Friday, November 11, 2005

Hockey Guy

Conversations with Gary follow a consistent theme. In his mind, Gary is harried, plagued, and put upon by lesser persons who try to pull him down; his stories invariably describe how his talents are undervalued, his heroics go unsung, and he is consistently denied the respect he deserves.

Seemingly minor issues of everyday life are revealed to possess great hidden meaning, and the meaning is usually that other people are incompetent fools and scoundrels, who must be shown the error of their ways. Luckily, Gary is up to this task, to which he gives generously of his time and energy.

We sit sweating on the bench, removing our equipment after a game.

"That guy," he says, pointing with his chin, "tried to check me into the boards last game. I’m a pretty fast skater, so I was able to skate through it, but he could have hurt somebody." He gives me a hard stare, to make sure I see the full implications of the danger he had avoided, and the foolhardiness of the other player.

"Umm," I say, concentrating on my laces.

"So today," he continues, scowling, "I just gave him a good shot with my shoulder on the face-off, and told him to watch himself tonight."

I look out at the player he’s talking about, skating with the puck, taking advantage of the ice time. He’s a good-natured guy, a defenseman, plays hard. I picture him as he must have looked after the face-off, staring at Gary in puzzlement and mild irritation.

"…so anyway, in the second period, he tries to bring his stick across in front of my skates while I was moving with the puck. A lesser skater would have fallen, but I just jumped over his stick…"

His voice drones on, and I think about the phrase "a lesser skater", considering whether I have ever heard it used in just this way in the first person before. I haven’t. I ponder a wondrous deficiency of perspective that permits discussing one’s own skills with such naked admiration.

Does he really believe he is as good as he describes himself? Is he insecure, or grandly, spectacularly over-secure? Admittedly, we all tend to cast ourselves in the best possible light, but this is self-delusion on a master scale. Gary is a decent player; he is arguably as effective on the ice as I am. But I feel like I have a fairly clear picture of my limitations. I’m not sure if Gary is aware that he has any limitations at all; I have never met anyone who had such boundless unwarranted confidence in himself. I look at him almost with reverence; I feel I am in the presence of greatness.

"…so I said, ‘Fine. I don’t have a problem with that.’ I didn’t want to ref any more this season anyway, because I’m getting too much extra work driving truck for the quarry." He has exhausted the story of his battle with the unethical defenseman, and skipped to the subject of his refereeing career. Gary is a notoriously unpopular referee. He is honest, but inconsistent and often uncertain. It was by request of the remaining playoff teams that he has been replaced for the finals. Gary must realize this, but as he tells me the story, he re-invents his role; I imagine the story will only need one more telling before his refusal to referee is met with cries of anguish from the league and pleas to reconsider from the players.

"…with my wife’s salary, and my regular pay, plus the truck driving, I was *way* up there last year," Gary says. He has segued to how much money he made last year driving for the quarry at night while working his regular job. His regular job involves managing a machine shop or something; he gives the sun permission to shine on the building in the morning, and is, according to him, the reason for the company’s success. He knows everything that can be known about manufacturing whatever it is they manufacture, and this fact has, for once, not escaped the attention of others. The respect accorded to him by his supervisors and his colleagues is, apparently, just below that shown to Wayne Gretzky by his teammates.

He doesn’t say exactly how much money he made last year, but he does look at me meaningfully, to indicate that the figure was bound to be a lot more than I made.

"I was actually looking for ways to maybe not make so much, because of the taxes and everything…" he trails off, apparently realizing that in general, more is still better, even if your taxes are higher.

I don’t press him to explain how making less money could be better than making more. I am wondering now about his wife – does she see him the same way other people do? Is she equally self-absorbed? Do they sit home in the evenings and entertain one another with self-congratulatory accounts of their day? Or does she wince when he begins to describe his circular, Gary-centered world?

This line of thought gives way to another: If Gary can be so completely fooled by his own account of himself, is it possible that I’m no better? Is my self-absorption and self-delusion as complete as his? As I congratulate myself on my astuteness and revel in self-certified superiority over him, am I missing the beam in my own eye? I *do* have a fairly high opinion of myself in some areas; am I, after all, as bad as he is?

“…so if you need any advice about your money, just ask,” Gary says, “because I know a lot about how the world works, including the business world.”

I look at him. Nah, I think; not even close.


At Sat Nov 12, 01:50:00 AM PST, Blogger jay are said...

"No, not even close" is the CORRECT answer! You win the prize! (The prize is NOT being like Gary). groan! While it's good to wonder if we are as bad as what we groan at, this guy is in a league of his own. Is there ever really a way to know whether it's lack of confidence or over-confidence? And does it ever really matter? I guess the end results are the same and just as painful either way. In a way, I hope his wife is just like him. Otherwise, how could she stand it?
That was excellently written, by the way---as usual.

At Sun Nov 13, 04:05:00 PM PST, Anonymous si said...

since i've been out of town & couldn't comment via my blackberry before, this seems pretty anti-climatic but i'll go ahead & post (feel better about it since we've talked...).

i have an uncle who is very similar to gary; he goes on & on about his absolute greatness in finances/how he made his "fortune"/how "lame" the rest of us are that we're not as great as he...

i *think* that my aunt used to be a "nice" (read: non-egostical) person but she's been pretty brainwashed by (and also subservient to) him after all of these years. and, oh joy, i get to see them at thanksgiving -- so looking forward to it.

you, bryan, are not anything like gary (or my uncle, for that matter), self-absorbed as you are :-). i believe that you're pretty self-aware and readily admit to your "limitations." FWIW.

as an aside -- re *your* list of favorite posts (may add to the argument of your "egotism"), i did find it amusing that you've added this to your homepage. an invitation to view your past great musings for those that have not had the pleasure...

my take:
1) "ashes to ashes" -- one of the funniest things that i've *ever* read!
2) "whole kit n kubota" -- the first that i read (which made me want to go back & read past ones) & helped me on a very dark day.
3) "there butt for..." -- since you had told this to me personally, i'll always like this one.
4) "water all around" -- did reinforce my hesitancy of going into lakes but hysterically funny.
5) of course your painful growing-up years have definitely struck a chord w/me.

from what i recall, i think that you should have also included, IMO (not sure of titles): a) "run lola, run", b) the one of mistakenly thinking that your laptop was locked up & c) the offering of the lifesaver to the little girl. hey, maybe we can *all* have our own "list of bryan's favorite posts" & add them to your homepage!

At Sun Nov 13, 04:18:00 PM PST, Blogger jay are said...

thanks to si picking "Ashes to Ashes" and commenting that it was one of the funniest things he'd ever read, I decided I better read it. (I haven't as yet had time to sit and peruse the favorite posts). And I have to say, I agree wholeheartedly with si. This demands to be lengthened and embellished even a little more and made into a short story. C'mon, Bryan, you know you can do it.
Now, onto the rest of the posts.....

At Mon Nov 14, 10:13:00 AM PST, Anonymous si said...

spellcheck -- it should be "anticlimactic." i'm glad i caught it before the word snob (jay are) or, heaven forbid, erik commented on it! just being anal.

and since bryan hasn't commented back to clarify (hard to imagine, i know), si is actually a "she." (another anal observation...)

lfswonvb -- too long to ignore.

At Tue Nov 22, 09:18:00 PM PST, Blogger anya ransuns aka Roxy said...

I read about a study one time that said that the least competent people have hardly any insecurities about their competence, while competent people often question their own competence. Naturally I determined that therefore I must be very competent. If you wish you could apply those findings to the current situation in order to reach a favorable conclusion on the Gary question.


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