I worked my way through college. My family was middleward in the middle class, which means we starved for nothing, and did without fancy gadgets and disposable fads. Books yes, movies sometimes, fancy birthday parties of the soul-cringing variety, never. We favored original art over coloring books, which left me craving coloring books into early adolescence (there’s a lesson there, somewhere). We had enough of everything and took care of most of it, lest we not have enough further down the line. We turned off the kitchen light when we left the kitchen. Waste not, want not. Don’t worry, be happy. A stitch in time saves nine. Old 20th Century wisdoms.
For four years at school I was a student security guard, first on dim scary Detex night shifts in the Physics labs and then, over time, on easier tours in comfier spots with chairs and windows and sometimes a kitchen or a cleverly-placed sofa that could not be seen from the entry.
Junior year I was in love with Lehze, and she lived in the Yard, so in a bit of clever thinkin’ I took a couple of Delta shifts there. Weeknights in the Yard there was only one student security detail, from midnight to 7:00 a.m. The rest of the day real guards did the work; student security was a pay-the-kids and save-some-money makework compromise. We weren’t meant to actually do anything risky or securityish on the job. Ideally we’d just sit in the Guard Shack and watch TV, and occasionally walk someone to her room or respond to a lockout. Or, and I say this just for argument’s sake, one might go visit one’s girlfriend and spend the night in her room in Weld. Just theoretically.
Most Yard nights I would relieve Manny, a Uniform Guard, at the Delta shack by Widener Gate. Manny was Lord of the Manor in the shack, and he brooked no nothin’. It was his fridge and his comfy chair and his TV, and nights when WWF wrestling was on, your turn in the chair didn’t come until the last slam was slammed and the last fist was pumped. Manny was a fan. You were in his shack. Therefore, you were a fan too.
I got caught up in the exploits of the Federation. It was absurdly over the top, and it functioned more or less as a comic book for television. Heroes, villains, mercenaries, turncoats, and the righteous Hulk Hogan ruling above them all like a sleeping Zeus or Odin. My favorite was King Kong Bundy, who was to meat as Spongebob Squarepants is to sponge and square pants. But the others were wonderful too: Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Andre the Giant, George “The Animal” Steel, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, The Honkytonk Man, Brett “Hitman” Hart. The cast of characters was no less than mythic, or Shakespearian.
I commented one night to Manny how awesome it was that the story ruled in wrestling just as it did in literature. Manny turned to me, his moustache eloquently drooping in cold scorn. There is no story, he told me, all ice. Voice low and anger barely checked, he ticked through the articles of WWFaith. This is a contest between men of power and great heart, he hissed. Combat among heroes. It comes out as fate will have it, not according to some kind of script. It is obvious, he sneered. These men prove their strength week after week, battling their enemies and rushing to aid their friends. This, my young friend, this is life.
When WWF was over that night he refused to get up from the chair. He sat there for almost an hour, silent, time ticking past in the shack. When he left he left without a word, and he padlocked the fridge behind him. The next week when I came to relieve him, he took the TV home. He punished me with silence, betrayed by my failure to believe in the hard truth of professional wrestling.
Eventually Manny thawed, and cautiously we shared the closing bouts of WWF shows again in the overlapping minutes of our shifts. I never talked about the games any more, and as far as he was concerned my heresy was purged. One night some bit of choreography went woefully awry. An unlikely dive off the ropes to shoulder-block a floored and writhing victim slipped off-time. The guy on the floor got up too early, realized his mistake, and tried to dive back down; but his nemesis was already airborn, and he hit the floor where no body lay. There was a stunned pause, and the man who was not on the ground rejoined his script by throwing himself down with a howl, as if he had been slammed after all. The leaper rolled on top of him, and from that point it all went forward as
planned chance would have it.
The silence in the shack debated itself and turned in place like a dog getting ready to sleep. I said nothing, and nothing, and nothing. Finally Manny turned, his chin held high, and he sniffed, ready to make his pronouncement.
“Well,” he said. “Well. I’ve heard people say this before but it’s nothing I ever saw before with my own eyes. And until I see it with my own eyes, I don’t like to think bad of people, because everyone deserves an even break. But what just happened here, I saw myself, and I don’t like to think that I can’t see the truth when the truth is in front of me.”
He paused, and sucked his upper lip. “That,” he said, “was one crooked ref.” And with that he shut off the TV, left the padlock off the fridge, and headed out into the after-midnight dark.
I can’t help but think that come Tuesday morning, if he votes at all, Manny will be voting for George W. Bush.