June 2008 / Volume Eight / Issue Two
Mike Whalen
I saw Conan the Barbarian when it first came out in
1982. My dad packed up the fam in the station wagon
and took us to a drive-in theater in New Jersey.
Pretty early on in the movie, there were boobs. I was
7 and it was the greatest cinematic experience of my
life. I mean, it was just the best. So, this is for my
dad: Garry the Negotiator.


“By Crom!”
“That’s what she said.”


Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans
drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Bush, there
was an age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay
spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the
stars, a world of genre with which
The New York
Review of Books
would never sully its
well-manicured, pretty-boy hands: a world of tough-guy
writers. Know, perhaps, that when high-browed book
reviewers tell tales of machismo, they may speak of
Ernest Hemingway, who will spend fifty fucking pages
revealing to his audience of armchair adventurers
that, yes, it does indeed hurt to get salt water
inside a rope burn. Or perhaps Norman Mailer, but,
Norm, you should have known that not only do tough
guys not dance, they also don’t waste two hundred plus
pages writing about one measly murder when there are
scores and scores of people to murder out there. But
there was a man who did know this, a man unafraid to
lower himself to the gory depths of genre, Robert E.
Howard: a Texan and a lunatic and the literary father
of Conan the Barbarian.

Conan was a tough guy; a guy who would disembowel
Ernest Hemmingway and use his bled-out corpse as a
shield.
A thief.
A drunk.
A murderer.
A model of iconic badassedness for all sons to live up
to. A womanizing, deicidal juggernaut of sweat and
determination who fought the supernatural with an iron
sword and iron will, like John Henry fought technology
(except that John Henry had a blue hammer or died with
an ox in his hand or something). A dirty machine of
muscle and perseverance fighting the world just to
prove it could be beaten, unconcerned with amenities
and soap and shirts and manners and words like
“amenities.”
Like Danzig, but tall.
Like Black Flag-era Henry Rollins, but tall, and
before he got all talky.
Like Wolverine, but tall and not made up.

And, yet, these feisty short people have a little
Conan inside them. Like all of us. We choose our
battles, and sometimes we get beaten down in the pit,
but sometimes we smash that guy’s face into the wall
with enough ferocity to pulp his head inside his
helmet, or we mow our lawns without taking any breaks!
We all churn that monumental grind day in and day out,
but some of us break free to rule empires, or get
those heated towel racks we’ve always dreamed of!

And every morning, when my woman reaches across our
bear skin rug to seek warmth in the metal forge of my
biceps, she finds that I have gone, once again, to
fight the evil, two-headed serpent god of my mortgage.
And after being herded along for an hour in my commute
with the Children of Doom, knowing that I am not among
them, no, I have merely infiltrated them, in order to
destroy from within the System of Man when I finally
arrive at my job at a middle school educational media
company, I brood upon what is best:

To crush your enemies, see them driven before you,
and to hear the lamentation of the women.


And then, by Crom, I text-message my father at his
beachfront retirement home in Florida to say: “Thanks,
man.”
RETURN TO JUNE 2008