Last Friday evening, while covering the Big East Tournament, CBS Sports reporter Matt Norlander tweeted an image of the Providence Friars mascot looming creepily on the block at Madison Square Garden. It was an innocuous tweet, in its way, but also it was not.
That image is where this all begins—my journey into the more luridly haunted corners of the photo wires, into the darkness shining back out from the flat eyes of a true monster among monsters, into a place from which I may never truly return. I have, since Norlander invited this soul-taking monk into my consciousness, spent a great deal of time in quiet contemplation, and in the bravest confrontation with this particular mascot that I could muster. I wish that I had some comfort to give you. I wish I could tell you that I have not been utterly defeated. But I cannot do that.
I can confirm that an outwardly improbable thing that I thought I remembered from when I was kid turned out to be true—despite the basketball team being called the Friars, they have not always had a giant grimacing foam-headed nightmare monk as their mascot. For years, they had just the mascot that I remembered: a series of understandably frazzled-looking Dalmatians, each attended by actual kindly seeming monks, most of which were (delightfully) named “Friar Boy,” and then briefly by a more conventional person-in-dog-costume mascot. And then... he was summoned.
Providence’s website for the monk—he is unnamed and perhaps unnameable, a creature of myth from an age before language, a time when the world knew only darkness, fear, cold, and cruel ritual—notes that the current monk mascot has “a more serious appearance than the large, jovial Friar of the past.”
But is... He, The Unnameable really serious? No sound escapes his wild rictus; his staring startled eyes broadcast only the most bottomless horror. He leaps and struts when he must, he wanders and looms darkly. He is, somehow, always around the corner, waiting.
But waiting for what? Can he be said to do this seriously? It is hard to say, honestly, because he is mostly just a mascot with a Mark Davis haircut wasting and scowling within his shroud. I have looked, I have searched in more ways than one. I cannot say what he wants.
I can say that he goes where he is called, but it is hard to know what he wants or what he seeks. At some angles He, The Unnameable reflects a certain mad ambition or hunger, a prophet’s heedless pursuit and a prophet’s helpless madness. At others he seems merely very tired, as if his long journey through the ages had reduced him and reduced him again.
Perhaps the truth is that he doesn’t want anything at all. That he’s never wanted, that it is not in him to want. There is no reasoning with it, because there is no reasoning in it. There is no fighting it, because what it has already lost means that it cannot be defeated. The Friars face Texas A&M in the first of Friday’s games, in Charlotte.