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PFC Henry Adkinson and Mr. Excitement

Updated: Mar 20

I backed the van up by the side door, and started loading gear out to the sound of the waves hitting the deck in their drunken rhythm. It was mid-summer on Lake Erie. People and boats everywhere. Booze and music. I'd just had my share of both over the course of a three-hour gig in Huron, at a little bar nestled into the side of the community boat basin. As usual in those days, I was the only sober person in the place, and I just wanted to get outta Dodge, to the comfort of Ohio backroads. But I couldn't find my compatriot, Bradley, so I wasn't going anywhere.

I circled back into the bar to see if he'd gotten caught up in last call, and fully expected him to be surrounded by middle-aged women with big hair. Nope, Bradley had left the building. I walked back out to move the van and hoped he hadn't found his way down the pier, into one of the other bars. It was damned near 2:30 by this time though, and everything would be closing soon enough. So I parked the van facing the boats, poured the last of my thermos coffee into a dirty styrofoam cup, and smoked cigarettes. Surely Bradley would remember which parking lot we started this night in and find his way back once there was nothing left open.

A few Marlboros in, I noticed a little fishing boat docked amongst the usual mid-sized boats you'd see at this particular dock. This stretch of water connected everything along Lake Erie; from Cedar Point to the bars in Port Clinton; and the boats here were the nautical equivalent of Kenny Chesney and "Girls Gone Wild". The fishing boat was definitely out of place. It had what looked like a lawnmower engine strapped to the back with two leather belts. As my eyes came more into focus, I realized it was manned by a guy around my dad's age in an old Army jacket. He had a wide forehead that protruded from beneath tufts of Luke Wilson hair, and a insanely well-trimmed beard. Come to think of it, this guy looked exactly like Macho Man Randy Savage in those Slim Jim commercials. And the drunk dude seated behind him, swaying side to side as he leaned into a big red cooler, looked exactly like Bradley. I locked the van and ventured down the pier toward Macho Man's fishing boat.

"That's him!" yelled my friend, standing up too fast and nearly capsizing the little boat. Macho Man wasn't impressed by Bradley's lack of seamanship, and he pulled a rope tighter around a post as he motioned for me to come aboard. "They call me Mr. Excitement" he growled at me. No smile, just really intense eyes that somehow reminded me of my old man and every other Vietnam vet I'd ever known. Yeah, this cat had done some 'Nam tours, no question. It's that distant but intense stare that gives it away. There's some sort of sadness mixed with PTSD in all their eyes. And Mr. Excitement had those eyes.

Bradley informed me that Mr. Excitement's red cooler was nearly empty, and that they'd planned a beer run to his house. "I guess he lives down the shoreline to the east" he explained. "It's only like ten or fifteen minutes". And with that, Mr. Excitement pulled the ripcord on the lawnmower engine, and we were off. The destination was a small cottage, like the one my grandparents lived in on that same stretch of lake. It sat about 40 yards from the shore, just up a small but steep hill with no stairs. It had a set of sliding glass doors on the back, with no curtains or blinds. Through the glass, I could see a very old man, in boxing shorts and house slippers, holding a bottle of liquor. "This is about to get interesting" I whispered to Bradley as we fell up the hill and into the cottage.

The old man was Mr. Excitement's elderly father, a World War II veteran named Henry Adkinson. He had an assortment of empty bourbon bottles on the floor next to his recliner, and the scene made it feel like this guy hadn't left that chair in years. A floor model television was blaring "All In the Family" reruns, though Henry didn't seem to notice. His eyes were fixated on the two kids who just rode up to his backdoor (in a fishing boat) at 3 am. I tried to introduce myself, but before I could, Mr. Excitement was changing the channel and Henry was challenging him to a literal gun duel over it. There was an old revolver on the tv and another on the counter by the coffeepot. And I was certain we were about to witness high noon at the OK Corral.

No one had time to reach for pistols. Mr. Excitement went into a full-sprint bull charge and knocked Henry and the recliner over and onto the pile of empty bourbon bottles. The old man stood up slowly, with a noticeable amount of blood coming from his shoulder. He threw one of the bottles at his son, and it landed hard just above his ear. Now they were both bleeding. I stepped toward the backdoor and motioned to Bradley to follow suit. The two men continued fighting, not even noticing that we had left. I could still see them from the boat as Bradley tugged the ripcord for our watery escape. By that time, they were on the floor in a rolling, weeping mass of limbs, and we were borrowing their john boat to get home.

I docked my first and last boat that night, tying it off to that same post with that same rope I'd seen Mr. Excitement use earlier. With a rope like that, he could have been strangling Henry. Bradley and I took backroads all the way to his house that night, and neither of us said a word till the next morning.

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