"Circle of Trust, Focker."
“I’m the best you ever seen, Fats. I’m the best there is.
And even if you beat me, I’m still the best.”
- Paul Newman (playing Eddie Felson)
to Jackie Gleason (playing Minnesota Fats), in The Hustler
Based on a true story
The grammar school cafeteria where the group is held smells like fish sticks. It also smells a little like Jello. You might not think Jello has a smell, but it does.
The mediator – a stringy little man with a wispy beard and a dark oversized hoodie – doesn’t look like someone I’d expect to be running this group, but I guess that’s the point. Anyone can suffer from it. Of course, I say suffer like it’s some affliction, and I’m still not positive it is. I guess that’s why I’m here.
The mediator looks at his digital Casio.
“Let’s get started,” he says, waving at a circle of metal folding chairs set up near the kitchen. A scattering of men converge in slow motion toward the circle of chairs, eyes locked on their respective iPhones, cell phones, and Blackberrys. The mediator nods at arrivals, each of whom turns off his device in a resentful, overstated manner.
Casio Man clasps his hands in his lap and smiles. One of his front teeth is yellow. Distractingly yellow. His nickname just went from Casio Man to Tooth.
“We have a new visitor,” Tooth says, looking at me. “Doug McAllister.” He then waves his hand at the group like he’s shooing a dog from the dinner table. “I’m not going to ask any of the others to say ‘Hello’, Doug, because they’ll only cross their arms and stare at you, which makes me look like an ass.”
I cross my arms and stare. Tooth seems amused by this.
“Welcome to Competitors Anonymous, Doug,” the Tooth says. “I’m David.”
I’m still calling him Tooth. I don’t care.
“I’ll start by telling you a little bit about myself,” Tooth says. “I founded this group three years ago after I outed my brother-in-law to avoid losing a game of cribbage.”
I crane my neck forward for more.
“I openly confronted him about my suspicion that he’s gay for no other reason than that he was about to beat me at cribbage,” Tooth says.
“My concern for his privacy was trumped by my own competitiveness,” Tooth says. “It wasn’t a gambling issue, per se – there was no money on the line. It wasn’t violence or rage – I was never verbally aggressive or hostile. It wasn’t narcissism – I don’t like myself nearly enough for it to be that. It was just an irrational unwillingness to lose. After what is now known as Cribbagegate, I realized I had a problem. I went to therapy. It was expensive and useless. I always ended up trying to ‘beat’ the therapist at their own game of analysis. I felt like if they could successfully deconstruct my behavior, they were winning.”
Tooth glances fondly around the room.
“So I started this group,” he says. “A place where people of like minds can talk about the seemingly irrational things they do without shame or fear of judgment. This is a place where you can safely talk about how you…” Tooth nods at an overweight, balding man sporting a 1970’s-style mustache to my right, “…regularly cheated in competitive Sudoku with your wife.”
Stache leans toward me. “I would switch around her numbers while she was cooking dinner or going to the bathroom,” he says matter-of-factly. “It would buy me time.”
Tooth slides his gaze to the young man at my left wearing an eye patch.
“Or how you resolved a paintball tournament dispute with an underwear-clad duel at 10 paces,” Tooth says.
Patch looks at me, gravity in his pupil.
“Always…wear…goggles,” he says.
I nod my appreciation, then stare cautiously at Tooth. I know what’s next.
“But those are all stories we’ve heard before,” Tooth says. “What about you? What’s your story, Doug?”
I scratch my head and scan the faces surrounding me. They look bored. I wonder how many of them are forced by their wives to come here.
“I thought maybe I’d just… listen,” I say.
Tooth sighs. “Well, Doug, to be honest, if I have to hear once more about how bad a paintball pellet hurts, I’m going to claw my own eyes out,” he says, causing Patch to frown. “Spare us that, will you?”
I do kind of want to talk, and there is a lot to say. Might as well get to it.
“It’s kind of a long story,” I say.
“We’re here to listen,” Tooth says.
Links: Travelling: Intro / Book JacketChapter 1: CribbagegateChapter 2: Two e-mailsChapter 3: PatternChapter 4: Shattered
, Chapter 5: Hilarious PeeChapter 6: SuicideChapter 7/8: Coaching High school, Shark attacks and appetizers
Labels: chapter 1, Evil Ted, traveling