Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Nude Wrestling in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
It's the morning after the most disgusting hookup ever. Bob the 19-year old economics major and I are at having egg white omelets and fruit cups at the Quad Cities Pancake House.
"So, what's on the schedule for today?" Bob asks.
"Chicago, about three hours from here. We'll hit a couple of the museums, spend the night, and then drive on to Cleveland tomorrow."
"Would you mind if we take a little side-trip first? I have a cousin I haven't seen since we were kids. It's a couple of hours out of the way."
"Fond du Lac, Wisconsin."
4 hours out of the way! But this is Bob's trip, too, so he should have a say in the itinerary. Besides, I have a history with Fond du Lac.
During my senior year in high school, although I was still Nazarene, I became obsessed with all things Catholic. I read The Seven Story Mountain and The Dark Night of the Soul, learned to say the Rosary, and even went incognito into a Catholic Mass. I didn't actually convert, but I was considering it.
And I considered applying to Marion College in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
One day in January 1978, Dad drove me up for a tour. I remember a vast snow-covered campus with round white buildings, pristine, pure, as quiet as a cloister.
You could feel the presence of God everywhere.
I imagined living in an austere dorm room, all white, empty except for a bed with white covers, some statues of saints, and a shelf of contemplative classics: the Little Flowers of St. Francis, The Cloud of Unknowing. Of walking among buildings of brilliant white other-worldly splendor every day, en route to my classes in medieval philosophy, Catholic theology, Ecclesiastical Latin, and Koine Greek.
Saying the rosary, walking the Stations of the Cross, going to Novenas, blessing myself with holy water before daily Mass.
Spending every day in communion with the Divine.
I decided to go to Augustana instead, but ever since, Fond du Lac has remained entrenched in my mind as a place of peace and serenity, as close as you can get to heaven in this life.
"Could we go to a Catholic Mass while we're there?" I ask.
Bob blinks. "Well, it's Wednesday, and I'm not Catholic, but...ok, if you want. I'll text my cousin."
On the four hour drive to Fond du Lac, Bob tells me more about Cousin Tark (short for Tarkington). He's older than Bob, a big brother who used to babysit him and sneak him into R-rated movies, until he went away to college in Wisconsin, and then got a job in Fond du Lac.
"Was he cute?" I ask.
Not an athlete, but big and tall, with a thick beefy chest and nice biceps.
"Any sausage sightings?"
"Man, we used to wrestle in the nude. I remember it getting hard once! Really big -- and thick! Man, that thing was like a beer can!"
A beer-can penis somehow seems out of place in a world of quiet contemplation. Surely trivial matters like sex fade away when you are in the presence of the Divine.
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
We arrive in Fond du Lac at around 2:00 pm. Tark doesn't get off work until 5:00 pm, so we go to Lakeside Park and walk along the lake.
I try to imagine how different my life would have been if I had gone to Marian, and stayed in Wisconsin, instead of going to Augustana, then Indiana University, and then West Hollywood. Would I have been to 10,000 daily masses by now? Said the rosary 20,000 times? Spent my life in quiet contemplation of the Divine?
Next we go to St. Paul's Cathedral. No Mass is going on, but I bless myself with holy water and light a candle in front of a statue of the Blessed Virgin, while Bob texts on his cell phone.
Then Marian College itself, which is a disappointment: an Erbert and Gerbert's sandwich shop in the student union, a jazz concert coming up on Friday, a sports team called the Dockspiders, and "A Beginner's Guide to Star Wars" in the student newspaper. Hardly contemplative or otherworldly!
At 5:30 we go to Joe's Fox Hut, a rather scary dive bar next to the army induction center, with a Schlitz Beer sign out front.
The server takes us into a dark, dismal room with country-western music blaring, and hands us menus: pizza! corn dogs! garlic bread!
Nothing healthy on the menu. Even the chicken breast comes with french fries and cole slaw.
Suddenly a very tall, chubby guy with short hair and a reddish-brown beard sneaks up behind Bob, motions for me to keep quiet, and grabs him. Bob yells.
Bob hugs him. "Hi, Cousin Dweeb. This is my boyfriend, Boomer."
Tark slides into the booth next to me and shakes my hand.
"Cousin Dork, you're all grown up -- sort of. You're still scrawny -- and dating your professor! How did you pull that off?" He nudges me. "I'll bet the little guy gets all A's, huh?"
"He's not actually in any of my classes."
"Well, there's always next semester."
He orders a sausage-mushroom pizza with mini corn dogs on the side, and tells us about his job as an auto detailer.
"It's great -- they bring the cars right to my house, and I do the work in my driveway. No overhead. Sure beats working in a stuffy office all day -- or teaching a bunch of whiny brats."
"True," I say. "But some of those whiny brats are cute."
"I heard that. Man, if I was a professor, I'd be inviting every gal in sight for some extra tutoring in my office. Maybe a little oral exam, huh?"
I don't like him. In a world of quiet contemplation, all he can think of are corn dogs and oral sex.
Eventually his girlfriend Diane joins us: a music professor at Marian specializing in jazz history.
Jazz? Not Gregorian chants?
We go to a place called the Backstage Bar and Grille to drink beer (soda for me and Bob) and listen to live music, more pop than jazz. Loud!
Then we go back to Diane and Tark's house to drink more beer, listen to more music -- loud! -- and play with their dogs and cat,. Finally it's time for bed: they put us up in an upstairs bedroom with race car posters and stuffed animals.
Bob and I strip down. "They seem nice," I say.
"Yeah. He's changed. A little fatter, but still like a big brother. And I like Diane...they've been together two years, but I never met her."
We start kissing and fondling. Bob pushes me down onto the bed.
I look up to see Tark. Grinning, naked.
He motions me to keep silent. Bob is kissing my chest. Suddenly Tark grabs him from behind.
"Nude wrestling!" he yells, dragging a giggling Bob to the floor. "Rowdy Roddy Piper versus the Dynamic Dork!"
No, we didn't have sex. But I did get a sausage sighting of his beer-can penis.
Yes, that makes up for the absence of quiet contemplation in Fond du Lac.