The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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Hearing that Harold Furr was the baddest inmate in Huntersville Prison was a revelation. Pudgy, he had a beard that looped like a horseshoe ear to ear, a Conway Twitty pompadour, and the mustache of a thirteen-year-old. Nicknamed Teddy Bear, he worked prison maintenance. A smiling, round felon in green fatigues and tool belt, toting a ladder and a can of WD-40, he looked like my school janitor. There is no way to know what a man is really like by just looking at him. Baddest meant something, but I didn’t know what exactly. How could I: a free man, a schoolteacher who knew when to lower his eyes and walk away? Still, in my romantic way, I’d fancy myself a kind of outlaw when, after my class, Teddy and I would sit and talk at the picnic tables, as if the world had done me wrong too. To say we were friends is a stretch. We got along just fine, but I knew that if I so much as licked a stamp for him, he’d own me. When Teddy got paroled, he rented a place, unbelievably, at the bottom of my street. Occasionally I’d spy him, unbuttoned shirt revealing his big white belly, walking Freedom Drive home from his job at Gordy Tire. I’d stop and give him a lift. Things were always going OK. “Nothing to it,” he’d brag, with a big, hairy smile. I’d drop him at the little bungalow he was fixing up. He always shook my hand, told me I was “good people,” and invited me to a standing Friday-night poker game. Every Friday I thought about showing up, being one of them, a man who could weather anything: a jolt in prison, getting the shit kicked out of him, the grease and bust of working with his back for grub wages, chain-smoking and drinking cheap beer in the simmering danger, bluffing a whole table of ex-cons and bikers out of a jackpot. But, in truth, I’m not such a man. I’m just not. Yet all my life I’ve had to keep reminding myself of this. If I get mad or someone hurts me, I mouth off about revenge, but it’s merely rhetorical. Mostly I brood. It would not cross my mind to shoot someone. I’ve never fired a gun of any sort. Teddy, on the other hand, must have offended the wrong person, a pathetically easy feat to accomplish: bump a bet once too often, rathole your winnings, pull up stakes prematurely. You might good-naturedly remark on another player’s unusual luck, or scrape a pot to your chest with too much relish. The list is endless and capricious. You might not even know what you did. Most of the time, you are completely unaware that you have slighted anyone. People smile boozily, shake hands, and tell you they enjoyed it, they’ll see you next Friday. But when you’re asleep, they return — not just in your dreams, but through the front door — and that’s that: a convoy of screaming police cruisers strobing blue the predawn street, yellow crime scene tape winding around the pine trees in Teddy’s front yard.