Written by Sam Kimball
As someone who spent nearly every Friday of my 9th and 10th grade life at a comic store competing in Magic: the Gathering tournaments, it should come as no surprise when I say I’ve met my fair share of weirdos. Being a quiet, observant kid at these tournaments, I could write a compendium of all the characters that frequented the place—Clayton, the gruff jerkwad who I suspect was in a biker gang; Cole, the slick, charismatic “cool guy” famous for ripping people off; Landon, the sarcastic kid whose sharp trading card investments helped pay for his med school—but they’re not who I’m here to talk about. No, today I want to tell the story of the magnum opus of insane assholes you’re lucky if you never meet: this is the story of my experiences with John motherfucking Hanlon.
When I first met John, a cocky son-of-a-bitch wearing a muscle shirt and bragging about his sex life, I didn’t think much of him. At 14 years old I was taller than him, but he carried with him a larger-than-life braggadocio that quickly destroyed whatever sympathies people might have had about his short stature. When he wasn’t talking about his sports car or all the girls he’d slept with, he was showing off his expertise of Krav Maga, a brutal Israeli martial art, and telling completely unbiased stories of his badassery. In case you haven’t picked this up already, let me tell you now: John Hanlon was an asshole. I made sure to tell him this regularly. He made sure I knew that he already knew.
John was an unapologetic instigator—he had no qualms about picking senseless fights, and rarely found himself accountable for his actions. He was the type of guy who bragged about getting kicked out of a gym for knocking out a skinhead who was giving him funny looks. He said he felt a personal connection to the spider that lived on his back porch because he “empathizes with tiny, badass creatures.” His arrogance was matched only by his impulsivity—his cover photo on Facebook was (and still is) the speedometer of his car at 140 mph, taken by him, while driving. If he thought something would make for a good story, his and the rest of the world’s safety and wellbeing could just go to hell. His reckless demeanor made him a fun guy to be around in the right doses, and an unlikely friend for me. He would drive me to tournaments my parents wouldn’t take me to and text me absurd stories out of context; I would call him out for acting like his life was a Harrison Ford movie. We stayed friends even after I stopped playing in Magic tournaments.
Given what I know about John, I really had no right to be surprised when a 2,600-word message from him popped into my Facebook inbox. Apparently he’d made a snap decision to join one of his friends on a UNICEF trip to the Philippines, which, big surprise, promptly went to hell. In the two-hour gap between him hearing about said trip and him hopping on a plane across the globe, he’d managed to lose his phone, which happened to be his only means of contacting the rest of the world. So, after no contact between us for a good 7 months, I received this Facebook message sent from the U.S. Embassy explaining his misadventures.
“I swear this isn’t entirely my fault,” he prefaced. “Like 30%.” Apparently John had landed in the Philippines and was masquerading as a doctor. Typical. “My friend managed to bluff the right people into believing that I was medically qualified to be his assistant so we could actually work together, and for a few short weeks I was upgraded to administering vaccines and passing out fresh water.” The thought of John motherfucking Hanlon wielding a syringe on innocent people will haunt my nightmares ‘til the day I die.
At this point, John felt it would be appropriate to break from his urgent story and impart some words of wisdom from his travels abroad. “Without shampoo, wash your hair in cold water with surfboard wax. Takes like 20 minutes to get it out, but it has the same effect.” Thanks, John Hanlon. “I’ll admit I could have contacted people for the first 3 months or so if I had REALLY tried,” he confessed, “but I figured I’d be home within a few months, and you guys waiting that time was worth the reactions I’d get when I turned up out of the blue.”
Would you be surprised if I told you that didn’t quite pan out like he thought, and the rest of his 2,600-word message wasn’t just more shampoo-related life hacks?
“I believe the literary term here would be ‘the hero returning alive.’” he said, humble as ever. “Except it didn’t work out that way.”
Somewhere along the line, John got separated from his doctor friend altogether and befriended a group of “low-level wannabe mercenaries,” his words not mine. Convinced that he would be credited for a full year of service if he worked for 8 months, he made the brilliant decision to wait it out, despite being a couple thousand miles from home with no Internet access or any means of contacting the friend he’d been working with. “I’ll admit making that 8 month credit-for-a-year mark was REALLY appealing to me for both bragging rights AND use on a resume. And then about a month before that, a few of the idiots in my unit decided to burn a building down.”
So apparently John’s fuckery had finally landed him in some deep shit. “I was sentenced to 5 years in a Filipino prison here in Manila 3 weeks ago. I’m allowed a weekend to myself locked in the U.S. Embassy before I self-report Sunday morning.” Of course, a little hiccup like that wouldn’t be nearly enough to crack his massive ego. “DO NOT BE AFRAID FOR ME,” he wrote. “I’m STILL a fucking M1 in Krav Maga. This ordeal has taken NOTHING of my skills and training away from me. I am, and pretty much always will be the most dangerous motherfucker in the room wherever I go. Plus for the first time since grade school at 5’6 I’m now one of the tallest people there, so that’s a plus.”
John then went on to list his incredibly well-thought-out plan for the next five years of his life. “I’m going to be doubling down and learning Mandarin during my incarceration. Fuck Spanish, even though it’s the local language here. After being in this hellhole I refuse to speak Spanish on principle, even as I recognize that given the fact I’m in a SPANISH SPEAKING PRISON FOR FIVE FUCKING YEARS this is ultimately to my detriment.” Brilliant plan, as always. At the end of his letter, John included a personalized message for all the people that he “cared about enough to send this to.” Here’s what mine said:
Let’s face it, we knew this day was coming. It was only a matter of time before I ended up killing someone in a situation where either A. the claim of self-defense was dubious at best, or B. in a place that doesn’t actually HAVE self-defense laws. But on the bright side, the friends you told about me who didn’t believe you then will certainly never believe you again once you tell them that I’m a convicted felon serving 5 years in a foreign prison for burning down a building with what amounted to a band of poorly controlled bootleg mercenaries.
That’s gonna be a fun one to drop when you’re talking to girls.”
The idea of his arson conviction being some sort of bombshell I can drop that’ll get me laid is a beautifully delusional sentiment, and a fitting sendoff for a real life action movie character. Here’s hoping you’re doing well in there, buddy. And if I ever make a Tinder bio, I’ll, uh, try to fit it in.