"My mean right hook."
He'd used it a bunch, and he was always ready to use it again. Sometimes he'd use it when using it didn't even make much sense. For instance, one time he'd used it to illustrate Einstein's cosmological constant. It was a little vague, but credit had to be given for originality. Another time he'd proposed it as a stopgap measure for the growing economic disparity between developed and developing nations. Most of the time, though, he just used it to settle hash.
He got to be notorious for his mean right hook. Guys came from all over to take it on, but none of them—not one—ever lasted for more than a round. After a while they all just gave up, admitted defeat and went on about their business. Maybe they weren't the toughest in the world, but in their worlds, severed as they were from his mean right hook, they were still pretty damn tough.
I think it was hard on him. He probably wondered sometimes if his mean right hook belonged to him or if it was the other way around. He never said as much, not his style, but sometimes you'd see him in a bar or something. Sometimes you'd see him alone at a table, his drink untouched, squeezing his mean right wrist or rubbing his mean right hand, kneading the thing like it was snake-bit.
Some folks said he was a god, cut from the same cloth as guys like Kray Cavandash, the legendary marksman, and High Quality, the folk hero's folk hero. They said things like that all the time, but he'd be the first to tell those folks to squash that mess. He'd say he was just a man.
"I'm just a man," he'd say. "My daddy was Bill Jackson, and my momma went by Annie. They were two normal folks, normal as anyone, and that makes me about as normal as anyone, too."
Normal? There was nothing normal about Teddy Jackson. His mean right hook was legend, and that made him a legend, too. It's also what killed him.
You see, the world has a way of sorting out the odd and the even. A man can walk a straight line all day, or a crooked one. It doesn't much seem to matter. The world doesn't much care what kind of man a man is, just so long as that man doesn't get too big to be accounted for in the natural order of things. Which brings us to Royce Canyon.
Nobody really knows why Canyon built his mechanical man. There were rumors about a dead son or some slight at the hands of a former employer, but none of that really adds up to much. All anybody knows for certain is what they heard during its unveiling. The news was thick around the Expo that year. There were all sorts of grand advancements in the world of technology, but nothing came close to Canyon’s contribution. It made the front page of every city paper, and all of the television news outlets covered it in the six o'clock hour.
Deb Valentine was in the Oxhead that night. She told me she was sitting at the bar with her new fella when Teddy Jackson came in. She said he looked tired, heavy, low. She said she watched him take a table and order a beer and rub his mean right fist as he stared off, “his eyes all distant and all.” Then she heard the newsman talking on the TV above the bar. He was interviewing some scientist type. She said she couldn't remember what was said, but that she'd never forget the look that came over Teddy's face as he listened. She said he stopped rubbing his hand, “all of a sudden like,” and then he just smiled the most peaceful smile she'd ever seen on somebody who wasn't in a coffin. She said it gave her the willies, and that after seeing it she just had to get the hell out of that place.
A few weeks before sitting down to write this account, I sent off to Channel 2 for a transcript of that night's newscast. Looking through it now, I try to imagine what might have gone through Teddy's head as he listened. I think I know which part made him smile, and I think I know what that smile meant. Thinking stuff doesn't make it true, though, so I figure it's best to stick with the facts—with the transcript.
CHANNEL 2: So, Mr. Canyon, what purpose will your mechanical man serve?
CANYON: What purpose do you serve? What purpose does any man serve? These are the purposes served by my mechanical man.
CHANNEL 2: What are the advantages over traditional labor?
CANYON: Well, he's tougher for one. My mechanical man can withstand hardships intolerable to the human body. This would make him—
CHANNEL 5: Mr. Canyon! Mr. Canyon, could your mechanical man stand toe to toe with Teddy Jackson?
CANYON: [laughs] Yes, my good man. I don't imagine Mr. Jackson's legendary right hook would pose too terrible a challenge for this machine.
CHANNEL 2: Mr. Canyon, your machine appears limited in mobility and agility. How can you make such a wild claim?
CANYON: I make this claim because it's true. Besides, everyone knows that the best offense is a good defense. Metal is stronger than meat, dear sir, and metal is stronger than bone.
CHANNEL 2: There you have it, folks. Screwball claim or stone-cold fact: only time will tell.
Time told soon enough. It was the night of the Mayor's Day parade, and the whole city was out in the streets. Local leaders rode atop floats of all varieties, each bearing the name of some civic-minded business or group. The crowd cheered for each as it passed, but as the crowd at the end of Green Street cheered for Western Electric's giant, working light bulb, the crowd at the beginning of Green Street was booing up a frenzy over the float that had just turned onto the parade route. The citizens stopped their cheering, one at a time, and converged on the parade's sore spot, boxing in the unsavory float.
It wasn't really a float, not much of one, anyway. Some plywood had been used to turn the top of an old jalopy into a makeshift boxing ring. Banners hung down along the sides. One read, "Science makes tyrants tremble." That's the side I was on. I've been told the other side said simply, "Where's Teddy?"
The float's driver was Royce Canyon. Above him, in the blue corner, sat his mechanical man. Forced to a stop by the crowd, Canyon climbed onto the street and called for everyone to quiet down.
"Silence!" he said.
He had a quality to him, kind of crazy and kind of like a father. Pretty much all of us did as he said.
"Now," he said, "let's see what this Mr. Jackson is capable of."
The papers had asked Teddy a day or so after the Expo if he would fight Canyon's mechanical man. The reporter had written that Teddy wore an unsettling smile as he answered, but that he was surprisingly charming for a brute (a brute! How do you like that?).
"Well, sir," the paper quoted Teddy as saying, "I never walked away from a fight. I figure most folks know that. But most folks also know that I never went looking for one, not unless it could make a difference for someone that needed a difference made."
We made a path for him when he answered Canyon's call. I remember thinking how sure he looked, sure of himself and sure of what would come. He didn't make any fuss about anything. He just climbed up there onto the boxing ring float, took off his shirt, and said, "Well, let's have it."
The mechanical man stood up. It was about the slowest thing I'd ever seen, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't impressive. You could hear its gears grinding and springs tensing as it walked to the center of the ring. The car below it tilted and swayed with every step, its chassis creaking the whole time. The thing must've weighed four hundred pounds.
Teddy waited a while for something to happen—we all did—but the mechanical man just stood there.
"Give him your best, Mr. Jackson." That's what Canyon said, and Teddy did as he was told. It must've been something in Canyon's voice, the same something the mob and I had been unable to resist.
Now, I can't remember the whole sequence of events. Mostly I remember the little details, the things that stood out to me. I remember Teddy letting loose his mean right hook. I remember the look in his eyes, so passive, so at peace. I remember the sound that came from within the metal man. It was something like how it might sound if a ferris wheel fell over, all snapping cables and mistoothing gears. I remember how, from my angle on everything, Royce Canyon’s desperate scream at the mechanical man’s collapse had sounded like it came from the explosion of bone and meat and blood that was Teddy Jackson's mean right hand. I remember Teddy looking down at the mess of his arm, his hand and wrist shattered and dripping. I remember how he smiled, and how sad that smile seemed. I remember Canyon in the street, fallen to his knees and sobbing.
If only the legend of Teddy Jackson’s mean right hook had been put to rest that day, then we might still have the man. But legends don’t die that way. Some legends fester up inside of people, people who remember the shame of falling short. Teddy’s mean right hook had bested all comers. With it gone, the time seemed ripe for the sore losers to come around for a second go.
“Teddy Jackson, I’m calling you out!” became the chorus sung in the streets, and, as you know, Teddy Jackson never walked away from a fight.
Mean right hook or no mean right hook, he was one hell of a fighter. Yet, while his left arm was strong, it hid no legends. It was the arm of a man, and in time the man behind it grew weak. The last of them, the challenger who felled Teddy Jackson once and for all, was no better or stronger than the rest. He was just a man, normal as anyone. I never knew his name. I don’t know if anyone did. I wish I’d learned it, though. I’d like to know how it made him feel.