Posted by: Peadar Ban | September 27, 2017

A Letter I May Write to A Man I Know, A Kind of Examen

Dear…,

How are you?

There are plenty of books and essays about the “art” of writing letters; and all different kinds of letters, too.  I remember being schooled in the fine art of writing the several kinds when I was in Primary School, at St. John the Evangelist Parochial School in Kingsbridge, in The Bronx.  (Now, I will bet that up until the last two words in the previous sentence someone who did not know me well might have half formed the thought that I came from a pretty high class place.  Truth is, I grew up in The City when it still had a fairly broad mixture of different classes of folks, at a time when The City was a vary large and very wonderful place to grow up in, full of playgrounds, parks, museums, gardens, zoos and Broadway; before it became more or less an exclusive home for the rich and the striving and the selfish and the sinful.  I haven’t been there in years.  The closest I get now is the Tappan Zee Bridge.)

Anyway, did you know that I wrote a letter to the President a few years ago, my first one to a powerful guy which was not on “official paper” warning my correspondent that the sky would fall on him and ruin attend all his days unless I heard by return mail he was going to do what I wanted him to do.  Not that my letter to the Chief Executive was an humble one, begging blessings on himself and all of his comings, goings and doings.  No this was a dignified and temperate reaming in which I made use of all of those things concerning form and content which Mother Teresa of Avila, RJM, who was a good ball player, taught me during Letter Writing 101. It was a letter she would have been proud of,  in which I took issue with something he had decided not to do, the Hambone.

Two years later, I got his reply; as prompt a reply, I suppose, as the template for Sportin’ Life could provide.  At least it was of enough use to hold the next morning’s coffee grounds.  But, of course, he came from Chicago, where they did not, I guess, talk about the “courtesy of a reply” in school.  He’s headed back there I understand.  The only thing I have to say about that is, “Be careful.”  The place is becoming as dangerous as parts of Mosul used to be.

Yesterday, I wrote another letter.  It was to a fellow I know who works nearby at a small school, a college named after a Catholic Saint who lost his head in an argument with a king…his. He was a man for all of that.  The fellow I wrote to is all of those things you’ve seen a million times in the movies about life the way it could be, portraying what good guys should be.  He’s younger by an age than I am, better and more broadly educated, a good father, and husband, witty, at ease with himself and the world; a man in other words who does what needs doing, when it needs doing.  Well, once upon a time you used to see guys like that in the movies. Guys who could wear a suit, tie a tie, ride a horse, lasso a calf, dance with a pretty girl; guys who had no tattoos or didn’t walk with a swish.

He’s replied already.

I am not to sure what the movies do with men these days.  Frankly, I’m more than a little afraid to see a newly made film; without some holy water around just in case I need to splash it on the screen.  But, I did go to the movies with my wife and brother-in-law a few weeks ago.  I watched something that involved a lot of flying people, fire, noise, more noise, more fire, explosions everywhere and often, more noise, weird costumes and lots of phony wisecracks so to let us all know that real men (and women) don’t sweat the small stuff.  I think it ended with everyone patting everyone else on the back and smiling.  The characters could not have been based on anyone real.  No one real would wear what they wore in public and in daylight, or be able to do what they did.  Frankly, I don’t know what the plot was, or how it resolved itself; or even if there was a plot.  There was certainly no reason for it to be, or lessons learned from it; except possibly to bring ear plugs to the picture show next time. They all, in some way or another, flew about, lifting things like tugboats and buildings high up in the air, got angry and destroyed larger things as they pursued what in God’s name I never could figure out…and these were the “good guys” and the “good girls”.  We were there on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

The place was packed.  It reminded me of the Fourth of July when I was a kid, and some of us got firecrackers and rockets, went to some empty lot and set them off; or of what happened after Christmas was over, when we collected all the dried Christmas trees and made huge bonfires while we yelled and cheered the fire like little savages; a term more than once used by my mother, may she rest in peace, to describe me and the guys I hung around with.

It reminded me, too, of all the windows we broke and interior walls we destroyed in the many abandoned buildings that grew all around us during the 1960’s, that period of “urban renewal” that never seems to have ended.  Only now, fences are erected and capped with barbed wire to keep out kids like I was.  They say it’s to prevent injuries, and the inevitable lawsuits..  What it’s really there to prevent are things I don’t like thinking about.

The sun is up, now, and the coffee’s ready.  I’m going to see the doctor today and I have to get busy figuring out all those things I need to tell her in their proper order; the things that ache when I sit, the things that ache when I stand, and the things that just ache, or are just starting to ache. That’s an awfully long list, and getting longer as time limps on.  Maybe I should bring a sandwich with me.

But before I sign off I wonder if I can ask you a favor.  I was asked a little while ago to help out with a kind of project.  This is a project to help guys, kids really, become men.

One of the things I’ve been thinking might help them along is to show them what being a man is through the experiences of others who’ve gone the same way, taken that “less traveled path” if what we have for current patterns of manhood is any indication, guys like yourself who have no “tats”, can’t fly and know how to dance.  I’ve already approached a bunch of guys I know, and most of them have taken the ride with me; written their stories in short essays.  We have got some real good men around us.  They don’t wear funny clothes or blow things up.  But, boy, they are men.

Odd, isn’t it, that last sentence.

Let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll give you the details.

Peace,

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