Archive for November, 2013

Nov 25 2013 Published by under Uncategorized


I went to a wrestling match. This was not real wrestling nor was it big-time fake wrestling. This was local fake wrestling. These were performers with day jobs. The ring was set up in a small courtyard next to a bar. The cover was twelve bucks. I took a seat next to the ring.

The guy beside me was in a motorized wheelchair. His head was crooked to one side. His hands sort of turned in on themselves. As far as I could tell he was there by himself. Perhaps he had been dropped off and would be picked up when the event ended.

People yell at wrestlers. Yelling is part of the point. At a baseball game you can cheer or not. At a fake wrestling match if you are not yelling you are ridiculous. It’s like sitting stony faced at a comedy club. Go be boring at home.

Most of the yelling is good-natured. It is more like banter than aggression. Wrestling offers an opportunity to pretend to be angry. It is not necessary to believe that the wrestling is real to feel real emotion any more than it is necessary to believe that a movie is real in order to cry at the end. To call wrestling fake is like pointing out that Tom Hanks isn’t actually Forrest Gump. It is merely descriptive.

Some people do believe it is real. For these people the line between fiction and non is permeable. For them the world is a magical place.

At the match I attended a large, red-faced man became upset at the referee. The man screamed “That’s an illegal hold, ref!”

The red-faced man was right. It was an illegal hold. And the ref had totally missed it. Of course the ref had missed any number of illegal holds. That is because he is a fake wrestling referee. He is supposed to be an idiot. That is his job. Were he to enforce the rules there would be no sport.

The red-faced man would not let it go. He got out of his seat and walked to the edge of the ring and slapped his palm on the mat multiple times. He repeated that it was an illegal hold. He said it was bullshit. It was obvious to everyone that the red-faced man was not kidding. Eventually his friend persuaded him to return to his seat.

The guy in the motorized wheelchair also seemed to believe that fake wrestling is real. He was caught up in the action. He watched everything very closely. And he taunted the wrestlers he did not like. Among those he taunted was a mustachioed wrestler with leg-sized arms.

“You’re a pussy,” the guy in the motorized wheelchair yelled at the mustachioed wrestler. “You’re a big fat pussy.”

The mustachioed wrestler called the guy in the motorized wheelchair a derogatory Spanish term for homosexual. The guy in the motorized wheelchair responded by describing what he would do to the mustachioed wrestler if given the opportunity. It was graphic. It was odd.

The mustachioed wrestler said he would like to see the guy in the motorized wheelchair try it. “Any time,” said the guy in the motorized wheelchair. “I will kill you.”

Eventually the mustachioed wrestler stopped paying attention to the guy in the motorized wheelchair. Pretended to, anyway. Of course he could still hear him. Everyone could.

Nov 19 2013 Published by under Uncategorized



Things I learned from a white-bearded 61-year-old guy sitting with his camouflage backpack outside the Speedy Stop:

– When you sleep outside on the ground, it’s not the mosquitos that you have to worry about. It’s the ants.

– Cigarellos can be purchased for 99 cents per pack. Better deal than cigarettes.

– Don’t go to Tennessee.

– Prostitutes are expensive. However, if you get married, your wife will “dance naked for free.”

– Don’t go to California.

– Truckers don’t pick up hitchhikers as often as they once did.

– Squirrels pee on the area where they have buried nuts so that they’ll remember where they buried them.

– Don’t go to Louisiana.

– “I’m so broken down I don’t even know what’s wrong with me anymore.”

– Metal rods are preferable to wooden walking sticks.

– Don’t go to Mexico.

Nov 16 2013 Published by under Uncategorized


A couple dozen people showed for the service. There was a table with crackers and cheese, cookies and brownies. They had little bottles of water and coffee. Next to the sign-in book was a stack of Hello My Name Is tags. I wrote “Tom” and stuck it on my sport coat. The crowd was divided into colleagues, some of whom had known the deceased for forty or fifty years, and a handful of graduate students. Plus his adult son and ex-wife. People talked about the recent heavy rains and about their retirements and where they were living now.

This is what it comes down to. Small talk and cheese plates. Brie and chit chat.

The now-deceased was a philosophy professor. I got to know him in graduate school. I was working on an MFA and signed up for some philosophy courses because I didn’t really know what philosophy was and thought it might be useful. I was interested in answering the big questions. I wanted some tips on how I might live my life.

I didn’t get any of that. Instead the two classes I took from the now-deceased philosophy professor were about problems like the Identity of Indiscernibles — that is, how you tell two things apart that appear to be the same. This is more difficult than you might think and gets at questions about the nature of identity, whether an object is a collection of its properties or something more. A lot has been written about this topic. None of what’s been written interests me at all.

Such lack of interest didn’t bother the now-deceased philosophy professor. He said such questions either intrigue you or they do not. It took me two courses to realize they did not.

But I liked the now-deceased philosophy professor. He knew that I wanted to be a writer and he had at one point hoped to be a writer too. I think he wished he had been a writer. Instead he had gotten sidetracked by philosophy for a half-century or so.

We bonded over Ford Madox Ford and D.H. Lawrence and Nathanael West. We talked about writing. I once said to him that writing couldn’t be taught, an opinion I hadn’t given much thought.

Why not? he asked.

I didn’t have a good answer.

He had a lot of ideas about writing. One was that you pick a term and you stick with it. Don’t throw in a bunch of synonyms just to show that you know them. If you refer to the “now-deceased philosophy professor” then continue to use that phrase. Nothing wrong with some repetition. Worry about clarity not elegant variation.

Years after I left school he sent me an email about an article I had written. I emailed him back and we agreed to have lunch, the first of several. He had been an imposing presence and he still was. Large and deep voiced. It felt weird that he would be speaking to only me. Where was the rest of the class?

What matters most at a memorial service is what’s not said. No one said the now-deceased philosophy professor was kind. No one mentioned a time he helped someone out. No one talked about his selflessness. No one accused him of having a tender heart. No one cried.

The most heartfelt tribute mentioned that he could be reductive and cruel. That he was quick to judge, to dismiss. That he was critical of everything all the time.

You could argue that his exactitude was his way of caring. Someone who didn’t care wouldn’t take the time to point out flaws.

Sitting in the back row I tried to remember what I liked about the now-deceased philosophy professor. I liked that he cared about writing. I liked that he liked conversation. I liked that he engaged fully with the world. I liked the force of his personality. It was exciting to be in his presence. He was big and he seemed bigger.

A longtime colleague recalled how he heard the now-deceased philosophy professor say the following: “I may be a bastard but at least I’m not boring.”

He was and he wasn’t.

Nov 15 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

There are two topics of conversation at my nearby Starbucks:

1) Real estate

2) The Bible.

Real estate agents with iPads explain things to would-be buyers. The market is hot, they tell them. Multiple offers, they say. We have to be quick.

The Bible people read Bible passages aloud. Sometimes they pray. Sometimes they pray while holding hands.

Every once in a while the conversations merge. The talk becomes about both the Bible and real estate, Jesus and square footage.

I am an atheist who rents.

Nov 13 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

The cat we feed isn’t ours. He belongs to the neighbors but spends much of his time on our back porch. We feed him in the morning and the evening. He rubs against our legs. He blinks his eyes at his lovingly. We talk to him and he purrs. He is our cat.

Recently I saw him trotting across the backyard with something in his mouth. It was a small bird. He dropped it for a moment and the bird chirped frantically and fluttered. He seized it again and carried it off into the woods.

We coddle a killer.

Nov 13 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

I put a chair in the woods. It is one of those folding chairs meant for camping. I searched a while for the right spot, one that wouldn’t be visible if someone happened by. Though no one really goes back there. I’ve run into an old guy walking his dogs but that’s it. The chair isn’t far from a convenience store called Speedy Stop. It feels, when you’re in the chair, like you’re way out it the wilderness.

I’ve told other people about the chair and they ask lots of questions about it. For instance:

– How often do you go there?

Maybe weekly. It depends on the weather. In the summer it’s too hot unless I get there early.

– How long do you sit there?

Depends. I read most of a book there once. Sometimes just a few minutes.

– How do you get there?

I ride my bike. It’s a couple miles from my house.

– Why?

I don’t know. It’s weirdly pleasing. It would be less pleasing if the chair was on property that I owned. Then I would just be sitting outside. This feels like I have claimed a patch of earth on the sly. I pass No Trespassing signs on the way there. It feels mildly illegal.

– Has anyone else found the chair?

Not as far as I know. It has never been disturbed. I place a twig in the seat with the idea that if someone else sits in it they will remove the twig. The twig remains.

– Were you a happy child?

I was not an unhappy child. I made friends. I had interests. I had parents who loved me. I was warm, well-fed and generally liked.

– What is the first thing you remember?

I remember eating a banana with a brown spot and worrying that it would make me sick. Afterwards my stomach hurt though I don’t know whether that was because I thought it would hurt or if the banana was actually bad.

– Since then, how has everything gone?

Pretty okay. I am surprised that I am as old as I am.

– Does the chair have a cup holder?

Two, in fact. One on each arm.

– While sitting in the chair have you experienced any epiphanies?

I cannot say that I have.

– What do you think about while you are there?

Lots of things. My mind wanders and flits. Sometimes I close my eyes.

– How much money do you have in your checking account?

About ten grand.

– Do you ever move the chair?

I didn’t for months. I found a nice spot under a tree, hidden from view. But the mosquitoes got too bad right there and I had to move it.

– Is there some deeper meaning to the chair?


– Do you believe in an afterlife?

An afterlife is as hard for me to imagine as a beforelife.

– What color is the chair?

The canvas is beige and the frame is black.

– Does the seat fill with water when it rains?

It did but then I poked a hole in the thin fabric of the seat to create a drain.

– What did you use to poke this hole?

The tip of a pocket knife.