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Years later, FROT gave way to GARP, resulting in honking by tailing motorists and notes under the windshield wipers. Recalls the motorist: "It was like driving around with a sign on your head." The big, blue '78 Checker and white '79 Volvo now in the driveway carry impersonal numbers. The old green and white vanity plates hang at casual angles on a small shed at one end of Irving's swimming pool.
One has to look hard around the house to find other signs of big spending. Shyla Irving, a professional photographer, now has a well-equipped darkroom; she recently put a $1,000 lens on an old camera. The kitchen is dominated by a cast-iron Garland, a gas stove prized by serious cooks. Outside on a lawn, surrounded by a neighbor's fields and orchards, there is something that at first appears to be a helicopter landing pad. It is a wrestling mat.
Anyone seeing them in the wrestling room would have thought they were a parody team miming wrestlers, moving with an exaggerated gentleness antithetical to their purpose. They lumbered and rolled and carried each other around in an almost elderly fashion. Some of them, tired from running in the woods or straining against the weightlifting contraptions, actually slept. They came to this hot-house wearing double layers of sweatsuits with towels around their heads, and even as they slept they kept a sweat running. Tight against the wall and in the corners of the room where they would not accidentally be rolled on, they lay in mounds like bears.
The 158-Pound Marriage
Like writing, wrestling requires great individual effort. One belongs to a team, but Irving's vivid image is a long tunnel of lonely concentration. He began "rolling around" at Exeter.
David Plimpton, a New York psychologist, was Irving's school sparring partner 20 years ago. He recalls the future novelist as highly competitive and tenacious. Says Plimpton: "He had a very good side-leg takedown. On top he could ride about anything. He was a real urban cowboy."
Adds Frances ("Frankie") Irving, 62, the author's mother and a longtime wrestling fan: "He was aggressive. His senior year he won every match."
Irving is passing his knowledge and enthusiasm for the sport on to his sons. Brendan, built like his father, is just beginning. Colin is already a promising prospect. He is 5 ft. 10 in. with big hands and an uncanny instinct for his opponent's next move. Says Irving: "I have a $100 bet with Colin that I'll beat him on my 40th birthday, which is only 20 days away from his 17th. But he is already beating me. He's got the money in his pocket unless I catch him."
"History takes time," Irving once wrote. "I couldn't wait to grow up," he now says, remembering his years at Exeter. "I was a humorless kid. I was not an entertainer; I was very grim." Frankie Irving's view of her son is less harsh: "He was not an exuberant or overenthusiastic child, although I don't think it's quite accurate to label him as an introvert. I think he kept a lot of things to himself." Classmate Charles C. Krulak, now a lieutenant colonel in the