Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Kid in a vending machine

So those of you who are up on your news of the weird probably heard the story about the three-year-old kid who got stuck in the crane game vending machine at at Wal-Mart a few weeks ago, right? (If not, read here.) Well, I wasn’t sure at first, but I found out that the kid’s dad was actually a good friend of mine back in school, Jim Manges. And there are some weird twists to the story, too. First, the family went on the Today show, and it turns out that mom Manges was on probation at the time (grand theft auto), and doing stuff like crossing state lines when on probation is a no-no. Second, a few days after their appearance on TV, Jim was arrested for allegedly breaking into a factory or warehouse or something and trying to take off with a cash drawer. So he’s got some legal “issues” coming up soon, too.

I’ve mentioned Jim before in the NecroKonicon and maybe he’s come up in stories, but he’s an interesting character. It’s too bad that he got in all of the trouble he did, and that pretty much everyone in the world thinks his wife’s a fucking idiot for getting their kid stuck in a vending machine or whatever, but I met Jim way back in the sixth grade, and despite his problems, he was one of the few people I could really sync up with mentally. I don’t believe in souls or any of that, but I think we had some kind of ethereal connection there, because despite our difference in background, we got into some very heavy discussions back in the day, and he could grok the ideas from my head better than almost all of the other idiots in our redneck, backwater, Indiana town.

I first met Jim from his brother Brian, who wandered around the subdivision on his Huffy bike soon after his family pulled into town. He talked a lot about his older brother, who I mentally depicted as looking like Angus Young from AC/DC or something, based on his tall tales. A few days later, I actually met Jim, who was nothing like the stories. He was my age, maybe a year older, but he seemed more than that. He told me I should only call his brother Booger, and for the most part ignore him, and I did. We became quick pals, and over the course of a summer between sixth and seventh grade, became quickly cemented together.

Jim had deeply fundamentalist Christian parents. His dad worked constantly at some slave labor job, and his mom, much like the universe, was infinitely large and expanding at a rapid rate. She tried to rule the family with an iron fist, often banning Jim from all kinds of things in the name of Jesus, but that meant he was just that much more rebellious. Our big vice back then was Dungeons and Dragons, a game that could kill days of time spent in my basement or at my kitchen table. His parents thought this was highly satanic, meaning Jim often had to leave his books and dice and whatnot at my place, and playing at his place was out of the question. The other evil we discovered was metal music, and although now it seems silly that we had to hide our Van Halen tapes from his mom, given that the once-mighty VH is now lamer than Tiffany.

In junior high, Jim slowly became involved with a rough crowd, started smoking pot and popping speed, and spent most of his time shoplifting and trying to score low-octane weed. We drifted, and I didn’t keep in touch with him for a while, but I did know he somehow ended up in rehab. In my sophomore year, he suddenly reappeared, sporting a ripped-up jean jacket covered in Suicidal Tendencies lyrics penned-on during study hall, and an impromptu mohawk. This was Elkhart, Indiana in 1987, long before the faux-hawks of today, and wearing a mohawk was a pretty big “fuck you” to the rednecks and jockos of the era.

We started hanging out more, and it became a new era of Jim. He was in NA and AA, trying to wrestle with the deep emotional ties with his addiction and his family. That’s tough to do at 40, but at 17, when you’re supposed to be worrying about acne and talking to girls, that’s a real ball-breaker. I drove him to meetings, spent many long nights talking to him about the theories of life at the back of a 24-hour Perkins, and tried to give him an alternative to drifting back to his old life. We drove around a lot in my old Camaro, listening to Metallica and talking about some grand plan to get the fuck out of Elkhart someday.

Jim did relapse, and I didn’t hear from him for a while. I caught up with him once when he was living in a shithole apartment downtown, dating a 14-year-old, dealing speed, and looking like death. He had long since given up on school, and we mostly talked about old times and pored over a video of a Charles Manson interview. Then he vanished for months, again, continuing the cycle.

In my senior year of high school, he came back again, living at home, clean, working the program. The old Jim was back, and we went to meetings and talked about Black Sabbath and metaphysics, and damn near kept that Perkins in business, a pitcher of coffee at a time. But this time there was a secret, a problem that hit just before we found each other again. Jim had been hanging out with a couple, a man and wife who were low-end dealers, and everyone was fucked up. One thing led to another, and somehow Jim got ahold of a two by four and beat the shit out of the guy. He didn’t remember any details or anything, but he was certain that the law was only a step behind him. As I applied to colleges and finished my last semesters of high school, waiting anxiously to leave this cesspool of a town, he nervously awaited that one traffic stop or search warrant that would bring him to meet a different kind of destiny.

The next spring, I guess the pressure made him snap. He hitchhiked to Florida with about three bucks in his pocket, and then made his way all the way to Las Vegas, mostly sleeping in shelters, on beaches, in the desert, or wherever he could find a flat surface. He met tons of strange people, smoked a lot of dope, and then called his grandma and got a Greyhound ticket back from Elkhart. He was pretty much on the run from there, and I went off on my own to college, always wondering what happened to him.

On my first Thanksgiving break home, my mom gave me the newspaper article that answered the question. He got arrested on attempted murder charges, and when put in the county lockup, his parents wouldn’t make bail, so he spent months in the horrible temporary holding cells, awaiting his trial. He got four years in prison, and served a couple before coming out a much more hardened and bitter guy.

I don’t mean this to be some huge eulogy for Jim. I saw him once or twice more, and I know he’s been in and out of prison, in and out of rehab, married and with kids. I think I last talked to him a little bit before or maybe after the vending machine kid was born; he isn’t consistent with having a phone, and I guess trying to call him now would be futile. I guess I just find it odd that a dude that I used to dungeon master has gone through all of this. And I still do have some pretty good memories of hanging out with him back in the day. I think if I was with him now, sitting in a Perkins (not the same one – it went out of business, maybe because we stopped going there) I would have a good time with him. Who knows.

Okay, gotta go get my laundry, and then maybe a pizza…