Notes on Hearsay

The following is an excerpt from an essay on a new project, Hearsay.

“Yes, they knew one another,” I said. It was throwaway information, one of those strange stories recalled in the space between two bits of talk.

“Samuel Beckett drove André the Giant to school when he, André, was a kid.”

I went on to tell my friend that Beckett lived part of the time in the same town as the pre-gigantic André. I didn’t remember the town’s name. I was never sure why Beckett drove him to school (bullies?) or what they talked about (wrestling?) or where the little André sat (shotgun?), but I was sure the two of them shared a ride to an educational institution at least once.

A few months passed. Then, one afternoon, we spoke on the phone again.

“Where did you hear that story about André the Giant and Sam Beckett?” He asked me.

“Um, I’m not sure. Why?”

“Because I’ve been telling people about it, and the other day someone didn’t believe it. To tell you the truth, neither do I.”

I paused a moment and tried to remember back to when I heard about it.

“I’m pretty sure it was the Samuel Beckett biography I read recently. Let me check.”

I put down the phone and found my copy of Damned to Fame, the gargantuan Beckett biography by James R. Knowlson I had read a few months earlier. I scanned the index looking for “André the Giant.” No listing. I looked under the wrestler’s real name, André Roussimoff. It should have been there, right between the entry for “Roussillon ” and “Routledge,” but it wasn’t.

I picked up the phone.

“I can’t find it,” I said. “I have no idea where I heard about it, but I could have sworn it was true. In fact, I still think it’s true.”

We finished our conversation. The next step, as it is for everyone with a computer, was Google. A search for “Andre the Giant Beckett” brought up Mr. Roussimoff’s Wikipedia entry. There, buried at the end of the thousand-plus-word entry, which devoted no fewer than six full paragraphs to André’s feud with Hulk Hogan, was the following:

Actor Cary Elwes explains in his video diary of The Princess Bride that Samuel Beckett was a neighbor of the Roussimoff family while living in France. The Nobel Laureate would sometimes drive André to school.

Perhaps it still reads this, or something similar to this. Or maybe someone changed the writer to André Malraux. I have no idea. All I know is that I was embarrassed.

I called back my friend.

“Listen, I’m not exactly sure where I read that story about – you know – but, um, everything points to Wikipedia.”

“You mean the Beckett entry?”

“Yeah, and, uh, the André the Giant entry,” which I hastened to add I had never read before in my life. I also had never read the Beckett entry, which mentioned the school factoid as well. Hearing the DVD commentary was also impossible. I hadn’t seen The Princess Bride since it came out in 1987.

We hung up. I looked online a little more trying to assuage my failing ego. More Web sites mentioned the same near-fact, but always credited the same Wikipedia entry I had never read in the first place.

Where did I learn this?

The André and Samuel factoid was unimportant. It’s barely a conversational amusement. But, for me, it brought up an entire category of knowledge containing things that are not impossible, but not quite known either. These are stories we actually believe, but cannot, and do not, bother to verify. It is a type of knowledge, perhaps a pseudo-knowledge, sitting somewhere between rumor, bias, research, erudition and fantasy.

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John Menick is an artist and writer.
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