The Weird and the Strange II: Ellis Reddick

{Disclaimer: The name Ellis Reddick is arbitrary. I do not know a person named Ellis Reddick, and any similarities to anyone named Ellis Reddick are coincidental. This story Ellis Reddick is based on a man of another name.}

“GET OUT!” Ellis Reddick screamed at his daughter. 

His daughter, Julie, was stunned. I was stunned. We knew Ellis had never fit the mold we had created for the various adults that surrounded us. We knew to prepare ourselves for erratic behavior whenever we were around the man. He loved to break the mold, and that he loved engaging in erratic behavior, that shook up our preconceived notions of adults, but nothing he did prior could have prepared us for this.

“GET OUT of my car Julie!” he repeated.

We were idling near the curb of a neighborhood road, about a half mile from their house, with the sound of the rattling little engine of his red Vega echoing this ultimatum.

“I don’t want to get out,” Julie said in defiance.

“Then give me the thirty-five cents.”

“Make me,” she said to ward off this challenge.

‘Make me’ was a ritualistic response to a challenge in our seven-year-old world. It was a popular response of the era that suggested that the challenge issued to let the challenger know they were willing to take the challenge to the next level if necessary. It was a reflexive challenge seven-year-olds made, without knowing the full extent of the next level. The import of ‘make me’, in the adult world, was that the challenged was willing to take it to the next level, and that next level often involved a challenge of physical confrontation. ‘Make me,’ in the seven-year-old world was far less explicit, but there was an implicit statement that the challenged knew what the next level was, and the challenger may not want to see how it’s defined.

Whether Ellis was aware of the psychology of such a threat, or if he contemplated the horror of going to the next level with his daughter, is unknown, but he did decide to make her. He went after his thirty-five cents. He went to her hands. He tried to pry them open. He began wrestling with her. She was laughing. I was laughing. We believed that these actions were another in a long line of hilarious, erratic reactions from the wacky and always unpredictable Ellis Reddick. He was always doing things like this. He was irrational in a non-adult manner. He was obnoxious in a manner we didn’t understand, and he kept you on edge trying to figure out how he would act and react. We loved it.

We didn’t always understand Ellis, or Ellis’ sense of humor, but our relationship was such that he was the adult, and we were the kids. As kids, we were always trying to convince him that we were sophisticated enough, and smart enough, to “get” his jokes in a manner other kids could not. It’s what little kids do when adults joked. They try to be beyond-their-years sophisticated. Therefore, when he joked, we laughed whether we understood the import of his jokes or not. 

There was something about the strength he put into this effort that turned the whole dynamic of what we thought we knew about Ellis Reddick on its head. He was still struggling, still fighting, and for a moment we both laughed harder. This wasn’t a part of the usual non-adult, obnoxious Ellis Reddick. He was taking his obnoxious, unpredictability to a new level of hilarity is what I thought, and I wanted it known that I got it, until Julie pulled out of his tussle with the thirty-five cents with a terrified look on her face. The terrified look affected my reaction, but I decided there was still something to be gained if I continued smiling, until Julie could come around to the sophisticated extent of Ellis’ joke. I was waiting with a half-smile for the eventual punch line to rise to the surface. I didn’t want to be viewed as the naïve kid that didn’t “get it” when it was revealed.

He went in again. Julie’s attempt to avoid whatever tactics he dreamed up, would’ve been admirable had she been able to avoid crying. Her crying, combined with his screaming, caused my smile to falter, as I began to realize that I might be witnessing a true altercation between an adult and a child, and if it was, it was my first.

When she popped out of the bent position she had taken to protect the coins, her face was beat red. She was confused and scared.

“Get out of the car Julie!” he screamed.

If there had been a progression from this notion that Ellis always acted erratic to one that could now be defined as a true altercation, I had missed it. I retraced the steps that led to this point in a hopeless effort to understand, but I had missed it. It all began with a whisper, a conspiratorial, competitive whisper that ticked me off.

“I just found thirty-five cents,” Julie had whispered to me with a sense of superiority about her.

“Where?” I asked.

“In the cushions of the car,” she whispered. 

In a seven-year-old world, as in any faction of our world, money is power. Having money is power, earning money is power, but finding money gives the finder a special degree of power that places them in a seat of superiority in a seven-year-old world. I began searching through the seat cushions around me in vain. I was angry. I thought about how if I had been afforded the opportunity to sit in the front seat, instead of her, that would be my money now. She lorded this over me for another half a beat, and she added something more to it that I didn’t hear. I didn’t want to hear it. She was mocking me with her money, her power.

“That’s mine,” Ellis had said. His voice always had the elements of whine to it. His voice had more whine to it here, more urgency, and more powerlessness. It appeared so powerless in this demand, that an observer could have mistaken it for comedy. “That’s my thirty-five cents, and I want it.”

“Finders keepers,” Julie said with a confident smile.

This was yet another tenet of the seven-year-old world all seven-year-olds knew well. If you lose something, and someone finds it, too bad. You’re out baby!

Ellis lost control. What began as pubescent whining from a grown man speaking to a child, evolved to outright screaming as he informed her:

“It’s my car Julie, and what you find in my car is mine!”  When that didn’t work, he reminded her: “I paid for the McDonald’s you two just ate, and if you don’t give me my thirty-five cents, then you can just walk home!”

“Mmm mmm,” she said. 

This response didn’t have as much conviction as the previous ones had. As I reflect back on this, I think Julie sensed that this could get out of control. She was his daughter, and she probably knew her dad better than 99.9% of the population, but the one thing that Julie probably knew better than 99.9% of the population was that no one could know Ellis Reddick well enough to know how he would react to a given situation. In a world of children versus adults, a child’s existence is dependent on figuring out how the adults (parent and otherwise) in their lives will react. It’s dependent on discovering the adults’ patterns and rituals to figure out how to get what they want, and how much they can get away with, but there are some, rare adults that don’t have such patterns. Some adults are so unpredictable that a kid could spend their whole lives trying to figure out those adults, and they will fail. Some adults are unknowable. Julie’s reaction told me that she had already recognized this idea, but her stubborn refusal to acquiesce suggested that she thought it was too late to turn back now.

This was the point when Ellis issued his first “GET OUT!” ultimatum. Then, after approaching the next level of ‘making’ his daughter on two different occasions, he reached a peak of frustration that led him to issue her the final ultimatum. He reached across her. She flinched. He opened the door:

“I want the thirty-five cents,” he said. “Or, I want you out of my car.” 

He screamed various versions of this final ultimatum, with the engine idling and rattling a half mile from her house, until she did exit.

Julie’s whole body shook with the tears of realization, as we pulled away from the curb. I saw her crying before, she was seven-years-old after all, but she never cried like this as far as I was concerned. I never saw anyone cry like this. I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t understand why Ellis had yelled at her with such force over thirty-five cents, but that confusion took a temporary back seat to my fascination with Julie and those tears. The image being laid out here, may lead some to believe that I was mocking her, or that I was enjoying my new ‘seat of superiority’ in lieu of the competitive whisper she gave me when she first found the money, but I wasn’t enjoying it. I was watching the realization in her tears. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, as my young mind couldn’t grasp what I was seeing, but reflection on this scene has led me to believe my fascination with watching her cry was borne of seeing a young, idealistic person lose her innocence for the first time. I was seeing a young girl lose her naiveté, as the seeds of cynicism were being planted in a young brain that didn’t know what cynicism was.

What is a Dad, or any parent for that matter, but a purveyor of sanity in a world that is so difficult for any child, much less a seven-year-old, to understand. The tears she cast weren’t sad tears, or bad girl tears that result from being corrected for a transgression, these were the convulsive tears of a young girl having her heart broken by the one man she should’ve been able to trust more than any other. They were tears that one struggles to find the words that can properly describe. They were the type of tears that the brain tries to block out as a defense mechanism against mental depression, and the type of tears that one can never defeat in the final formation of a personality.

I didn’t know any of this when I was seven-years-old, of course, and I didn’t have any deep thoughts about what had just happened, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the despair I was witnessing either. It was the spectacle of seeing someone’s life come crashing down around them that everyone but a child will try to avoid watching.

I should’ve gone with her, I realized, and I wasn’t sure why I didn’t. She was my best friend. I think my desire to be seen as the child that didn’t do anything wrong overrode the tenuous loyalties of our seven-year-old world. Maybe I just couldn’t deal with the shock and awe of the first true altercation I had witnessed between an adult and child. I had witnessed challenges to parental authority, and verbal altercations between children and their parents were nothing new to me, but the idea of an adult following through on a next-level challenge with actual physical action was new to me.

Julie cried before, but she wasn’t a crier. I made her cry, but I was sticking up for myself when I did it. She was a tease, and she could be relentless in that pursuit. She was the type that wouldn’t stop, until she was stopped. I decided, one day, that I had had enough, and I decided to introduce her to an unfair truth: Boys are stronger. Boys are ruthless. Boys aren’t going to be picked on forever. Boys are going to stand up for themselves when you push them to a limit, and they don’t care how much it hurts when they do.

Julie was the bully of the block. She was willing to do anything, to anyone, and everyone knew it. Some kids beat you for a cause, some do it just because they like it, but most of them will stop when you start crying. “All right fine,” is something they would say. “You crybaby.”  Crying never stopped Julie. She saw another kid crying as a sign of weakness. She saw it as a sign of victory, and she didn’t stop at the first sign of victory. Julie Reddick piled on. She would even laugh while she was doing it. The kids in our area weren’t used to that kind of ferocity. They were terrified of her. I became the one kid that Julie wouldn’t pick on, or beat up, from the day I had stood up to her on. I made her cry, and I laughed at her when I was done, but I did it to defend myself. When I made her cry, she sobbed with the physical pain I caused her, but that ended quick. Those special, all hope is lost tears she cast that day Ellis Reddick drove away from her, were the tears of pain and confusion only an erratic parent can cause a child.

***

Ellis Reddick scared me long before that particular incident, however, he was an anomaly among adults, and a foreigner in the world I called home. As a seven-year-old that was fascinated by Ellis Reddick in the way seven-year-olds are fascinated with aberrations –if only to better understand all adults– I struggled with the best way to capture the man’s identity, and as my vocabulary increased and I tried to find words with more syllables and greater psychological attachments, I realized that nothing would capture him better than the adolescent word: creepy.

When his wife was at work, and he was left babysit us, we tried to avoid being in the same room as him. This was often a mutual decision. He worried me, and it was obvious that his daughter felt the same way. Even at the young age of seven-years-old, when our knowledge of character is not much more than superficial, there was an ever-present worry regarding what he might do next. He was creepy in an indefinable manner I have to imagine method actors search for in their pursuit of finding that perfect characteristic that will cause the audience to fear them. He was prone to violent outbursts, unpredictable, and chaotic, and he was prone to punctuate it all with a sociopath’s giggle. If Hollywood got a hold of his story, and they tried to portray his characteristics on screen, they would be apt to overdo it all to get that message across to the audience that Ellis Reddick was creepy, but I don’t think the best director in the world would’ve been able to capture the essence, and subtle nuances, Ellis brought to the role.

Meet Ellis Reddick in a supermarket, and the first characteristic one would walk away with is that Ellis Reddick is not an attractive man. He lost most of his hair young. He had bad teeth. One of his front teeth was capped gold, and that made him even creepier. He had a high forehead with an unusual slant to it. His eyes bulged too much. He didn’t speak well, or often. When a young person would ask him questions about life, as I was prone to do with all of the adults in my inner circle, he would do nothing more than provide limited answers that piqued the interest all the more.

“Why do you keep touching the gear shifter?” I asked him one time on one of our many endless drive to nowhere in near-pitch black darkness.

“To make sure the engine is still on,” he replied.

I looked up at him waiting to be rewarded for the observant question I had just asked. The man answered me in a manner similar to the manner one adult would answer another. There were no sugary tones or smiles that followed to give this young person’s curiosity assurances. He answered. He continued driving.

“To make sure it’s still on?” I asked looking out on the dark road to nowhere we were on, picturing the long, dark walk we would have to endure if it did die out.

“Yeah.”

“Is there some fear that it could break down?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

Based on the Ellis Reddick precedent, I began to watch his type throughout my life. The Ellis Reddick type that didn’t say anything more than was necessary. Did his type reserve this attitude for children?  I thought so at the time. He wasn’t good with children. He made no effort to entertain us. We were there. He was there. He was our supervisor, but he left us alone as long as we didn’t touch his stuff. To see if Ellis Reddick was a dynamic creature, I would watch him with adults, until I was satisfied that he was just as inept with them. I would watch him in groups, and I would see him fade into the woodwork. He would smile when a polite reaction was called for in these groups. He would even laugh an evil, little laugh when that was called for by someone in this group, but this was to fulfill polite protocol. He could no more engage an adult in stimulating conversation than he could a child.

***

Among Ellis Reddick’s favorite non-adult, obnoxious pursuits was the perverse thrill he received in scaring small children. Ellis’ brand of horror/humor was a Halloween type of horror. It took a sophisticated sense of humor that appreciated such exploits in some ways, and it combined it with the simple humor one derives from seeing others scared in a haunted house.

His target, after Julie and I grew out of a fear of such things, was my three-year-old brother.

As a witness to this, I decided that it would provide me an excellent opportunity to show how sophisticated I was. My brother, as I say, was three-years-old at the time, and he was more prone to fearing that which he couldn’t understand than I was.

Ellis would exit the bathroom with a pair of fake, vampire teeth in his mouth, and an old wig on his head. I would laugh as my brother scampered back in terror, but in truth the man behind the get up frightened me too. Ellis was so unpredictable, I would often wonder how close he was to hurting us all. My brother was afraid, because he didn’t know what was going on. He thought that it was another person stepping towards him with slow menace. I was scared, because I knew a little more about who Ellis Reddick was than my brother did. I would laugh, as I said, but there were moments between the giggles when my mouth would freeze in a worried smile. I would take everything I knew of the man and put them into a hypothetical puzzle, and I would wonder how much truth was caught up in the horror.

Kids, like animals, grow accustomed to adult humans acting in a very specific manner. Kids grow accustomed to the tones that adults use around them. Kids learn that adults act their best around them, and kid get bored with that. This is why it’s always a shock for kids to see the adults in their life laugh hard, get sauced, swim, and kick a football. Kids then adjust their profiles according to their adults’ idiosyncrasies, on a case by case basis, until the adults become boring again. Yet, there is a certain comfort in that boredom that is not realized until one spends a day with an adult similar to Ellis Reddick.

I have used the Ellis Reddick example of the aberrant adult in my own life, with the kids and animals around me. I scare them. I walked slowly at them with teeth bared in the same manner Ellis did to my brother, but I’ve always stopped when the horror grew too great for them to handle. I always ended up laughing and tackling them saying:

“It’s just your good old dad.”

The difference between my humorous interpretation of Ellis’ brand of horror, and his, was that he didn’t do it often. I do it so often that all of the pets and kids I did it to would adjust their psychological profiles to me, until they no longer feared my actions, they thought it was just as foolishness and funny as I did. Ellis would hide those fake, vampire teeth, and the wig, from us older kids, because he knew we would overdo it. We found them after a while, and we asked him if we could use them to scare my little brother. He threw a fit. He hid the items again, in a different place. He didn’t want us to overdo it. He wanted it fresh. He wanted it powerful.

***

Ellis would also punch his wife in front of us. Spousal abuse has always been something of a cause for me, because I was subjected to witnessing this man pop his wife a little too often. Like everything else in life, crime can be diluted by those that make false claims, but that has never entered my purview regarding this crime against females. I used to hear Ellis’ wife scream and cry as he popped her, and I would laugh at first. What else is there for a powerless, little kid to do but laugh, I now ask myself as I look for a defense of my own actions. And isn’t it true, as some psychologists say, that when something shocks our fundamental understanding of the world, we either laugh or cry.

My parents argued, and they did screamed at each other, on occasion, but all that fighting ended in apologies, kisses, and hugs. Boring. The very idea that a man would punch his wife was so shocking to me, and my sheltered world, that I could’ve cried. I laughed instead. I didn’t give it thought. I laughed.

There were never any kisses, hugs or apologies in the aftermath of a Reddick family fight. The fights Ellis had with his wife were never about establishing ground, or boundaries, in a relationship. I didn’t get it, and some part of me needed to understand. Some part of Ellis Reddick’s actions told me that I needed to know the constructs of the Reddick home, so that I would know how to act, and so I wouldn’t get hit. I couldn’t find it. I found only chaos. I found a man acting on his wife and daughter in a manner that could be defined as a release of the frustrations for not living the life he wanted to live. I also found that Ellis Reddick liked it.

Had I the interest in the subject of spousal abuse, as it pertains to the deep psychological reasons why one man strikes his wife while another does not, I am sure I could find a myriad of explanations regarding why Ellis Reddick did it. If I sat down with the man, I’m quite sure I would hear tales of his father beating his wife to handle a family crisis, or some stories of bullies bullying him, but I don’t think any complex theories and hypotheses would dispel this notion I had, and still have, that Ellis Reddick just enjoyed punching his wife. Some truths are complex, and they have qualifiers and facets that a seven-year-old boy cannot grasp, and some truths are simple.

Julie would scream an eardrum rattling scream when Ellis would punch her mother. She would cry those all hope is lost tears, begging them to stop. “Please stop!” she would scream. I wondered if that worked the first time she tried it. I wondered if Ellis would look at his only child and realize what he was doing to her, and stop. I wasn’t there all the time, so there may have been a time when such desperation worked. By the time I got there, it no longer worked. After a number of these incidents occurred in front of me, Julie stopped crying and screaming, and pleading for it to stop. She got used to it after a while.

The wife never stopped screaming however. Even when it was obvious that Ellis wasn’t using all his force, and the screams may not have been warranted, she would scream. I could tell these screams were issued in the hopes that someone might hear. I thought that she was being a tattle-tale without tattling, and I hated tattle-tales. I brought this disgust to my interactions with my brother. When I would pick on him, he would scream. He would never tattle, but he would scream loud enough to be heard. I told him that that was equivalent to tattling. It was a childhood profundity that I may have picked up while watching Ellis Reddick’s wife scream.

I would watch her tattle-scream with the presumed hope that Ellis might fear that others would hear, and to prevent the strikes from escalating. By the time I was invited to witness the spectacle, her preemptive screams weren’t working anymore either. More than anything else, I think the daughter and the mother screamed, because they thought they could appeal to the man’s humanity. They thought wrong. He liked it.

I think I may have joined the chorus of screams and cries during the first couple beatings I witnessed, and I may have even screamed or yelled out for him to stop, but I got used to it too, over time.

***

‘I never realized how short you were,’ were the first words on the tip of my tongue when I met this man when decades later. We were both standing in a line at a deli to get a sandwich in a planned reunion between Julie and me. I didn’t know Ellis would be there, but now that he was, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I forgot all about the effect this man had had on me, and how he had intensified ‘average men prone to horrific acts of violence’ characters in horror stories for me, until he stood before me as the visage of all that had once horrified me. Now that he stood before me, I not only noticed how short he was, but that he appeared to have an intangible sense of smallness about him that I felt disillusioned by. This man that that had once defined for me how cruel one man could be to their fellow man, even when the subject of his cruelty happened to be his loved ones, happened to have no stature about him.

The man still wore the truckers’ hats that he wore throughout my youth, but it now appeared to be a pathetic attempt to cover his baldness now, as opposed to a part of an ensemble that I had associated with creepy whenever I saw them on other men. He had replaced the gold cap on his front tooth with a porcelain cover that appeared more natural, but it did little to improve his overall appearance. He was still creepy, but that creepiness was equivalent to the creepiness of the Golem character in the Lord of the Rings movies, as opposed to the indefinable characteristics that I associated with the worst, most horrific characters in fiction. 

He was so little that I accidentally loomed my average adult male’s height over him. I looked at the top of his head, and I was forced to stifle all the ridicule I had building up. ‘You’re so little,’ would’ve been the theme of that ridicule, and ‘You’re the cute, little feller that I’ve spent so much of my life fearing from afar?’ would’ve been one of the comments that I delivered. I didn’t feel bad about having these thoughts about the man that had inflicted such pain on other people, but for reasons concerning the description of my own character, I refrained from actually saying any of them.

He smiled a ‘what are you doing?’ smile when I began accidentally lording my average male height over him in a physical manner. I did not intend to loom over him, as I said, but seeing him again brought back all those old seven-year-old feelings of helplessness and fear. Now that I was older and taller than him, I felt the need to prove some sort of superiority that required an internal struggle to avoid acting on it, or giving voice to it.

I was so wrapped up in these thoughts that when a voice spoke to me, a voice from a checker informing of me total for the meal I had ordered, I was out of sorts. It was as if I so wrapped up in bringing this matter to a conclusion that the outside world would have to wait until it was complete.

“I’ll pay for it!” Ellis Reddick said, stepping up to pay for my meal.

This action, I can only guess, was Ellis Reddick’s way of apologizing for a past that everyone in his circle had decided to forget. Everyone else around him had simply decided to forget, and move past, everything he had done to them in the intervening years. I was the lone holdout, a person from his past that had not found a way to forget everything he did, because his actions didn’t affect me directly, and as a result they didn’t plague me either. There was this sense between us, however, that the matter had to be dealt with before we could move on, and in his own way, I think he thought that paying for my meal should’ve accomplished that.

I was the child of friends, and as a result none of Ellis Reddick’s actions were directed at me, but what he did to his loved ones caused the seven-year-old boy that witnessed them to grow up with the belief that he was evil incarnate. He defined for me how an ordinary, and by many standards a less than average, man could go about committing acts of atrocity without the least amount of guilt. Standing with him in a checkout line, at a deli, led me to believe that he was not evil in the purest sense of the term. He did not have evil emanating off him in a manner one might imagine a Mao Tse-tung, a Stalin, or an Adolf Hitler may. Ellis Reddick, as a matter of fact, had an intangible sense of smallness about him that I can only imagine may have caused him to need a presence of power he may have found only in the unpredictability and chaos he could create in the confines of his humble home. I also sensed that for all that he did, and all that he got away with doing, his punishment was in full view for anyone to see. He was intimidated by me, and my average height, and he had an air of loneliness, sadness, and an overall sense of being confused about life that was palpable to the young child-turned full grown man looking at him.

Most of the adults I knew, at seven years of age, were consistent, moral, upstanding citizens that had a drive to do what was right in life, in a manner that bored the hell out me. The Ellis Reddick I knew at seven-years-old, stood out as an exception on all of those fronts, and I think that that dichotomy was the core to the horror enjoyed exploring. He liked it, for the power that unpredictability granted him, but more than that I think he liked it because in the in the real world, or the world that existed outside his four walls, he was a small, powerless person that would have to find some way to leave a mark. He would do so, of course, leaving literal and figurative marks on all those associated with him.

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