For the cooler-than-July print edition of Washington City Paper, I wrote this week about Kevin Manning, the differentest person I ever knew.
He died a couple months ago, and the way he died is quite a tale on its own. I’ve been thinking about him non-stop since I learned of his death, though I dwell on the young Kevin Manning. That guy might have been the most charismatic human being I’ve come across in my years.
Me and my friends all wanted to be like Manning as teenagers. We still do.
Other than on a tennis court, Manning didn’t ever do what he was supposed to do. He went to Yorktown High at the same time as a future infotainment icon, Katie Couric, and astronaut/Columbia shuttle crash victim, David Brown.
Couric and Brown are in the school’s hall of fame; Manning, who despite being a juvenile genius was always on the verge of getting expelled, never will be. But there’s no way Couric or Brown left the impression on the student body that Manning did during their shared time there.
“Kevin somehow got a master key to the school,” says classmate Joe Wysor. “He ran the place. He never went to class. One of his favorite tricks was to find out who the substitute teachers were and go to their classes and take the name of one of the kids who hadn’t shown up. Then he’d terrorize the substitute and get kicked out, knowing that the next day the kid who’s name he stole would be in huge trouble. He did that every day.”
I didn’t go to school with Manning, but me and my friends all tried imitating Manning’s outrageousness, much of which occurred outside the walls of his high school and at very public places.
We were no Kevin Mannings, but, occasionally, the imitations worked fabulously for us. I heckled Jimmy Connors throughout a match at Carter Barron while ordering beers in the size of “tub” (ah, the good ol’ days!). “Where’s the centerfold?” was my go-to heckle of Connors, referring to his new wife Patti, a former Playbody model.
Connors, also being a different sort himself, was won over by our assholishness. He invited me and my friends to the press conference after his match and compelled tournament media director and D.C. legend Charlie Brotman to give us all-access passes for the whole week as his guests. Brotman was appalled by Connors’ orders, but complied.
Brotman threw us off the grounds the next day and took away our freedoms after spying us making another beer raid on the players’ hospitality trailer and telling us he’d gotten complaints about us from patrons all day.
We were very happy with ourselves, and very aware that the whole act that got us from the bleachers to the players’ beer cooler were stolen from Manning. Did we make the world a better place? Nah. Did we have fun? Good god, almighty, did we have fun!
It’s hard to ascribe existential depth to terrorizing substitute teachers and taking more than one’s share of free beer and similarly jerky behaviors, but I really believe Kevin Manning was a very deep character. He figured out at a very early age that life, particularly life as an adolescent, was for the retelling. And no matter what situation he was in, he tried to make it memorable.
And his success rate was amazing: All these years later, me and everybody else who knew him as a kid tell Kevin Manning stories. We”ll never forget him. That’s a life.