The Pleasure of My Company (7 page)

BOOK: The Pleasure of My Company
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“Do you
use a formula to make them?” Something about my ability to construct the square
piqued Clarissa’s interest; perhaps it would be the subject of a term paper she
would write on me, perhaps she saw it as a way to finally categorize me as a

are formulas,” I said, “but they rob me of the pleasure.”

I could
tell Clarissa was dying to write this down because she glanced at her notepad
with longing, but we both knew it would be too clinical to actually make notes
in front of me. So I pretended that she didn’t look at the notepad and she pretended
that she was looking past it. Problem was, there was nothing past it, just

Clarissa said, “Have you ever thought of using this… ability, like in a job?”

have, but haven’t come up with anything yet, Clarissa.” I had rarely, if ever,
called Clarissa by name, and as I said it I knew why: It was too intimate and I
felt myself squirm.

“If you
were using your talents in a job, do you think it might make going to work less

I said, not meaning it. And here’s why. I know that I have eighteenth-century
talents in a twenty-first-century world. The brain is so low-tech. Any boy with
a Pentium chip can do what I do. I could, however, be a marvel at the Rite Aid,
making change without a register.

do you have any male friends?” she asked.

I said. “Brian upstairs.”

good for you to have a male friend. What do you two do?”

You know, work out.”

was, of course, a lie, but it was the kind of lie that could become true at any
moment, as I potentially could work out or jog if I chose. I’m not sure if
Clarissa had ever seen this masculine side of me before, which must have sent a
chill through her. Then her focus was torn away from me by an internal alarm
that she couldn’t ignore. She quickly checked her watch and wrapped things up
with a few absentminded and irrelevant homilies that I took to heart, then
forgot immediately. She collected her things and went out the door with a
worried look, which I could tell was unrelated to our session.


The next morning I woke up
to the sound of Philipa’s stereo. I can never make out actual songs; I can only
hear a thumping bass line that is delivered through my pillows, which seem to
act like speakers. I got up but stayed in my pyjamas and swept the kitchen
floor, when there was a knock on the door. It was Brian. Uh-oh. What does he
know? Maybe Philipa broke down last night and confessed to our indiscretion and
now he was going to bust me open. I sifted through a dozen bon mots that I
could utter just before he punched me, hoping that someone nearby would hear one
and deliciously repeat it to my posthumous biographer. But Brian surprised me: “Wanna
go jogging?” “Sure,” I said. “Around the block?” he said. “I can’t go off the
block,” I added.

he said. “You change, I’ll be downstairs.”

I was
stunned that after my lie to Clarissa about my passion for jogging, a
redemption should materialize so suddenly and so soon. The moral imperative to
turn this lie into a truth was so strong in me that I said yes even though I
have never jogged, don’t get jogging, don’t want to jog, especially with The
Brian. I might jog with a girl. But I saw this as a way to straighten things
out in heaven with my therapist/social worker. I went to my bedroom and put on
the only clothes I had that could approximate a jogging outfit. Brown leather
loafers, khaki pants with a black belt, an old white dress shirt, and a
baseball cap. When Brian saw me in this outfit his face turned into a momentary
question mark, then he relaxed, deciding not to get into it. “To the beach and
back,” he said. “Oh no, just around the block…,” I said, trying to thwart
him. How do I explain my conditions to him? This lug. “Okay, around the block,”
he said and started off.

in jogging shorts, ventilated T-shirt, and headband, looked like an athlete. I
looked like I was going off to my first day of high school. Brian was
disappearing into the distance and I dutifully tried to follow, but instead
stepped out of my left shoe. I continued to hop in place while I slipped it
back on and began my initial, first ever, run around any block since
graduation. Brian took it easy on me, though, and I was able to close the
distance between us. I wished Elizabeth were finalizing a deal on the sidewalk
as we whizzed past so heroically. We went around the block once, pausing only
while a family unloaded kiddy transportation from a station wagon. Brian
jogged in place; I breathed like a bellows. When we started up again Brian ran
across the short end of the block and I followed. But Brian came to the corner
and, instead of turning, dashed across the street. I couldn’t follow. I stayed
on my block and ran parallel to him with the street between us. Brian seemed
not to care that he was violating my aside to him, which obviously he had not
understood to be binding. Brian seemed to think that this is what guys do; they
jog parallel up the street. Then he suddenly dashed across the street again,
joining me on my block, as if nothing had happened. The two jogging guys were
together again. I sensed that Brian’s betrayal of our pact was done with the
same thoughtless exuberance of a dolphin leaping out of the water:

It was
done for fun.

though Brian was moderating the pace for me, I still felt a euphoric wave of my
favourite feeling: symmetry. Though he was yards ahead of me, we were step for
step and stride for stride. My energy was coming from Brian by way of
induction. I was swept along in his tailwind. I was an eagle, or at least a
pigeon. But then I saw where Brian was going. He was heading straight, straight
across the street. I already knew that Brian did not see my request to stay on
one block as an edict; he saw it as a whim, a whim that could be un-whimmed in
the heat of athletic enterprise. There before me was the curb, coming up on
Brian and hence me. This time, though, I felt my pace slowing but oddly not my
sense of elation. I saw Brian leap over the curb in a perfect arc. Oh yes, this
made sense to me. The arc bridged this mini-hurdle. If I could arc, I could fly
over it, too. The curb could be vanquished with one soaring leap. I was ten
paces away and I started timing my steps. Six, five, four, three, two, and my
right foot lifted off the ground and I sailed over the impossible, the
illogical. The opposing curb timed out perfectly. I didn’t have to adjust my
step in the street before I flew over it, too, and inertia propelled me into
the grass, where I collapsed with exhaustion, gasping for air as if I were in a
bell jar. Brian turned around, still jogging in place. “Had it? That’s enough
for today. Good hustle. Good hustle.”

My legs
were shaking uncontrollably and I was thankful that I was wearing ankle-length
khaki pants where my limbs could vibrate in private. Even though I walked back
the long way, across three sets of scooped-out driveways, I now knew that I
could run across the street at the curb. I could jog over them, fly over them.
Brian had liberated me, had shone a spotlight on the wherewithal that had
always been inside me, but needed to be coaxed out by human contact.


The next morning I sprang
out of bed and promptly fell over. Overnight my muscles had tightened around my
bones like O-rings. I would have screamed in pain but it seemed inadequate. I
lifted myself back into bed while my mind scanned the medicine cabinet. Nose
drops. Tums. Aspirin… yes! I could legitimately take four. Off I went to the
bathroom, which gave me the opportunity to take measure of exactly where I was
hurting: everything below the beltline, every connective tissue, every lateral
muscle. They hurt not only in use, but to the touch. Next to the aspirin was
something in a blue jar called Mineral Ice. The bottle was so old it was a
collectible. But it said analgesic on it and I had a vague recollection of
using it in college. So I swallowed the aspirin and took the Mineral Ice back
with me to the bed and began applying the menthol gel to my legs, my thighs, my
buttocks. After a few moments it began to tingle, which I assumed was evidence
of its pain-relieving properties.


But oily gels don’t stay
where you apply them. They ooze. They creep like vines and spread themselves to
places they’re not supposed to go. Like testicles. Mine had somehow come in
contact with the stinging concoction, which was now migrating over the
eyelid-thin skin of my genitals like flames consuming a field of bluegrass.
And there is no washing this stuff off. In fact, the more soap and water are
applied, the worse it gets. Soap seemed to act like an agent, enabling it to
transpire deeper into every pore. All I could do was lie there and wait for it
to peak. And peak it did. Alps. Matterhorn. I would have cursed the Virgin Mary
but I knew it was not her fault, so I cursed Brian, whose fault it most
directly was. Forty-five minutes later, the throbbing subsided, but there was
still the suggestion of an icy breeze wafting around my testicles until way
after lunch. Which reminds me that the taste of menthol somehow infected my
tuna sandwich, even though I was careful not to handle it without the waxed

afternoon, Brian knocked on my door and I knelt down in the kitchen and hid. I
was just making doubly sure that there would not be a second invite to go
racing around the block at blinding jock speed.

By the
second day my hard line toward Brian began to soften. I stopped thinking he’d
done it to get even with me. After all, he had provided me with an astounding
moment of conquest, the recollection of which would momentarily numb my

until the third day did I begin to emerge from my invalid state. My muscles
began to return to normal and I assumed they were better for it; yes, I was now
in tip-top shape. My mind had sharpened, too, because a plan had begun to form
that would impress Elizabeth with my newly found machismo. I would wait until
she was showing apartments at the Rose Crest and then jog by at a nice casual
speed. This would possibly erase and replace her previously formed image of me
as a person to be avoided. The occasion presented itself the next weekend.
Saturday was becoming
busy realtor day at the Rose Crest, and
Elizabeth was in and out hourly with lots of street time spent in front of the
potential renters’ automobiles for the final sales chat. I was ready to go in
my jogging outfit, same brown loafers (with thick socks this time to prevent
them from falling off), same khaki pants, and same white shirt, and all had
been cleaned and ironed (except for the shoes, though I had thought about it).
It was not so much the jogging part that I thought would turn Elizabeth’s head
but the leap over the curb that I knew would hold the magic. I’m smart enough
to know that Elizabeth had no doubt seen dozens of men leap over curbs without
her falling in love with the leaper, but I do believe this: When an endeavour
is special in a person’s life, others discern it intuitively and appreciate it
more, like the praise a child receives for a lumpy clay sculpture. And as
ordinary as such an event might be, it can be instilled with uncommon power.
So I reasoned that my leap, my soaring, arcing flight, would have a hero’s
impact upon her and would neutralize my earlier flubs.

It was
not until 2 P.M. that Elizabeth became engaged in a street conversation that
seemed it would last long enough for me to parade my newly cultivated right
stuff. There was no time for me to delay, think twice, or balk. I had to do it
now. I ran down my apartment steps, took the walkway, cut the corner of the
grass, and was heading to the end of the block with effortless but mighty
strides. My sudden appearance caused Elizabeth and her clients to look toward
me. I liked my pace. Easy, confident. Soon the curb was nigh. I checked traffic
out of the corner of my eye. No cars. I began to adjust my step—so many details
of the week’s earlier triumph were coming back to me! I pictured myself
airborne while Elizabeth took it all in. But I was not twenty feet away when a
squeezing sensation took hold in my chest. This was the familiar ring of panic.
The curb suddenly did not make sense, nor did my impending leap over it. I was
rapidly collapsing in on myself, and the curb seemed to have reacquired all of
its old daunting properties of impossibility. However, I was still shooting
forward like a cannonball when, just this side of the point of no return, I put
on the brakes and urked to a cartoon halt, and for a second I was the Road
Runner and the curb was the Grand Canyon. I was back where I’d been four days
ago, only this time the love of my life, and her clients, were watching. Even
as I stood there, barely balanced, drenched in humiliation, leaning over the
precipice trying to regain my centre of gravity, my mind pumped out one clear
thought. It was not the idea of the soaring arc that had liberated me, nor was
it the thrill of the pace. It had been the presence of Brian, the person who
had so confidently led me, who had made my successful leap so possible. He had
allowed me to put one foot in the conventional world, and I was about to place
down the other. But my conventions, it turned out, could not be broken overnight,
because they had been forged in my brain like steel, and nothing so simple as
longing could dislodge them. By now I was flushed with embarrassment and hoped
that Elizabeth had not registered my failure.


Let me tell you about my
mailbox. It is one of twelve eroded brassy slots at the front entrance of my
building. It is also my Ellis Island, because, as I don’t have a phone or a
computer, and I disconnected my TV, everything alien that comes to me comes
through it first. The Monday after my dismal showing with Elizabeth, I went to
the mailbox and retrieved six pieces of mail, took them to my kitchen table,
and began sorting them into three piles. Into the Highly Relevant pile went two
personal letters, one hand-addressed. In the Relevant pile, I put the mail that
wasn’t personal even though it was addressed to me—ads, announcements, and so
on, because anything with my name on it I consider relevant. Third were the
letters addressed to “resident” and “occupant.” The Irrelevant pile. I had
considered a fourth pile, because to me, resident” is quite different from “occupant,”
and I have struggled and succeeded in coming up with a practical usage guide.
Yes, I’m a resident and occupant of the Chrysanthemum Apartments, but if I went
out on the sidewalk and put a large cardboard box over me and sat on the lawn,
it could be said that I was an occupant of the cardboard box but not a resident
of it. So “resident” letters could be sent only to my apartment, but “occupant”
letters could be sent to cardboard boxes, junked cars, and large paint cans
that I could stick my feet in. “Occupant” letters could legitimately be considered
Very Highly Irrelevant.

BOOK: The Pleasure of My Company
2.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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