The Unsung: Henry Northrup, CREEPSHOW

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All men, at some point or another, have fantasized about killing the woman with whom they have shared a bed. Doubly so if those same sheets have been contaminated by the hazardous waste of marriage. Fortunately for the female member of our race, most men, whether out of fear, loathing, or a general, unmotivated laziness, never grant such imaginings the breath of actual existence, choosing instead to endure the slings and arrows of what Gwyneth Paltrow might call the “unconscious couplings” that constitute the expected life path. Sure, we all know that men hate to be confined, despise sweltering suffocation as they would a middle age without erectile function, and see family obligation in terms of its slightly preferable state to the last stages of cancer, but as much as they are instinctive misogynists, they are first and foremost utter and complete cowards. Men talk, gab, and threaten, but such adolescent boastings are best seen as the impotent squawks of a creature on the wrong side of history. That history, of course, is forever and always steeped in wholesale powerlessness. Feminist scribblings to the contrary, men are, from sun up to beddy-bye, beholden to whatever schemes, irritants, and mad ravings the womenfolk choose to inflict on their despicable hides. Deep in the recesses of their blackened souls, or perhaps at the tips of their mumbling mouths, men take a stab at rebellion, only to slink back whence they came; slaves to the proverbial triumvirate of sex, ego massage, and orgasm. Yes, that indistinguishable, inescapable mass of inevitability that sidetracks the domination that is our due.

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And while the sun might set on any number of revenge-free days, movies, as always, offer the solace so lacking in our daily trials. Manhood might evade us in the here and now, but upon the silver screen, alphas shoot, betas stab, and even the most retiring of milquetoasts summon the inner strength to send their tormentors to the grave. Cue Henry Northrup. On its face, his is an enviable life, a journey of learned leisure any tenured professor has a right to expect after the requisite ass-kissing. From his daily meanderings amidst the idealism of youth in full flower, to the chess matches and social events that fill his calendar with good cheer and companionship, Henry is a true man in full; a wise, fully realized participant in the picaresque novel of his own choosing. Only there’s Wilma. “Billie,” to anyone within earshot or her throaty cannon blast. While sporting the delightful knockers of a prime cut Adrienne Barbeau, she is also the ballbreaker of legend – forever dissatisfied, chronically enraged, and so pathologically narrow as to reduce the whole of her disdain to a single, easily identifiable target. Yes, the bulls eye rests firmly on old Hank. He long ago lost the will to push back, though one wonders whether that will and Henry himself ever in fact inhabited the same zip code. But it’s quite easy to believe he was dashed against those insidious rocks so unique to matrimony, and though his mind has yet to lose it ability to craft any number of methods of expiration for our dear Wilma, none have actually entered the conscious realm. He dreams of death, yes, but our girl Billie remains very much alive.

And while we might roar with indignation at Henry’s Hamlet-like inability to set events in motion, we cheer his vibrant, boyish imagination. In one such mirth-filled vision, Henry wraps his tie – perhaps its own metaphor of asphyxiating careerism – around the bird-like neck of his beloved, treating us all to the buggy eyes and final moments of the true white man’s burden. He squeezes, grips, and expends the sort of energy that, if channeled properly, could properly set mankind on its desired course absent the so-called better half. Admittedly, we’d soon meet our expiration, much like our comrade-in-arms, the dodo, but our final years would have such contended silence that we’d wonder why we ever preferred the Omaha Beach of couplehood to the sweet serenity of our onanistic cocoon. In a second, more cheerfully appalling sequence, Henry, upon being at last pushed too far by that uniquely hellish snort, pulls out an ungodly firearm and plants one right between Wilma’s eyes. Cackle extinguished, his party guests erupt in righteous applause. In this version, the only version any real man is bound to respect, no charges are filed, no sentences handed down. Instead, his actions are rewarded. Perhaps other gentlemen present will do likewise when the moment is right. Someone, somewhere had to launch that opening salvo. But can it be Henry? We all want our wives cold and hard and resting evermore, but how to summon that rare courage? Who among us has any bit of it to spare?

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Enter the ultimate Deus ex machina, albeit one clad in the fur-covered skin of a wolverine/Tasmanian Devil hybrid. With razor-sharp teeth, unmatched claws, and deadened, murder-filled eyes, this creature from the crate, ripened by decades of contemplative hunger under a university stairwell, was Henry’s id made flesh; an actor to his passive observer. The deed to Henry’s wish. A final accounting to erase the stain of mere possibility. A flipped coin of utter randomness led to the deaths of the innocent, be it janitor or graduate student, but that same event brought Henry to his own private Rubicon. Perhaps it was the only true way. Sure, Wilma had to die for any number of sins, but Henry was fighting for us all, not simply to be left alone with his musty tomes. I know what you’re thinking: can a victory be anything but hollow if left to the devices of another? Billie dies – and dies horribly, make no mistake – but Henry hasn’t a thing to do with it. He crafted the perfect plan, but no blood stains his fingers. No court would convict him. No law exists to hold him accountable. Wilma was swallowed whole by a beast of the fields, and Henry simply introduced the pair like they were old dance partners. How, then, could any man be satisfied? A nasty wife is no more, but is non-existence the only end that matters? Haven’t we a stake in the thrill of the kill? Sure, Henry manages a bon mot amidst the bloodbath (“Tell it to call you Billie!”), but doesn’t his post-massacre vomiting betray a slight twinge of conscience?

Anyone of substance would have wanted Henry to have gotten his hands a wee bit dirtier, but in the end, he’s flirting with sainthood because he accomplished that rarest of feats: spousal disposal without incarceration. Fine, Mr. Simpson did it two decades back, but there was nothing heroic in the act; it was pure, naked selfishness, and few could defend having left his own children without a mother, even if she usually put repeated assignations above their welfare. Henry and Wilma are an island unto themselves, and without dependents, turning a duet into a solo act could not possibly harm anyone. Having given all at the altar, he’s earned a little solitude in his twilight years. And even in the worst of worst-case scenarios – a lake is drained, a crate discovered – there won’t be so much as a femur to bring to light. For all we know, the beast burst forth, survived a tough swim, and consumed any number of additional Wilmas on his way back to another bout of hibernation. In that sense, even the inhuman was all man: willing to play ball when required, but ultimately, just the sort who wants to be left alone. Poke him with a stick, and you’ll be mopping the tile all evening. So is Henry nothing more than what the current vernacular might label a “failure man”? A loser with a persecution complex? Some fit the description, but Henry isn’t wallowing in anything so obvious and cheap as self-pity. Just a little housekeeping is all, a light dusting of the bookshelf. Giving us back what we lost so long ago. “When was the last time you got it up, Henry?” Wilma sneered, moments before the final chapter. Just now, Wilma dear. Just now.