Friday, August 12, 2016

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth, or At Least Pay for It

Aidan, my second son, thank God, turned out to be everything my first-born, Brendan,  was not. In my own youth, I had been clumsy, shy, and miserable. Brendan wasn’t just clumsy, but lacked my compensatory early passion for sports. I couldn’t play very well, but was out on the ballfield at half past eight every summer morning waiting for others who’d pick me last for their respective teams to wander over. Bren preferred to stay in his bedroom and play nonviolent (that is, fantasy) video games. He seemed to have no interest in sex, whereas my own, at his age, had been as voracious as unrequited. When other fellows at the offices of my adulthood would brag about their boys’ athletic or sexual accomplishments, I would smile obligingly and hope for their cars not to start at afternoon’s end.

But then Aidan came along, eight years after Brendan, when M— accidentally-on-purpose forgot to take her pill! That he was what the San Francisco 49ers running back Ricky Watters once described as 100 percent boy was evident from the time he was able to stand. He was the alpha male in his preschool, and then throughout elementary school, the boy others assumed was tougher than they because he was so gifted at sports. When he became the starting quarterback of his high school football team as a sophomore, M— and I had, in an era before cell phones, to get used to girls phoning him as late as 12:30 on a school night. I felt too vindicated to get as furious as M—. Was I not the source of half this handsome, athletic, much-desired young man’s genes?  I tried not to think about M—‘s three hypermasculine brothers.

But then the silver lining revealed itself to be attached to an ugly dark cloud, as the fathers of not just one, but two, of Aidan’s female classmates phoned to advise me that their daughters were carrying his babies, and what did I intend to do about it? I told them I would consult my attorney and get back to them. They must have intuited that I in fact had no attorney, as they paid me unexpected visits on consecutive early evenings, the second just as we were sitting down to supper. Hector, a plumber who didn’t smell like one, reminded me of that handsome Latino stud who used to play a Highway Patrolman on television, whereas Paul, an investment counselor with a gleaming new Porsche, reminded me, unpleasantly, of M—‘s middle brother, the eternal alpha, to whom his older and younger brothers deferred even though I suspect neither even thought about deferring in outside of family get-togethers.

Paul had the firmest handshake in history, and eyes the color of ice cubes, and addressed me as guy, as in, “I’m really not interested in being stonewalled about this, guy. You’re going to pay not only for Brittani’s…procedure, but also whatever psychological counselling she may require afterward.” He seemed impatient to get back behind the wheel of his 911 Turbo S. I could picture Brittani spelling her name with an i at the end and looking sort of like Ursula Andress, the Swiss James Bond starlet who’d inspired some of my most avid  masturbation as a teenager.

When I told Hector that I felt we should get a DNA test, like those so popular on the afternoon talk shows, to confirm Aidan’s complicity in his daughter’s pregnancy, he sighed, shook his head, and then leaned so close to me that I could have licked the tip of his nose. “Are you calling my little girl a liar, vato, or a slut?” he asked, with a tone of menacing sadness. “Because if you are, I’m going to break bones you didn’t even realize you had.” I felt as though back in middle school, especially when M— came out to see what was going on, and made no secret of what a dreamboat she found Hector, who was the picture of charm with her. When she contracted her tummy and said, “Well, don’t just stand out here. Come in and have dessert with us,” I sort of wanted to strangle her.

I informed Aidan he was going to have to pay me back, every cent. He smirked at me indulgently, and said, “Whatever, dude,” and I wanted to strangle him too. I figured I’d have to sell my boat to cover the various expenses involved in keeping him a non-parent, but then Brendan, who was out in the Bay Area making a fortune as a developer of video games, got wind of what was going on, insisted that I let him foot the bill, and pay him back when I could.

I’m pretty sure there’s a moral in this somewhere.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lunch With a Parkerian

I suggested that I and my long-time acquaintance Ben meet up. He’d always been immensely charming, but there’d been times I’d felt more manipulated than flattered by his charm. Once, on a bus in north London, he’d told me how very much he’d admied a particular piece I’d written, only to admit a few miles down the road he hadn’t actually read it. Another time, he’d taken me to lunch, and spent perhaps 40 percent of our time together on his mobile phone, making dinner plans with another of those to whose back catalog he hoped to buy the rights. Still, charm’s charm, and he was unusually bright, and had been through no little hell of his own, and I felt sure it would be interesting to talk about our lives in 2016.

I came up to his office, thought hesitant to see a colleague of his with whom I’d had a pretty ugly falling-out not long before abandoning the UK for the first time. It wasn’t excruciating, though. We smiled at each other, Colleague and I. I hadn’t planned on Ben buying me lunch. Indeed, I’d suggested we meet at two to preclude his doing so. I’d intended to buy him a cup of coffee. But it turned out he’d put off eating. We went to a restaurant he liked. My salad was good, and our server, who might have been French, at no point said, “No probs.”

I wondered if his recent successes had made him happy, and was delighted — not because I wish unhappiness on him — when he said, “You know better than to ask me that!” I will not pretend not to be a little bit pleased to learn that persons who I feel have accomplished much more than I (which is to say nearly everyone) aren’t exultant about their accomplishments. I’m a perfect bastard that way, as in many others. I was flattered by his forthrightness.

He alluded at several points to his ancientness. Because he is a dozen years my junior, his doing so made me feel even ancienter than usual. The years hadn’t made him less charming. Whenever I addressed him by name, I could count on his reciprocating within a few sentences. (I like when people call me by name, and call them by name in hope of making them feel good.)  I told him how my having written at 22 a disparaging review of a particular album has turned out to be that for which I am best known, and how much I hate that. When he told me his wife reads all his work, even when she’s not fascinated by the subject matter. I experienced intense envy. I picture someone asking my widow at my funeral if my novels were good. I would hate to imagine her affirming that they were when she hasn’t actually read a single one of them.

Ben’s raving gently about a recent performance of my band he’d been kind enough to attend made me slightly uncomfortable, as, on the actual night, he’d rated it a 7.5 out of 10. When I told him about my 15 unpublished novels, he said he regarded me as a genius, and offered to do whatever he could to help. I don’t think he really regards me as a genius, and didn’t in a million years want him to think I’d arranged for us to meet so I could solicit his help. We spoke of how he’s taken to writing poetry on the bus to his office, and how my own poetry his always intended to be sung.

The best part of our meeting was when we walked back toward his office. Dorothy Parker said, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, sit next to me,” and I am a Parkerian. It was enjoyable to compare notes on a mutual acquaintance I regard as a pompous twat.  I’m always delighted to discover that an acquaintance shares my low opinion of a third party, and flattered by their confiding.

Ten years ago, when I vaguely suggested that Ben and his new-at-the-time wife come over for dinner, I got the impression he wasn’t mad about the idea. In the autumn of 2016, I might try anew.

I don’t envisage actually having a funeral. If I did, I’d bet a large sum of money on the turnout being disappointing.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Linda and Niall: Gentle Into That Good Night

Linda and Niall have a problem that Niall doesn’t know they have. Niall is letting himself go, and Linda anticipating his embarrassment and fury, doesn’t dare mention it.

She has been on the receiving end, and knows full well how much it hurts and humiliates. Six years before she and Niall began, Tony, with a couple of pints more than tact would have poured, observed one Sunday afternoon that she was acquiring much to sit on, and he wasn’t talking about a chair. For the next few weeks, she could hardly bear to be around him, knowing how distasteful he, the voracious cyclist and footballer, apparently found the half-stone she’d gained since having Mandy. When he realised she was doing everything in her power to minimise interaction with him, he implored her not to shoot the messenger, inspiring her to think, “You self-righteous knobhead.” In a tone with which one might have scoured a pot, she reminded him of the for better/for worse clause of their wedding day promises to each other. He seemed to feel chastened, but not so badly that he didn’t point out that it was incongruous for one so fastidious about her hair and nails and makeup and attire to neglect her physique. It was only after buying herself a gym membership and undertaking the rigorous workout programme she’d maintained ever since that she was able to relax around him. When she regained the slimness that he’d loved — and on which she’d prided herself — he was hugely proud of her, but no prouder than she was of herself.

She didn’t fail to recognise her former self in Niall. He got a manicure fortnightly, and a haircut every three weeks, and his eyebrows shaped three times a year. He used an expensive brand of toothpaste that promised to whiten  one’s teeth, and really did seem to whiten his. He drank his coffee through a straw to not undo the toothpaste’s work. He was the local dry cleaner’s best customer. She teased him about using more moisturiser than any other heterosexual man in the UK. And she’d ceased months earlier to be able to pretend not to notice his belly.

She put on kid gloves to broach the subject, asking over dinner one evening if he’d seen the news item about the heretofore-unrealised benefits of daily exercise. His father had had Alzheimer’s, which researchers had discovered  those who worked out a lot to be considerably more likely to elude.  “Oh, no,” he moaned with his customary petulance, “not all that again. Have we not been through this enough already? Maybe I’m not fanatical about it like you, bu I do exercise.” 

Which was to say that he played golf five times a month, riding from hole to hole in a motorised cart. It occurred to her to point out, in gentler words, that the proof of the pudding was in the eating, and that he'd come to look like one who'd eaten a great deal of pudding. Instead, she bit her lip.

She loved him, but her adoration didn’t make his belly any more easily ignored. She told herself that her waning desire for him was fine, since even the most ardent couples grew weary of sex with each other after a while, and hadn’t their first three years been exceptionally ardent? But she couldn’t fool herself for long. The thought of going gentle into that good night of erotic indifference to her husband felt a little bit like a death sentence.