Don’t Know Me
At The Mecca they don’t know me as this petty, wanna-be writer. They don’t know of my hubris and pretentiousness at writing and wondering if maybe what I write is worth a damn. Worth enough for anybody else to care about. That hubris and pretentiousness are the secret shames I carry around The Mecca and everywhere else. And, even though it sucks, I accept it.
If the gang at The Mecca knew I write, they’d probably give me some condescending nickname to go along with my hubris and pretensions. If they gave me the nickname, I’d have to accept it. That’s the way it is at The Mecca. Nobody gets too big for their britches. Everybody needs to learn to accept an insult. You gotta be thick-skinned. Everybody needs to understand there’s nobody too special in The Mecca. In there, a nickname, even when it’s insulting, is almost like a badge of honor, signifying “you’re one us.” The reason I’d shun a nickname isn’t because I’d be ashamed of being one of them. I just don’t wanna be stuck with some nickname reminding me of the pretentiousness and futility of this. Hell, I’m being reminded enough of it now and it’s plenty.
The other Sunday I was at The Mecca watching football. Big John was hung over and not saying much.
I was sitting next to Big John wondering if he only got drunk on beer or if he was dumb enough to have mixed his alcohol. I was thinking about asking him when his elbow nudged me out of the thought.
Big John had his other elbow on the bar with his fist to his forehead.
I didn’t understand.
Then I understood.
That’s what I’d been unconsciously doing while thinking about Big John and his hangover.
“Tammi says you were posing like The Thinker.”
He turned to his wife, who smiled.
“Ah,” I said.
I thought to myself, “Fuck. Someday you’re gonna blow your cover. You’re gonna expose yourself as the pecker gnat of a thinker and writer you pretend to be when you’re all alone.”
I panicked over blowing my barfly cover. I panicked it was another clue to my petty, clandestine self that sits here now, writing this nonsense.
I panicked liked the other time at Big John’s house when I finally got in the pool. I took off my shirt to reveal the big tattoo of Dostoyevsky on my chest.
“Who’s that?” Big John asked.
“Just some old Russian writer,” I’d said. “Dostoyevsky.”
“Was he a Communist?” Big John asked.
“No,” I said. “But a Christian.”
“Oh. I thought maybe it was Abraham Lincoln.”
Thankfully, that was it. But there I was, caught posing as The Thinker without even knowing it. Caught posing and feeling stupid about it.
“You know…..The Thinker. That statue?” Big John asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
I could have added, “Rodin,” but I didn’t.
I don’t bother telling the boys at The Mecca about the art and philosophy I studied. I figure it’s enough they know I work at a hospital. I figure I don’t need to talk about the other stuff. Seems like it might come off as flaunting.
“I know,” I said. “But my deep thoughts were only about what you got so drunk on last night and if I ought to ask you about it.”
I imagined some true self-deprecation might help.
Big John explained, “Well, I started on beer. Then it went to screwdrivers.”
“That’s where you fucked up,” I said.
We went back to the game.
I felt relieved. I felt like I’d squirmed out again.
See, I go to The Mecca cause I wanna be a guy who accepts he needs some drinks sometimes, just like everybody else there. I wanna be a guy who accepts he needs to be around others when he gets too sick and tired of himself. I go to The Mecca cause, as much as the boys like Schopenhauer say I ought to savor my solitude, well, sometimes I get lonely. I go The Mecca cause I’m a guy who likes a tasteless joke like “Billy the Boil Biter.” I go to The Mecca cause I like winning a few bucks on the game or the horses, even though I normally lose. I like going to The Mecca where Big John’s known, almost perversely admired, for his wretched, room-clearing flatulence. I like being accepted at a place where all that’s accepted. I don’t wanna be thought of as the guy who studied art and philosophy, just like I don’t wanna be stigmatized as the guy having Beyond Beef in his freezer cause sometimes I’ve got a slightly guilty conscience.
I don’t go down there to be known or thought of as anything else. I don’t wanna be known down there as anything but what I present myself to be, even though, I suppose, I’m something a bit different.
Sometimes it feels like there, like anywhere else, I got something to hide. But everybody’s got something to hide. Somewhere.
For all I know, maybe they know, and they let it slide. Or, at least suspect, and still let it slide. That’d be cool. Almost as cool as having a nickname.