Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The first circle of manliness

I have never been a man's man.
Let me draw a graph:
The Man Planet is supposed to portray essential manliness, but as you can see, I have failed to even draw men, or at least men's hats. 
Anyways, the point is made.
This lack of intrinsic man-ness has plagued me throughout my life. 
For example, I went to a small, private middle school where boys had to wear these:

Or at least this:
And if you messed up bad, this happened:
This school was very small, so things tended to stick out. Things like early bloomers.

For those first few blessed years of school, I was one of the tallest kids in my class (I also had a downy lip, I believe a "Guido stache" in the vernacular of the day). 

There was one other kid my equal in height; let us call him Big T.

Big T was one of those kids who just excel at every sport they try, they walk at four months, they dunk when they are three, that kind of thing.

I was one of those kids who had a homemade basketball pole that was eleven feet high, and if you airballed, your one and only basketball disappeared into the poison ivy depths of the pine trees that rimmed your gravel court. 

You shrugged off the loss and retreated to the house to pretend you were not still playing with your Transformers, only posing them.

Big T had body parts the rest of us didn't have yet. He was all muscle.
Whatever physical fitness I had was earned from running around the neighbor in camouflage and wildly pointing my toy machine gun at passing traffic.

Let me graph the difference between Big T and I:

Because we were the same height, students and staff could not help but pit us against each other, constantly.

In flag football, I was a competent lineman until the coach put Big T across from me, even though he was the quarterback, just to see if I could stop him. I couldn't. 

I was doing okay at intramural wrestling, basically flinging around another sweaty nerd boy like me, so the coach decided to bring in Big T to wrestle me. I was down immediately.

On the day of the one and only wrestling meet we had, Big T pinned me instantly, right in front of the girl I had a crush on. 
When he helped me up, he said, "Don't worry about it, I have been wrestling with my dad since I was little". 
Yeah, so have I, but my dad lifting up my shirt and tickling my belly with his beard has not given me the skills to kick someone's ass.

I was so thrown off by that lightening fast defeat that I lost to the next guy I wrestled too.

I could not remember how to wrestle anymore, and whatever I tried to do to the other guy prompted the coach to say "What the hell was that move?"
When he counted me out, I slammed the mat, swore loudly, and ran out of the gym.
It was a real highlight for me.
Arm-wrestling, running, dodge-ball, trying to touch the rim; all these traditional feats of strength and athleticism staged daily on middle school playgrounds and during school lunch hours were seen as venues for Big T and I, two titans of muscle and puberty, to fling ourselves into the blood fever of our ongoing rivalry.

Except I just wanted to run the other way.

If I was about to enter the classroom and heard arm-wrestling begin, I would quickly duck and hide until class had started.

If I went in, Big T would only have eyes for me.

I remember the one time we did arm wrestle. I had managed to dodge it for four years, but the time had come at last. A crowd of my classmates surged around us, calling for blood. We faced each other across a school desk. Big T was smiling. I think I was trying to hide behind my Guido stache.

We linked hands like lovers; I almost whispered "We don't have to do this" but all that came out was my ever present nervous giggle. I felt sick.

The match began, and it was all strain, neither arm budging. Big T turned red.
My arm was on fire, but to my disbelief, his began to give out. It actually began to do go down. All I could hear was the cracked and squeezed frenzy of prepubescent boys yelling their lungs out.
I was winning.
But as I got Big T's arm close to that pristine desk surface, he began to smile.
Impossibly, he started pushing me back up to the starting position. My arm was numb, I had no sensation of strength left, and yet we were right back where we had started.
I had no muscle to use; I could only tell my brain to make my arm bend the way I wanted it to and hope for the best.
Again Big T went down. Again so close to the desk.
But that smile again, and he fought off defeat till we were again in the starting position.
This had to happen a few more times before I realized that Big T was just playing with me. His smile grew broader, and with a slight grunt, he toppled my arm over and it was done.

I had lost.

Beyond the shame of such a public defeat, there was also a sense of relief. 

See you bastard coaches, you idiot classmates? Just because two people are the same height, doesn't mean they are fated to always be at odds. Especially when one of those people is a marshmallow that reads Xanth books while listening to the Ghostbusters soundtrack.

I forgot what this post was supposed to be about so I will write more about Man Planets later.


  1. I can identify with some of the pressure to be a manly man. Especially when the conversation turns to sports and their statistics.

  2. I was the generally the shortest in my class, but was gifted with fighting skills so I would end up kicking the collectives asses of jerks like Big T. My fear produced an adrenaline rush as in the stories of people lifting cars off of people trapped underneath. After a few fights I was pretty much left alone but lived in dread of being challenged by someone who I knew would beat the living shit out of me. So I targeted them as my possible new friends and tried to make them laugh with my sense of humor. Mostly it worked.