The whole damn thing was disheartening. By 11:15 when the Director of Emotional Wellness asked "everyone to stand up and tell the person sitting next to you something you've never told anyone else," he began to miss his days in prison, fantasize about his last root canal, and eagerly anticipate his next bout with influenza.
After he had returned home and spilled his guts (not literally) to his current love interest and life partner Tally Dolcet, she gave him a gentle hug and offered to stir him up a double martini.
Due to his real profession, abducting people, he mostly avoided alcohol. You don't want to get liquored up, after all, when you have precious cargo in your 1965 Buick Riviera, esp. when that cargo is in the trunk.
Few parents are willing to cough up a decent ransom if their child has already been seriously damaged in a car accident.
On a day like this, though, he would make an exception. As the emotion-numbing cocktail did its work, he and Tally sat quietly on a sofa he had found outside an abandoned duplex.
"I know what will cheer you up, big guy. I know how to make you feel better and put this whole dreadful day out of your mind. I know what my big boy likes."
And she did. She got out the iPhone she'd stolen from her welding teacher, found the video from the couple's visit to Belgium, and skipped ahead to a scene they never tired of watching. We might as well watch it with them, in italics:
|Mussels, the Belgium treat|
The video -- shot by Tally, obviously -- begins with Howard running toward a crowd of diners at one of Brussels' many fine outdoor restaurants during a typical Belgium rain shower.
As he runs away from the camera, Tally zooms in on a man enjoying a huge bowl of mussels (moules, as the natives call them). The man's hands are on his throat, which, of course, is the international gesture meaning "I'm choking to death! Someone please administer the Heimlich maneuver, stat!"
Howard clearly had every intention of doing just that, but a few steps from the victim, it became apparent that the Heimlich procedure he had learned in his 7th-grade Health and Wellness class had faded from his memory, so in a single fluid motion he rapidly closes his umbrella, pulls it back over his shoulder as if he were Mike Trout preparing to belt a hanging curveball that has ventured too close to the plate, and begins beating the living shit out of the Belgian, whacking the poor guy's back repeatedly and so violently he was soon face down in his clammy bowl of mussels.
(Like a director in the mold of John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Yasujiro Ozu, Tally held the camera steady, allowing the scene to play out with no gaudy cinematic shenanigans so prevalent in contemporary film, and no intrusion from anyone or anything outside the "filmic space," the mise en scene, if you will.)
Now we see the victim's friends pull his face out of the mussels, but not administering the Heimlich maneuver in the proper fashion. Instead they shout, "Il ne s'etouffe pas! Il ne faisait que demonstre!" (Translation: "He is not choking! He is only demonstrating!" Sadly, Howard does not speak French, even though he once had a cellmate named Jean-Jacques Pierre.)
Here Tally stopped the video and the two pondered once more why the Belgians never thanked Howard when it was clear the victim had survived solely due to Howard's metaphorically extinguishing the wildfire on his back. While the incident sullied their opinion of Belgians, Tally's video became a YouTube sensation back in the states.
"I feel better now," Howard told Tally, gently stroking the wart-hog tattoo on her left forearm. "I'm not sure why, because I didn't detect any tangible lesson or moral from the video, except maybe that I'm a man of courage who longs to help others in their time of need.
"But suddenly I feel empowered to give teaching one more try. I'm sure I can get through the rest of the meetings by taking generous doses of the Xanax I keep on hand for my depressed abductees, then I'm gonna march into my classroom on opening day and teach those little bastards within an inch of their lives!"
"So proud of you, beloved captor of my heart. I find it moving, maybe even a little arousing, when you use the word 'empowered.' But Howard, promise me one thing."
"Bone up on your Heimlich technique before school starts."