A few weeks ago…
A balmy eve makes no hurry to twist the key to the door. I can ease my backpack to the stairs, open the screen, gather my belongings off the step and then unlock the main door. It’s quiet. Aside from the television, it’s quiet. Henry doesn’t bark, Mama J doesn’t declare a chore to be done, neither of the cats flock for food, attention, an exit outside the house, etc. Cats always got some s--- to complain about.
Odd, nothing. Absolutely nothing minds me entering the house freshly from work at the Old Spaghetti Factory. Usually a grand welcome committee of woofing, tail-wagging, “See those dishes, I want’em done”, vacuum shrieking, Annie reminding me I can always do better, blah blah blah… Nothing, this time.
“Hello!”. .. nothing. Maybe this is it. One of my worst fears: to walk in on my family gagged and tied down in front of the television whilst an eager intruder waits to ambush me. Always anticipated this, but feel dumb when I actually begin to tip toe like it’s about to go down in the worst way. Still quiet, nothing. I turn the corner- BAM!
There it is, Mama J, Henry (the dog), both cats, no Annie, all glued to the television set. Must not be the usual programming, maybe the president’s making a national announcement that we’re leaving code orange and going into code hot fucsia, maybe 2012 decided to show up early and the end of the world is being broadcasted, or maybe Bristol Palin’s ousted another more talented celebrity on Dancing With The Stars… all equally important. None of the above… just HBO.
Upon the precipice of prohibition, Nookie’s reign amidst Atlantic City comes only in heavy doses of headshots, torture, throat-cuts bribery, family death threats, and fear. Enter Boardwalk Empire, where everything’s short lived, and a good day is one that doesn’t involved being shot, stabbed, or left to die a gruesome death you could only nightmare of.
Jews, African-Americans, Irish, English, Italians, all fending for pride, turf and women. It gets downright dark and nasty. Dracula dark, hard goodbye nasty. Nookie, played by Steve Buscemi, is the H.M.F.I.C. of the story (shame on you if you have to consult urban dictionary for H.M.F.I.C.).
Between the lines, bullet trails, blood swimming the floors, there’s one that stands out. Should win a f’n Emmy for it, but I don’t even know if he’s acting or not. Dude’s out of his mind. Reminds me of a friend of mine, Pistol Pete. Pete was so dangerous and fresh out of the work house, I made it clear to all my roommates that he drinks for free if ever he shows up to a party of ours. Kid went through hell, and made it out with half-a-smile. To get to the point, Pete could look you in the eye and say “I don’t give a f---“… without saying a word. Similar to this guy in Boardwalk Empire, Nelson Van Aldin.
Van Aldin works for the law. Seems his main goal is to thwart alcohol sales, Nookie, and prostitution. Blindly, he’s the protagonist… but with a catch. Ugly catch. He never commits to a single thing he’s doing. Van Aldin will covet other women while thinking about his wife, drink liquor while wearing a badge, sleep with prostitutes while praying to Jesus for salvation... and on.
Nelson Van Aldin is the epitome of one of my greatest fears: to live only with good intent.
Dan Millman wrote “Never be the priest that has sex with his wife and thinks about praying for forgiveness. Then, while praying for forgiveness, thinks about having sex with his wife”. All intent, no action, Nelson Van Aldin seems to have a gorilla on his back that drives him to madness, murdering co-workers, coercing information out of witnesses by torture, and breaking the law while representing it at the same time. Another catch, Mr. Van Aldin constantly mentions “following the path of Christ”, in his moments of twisted frustration and backwards antics.
At this point, sitting next to a hypnotized dog, two cats, and my mother watching Boardwalk Empire, I made the decision to root for Nookie. This isn’t to applaud murder, death, and destruction, but more so to pose the question: where would you rather your ambition lie? In the body of Van Aldin, or Nookie.
Whenever a super-villain turned the corner in Marvel, and decided to do good, instead of setting flames to New York City, and holding the world in contempt with his, or her, finger on the button… the result was damn impressive. Reformed villains always made better heroes than already heroes that were half-assin’ it in the first place.
Ok ok, you’re thinkin’ “Toussaint, your delusional, closet-geek status philosophy on comic book characters and HBO personas makes me wonder why I haven’t deleted you from my phone yet”, but how about reformed skin heads? Brett Favre? Addiction recovery? Community service? All situations or people committed to a destructive, evil, or f----d up means of living, and turned it around to harness their ambition towards something good.
“Good” is relative, however, I believe we all have some kind of moral compass that can deflate us to feeling like shit when we wrong someone else, bring us to tears in witness of someone else’s pain, or put our ass on the line for somebody we love. For Van Aldin, after partaking in the full advantage of a speak easy, getting drunk, and waking up with another woman other than his wife… he makes it easy to root for the villain. Committing to something that may fall outside of the law, or half-heartedly intending to do “good”… which will it be...
In the meantime, while you decide whether to take on the life of a super-villain or crooked cop, watch this: