Friday, July 29, 2011

A case of mistaken identity part II: Celebrity death

I sometimes feel an instant kinship with people who share my first name. Not that R. is particularly uncommon; I think it's usually in the top 250 baby names yearly, but I still feel a slight zing of connection with someone who shares my name. A couple of my favorite friends share my name: R. Z is living la bella vita in Italy, R. T is my favorite Ivy-Leaguer, and R. Davis is one of my favorite friends dating back to our first year of high school.

But we weren't always good friends.

One of my first memorable interactions with her left me looking like an idiot and her thinking I was a heartless jerk.

Our high school, DHC had about 1200 students and was pretty tight-knit, as we pulled largely from the southern/country/Jesus-loving community. Gossip would spread like wildfire. But just like in little-kid games of Telephone, sometimes that message can get convoluted with terrible results.

One day at school, the name of a very popular wrestler/boxer was all over school. (For privacy, we'll say "Hulk Hogan," but it was a much more common name.) Hulk Hogan was dead! Suicide! Tragedy. Everybody seemed legitimately distraught about the death of this popular wrestler. I could not understand - I mean, I knew WWF wrestling was pretty big in the area, but girls were CRYING in the hallway. This was before the celebrity deathapalooza of Anna Nicole Smith and the like, and before facebook when celeb info was instantaneous. What the hell was going on? Why were people visibly freaking out about some guy on TV dying?

In Geometry class, a couple people in my group of friends mentioned it, how it was such a tragedy blah blah blah. My friends were not the type to watch pro-wrestling. So I, in my infinite wisdom, decided to open my mouth.

"I don't understand why everyone's so upset about this Hulk Hogan guy dying. He's just a wrestler. I didn't think people really cared about that kind of stuff enough to be, you know, freaking out over his death."
R. Davis, a girl on the peripheral of my friend group who I admired for her awesome hair and cool Vans slip-ons (once again: not the type to watch pro-wrestling) turned to me, horrified.
"Well you're just a cross country runner, but I bet you'd want people to be upset if you died."

What? What did me running cross country have to do with anything? I was on the measly JV team, not like I'd been earning millions jumping on men in spandex. I would hope people would miss me, since I actually went to the school and talked to people every day. Not like I was some super star celebrity none of these kids had ever met.

We both glared at each other until the bell rang. Her glare was pretty contemptuous, as though I was some soulless cretin. My glare was a mixture of confusion and superiority. Who the hell freaks out over the death of a wrestler with a silly mustache? And asks me what if I died? Some people, sheesh.

Until I got home from school.

My mom looked at me very seriously: "Did you know Hulk Hogan? Are you okay?"

I had had enough. "Why would I know Hulk Hogan? He's some big celebrity wrestler guy. Why is everyone so upset over this? People are SO STUPID."

"Honey, he was a senior at your school. He was on the varsity wrestling team."


Not only did the kid share the name of this celebrity, but they played the same sport. Well then.
This new information dawned on what my conversation with R. Davis must have been perceived as. She thought I'd argued against classmates mourning the death of a friend because he played a sport I didn't like. I'd loudly announced that I didn't see what the big deal was, he was just some guy.

Oh. Shit.

I raced into geometry the next morning and ran up to R. Davis, who looked a little put off that this slanderer of the dead was all up in her personal space. I blurted out a breathless apology.

"Ohmygod I'm so sorry about Hulk Hogan / I thought they meant the Hulk Hogan from TV / you know / the famous wrestler guy / I thought he was just a famous wrestler not a classmate / I must have sounded like a terrible person / I'm not a terrible person really / oh god I feel terrible I told everyone not to care about him / I'm sorry you definitely should have been mad at me / I'm an idiot."

She looked at me, somewhere between confused, amused, and slightly appalled.

"You thought... Hulk Hogan... was the WWF wrestler? The crazy guy? With the mustache?" I nodded.

She laughed.

We became friends and she (for the most part) has grown used to my terrible bumbling tactlessness.

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