11 August 2011

How To Be a Man

Esquire writer at large Tom Chiarella describes the world in concrete terms. Terms I can understand and get behind. While catching up on back issues I became engrossed in Chiarella's advice on How To Be a Man (June/July 2011). It occurs to me that twenty five is the perfect age to be reading these words and considering his musings. Twenty four and eleven months would be too early. I haven't acquired the belly or appreciation for whiskey, but Chiarella knows what it is to be a man and be made man. I take joy in learning to do the same.

Before I tried giving up the manly arts, I was familiar enough with the catalog, broadly signified. I watched sports, built fires, committed to memory various trivia regarding movies, war, sex, architecture, oceanography, baseball, football, golf. I learned to grill a good steak. I developed an excellent sense of direction, made myself a good driver at all speeds. I tried to understand the way things work. I coveted cars, chased tail, craved a better office. I hungered for a threesome. I grew a beard. I liked it.

I hated my feet, my belly, my weak throwing arm, my runt of a penis. I took any work I could get: I hung Sheetrock, cleaned dumpsters, tended bar, waited tables, sprayed kudzu, carried buckets of hot pitch, mowed lawns, and worked as a janitor. From the very start, I sensed that the world was a reflection of my own state of being. When the Yankees lost my life was sunk. When the Redskins won, I knew something good was in the offing. I stood when women arrived at the table, held doors for them, tried my best to let their wishes take precedence. I learned to like beer, then gin, then whiskey I knew well enough how to fish, play cards, and perform at the batting cage, without being particularly great at any of it. I rationalized, insisted, argued. I deferred, I lied, I cheated - then worked to back down on all that. This somehow made me more certain, so that when something irked me, steroids, religion, parking-lot attendants - I argued as if I were the sole cipher to the existence of the thing. Through all this, I outdrank, outworked, outfucked anyone against whom I could benchmark myself. I tried, anyway. Over time, I learned to forget the need to urinate, sometimes for eight hours at a time. I could always catch a ball, even when I had to dive for it. I could lift a man and carry him over my back. I still can do all that.

I am a man. And in this way I was made man. I did it. My father did it. My mother did it. Just a man. Not the man Not the best man, certainly, Man. It was in men I when I was born. Or it welled up. I stumbled on some of it. I measured it in what I did and the way I did it. I liked that and rarely stepped off.


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