The One I Wrote About OJ Simpson and Chris Benoit.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

(Two years ago, Chris Benoit killed his wife and his son and then himself; a couple of days later I wrote this.)

My first hero was OJ Simpson.

In the late 1970s, I was a poor kid growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, as OJ Simpson had been a generation before. And I was a San Francisco sports fan, of which there were relatively few in the late 70s, a deathtrap of an era for local teams. It's actually a wonder why I didn't choose to weave my boyhood with local color that would have brought me more elementary school prestige. I could maybe have worn t-shirts and caps supporting the local bathhouse. "Heyyyy, Gloryhole Junction! Whoo-hoo." My grandparents, who humored my endless need to talk local sports, perhaps would have been less supportive had I structured our conversations around NAMBLA's righteous struggle to lower the age of consent.

The Giants were bad.

The Warriors were worse.

The Niners were maybe the worst franchise in professional sports.

But we had OJ Simpson.

OJ Simpson, in the late 70s, was on his last legs (well, leg, as he was running on one knee at that point) but he was a 49er and his previous exploits left him still one of the most famous athletes in the world. I had an old OJ Buffalo Bills football card that I took to school 3 days out of 5; I began to follow USC football because that had been OJ's alma mater, a following that would, years later, lead to my brief, glorious, weekend stint as an undergrad there (everytime I go back to California, California kicks my ass – sometimes I consider heading back for a fourth tour of duty, as, were I to snap my fingers and be anywhere in the world, it would be San Francisco, but there's only so many times one dude can get thrashed about the head and neck areas).

Who knows what seminal influences go into making up a boy's identity, particularly a boy largely raised by women (although, admittedly, most of my influences were in the frosting family – dude liked to eat, yo) but probably OJ Simpson was significant, yeah.

I sat with Kirk Hiner in the brand new Subway restaurant in Ada, Ohio in the summer of 1994; I was 23, newly single, completely broken and about to start my 3rd year of law school; Kirk was visiting from New York where he was dating a girl with a great body and an unusual affinity for penguins; OJ Simpson, maybe as recently as a week or two previous, had just sliced off the heads of his ex wife and her ambiguous waiter friend.

It is a conversation that Kirk and I both vividly recall.

I recall it because I told him that I'd never be surprised by anything again.

He recalls it because he responded with the creation of a bumper sticker philosophy that I'm certain could be the basis of a new religion if he could write a couple of science fiction books to propagate it and maybe pick up a midlevel celebrity endorsement (my choice..Sandy Duncan): Everything Will Happen.

That was 13 years ago.

Since then, whether the event was something large and cataclysmic (9-11'ish) or whether it was smaller and more personal, like my winding up in a taxicab with Regis Philbin's pen – I have been able to pretty quickly synthesize every occurrence of my life into a digestible unit; I have been able to find the appropriate box inside my head in which I could fit whatever has presented itself.

Everything Will Happen.

I've been the youngest trial attorney in California and then made ten bucks an hour teaching high school history. I've gained and then lost 150 pounds. I've dodged student loan collection agents and then won six figures on a game show. I had a 4.0 in grad school and then couldn't get a community college professorship. Our play got produced by the first theater we ever submitted to and then we spent 10 months getting nothing but stage doors slammed in our faces.

Friends have come and gone. Family too. And Women.

Like a supernova, someone will flash into my life and then just as quickly fade away to nothing.

And I view it with something approximating Stoic equanimity.

Everything Will Happen.

OJ Simpson taught me that. Your first hero should teach you something.

My last hero was Chris Benoit.

I have a fair number of visitors to this blog, and they come in 3 types. There are those of you who are new. Welcome. You have a lot to catch up on. There are those of you who have been here awhile and maybe even have read the stuff from Thanks for sticking around; I apologize for the lack of output; I can't say that's about the change anytime soon, I really haven't decided what's the best outlet for what passes for my thoughts. I'm thinking about doing nothing but haiku, but it's tough to make my veiled references to ham products in 17 syllables.

Then there's the third group. There is a group of wrestling fans who have been with me since I wrote for a guy named Steve "Soundbite" Roberts in a freaky little internet wrestling subculture in the mid-late 1990s. They followed me to my Counterfactual (note, the lack of link is because this ain't a plug) a massive, ridiculously excessive in a very Jividen way, undertaking where I attempt to rewrite the last 25 years of professional wrestling in a way that could only be analogized to someone who spends his weekends piling on KISS makeup to look like Peter Criss or proudly proclaims to the Howard Stern interviewer that he is, in fact, Darth Nilus.

And some of those wrestling fans are still with me here; almost ten years later, still living on the margins of society with their Dragon's Gate DVDs and their unsettling knowledge of suplex variants (my favorite – the blockbuster – discuss…)

The rest of this isn't to them. They know all of it.

But it might be for them; if might be for them because this isn't going to get said anymore in polite conversation for a very long time.

Chris Benoit was arguably the finest professional wrestler who ever lived.

And the rest of you don't understand that, I know. You never heard of Chris Benoit until today and don't I know that it's not real so how could one fake athlete be better than another fake athlete and yeah, I get that, see.

Professional wrestling's not a sport, but it's a craft; like acting, for example. And you recognize that, say Phillip Seymour Hoffman is just better at the craft of acting than Scott Baio.

There's probably an actor you admire. Someone whose work is consistently great, but who doesn't get the recognition of Tim Cruise.

And you've loved him for years in the little roles, the supporting parts, the small movies. You go see him in anything; you hope he gets recognized come awards season; you talk him up to all your friends, remind everyone when he's gonna be on Conan.

I know he exists for you. He's an actor. Or a rock band. Or a painter. Or a poet. Or a playwright. Or a professor.

He's a craftsman. An artisan. He's great. He's a genius. He's on your personal Mt. Rushmore of dudes you really dig, who really speak to you in a deep and profound way.

And I have to be honest with you.

As good as he is, as brilliant as he is at what he does – he couldn't lace Chris Benoit's boots.

He, me, you, none of anyone who will ever read this will ever be as good at anything as Chris Benoit was at being a professional wrestler.  I know that sounds like the hyperbole of the moment.  But it's not.  Because these last three sentences I didn't write back in 2007; I'm writing them in August of '09.

And somewhere that just has to be said. 'Cause…the thing of it is…the thing of it is that he was great because his work was so…admirable. There was a dignity to Chris Benoit's work, to his craft – that was undeniable even when surrounded by the slop that makes up so much of what "sports entertainment" is in the 21st century.

You could…we could, my nerd brethren and I, safely watch a Chris Benoit match with one of you – with someone in straight society – and say see – see – do you see how hard he works, do you see how dramatic it is – do you see how real, how pure, how….how…good that guy is?

I've met someone recently, and she's coming to visit. This is a rare occurrence for me; not meeting someone, that's pretty common, but having a woman enjoy my company (and let's be honest, for me to enjoy hers, I know that cuts against my normal schtick, but I'm not gonna kayfabe this blog) sufficiently to spend time with me inside my home is a more rare happening than you'd guess.

My middle brother, with whom I have watched wrestling, usually taped from Japanese television, for two hours every week for the better part of the last ten years, gave me the following two pieces of advice about the impending visit of my new friend.

(And since both my brothers, despite being much younger than I am, are much more married than I will likely ever be, I tend to listen to their advice on such things.)

1. Don't talk. You know, like you do. You're only gonna fuck it up.

2. Tell her you only own six wrestling DVDs. Hide your shame.

No one was ever ashamed about Chris Benoit. He was who you wanted to watch. I am 36 years old; I have two graduate degrees; I am a professional and my closet is filled with suits and ties.

I have one professional wrestling t-shirt.

It's a Chris Benoit t-shirt.

I started writing the Counterfactual, hundreds of pages of reconstructed history, with a hidden goal I revealed to Kirk at one point; to fictionally save the life of Owen Hart, who was my favorite wrestler when I was a child, and who died in a ring stunt gone wrong 8 years ago.

But the more I dig in the dirt, the more I change the flapping of one butterfly's wings, the more it just keeps going wrong. I should probably take a lesson from this.

As a teenager, Chris Benoit trained with Owen Hart in Calgary. And for nearly fifteen years, Chris Benoit wrestled with or against a man named Eddy Guerrero; they were best friends and embraced in Madison Square Garden at the close of a major wrestling show in a moment akin to that favorite guy of yours winning the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Owen's dead. Eddy's dead. Chris is dead.

Chris Benoit killed his wife, his young son, and himself over the weekend. It was grizzly; it was indefensible; and it is about to turn him into a monster.

He's about to become OJ Simpson. He's about to become a thing. An issue. Fodder for talk radio and cable news shows and blogs. And he'll never be Chris Benoit again.


And that needs to be said too. Because it's true and it's real and it happened and it is literally the last thing you would expect.

But it didn't surprise me.

Because nothing surprises me.

And it needs to be said; it needs to be said because when a man kills his family it needs to be said that he did it.

It also needs to be said that same man performed his craft with a dignity that is beyond peer.

Both things can be true.

A man can be hero, and deservedly so. And also a monster, and deservedly so.

Both things can be true.

My last hero taught me that.


Blog said...

"a freaky little internet wrestling subculture"? How could you go all Brock Lesnar on us after all that the genre did to make you famous?

Hey, we had a Triple Cross on RAW tonight! Wonder how much controversy will come of that...

Jim said...

Sorry. Freaky little internet sports entertainment subculture.

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