or Selfish, but those weren’t right, at least not as right as Solipsistic – mine wasn’t a narrow view or focusing too much on myself, it was only me. Solipsism is like a little kid, my brain has only developed enough to see others as characters within my life’s narrative.

Watching Home for the Holidays, I was at first dismissive to most of the characters because there wasn’t that immediate connection; none were exactly like me, or like I wanted to see myself, and so I didnt immediately relate, Claudia was acting like a doormat, and Tommy was pretty over the top and needy, and Steve Guttenberg was acting like a weiner, and hang on, what relation does Dylan McDermott’s character have here, again?  He’s acting a little familiar for just meeting everyone for the first time.  But then as the movie went on, it did something that all good stories do, it brought me into another’s mindset.  It moved me first away from being solipsistic, and then from egocentric, and then selfish, on a path that would ultimately lead to compassion and empathy.  By the end, as we see one sister leveling coldly, but honestly with another, providing some (real world) context to their relationship’s dynamic, as Tommy calls his husband and asks how his (real) family is doing, as a father alludes to the toll that choosing his family has taken on all the other possible paths his life and career could have taken, I began to feel that connection.

As a kid, your understanding of your parents is that they are there to be your parents.  They don’t have dreams or wishes or desires beyond you.  They don’t have anniversaries or birthdays, because, wait, why isn’t it my birthday!?  And sometimes moving beyond that is tough, and relating to your parents as fellow adults doesn’t feel possible.  You’ll always be the kid, the one who needs to be raised, the one whose behaviors are questionable, the one who makes mistakes – everyone can’t be a parent, can they?

I get, or at least I think I get why Craig likes this movie, and a lot of the “dysfunctional” family movies on our list.  Because what these movies often reveal is laying wait, behind this readily apparent brokenness, there’s a close bond, a deeper connection, an acknowledgment that  figuring out that all families are damaged, is the easy part.  These movies try to highlight the honesty and effort and time that goes into moving beyond a broad dysfunction and into a relationship where there is real dialogue, where there is acknowledgment of the other’s story, where everyone isn’t just trying to get through the conversation, or the holiday, or the vacation.  What’s great about these movies is the way that everyone (eventually) accepts the fact that all of the individual pieces in their family are broken, but further, how that understanding actually helps it all fit together all the better.