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Elder Wisdom

Farewell To A Man’s Prose

The sun sets in Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It’s a rare person who can write something dumb enough to earn my readership forever. I’ve gone trawling for the exact tweet that made me follow, one fateful day in 2017, but have had no luck finding it. If my upsettingly keen memory of online detritus serves, the tweet was about the NFL, plainly racist, and aimed at someone he’d just seen talking on television. Fine, those three descriptors would exhaust most of the online output of his tribe—elderly men wearing billowy sports coats in Florida—including, yes, the most infamous exponent of that fetid culture. But something about this man was different. Something about the broken syntax and unbroken confidence of this @proseman really did it for me—dare I say, did it for us, the handful of unnamed colleagues who also took an interest in the obscure dispatches of this guy, whose prose we would keep up with for years, until we realized this week that no more prose would be coming.

The @proseman account was so full of explosive unintentional humor, surreal autobiographical nuggets, and thermonuclear sports media opinions, that we’d occasionally drop its latest dispatches into our work chat, on the off chance you didn’t already have a dim enough view of our work chat. Most of his views were repellent on their face, but our appetite for esoteric internet poisons should never be underestimated. And unlike the many, many mass poison-peddlers incentivized by money, this old guy was filling his vials in the shadows, apparently out of pure self-expression and love for the game. His bile was almost quaint.

While I first followed for the potent stench of @proseman’s posts, I stuck around for the lore of his life, which began to accumulate tweet by tweet, whenever he wasn’t talking about how, like, Barack Obama was gay. He had served in World War II. At present he was waging another war against spellcheck and Twitter’s “reply” function. When it came to his strongest convictions, such as the uselessness of sportswriters, he was apt to reiterate the same idea, year after year; whenever I recognized an old chestnut, I felt 1) shame, and 2) that I was his most attentive living reader. He was an unrepentant old-fashioned bigot. He was also a Philly guy and Eagles fan. He scoffed at the mafia. He used to be a fan of LeBron James, until he decided that the basketball great was actually among his three most hated figures, next to Lee Harvey Oswald and Colin Kaepernick. He liked to issue direct challenges to news anchors.

True to his name, he seemed to care a lot about prose, and he had published lots of it, along with lots of poems, some of which I found and read. He had been stationed in Guantanamo, which informed his relatively warm stance on Fidel Castro. He wanted to see assault weapons banned. He worried about the freedoms denied to Palestinians. His one brush with virality was a surreal hit on LaVar Ball that he’d accidentally directed at LeVar Burton. He regretted an early union to “a woman who later became the infanous [sic] Ida Iocco, an ill-fated marriage that sourer [sic] both of our lives and I remained a bachelor the rest of my life.” He described himself as an independent, disappointed after voting twice for Barack Obama, later galvanized by Donald Trump. He said his short fiction had once won an honorable mention from PEN America. For a time he was an insurance salesman. He took pride in his intellectual lineage as an Italian. Once he sold a van and started a music magazine—without any government handouts, mind you. And he wasn’t too worried about head trauma in sports, having experienced all this:

People with unhealthy relationships to their cell phones like to talk about “parasocial” interaction. I have been led to believe that they are everywhere—all around me are normal people, projecting themselves into richly textured emotional relationships with public figures who have never spoken or typed a word in return. Yet here was something different. This was not a widely beloved influencer blasting streaming video out to thousands, but rather a unknown nonagenarian discovered completely by chance. His page was a rabbit hole in which I’d arbitrarily chosen to take up residence. If @proseman were any kind of figure in my life, he would be an ethnically impossible grandfather, sending me the sporadic garbled text—non sequitur remembrances of more comfortable world, or reactionary worries about a new world slipping just out of reach. Call it a para-papaw relationship.

While my initial curiosity was the crudeness and unpredictability of his takes—their naked prejudice, their tragicomic tangents, their constant invitations to debate—I began to wonder about the person behind the takes, and even began to wonder what he’d have to say about a given moment in American life. I’d often check in and find out. His page offered me a live index of Florida Man’s political consciousness, more granular and direct than any belabored several thousand-word New York Times attempt at the same. Over time he seemed to sour on Trump, begging him repeatedly to “act presidential,” but he never quite quit him. Whenever @proseman had gone a few months without tweeting, we’d collectively wonder how he was faring, and those thoughts grew grimmer over the last year. He never had much at all to say about the pandemic, beyond this:

He hadn’t tweeted since July. Barry looked him up the other day and learned that he had just passed. The sadness I felt was hard to place. It eluded all my normal frameworks of human interaction, of emotions invested and reciprocated, of signals sent with the knowledge that someone is there to receive them. He surely had no notion that we were out here; he had only the vaguest notion of his own space bar. I wondered what he might think about being mourned by a group of people thousands of miles away whose beliefs he might have found inimical to the America he loved. But then I had to wonder if we were the people in this world most attuned to his daily stray thoughts, as he shuffled month by month towards that horizon where no one in analog life sticks around to hear them. And I thought even more about the eminently strange series of tubes that made it possible for us to learn that he had ever lived in the first place. Not that there was nothing binding us to @proseman: We’d found him, after all, because he was complaining in public about what someone else had to say about sports. R.I.P.