Murphy Mchale was born and raised in the Morris Park section of the Bronx to a blue collar Irish-Italian family. He was nurtured by the sunday meat sauce of his mother and disciplined by the belt of his no nonsense father. Murphy loved sports but took to two things early, weight lifting and boxing. Under the tutelage of Schwartzenegger, Ferrigno and Columbu, Murphy was on his way to deadlifting Volkswagens in his parent’s basement. He threw around rusty hand me downs weights and shadow boxed, executing combinations of punches and jumping rope for stamina. He scrutinized the fights of his favorite boxers, with an analytical approach he studied style and form, and combined his favorite attributes of each boxer, Ali’s toughness, Sugar Ray Robinson’s control and Willie Pep’s finesse. It was only a matter of time before the hulking teenager was amassing KO’s in his neighborhood.
The thing that struck me when I first met Murphy was not his 6’5 frame, or the square jaw that ate punches, or his coke bottle wire framed glasses, or his salt and pepper hair, it was the size of his hand that reached out to greet me. When I shook his hand for the first time, at our first real introduction, at my interview his hand eclipsed my own. I was taught early on the importance of a strong handshake and it was impossible for my child-like hands to get a good enough grip to make an impression. It was as if I shook hands with a sasquatch, which I learned he had a mild obsession with the ape-like creature of lore, possibly because they shared a common progenitor. He was in person, as he was on the telephone, affable and funny, but his hands were fucking bear claws. In my neighborhood in Queens you’d see older fellows at the end of the bar with hands like that shooting back whiskey and singing rebel songs. We referred to those hands as sledgehammers.
I had worked as a doorman doing summer relief in my junior year of high school. It was acquired through nepotism. A good friend’s uncle knew a guy and hooked me up. Things were never good in my home and continued to grow worse. It was worth a shot to see if I could land a permanent position. I could have done a million other jobs but it either wasn’t on my radar or my mind wasn’t right for it. My mind wasn’t right for anything. Not that being a doorman helped my social anxiety but it helped my pockets. It just seemed like the right job to do while I sorted out college. I mean I barely passed high school but if college was going to benefit me at all then I had to consider my options. I dropped off resumes at a ton of buildings starting from East 53rd street up to the 59th street bridge, from second avenue to Sutton place. I knew ninety percent of my precisely worded, neatly printed resumes would end up in a recycling bin.
I gave a resume to one doorman, and he asked me if I was Irish. I said, yeah. I followed up with but I was born here, I’m American. I didn’t want to mislead the man. Then he said something in Albanian to his coworker. He called me lazy. That particular resume definitely became kindle. Immigrants working in that field always looked down on the Americans working beside them. People always have to find a feeble way to feel superior.
Murphy and I had a brief conversation on the phone. He remembered me from that summer I worked nearby. I’d walk by the building and he would be reading, and we’d exchange hellos. Somewhere between then and now he was promoted to superintendent. Murphy informed me there was an opening, that a guy had been fired, he would call out often and have his mother, or someone pretending to be his mother call in and say he was too sick to come to work. He was 53 years old. If your relief doesn’t show up for their shift you have to stay. An involuntary double, while no one frowns at the extra cash, the principle of being forced to stay cause some cunt is on a bender gets old real quick. Murphy said I had the job as long as the board was unanimous, which really meant Sugar had to approve of me. I was nervous as I am with most things in life. My anxiety skyrocketed on the way to the interview. I dressed casually. I had to meet with him and Sugar, Sugar Oakland was a tiny little spitfire lady and also the president of the board, and we would conduct our meeting in the lobby.
Sugar’s initial reaction to me was how old are you, son? I was twenty years old and hungover but in her defense I did look younger than my age, I was unable to grow out a beard or a mustache. I probably exuded a hint of whiskey but that was alright because it was noon and she smelled like a vintage merlot, with stained teeth to confirm my suspicion. Sugar always had a little dance in her step when she was tipsy. A twirl of a handbag. A bop of the shoulder. I liked her best that way. Though she was always nice to me, she had a reputation for being tyrannical in her rule over the building, often clashing with other residents.
“Rainer, can you handle yourself? What I mean when I say that is, here at 534 we want our shareholders to feel safe and secure. Your main priority as doorman is to ensure security. No one is allowed to enter this building without permission. Can you handle that?”
“Yes, I believe so.”
“Do you think you would be capable of stopping someone from entering?”
Countless acts of violence surged through my mind from my first fight in the yard of my elementary school to the last bar fight which I left covered in someone else’s blood. I was not about to incriminate myself or botch the interview by making any confessions to crimes I had committed or more importantly and honestly speaking, the truth was I was prone to violence. I was raised in a household where certain patriarchs were free with their hands, and growing up in Queens, we were quick to dump our Jansports on the sidewalk to throw hands daily. We recorded our first fist fights in grammar school. My friends and I fought a lot, not bragging, merely stating, it was simply a normal part of life. Win some, lose some. It was a hostile time then, and it still was. We continually found ourselves fighting assholes in bars, and at parties and on the street. I should have been a dentist with how often I found myself wanting to remove people’s teeth.
We will call them issues, for lack of a better word, but these issues made me angry and the hatred I harbored for most humans I encountered, well it wasn’t difficult for me to throw a punch or a bottle. And afterwards I felt elated. A momentary release of all the pain I felt inside me, all the things I repressed felt briefly satisfied. There were dangers to that lifestyle of the drunken pub pugilists, and rowdy street kids, collectively we were beaten, hit with blunt objects, bottles, stabbed, slashed and very rarely, shot at. I was not going to tell Sugar any of that.
“I don’t think it will be an issue for me.” The irony of her question was that if I fought at the building they would most likely terminate me for it. Murphy would have defended me but doubtful he would’ve been able to stop them from letting me go.
For whatever reason I thought about Street Fighter II, particularly the bonus stage where you had a certain amount of time to destroy a car. I liked fucking things up. People. Objects. Relationships. Street Fighter II was an arcade game when I was younger that we fed innumerable quarters in the local pizzerias and candy stores. The music from the game started and I pictured myself in a white gi with a red headband like Ryu, upper cutting Sugar and then ax kicking the black lacquer table in half, throwing rapid fireballs completely destroying the lobby to bits. I envisioned Murphy with a mohawk looking like Zangief, with the outline of a Yeti shaved into his chest hair. We squared off, approaching each other with our fists up, then the vision disappeared, as if someone pulled the plug out of the wall.
“And so we shall see.” said Sugar, putting her hand out for me to shake it. “When can you start?”
Immediately, I said.
All that anxiety for that. Wasn’t that how it always was? In my mind everything was always worse. I made myself sick. I was the problem. Sugar walked off to the elevator, where Russell was waiting for her. Sugar waved to the statue of the young girl in the fountain along the way and said, “Lily of Éire. I hope you’re having a wonderful day, young lady. Kindly bless us.”
I followed Murphy down the stairs to the basement and into his office. He preferred to call it a shop rather than an office. I signed some papers and filled out some forms. I would be sent out to a lab for a piss test. The word test alone gave me trepidation. We shot the shit as we would over the next two years in the shop, the locker room where we changed and ate, and in the hall where we would congregate while doing different tasks. I would come to learn that Murphy was a wild dream stealing motherfucker in his day. We would share war stories. His were always much wilder than my own but it was about sharing and not competing. Men of his mass were either killers or just big pussies. Most dudes his size can skate through life without ever fighting because most people won’t test them. Murphy was an animal, and I loved that about him. He respected me because I had it in me to test a person and just dumb enough not to back down.
I watched him step to an entire construction crew in an apartment. You are only allowed to have work done from 9:00am to 4:00pm, unless it is an emergency like a pipe burst or an elevator broke down. One tenant, Dr. Duane tried to be slick, Dr. Duane had been vocal about his displeasure whenever other tenants remodeled, but he told his workers they had permission to work later in an attempt to finish. When 4:00 came and the elevator didn’t buzz, Murphy was furious, he told me to take him up. He stormed in and shut it down. It was dead silent and Murphy seethed, they had five minutes to wrap it up or he was physically going to remove all of the scabs. He knew it wasn’t their fault, that they were following orders but at the same time they could all get it. I toyed with the box cutter in my pocket the whole time. We waited in the foyer, it was bright and gaudy, and in three minutes the crew was out and ready to leave the building, apologetic. Dr. Duane came out behind the workers, claiming it was a misunderstanding.
“No. It wasn’t. The problem with you is that you think the rules don’t apply to you. You think money or social status makes you exempt. Maybe in most cases in your pathetic phony life it works. But not with me. Don’t play with me. You see the thing is I can live in your world but you couldn’t survive in mine.” Dr. Duane was speechless, his stupid fucking mouth agape as Murphy turned his back to him.
Murphy Mchale, a smart frightening man whose eyes would well up, as he’d choked on his words talking about his family or telling endearing stories about veterans returning home from war or anecdotes about underdogs. He was a positive male role model. There weren’t many of those for me. He was a boss who led by example and not someone who wanted to remind you of who was in charge. He got up every morning for his family. He ate some shit for his family. He would kill you for his family.
Everything he did was for his family. I hoped his children knew how lucky they were to have him as a father. No one ever thought about me the way he thought of his children. No one placed me before themselves the way Murphy did with his kids. He would tear apart any human who fucked with his family with his bare hands like the poor phone books he would rip in two with ease. He was the sweetest man to ever crush a larynx.
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