The Day John Henry Died



Hey Gang!


What is strength?

Is strength something that comes from within you? Some sort of primal trait we have hidden within us that bursts forth in times of need. Is it something summoned willingly? What is its potential? Where is it coming from? What is strength?

There is this really great old story that I love. It’s the tall tale of John Henry. An American legend who was up there with the tall tales of Billy the Kid and Wild Bill Hickock. In folk lore, John Henry was a steel-driver who would hammer spikes into the ground and then a drill setter would come behind him and drill the hole to finish it out. This was the process a couple hundred years ago to begin clearing the way for railroad tracks. John Henry was the best at what he did and the hero of his peers. One day a salesman came through with a machine that was said to be able to be any man at steel-driving. John Henry challenged that notion and was pitted against the machine. They both hammered and drove and drilled for an entire night before the machine stopped, in some stories it broke. John Henry had won by at least 6 feet but, in the end, the amount of strength and prowess he showed killed him. He and his two twenty pound hammers fell to the ground but no one forgot about John Henry.


I was out with my friend a few weeks ago. We hadn’t been downtown together in a long time and even longer since we’d been to the downtown back home. So, we bar hopped and it seemed like we were the only ones there. We drank in so many different bars that I can’t quite remember them all. We came to a bar that was firefighter themed and I decided that naturally I would put my head into the lamp shades fashioned from old firefighter helmets. We roamed around to more bars and became too intoxicated to drive. He wanted to take a cab but I wanted to get money from the ATM. As we stumbled there and I put in my card in, he overheard a girl say to her friend, “I would not fu** either of those guys.”

This offended him so much that he said to me, “Did you hear that? She said she wouldn’t have sex with either of us.”

“What? No way. We were the least hood fabulous guys in there,” I said as I drunkenly tried to use the ATM.

The rest of the night was filled with me trying to get cash from ATMs and us stumbling through the city. We screamed at the top of our lungs things like, “Why are we so ugly!” or “There is no way they were talking to us, we have master’s degrees!”

He even suggested we begin wearing signs around our necks that had our college education credentials on them. I liked the idea at the time.

We eventually get a cab and go to Steak n Shake where I proceed to ask some young ladies on a scale of one to “elephant man” we lay. I don’t remember if they answered and I remember not really caring as my delicious sandwich arrived soon after.

We walked back to my apartment, or stumbled back I should say, as we still lamented about how we need to go to the gym and start doing crunches, we cried out, “why were so hideous!” I began to realize that the sun was rising and it had been an incredibly long, fun and ego-crushing night.

The next day we arose from our blackout slumber and I took him to his car. Then I remembered what the girls were talking about. The one girl was being hit on by two very thugalicious gentlemen. They followed her all over the bar and she even had her friends boyfriend act like her boyfriend to get away from them. The first part of the convo that he didn’t hear was her friend asking why she didn’t hook up with one of those guys at the bar. So, my ego wasn’t quite as fractured as before but it made for a memorable last night out for he and I. We may have thought we were ugly for a bit but we were ugly together, damn it!

You see, my friend will be moving hundreds of miles away soon and my other best friend is out west. We have all been friends for almost twelve years. Hard to believe.

When I think about how much strength John Henry had that day, I admire him but I also feel bad for him. I don’t summon all of my strength from within nor do I have some primal switch that flips. I gather my strength from two guys whom I met in high school. One guy hated me at first but now we have each other on Facebook as ‘brother’ and the other I was jealous of because he got to sleep in class with his hoodie up.

If not for them, I wouldn’t be where I am. They inspired me to lose weight and realize what a healthy lifestyle really meant. Not just losing weight but the amount of happiness you gather from that weight loss. Confidence, resilience and so much more.

If not for my friends, I wouldn’t be writing this. I wouldn’t be writing. My friends have been my biggest fans, even when I wasn’t.

I have my own strength but I know that if it weren’t for those two, my hopes and my dreams and my life as I know it would be right beside John Henry and his hammers.

For all this, to Skober and The Jett, I just want to say, thanks.




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