I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. My posture is consciously congruent to the shape of my hard chair. This is a cold room in University Administration, wood-walled, Remington-hung, double-windowed against the November heat, insulated from Administrative sounds by the reception area outside, at which Uncle Charles, Mr. deLint and I were lately received.
I am in here.
Three faces have resolved into place above summer-weight sportcoats and half-Windsors across a polished pine conference table shiny with the spidered light of an Arizona noon. These are three Deans — of Admissions, Academic Affairs, Athletic Affairs. I do not know which face belongs to whom.
I believe I appear neutral, maybe even pleasant, though I’ve been coached to err on the side of neutrality and not attempt what would feel to me like a pleasant expression or smile.
I have committed to crossing my legs I hope carefully, ankle on knee, hands together in the lap of my slacks. My fingers are mated into a mirrored series of what manifests, to me, as the letter X. The interview room’s other personnel include: the University’s Director of Composition, its varsity tennis coach, and Academy prorector Mr. A. deLint. C.T. is beside me; the others sit, stand and stand, respectively, at the periphery of my focus. The tennis coach jingles pocket-change. There is something vaguely digestive about the room’s odor. The high-traction sole of my complimentary Nike sneaker runs parallel to the wobbling loafer of my mother’s half-brother, here in his capacity as Headmaster, sitting in the chair to what I hope is my immediate right, also facing Deans.
The Dean at left, a lean yellowish man whose fixed smile nevertheless has the impermanent quality of something stamped into uncooperative material, is a personality-type I’ve come lately to appreciate, the type who delays need of any response from me by relating my side of the story for me, to me. Passed a packet of computer-sheets by the shaggy lion of a Dean at center, he is speaking more or less to these pages, smiling down.
‘You are Harold Incandenza, eighteen, date of secondary-school graduation approximately one month from now, attending the Enfield Tennis Academy, Enfield, Massachusetts, a boarding school, where you reside.’ His reading glasses are rectangular, court-shaped, the sidelines at top and bottom. ‘You are, according to Coach White and Dean [unintelligible], a regionally, nationally, and continentally ranked junior tennis player, a potential O.N.A.N.C.A.A. athlete of substantial promise, recruited by Coach White via correspondence with Dr. Tavis here commencing… February of this year.’ The top page is removed and brought around neatly to the bottom of the sheaf, at intervals. ‘You have been in residence at the Enfield Tennis Academy since age seven.’
I am debating whether to risk scratching the right side of my jaw, where there is a wen.
‘Coach White informs our offices that he holds the Enfield Tennis Academy’s program and achievements in high regard, that the University of Arizona tennis squad has profited from the prior matriculation of several former E.T.A. alumni, one of whom was one Mr. Aubrey F. deLint, who appears also to be with you here today. Coach White and his staff have given us —’
The yellow administrator’s usage is on the whole undistinguished, though I have to admit he’s made himself understood. The Director of Composition seems to have more than the normal number of eyebrows. The Dean at right is looking at my face a bit strangely.
Uncle Charles is saying that though he can anticipate that the Deans might be predisposed to weigh what he avers as coming from his possible appearance as a kind of cheerleader for E.T.A., he can assure the assembled Deans that all this is true, and that the Academy has presently in residence no fewer than a third of the continent’s top thirty juniors, in age brackets all across the board, and that I here, who go by ‘Hal,’ usually, am ‘right up there among the very cream.’ Right and center Deans smile professionally; the heads of deLint and the coach incline as the Dean at left clears his throat:
‘— belief that you could well make, even as a freshman, a real contribution to this University’s varsity tennis program. We are pleased,’ he either says or reads, removing a page, ‘that a competition of some major sort here has brought you down and given us the chance to sit down and chat together about your application and potential recruitment and matriculation and scholarship.’
‘I’ve been asked to add that Hal here is seeded third, Boys’ 18-and-Under Singles, in the prestigious WhataBurger Southwest Junior Invitational out at the Randolph Tennis Center —’ says what I infer is Athletic Affairs, his cocked head showing a freckled scalp.
‘Out at Randolph Park, near the outstanding El Con Marriott,’ C.T. inserts, ‘a venue the whole contingent’s been vocal about finding absolutely top-hole thus far, which —’
‘Just so, Chuck, and that according to Chuck here Hal has already justified his seed, he’s reached the semifinals as of this morning’s apparently impressive win, and that he’ll be playing out at the Center again tomorrow, against the winner of a quarterfinal game tonight, and so will be playing tomorrow at I believe scheduled for 0830 —’
‘Try to get under way before the godawful heat out there. Though of course a dry heat.’
‘— and has apparently already qualified for this winter’s Continental Indoors, up in Edmonton, Kirk tells me —’ cocking further to look up and left at the varsity coach, whose smile’s teeth are radiant against a violent sunburn — ‘Which is something indeed.’ He smiles, looking at me. ‘Did we get all that right Hal.’
C.T. has crossed his arms casually; their triceps’ flesh is webbed with mottle in the air-conditioned sunlight. ‘You sure did. Bill.’ He smiles. The two halves of his mustache never quite match. ‘And let me say if I may that Hal’s excited, excited to be invited for the third year running to the Invitational again, to be back here in a community he has real affection for, to visit with your alumni and coaching staff, to have already justified his high seed in this week’s not unstiff competition, to as they say still be in it without the fat woman in the Viking hat having sung, so to speak, but of course most of all to have a chance to meet you gentlemen and have a look at the facilities here. Everything here is absolutely top-slot, from what he’s seen.’
There is a silence. DeLint shifts his back against the room’s panelling and recenters his weight. My uncle beams and straightens a straight watchband. 62.5% of the room’s faces are directed my way, pleasantly expectant. My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it. I compose what I project will be seen as a smile. I turn this way and that, slightly, sort of directing the expression to everyone in the room.
There is a new silence. The yellow Dean’s eyebrows go circumflex. The two other Deans look to the Director of Composition. The tennis coach has moved to stand at the broad window, feeling at the back of his crewcut. Uncle Charles strokes the forearm above his watch. Sharp curved palm-shadows move slightly over the pine table’s shine, the one head’s shadow a black moon.
‘Is Hal all right, Chuck?’ Athletic Affairs asks. ‘Hal just seemed to… well, grimace. Is he in pain? Are you in pain, son?’
‘Hal’s right as rain,’ smiles my uncle, soothing the air with a casual hand. ‘Just a bit of a let’s call it maybe a facial tic, slightly, at all the adrenaline of being here on your impressive campus, justifying his seed so far without dropping a set, receiving that official written offer of not only waivers but a living allowance from Coach White here, on Pac 10 letterhead, being ready in all probability to sign a National Letter of Intent right here and now this very day, he’s indicated to me.’ C.T. looks to me, his look horribly mild. I do the safe thing, relaxing every muscle in my face, emptying out all expression. I stare carefully into the Kekuléan knot of the middle Dean’s necktie.
My silent response to the expectant silence begins to affect the air of the room, the bits of dust and sportcoat-lint stirred around by the AC’s vents dancing jaggedly in the slanted plane of windowlight, the air over the table like the sparkling space just above a fresh-poured seltzer. The coach, in a slight accent neither British nor Australian, is telling C.T. that the whole application-interface process, while usually just a pleasant formality, is probably best accentuated by letting the applicant speak up for himself. Right and center Deans have inclined together in soft conference, forming a kind of tepee of skin and hair. I presume it’s probably facilitate that the tennis coach mistook for accentuate, though accelerate, while clunkier than facilitate, is from a phonetic perspective more sensible, as a mistake. The Dean with the flat yellow face has leaned forward, his lips drawn back from his teeth in what I see as concern. His hands come together on the conference table’s surface. His own fingers look like they mate as my own four-X series dissolves and I hold tight to the sides of my chair.
We need candidly to chat re potential problems with my application, they and I, he is beginning to say. He makes a reference to candor and its value.
‘The issues my office faces with the application materials on file from you, Hal, involve some test scores.’ He glances down at a colorful sheet of standardized scores in the trench his arms have made. ‘The Admissions staff is looking at standardized test scores from you that are, as I’m sure you know and can explain, are, shall we say… subnormal.’ I’m to explain.
It’s clear that this really pretty sincere yellow Dean at left is Admissions. And surely the little aviarian figure at right is Athletics, then, because the facial creases of the shaggy middle Dean are now pursed in a kind of distanced affront, an I’m-eating-something-that-makes-me-really-appreciate-the-presence-of-whatever-I’m-drinking-along-with-it look that spells professionally Academic reservations. An uncomplicated loyalty to standards, then, at center. My uncle looks to Athletics as if puzzled. He shifts slightly in his chair.
The incongruity between Admissions’s hand- and face-color is almost wild. ‘— verbal scores that are just quite a bit closer to zero than we’re comfortable with, as against a secondary-school transcript from the institution where both your mother and her brother are administrators —’ reading directly out of the sheaf inside his arms’ ellipse — ‘that this past year, yes, has fallen off a bit, but by the word I mean “fallen off” to outstanding from three previous years of frankly incredible.’
‘Off the charts.’
‘Most institutions do not even have grades of A with multiple pluses after it,’ says the Director of Composition, his expression impossible to interpret.
‘This kind of… how shall I put it… incongruity,’ Admissions says, his expression frank and concerned, ‘I’ve got to tell you sends up a red flag of potential concern during the admissions process.’
‘We thus invite you to explain the appearance of incongruity if not out-right shenanigans.’ Students has a tiny piping voice that’s absurd coming out of a face this big.
‘Surely by incredible you meant very very very impressive, as opposed to literally quote “incredible,” surely,’ says C.T., seeming to watch the coach at the window massaging the back of his neck. The huge window gives out on nothing more than dazzling sunlight and cracked earth with heat-shimmers over it.
‘Then there is before us the matter of not the required two but nine separate application essays, some of which of nearly monograph-length, each without exception being —’ different sheet — ‘the adjective various evaluators used was quote “stellar” —’
Dir. of Comp.: ‘I made in my assessment deliberate use of lapidary and effete.’
‘— but in areas and with titles, I’m sure you recall quite well, Hal: “Neoclassical Assumptions in Contemporary Prescriptive Grammar,” “The Implications of Post-Fourier Transformations for a Holographically Mimetic Cinema,” “The Emergence of Heroic Stasis in Broadcast Entertainment” —’
‘ “Montague Grammar and the Semantics of Physical Modality”?’
‘ “A Man Who Began to Suspect He Was Made of Glass”?’
‘ “Tertiary Symbolism in Justinian Erotica”?’
Now showing broad expanses of recessed gum. ‘Suffice to say that there’s some frank and candid concern about the recipient of these unfortunate test scores, though perhaps explainable test scores, being these essays’ sole individual author.’
‘I’m not sure Hal’s sure just what’s being implied here,’ my uncle says. The Dean at center is fingering his lapels as he interprets distasteful computed data.
‘What the University is saying here is that from a strictly academic point of view there are admission problems that Hal needs to try to help us iron out. A matriculant’s first role at the University is and must be as a student. We couldn’t admit a student we have reason to suspect can’t cut the mustard, no matter how much of an asset he might be on the field.’
‘Dean Sawyer means the court, of course, Chuck,’ Athletic Affairs says, head severely cocked so he’s including the White person behind him in the address somehow. ‘Not to mention O.N.A.N.C.A.A. regulations and investigators always snuffling around for some sort of whiff of the smell of impropriety.’
The varsity tennis coach looks at his own watch.
‘Assuming these board scores are accurate reflectors of true capacity in this case,’ Academic Affairs says, his high voice serious and sotto, still looking at the file before him as if it were a plate of something bad, ‘I’ll tell you right now my opinion is it wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t be fair to the other applicants. Wouldn’t be fair to the University community.’ He looks at me. ‘And it’d be especially unfair to Hal himself. Admitting a boy we see as simply an athletic asset would amount to just using that boy. We’re under myriad scrutiny to make sure we’re not using anybody. Your board results, son, indicate that we could be accused of using you.’
Uncle Charles is asking Coach White to ask the Dean of Athletic Affairs whether the weather over scores would be as heavy if I were, say, a revenue-raising football prodigy. The familiar panic at feeling misperceived is rising, and my chest bumps and thuds. I expend energy on remaining utterly silent in my chair, empty, my eyes two great pale zeros. People have promised to get me through this.
Uncle C.T., though, has the pinched look of the cornered. His voice takes on an odd timbre when he’s cornered, as if he were shouting as he receded. ‘Hal’s grades at E.T.A., which is I should stress an Academy, not simply a camp or factory, accredited by both the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the North American Sports Academy Association, it’s focused on the total needs of the player and student, founded by a towering intellectual figure whom I hardly need name, here, and based by him on the rigorous Oxbridge Quadrivium-Trivium curricular model, a school fully staffed and equipped, by a fully certified staff, should show that my nephew here can cut just about any Pac 10 mustard that needs cutting, and that —’
DeLint is moving toward the tennis coach, who is shaking his head.
‘— would be able to see a distinct flavor of minor-sport prejudice about this whole thing,’ C.T. says, crossing and recrossing his legs as I listen, composed and staring.
The room’s carbonated silence is now hostile. ‘I think it’s time to let the actual applicant himself speak out on his own behalf,’ Academic Affairs says very quietly. ‘This seems somehow impossible with you here, sir.’
Athletics smiles tiredly under a hand that massages the bridge of his nose. ‘Maybe you’d excuse us for a moment and wait outside, Chuck.’
‘Coach White could accompany Mr. Tavis and his associate out to reception,’ the yellow Dean says, smiling into my unfocused eyes.
‘— led to believe this had all been ironed out in advance, from the —’ C.T. is saying as he and deLint are shown to the door. The tennis coach extends a hypertrophied arm. Athletics says ‘We’re all friends and colleagues here.’
This is not working out. It strikes me that EXIT signs would look to a native speaker of Latin like red-lit signs that say HE LEAVES. I would yield to the urge to bolt for the door ahead of them if I could know that bolting for the door is what the men in this room would see. DeLint is murmuring something to the tennis coach. Sounds of keyboards, phone consoles as the door is briefly opened, then firmly shut. I am alone among administrative heads.
‘— offense intended to anyone,’ Athletic Affairs is saying, his sportcoattan and his necktie insigniated in tiny print — ‘beyond just physical abilities out there in play, which believe me we respect, want, believe me.’
‘— question about it we wouldn’t be so anxious to chat with you directly, see?’
‘— that we’ve known in processing several prior applications through Coach White’s office that the Enfield School is operated, however impressively, by close relations of first your brother, who I can still remember the way White’s predecessor Maury Klamkin wooed that kid, so that grades’ objectivity can be all too easily called into question —’
The essays are old ones, yes, but they are mine; de moi. But they are, yes, old, not quite on the application’s instructed subject of Most Meaningful Educational Experience Ever. If I’d done you one from the last year, it would look to you like some sort of infant’s random stabs on a keyboard, and to you, who use whomsoever as a subject. And in this new smaller company, the Director of Composition seems abruptly to have actuated, emerged as both the Alpha of the pack here and way more effeminate than he’d seemed at first, standing hip-shot with a hand on his waist, walking with a roll to his shoulders, jingling change as he pulls up his pants as he slides into the chair still warm from C.T.’s bottom, crossing his legs in a way that inclines him well into my personal space, so that I can see multiple eyebrow-tics and capillary webs in the oysters below his eyes and smell fabric-softener and the remains of a breath-mint turned sour.
‘… a bright, solid, but very shy boy, we know about your being very shy, Kirk White’s told us what your athletically built if rather stand-offish younger instructor told him,’ the Director says softly, cupping what I feel to be a hand over my sportcoat’s biceps (surely not), ‘who simply needs to swallow hard and trust and tell his side of the story to these gentlemen who bear no maliciousness none at all but are doing our jobs and trying to look out for everyone’s interests at the same time.’
I can picture deLint and White sitting with their elbows on their knees in the defecatory posture of all athletes at rest, deLint staring at his huge thumbs, while C.T. in the reception area paces in a tight ellipse, speaking into his portable phone. I have been coached for this like a Don before a RICO hearing. A neutral and affectless silence. The sort of all-defensive game Schtitt used to have me play: the best defense: let everything bounce off you; do nothing. I’d tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear.
Athletics with his head out from under his wing: ‘— to avoid admission procedures that could be seen as primarily athletics-oriented. It could be a mess, son.’
‘Bill means the appearance, not necessarily the real true facts of the matter, which you alone can fill in,’ says the Director of Composition.
‘— the appearance of the high athletic ranking, the subnormal scores, the over-academic essays, the incredible grades vortexing out of what could be seen as a nepotistic situation.’
The yellow Dean has leaned so far forward that his tie is going to have a horizontal dent from the table-edge, his face sallow and kindly and no-shit-whatever:
‘Look here, Mr. Incandenza, Hal, please just explain to me why we couldn’t be accused of using you, son. Why nobody could come and say to us, why, look here, University of Arizona, here you are using a boy for just his body, a boy so shy and withdrawn he won’t speak up for himself, a jock with doctored marks and a store-bought application.’
The Brewster’s-Angle light of the tabletop appears as a rose flush behind my closed lids. I cannot make myself understood. ‘I am not just a jock,’ I say slowly. Distinctly. ‘My transcript for the last year might have been dickied a bit, maybe, but that was to get me over a rough spot. The grades prior to that are de moi.’ My eyes are closed; the room is silent. ‘I cannot make myself understood, now.’ I am speaking slowly and distinctly. ‘Call it something I ate.’
It’s funny what you don’t recall. Our first home, in the suburb of Weston, which I barely remember — my eldest brother Orin says he can remember being in the home’s backyard with our mother in the early spring, helping the Moms till some sort of garden out of the cold yard. March or early April. The garden’s area was a rough rectangle laid out with Popsicle sticks and twine. Orin was removing rocks and hard clods from the Moms’s path as she worked the rented Rototiller, a wheelbarrow-shaped, gas-driven thing that roared and snorted and bucked and he remembers seemed to propel the Moms rather than vice versa, the Moms very tall and having to stoop painfully to hold on, her feet leaving drunken prints in the tilled earth. He remembers that in the middle of the tilling I came tear-assing out the door and into the backyard wearing some sort of fuzzy red Pooh-wear, crying, holding out something he said was really unpleasant-looking in my upturned palm. He says I was around five and crying and was vividly red in the cold spring air. I was saying something over and over; he couldn’t make it out until our mother saw me and shut down the tiller, ears ringing, and came over to see what I was holding out. This turned out to have been a large patch of mold — Orin posits from some dark corner of the Weston home’s basement, which was warm from the furnace and flooded every spring. The patch itself he describes as horrific: darkly green, glossy, vaguely hirsute, speckled with parasitic fungal points of yellow, orange, red. Worse, they could see that the patch looked oddly incomplete, gnawed-on; and some of the nauseous stuff was smeared around my open mouth. ‘I ate this,’ was what I was saying. I held the patch out to the Moms, who had her contacts out for the dirty work, and at first, bending way down, saw only her crying child, hand out, proffering; and in that most maternal of reflexes she, who feared and loathed more than anything spoilage and filth, reached to take whatever her baby held out — as in how many used heavy Kleenex, spit-back candies, wads of chewed-out gum in how many theaters, airports, backseats, tournament lounges? O. stood there, he says, hefting a cold clod, playing with the Velcro on his puffy coat, watching as the Moms, bent way down to me, hand reaching, her lowering face with its presbyopic squint, suddenly stopped, froze, beginning to I.D. what it was I held out, countenancing evidence of oral contact with same. He remembers her face as past describing. Her outstretched hand, still Rototrembling, hung in the air before mine.
‘I ate this,’ I said.
O. says he can only remember (sic) saying something caustic as he limboed a crick out of his back. He says he must have felt a terrible impending anxiety. The Moms refused ever even to go into the damp basement. I had stopped crying, he remembers, and simply stood there, the size and shape of a hydrant, in red PJ’s with attached feet, holding out the mold, seriously, like the report of some kind of audit. O. says his memory diverges at this point, probably as a result of anxiety. In his first memory, the Moms’s path around the yard is a broad circle of hysteria:
‘God!’ she calls out.
‘Help! My son ate this!’ she yells in Orin’s second and more fleshed-out recollection, yelling it over and over, holding the speckled patch aloft in a pincer of fingers, running around and around the garden’s rectangle while O. gaped at his first real sight of adult hysteria. Suburban neighbors’ heads appeared in windows and over the fences, looking. O. remembers me tripping over the garden’s laid-out twine, getting up dirty, crying, trying to follow.
‘God! Help! My son ate this! Help!’ she kept yelling, running a tight pattern just inside the square of string; and my brother Orin remembers noting how even in hysterical trauma her flight-lines were plumb, her footprints Native-American-straight, her turns, inside the ideogram of string, crisp and martial, crying ‘My son ate this! Help!’ and lapping me twice before the memory recedes.
‘My application’s not bought,’ I am telling them, calling into the darkness of the red cave that opens out before closed eyes. ‘I am not just a boy who plays tennis. I have an intricate history. Experiences and feelings. I’m complex.
‘I read,’ I say. ‘I study and read. I bet I’ve read everything you’ve read. Don’t think I haven’t. I consume libraries. I wear out spines and ROM-drives. I do things like get in a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.” My instincts concerning syntax and mechanics are better than your own, I can tell, with due respect.
‘But it transcends the mechanics. I’m not a machine. I feel and believe. I have opinions. Some of them are interesting. I could, if you’d let me, talk and talk. Let’s talk about anything. I believe the influence of Kierkegaard on Camus is underestimated. I believe Dennis Gabor may very well have been the Antichrist. I believe Hobbes is just Rousseau in a dark mirror. I believe, with Hegel, that transcendence is absorption. I could interface you guys right under the table,’ I say. ‘I’m not just a creātus, manufactured, conditioned, bred for a function.’
I open my eyes. ‘Please don’t think I don’t care.’
I look out. Directed my way is horror. I rise from the chair. I see jowls sagging, eyebrows high on trembling foreheads, cheeks bright-white. The chair recedes below me.
‘Sweet mother of Christ,’ the Director says.
‘I’m fine,’ I tell them, standing. From the yellow Dean’s expression, there’s a brutal wind blowing from my direction. Academics’ face has gone instantly old. Eight eyes have become blank discs that stare at whatever they see.
‘Good God,’ whispers Athletics.
‘Please don’t worry,’ I say. ‘I can explain.’ I soothe the air with a casual hand.
Both my arms are pinioned from behind by the Director of Comp., who wrestles me roughly down, on me with all his weight. I taste floor.
I say ‘Nothing is wrong.’
‘It’s all right! I’m here!’ the Director is calling into my ear.
‘Get help!’ cries a Dean.
My forehead is pressed into parquet I never knew could be so cold. I am arrested. I try to be perceived as limp and pliable. My face is mashed flat; Comp.’s weight makes it hard to breathe.
‘Try to listen,’ I say very slowly, muffled by the floor.
‘What in God’s name are those…, ’ one Dean cries shrilly, ‘… those sounds?’
There are clicks of a phone console’s buttons, shoes’ heels moving, pivoting, a sheaf of flimsy pages falling.
The door’s base opens at the left periphery: a wedge of halogen hall-light, white sneakers and a scuffed Nunn Bush. ‘Let him up!’ That’s deLint.
‘There is nothing wrong,’ I say slowly to the floor. ‘I’m in here.’
I’m raised by the crutches of my underarms, shaken toward what he must see as calm by a purple-faced Director: ‘Get a grip, son!’
DeLint at the big man’s arm: ‘Stop it!’
‘I am not what you see and hear.’
Distant sirens. A crude half nelson. Forms at the door. A young Hispanic woman holds her palm against her mouth, looking.
‘I’m not,’ I say.
You have to love old-fashioned men’s rooms: the citrus scent of deodorant disks in the long porcelain trough; the stalls with wooden doors in frames of cool marble; these thin sinks in rows, basins supported by rickety alphabets of exposed plumbing; mirrors over metal shelves; behind all the voices the slight sound of a ceaseless trickle, inflated by echo against wet porcelain and a cold tile floor whose mosaic pattern looks almost Islamic at this close range.
The disorder I’ve caused revolves all around. I’ve been half-dragged, still pinioned, through a loose mob of Administrative people by the Comp. Director — who appears to have thought variously that I am having a seizure (prying open my mouth to check for a throat clear of tongue), that I am somehow choking (a textbook Heimlich that left me whooping), that I am psychotically out of control (various postures and grips designed to transfer that control to him) — while about us roil deLint, trying to restrain the Director’s restraint of me, the varsity tennis coach restraining deLint, my mother’s half-brother speaking in rapid combinations of polysyllables to the trio of Deans, who variously gasp, wring hands, loosen neckties, waggle digits in C.T.’s face, and make pases with sheafs of now-pretty-clearly-superfluous application forms.
I am rolled over supine on the geometric tile. I am concentrating docilely on the question why U.S. restrooms always appear to us as infirmaries for public distress, the place to regain control. My head is cradled in a knelt Director’s lap, which is soft, my face being swabbed with dusty-brown institutional paper towels he received from some hand out of the crowd overhead, staring with all the blankness I can summon into his jowls’ small pocks, worst at the blurred jaw-line, of scarring from long-ago acne. Uncle Charles, a truly unparalleled slinger of shit, is laying down an enfilade of same, trying to mollify men who seem way more in need of a good brow-mopping than I.
‘He’s fine,’ he keeps saying. ‘Look at him, calm as can be, lying there.’
‘You didn’t see what happened in there,’ a hunched Dean responds through a face webbed with fingers.
‘Excited, is all he gets, sometimes, an excitable kid, impressed with —’
‘But the sounds he made.’
‘Like an animal.’
‘Subanimalistic noises and sounds.’
‘Nor let’s not forget the gestures.’
‘Have you ever gotten help for this boy Dr. Tavis?’
‘Like some sort of animal with something in its mouth.’
‘This boy is damaged.’
‘Like a stick of butter being hit with a mallet.’
‘A writhing animal with a knife in its eye.’
‘What were you possibly about, trying to enroll this —’
‘And his arms.’
‘You didn’t see it, Tavis. His arms were —’
‘Flailing. This sort of awful reaching drumming wriggle. Waggling,’ the group looking briefly at someone outside my sight trying to demonstrate something.
‘Like a time-lapse, a flutter of some sort of awful… growth.’
‘Sounded most of all like a drowning goat. A goat, drowning in something viscous.’
‘This strangled series of bleats and —’
‘Yes they waggled.’
‘So suddenly a bit of excited waggling’s a crime, now?’
‘You, sir, are in trouble. You are in trouble.’
‘His face. As if he was strangling. Burning. I believe I’ve seen a vision of hell.’
‘He has some trouble communicating, he’s communicatively challenged, no one’s denying that.’
‘The boy needs care.’
‘Instead of caring for the boy you send him here to enroll, compete?’
‘You have not in your most dreadful fantasies dreamt of the amount of trouble you have bought yourself, Dr. so-called Headmaster, educator.’
‘… were given to understand this was all just a formality. You took him aback, is all. Shy —’
‘And you, White. You sought to recruit him!’
‘— and terribly impressed and excited, in there, without us, his support system, whom you asked to leave, which if you’d —’
‘I’d only seen him play. On court he’s gorgeous. Possibly a genius. We had no idea. The brother’s in the bloody NFL for God’s sake. Here’s a top player, we thought, with Southwest roots. His stats were off the chart. We watched him through the whole WhataBurger last fall. Not a waggle or a noise. We were watching ballet out there, a mate remarked, after.’
‘Damn right you were watching ballet out there, White. This boy is a balletic athlete, a player.’
‘Some kind of athletic savant then. Balletic compensation for deep problems which you sir choose to disguise by muzzling the boy in there.’ An expensive pair of Brazilian espadrilles goes by on the left and enters a stall, and the espadrilles come around and face me. The urinal trickles behind the voices’ small echoes.
‘— haps we’ll just be on our way,’ C.T. is saying.
‘The integrity of my sleep has been forever compromised, sir.’
‘— think you could pass off a damaged applicant, fabricate credentials and shunt him through a kangaroo-interview and inject him into all the rigors of college life?’
‘Hal here functions, you ass. Given a supportive situation. He’s fine when he’s by himself. Yes he has some trouble with excitability in conversation. Did you once hear him try to deny that?’
‘We witnessed something only marginally mammalian in there, sir.’
‘Like hell. Have a look. How’s the excitable little guy doing down there, Aubrey, does it look to you?’
‘You, sir, are quite possibly ill. This affair is not concluded.’
‘What ambulance? Don’t you guys listen? I’m telling you there’s —’
‘Dope him up, seek to act as his mouthpiece, muzzling, and now he lies there catatonic, staring.’
The crackle of deLint’s knees. ‘Hal?’
‘— inflate this publicly in any distorted way. The Academy has distinguished alumni, litigators at counsel. Hal here is provably competent. Credentials out the bazoo, Bill. The boy reads like a vacuum. Digests things.’
I simply lie there, listening, smelling the paper towel, watching an espadrille pivot.
‘There’s more to life than sitting there interfacing, it might be a news-flash to you.’
And who could not love that special and leonine roar of a public toilet?
Not for nothing did Orin say that people outdoors down here just scuttle in vectors from air conditioning to air conditioning. The sun is a hammer. I can feel one side of my face start to cook. The blue sky is glossy and fat with heat, a few thin cirri sheared to blown strands like hair at the rims. The traffic is nothing like Boston. The stretcher is the special type, with restraining straps at the extremities. The same Aubrey deLint I’d dismissed for years as a 2-D martinet knelt gurneyside to squeeze my restrained hand and say ‘Just hang in there, Buckaroo,’ before moving back into the administrative fray at the ambulance’s doors. It is a special ambulance, dispatched from I’d rather not dwell on where, with not only paramedics but some kind of psychiatric M.D. on board. The medics lift gently and are handy with straps. The M.D., his back up against the ambulance’s side, has both hands up in dispassionate mediation between the Deans and C.T., who keeps stabbing skyward with his cellular’s antenna as if it were a sabre, outraged that I’m being needlessly ambulanced off to some Emergency Room against my will and interests. The issue whether the damaged even have interested wills is shallowly hashed out as some sort of ultra-mach fighter too high overhead to hear slices the sky from south to north. The M.D. has both hands up and is patting the air to signify dispassion. He has a big blue jaw. At the only other emergency room I have ever been in, almost exactly one year back, the psychiatric stretcher was wheeled in and then parked beside the waiting-room chairs. These chairs were molded orange plastic; three of them down the row were occupied by different people all of whom were holding empty prescription bottles and perspiring freely. This would have been bad enough, but in the end chair, right up next to the strap-secured head of my stretcher, was a T-shirted woman with barnwood skin and a trucker’s cap and a bad starboard list who began to tell me, lying there restrained and immobile, about how she had seemingly overnight suffered a sudden and anomalous gigantism in her right breast, which she referred to as a titty; she had an almost parodic Québecois accent and described the ‘titty’s’ presenting history and possible diagnoses for almost twenty minutes before I was rolled away. The jet’s movement and trail seem incisionish, as if white meat behind the blue were exposed and widening in the wake of the blade. I once saw the word KNIFE finger-written on the steamed mirror of a nonpublic bathroom. I have become an infantophile. I am forced to roll my closed eyes either up or to the side to keep the red cave from bursting into flames from the sunlight. The street’s passing traffic is constant and seems to go ‘Hush, hush, hush.’ The sun, if your fluttering eye catches it even slightly, gives you the blue and red floaters a flashbulb gives you. ‘Why not? Why not? Why not not, then, if the best reasoning you can contrive is why not?’ C.T.’s voice, receding with outrage. Only the gallant stabs of his antenna are now visible, just inside my sight’s right frame. I will be conveyed to an Emergency Room of some kind, where I will be detained as long as I do not respond to questions, and then, when I do respond to questions, I will be sedated; so it will be inversion of standard travel, the ambulance and ER: I’ll make the journey first, then depart. I think very briefly of the late Cosgrove Watt. I think of the hypophalangial Grief-Therapist. I think of the Moms, alphabetizing cans of soup in the cabinet over the microwave. Of Himself’s umbrella hung by its handle from the edge of the mail table just inside the Headmaster’s House’s foyer. The bad ankle hasn’t ached once this whole year. I think of John N. R. Wayne, who would have won this year’s What aBurger, standing watch in a mask as Donald Gately and I dig up my father’s head. There’s very little doubt that Wayne would have won. And Venus Williams owns a ranch outside Green Valley; she may well attend the 18’s Boys’ and Girls’ finals. I will be out in plenty of time for tomorrow’s semi; I trust Uncle Charles. Tonight’s winner is almost sure to be Dymphna, sixteen but with a birthday two weeks under the 15 April deadline; and Dymphna will still be tired tomorrow at 0830, while I, sedated, will have slept like a graven image. I have never before faced Dymphna in tournament play, nor played with the sonic balls the blind require, but I watched him barely dispatch Petropolis Kahn in the Round of 16, and I know he is mine.
It will start in the E.R., at the intake desk if C.T.’s late in following the ambulance, or in the green-tiled room after the room with the invasive-digital machines; or, given this special M.D.-supplied ambulance, maybe on the ride itself: some blue-jawed M.D. scrubbed to an antiseptic glow with his name sewn in cursive on his white coat’s breast pocket and a quality desk-set pen, wanting gurneyside Q&A, etiology and diagnosis by Socratic method, ordered and point-by-point. There are, by the O.E.D. VI’s count, nineteen nonarchaic synonyms for unresponsive, of which nine are Latinate and four Saxonic. I will play either Stice or Polep in Sunday’s final. Maybe in front of Venus Williams. It will be someone blue-collar and unlicensed, though, inevitably — a nurse’s aide with quick-bit nails, a hospital security guy, a tired Cuban orderly who addresses me as jou— who will, looking down in the middle of some kind of bustled task, catch what he sees as my eye and ask So yo then man what’s your story?
YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT
Where was the woman who said she’d come. She said she would come. Erdedy thought she’d have come by now. He sat and thought. He was in the living room. When he started waiting one window was full of yellow light and cast a shadow of light across the floor and he was still sitting waiting as that shadow began to fade and was intersected by a brightening shadow from a different wall’s window. There was an insect on one of the steel shelves that held his audio equipment. The insect kept going in and out of one of the holes on the girders that the shelves fit into. The insect was dark and had a shiny case. He kept looking over at it. Once or twice he started to get up to go over closer to look at it, but he was afraid that if he came closer and saw it closer he would kill it, and he was afraid to kill it. He did not use the phone to call the woman who’d promised to come because if he tied up the line and if it happened to be the time when maybe she was trying to call him he was afraid she would hear the busy signal and think him disinterested and get angry and maybe take what she’d promised him somewhere else.
She had promised to get him a fifth of a kilogram of marijuana, 200 grams of unusually good marijuana, for $1250 U.S. He had tried to stop smoking marijuana maybe 70 or 80 times before. Before this woman knew him. She did not know he had tried to stop. He always lasted a week, or two weeks, or maybe two days, and then he’d think and decide to have some in his home one more last time. One last final time he’d search out someone new, someone he hadn’t already told that he had to stop smoking dope and please under no circumstances should they procure him any dope. It had to be a third party, because he’d told every dealer he knew to cut him off. And the third party had to be someone all-new, because each time he got some he knew this time had to be the last time, and so told them, asked them, as a favor, never to get him any more, ever. And he never asked a person again once he’d told them this, because he was proud, and also kind, and wouldn’t put anyone in that kind of contradictory position. Also he considered himself creepy when it came to dope, and he was afraid that others would see that he was creepy about it as well. He sat and thought and waited in an uneven X of light through two different windows. Once or twice he looked at the phone. The insect had disappeared back into the hole in the steel girder a shelf fit into.
She’d promised to come at one certain time, and it was past that time. Finally he gave in and called her number, using just audio, and it rang several times, and he was afraid of how much time he was taking tying up the line and he got her audio answering device, the message had a snatch of ironic pop music and her voice and a male voice together saying we’ll call you back, and the ‘we’ made them sound like a couple, the man was a handsome black man who was in law school, she designed sets, and he didn’t leave a message because he didn’t want her to know how much now he felt like he needed it. He had been very casual about the whole thing. She said she knew a guy just over the river in Allston who sold high-resin dope in moderate bulk, and he’d yawned and said well, maybe, well, hey, why not, sure, special occasion, I haven’t bought any in I don’t know how long. She said he lived in a trailer and had a harelip and kept snakes and had no phone, and was basically just not what you’d call a pleasant or attractive person at all, but the guy in Allston frequently sold dope to theater people in Cambridge, and had a devoted following. He said he was trying to even remember when was the last time he’d bought any, it had been so long. He said he guessed he’d have her get a decent amount, he said he’d had some friends call him in the recent past and ask if he could get them some. He had this thing where he’d frequently say he was getting dope mostly for friends. Then if the woman didn’t have it when she said she’d have it for him and he became anxious about it he could tell the woman that it was his friends who were becoming anxious, and he was sorry to bother the woman about something so casual but his friends were anxious and bothering him about it and he just wanted to know what he could maybe tell them. He was caught in the middle, is how he would represent it. He could say his friends had given him their money and were now anxious and exerting pressure, calling and bothering him. This tactic was not possible with this woman who’d said she’d come with it because he hadn’t yet given her the $1250. She would not let him. She was well off. Her family was well off, she’d said to explain how her condominium was as nice as it was when she worked designing sets for a Cambridge theater company that seemed to do only German plays, dark smeary sets. She didn’t care much about the money, she said she’d cover the cost herself when she got out to the Allston Spur to see whether the guy was at home in the trailer as she was certain he would be this particular afternoon, and he could just reimburse her when she brought it to him. This arrangement, very casual, made him anxious, so he’d been even more casual and said sure, fine, whatever. Thinking back, he was sure he’d said whatever, which in retrospect worried him because it might have sounded as if he didn’t care at all, not at all, so little that it wouldn’t matter if she forgot to get it or call, and once he’d made the decision to have marijuana in his home one more time it mattered a lot. It mattered a lot. He’d been too casual with the woman, he should have made her take $1250 from him up front, claiming politeness, claiming he didn’t want to inconvenience her financially over something so trivial and casual. Money created a sense of obligation, and he should have wanted the woman to feel obliged to do what she’d said, once what she’d said she’d do had set him off inside. Once he’d been set off inside, it mattered so much that he was somehow afraid to show how much it mattered. Once he had asked her to get it, he was committed to several courses of action. The insect on the shelf was back. It didn’t seem to do anything. It just came out of the hole in the girder onto the edge of the steel shelf and sat there. After a while it would disappear back into the hole in the girder, and he was pretty sure it didn’t do anything in there either. He felt similar to the insect inside the girder his shelf was connected to, but was not sure just how he was similar. Once he’d decided to own marijuana one more last time, he was committed to several courses of action. He had to modem in to the agency and say that there was an emergency and that he was posting an e-note on a colleague’s TP asking her to cover his calls for the rest of the week because he’d be out of contact for several days due to this emergency. He had to put an audio message on his answering device saying that starting that afternoon he was going to be unreachable for several days. He had to clean his bedroom, because once he had dope he would not leave his bedroom except to go to the refrigerator and the bathroom, and even then the trips would be very quick. He had to throw out all his beer and liquor, because if he drank alcohol and smoked dope at the same time he would get dizzy and ill, and if he had alcohol in the house he could not be relied on not to drink it once he started smoking dope. He’d had to do some shopping. He’d had to lay in supplies. Now just one of the insect’s antennae was protruding from the hole in the girder. It protruded, but it did not move. He had had to buy soda, Oreos, bread, sandwich meat, mayonnaise, tomatoes, M&M’s, Almost Home cookies, ice cream, a Pepperidge Farm frozen chocolate cake, and four cans of canned chocolate frosting to be eaten with a large spoon. He’d had to log an order to rent film cartridges from the Inter-Lace entertainment outlet. He’d had to buy antacids for the discomfort that eating all he would eat would cause him late at night. He’d had to buy a new bong, because each time he finished what simply had to be his last bulk-quantity of marijuana he decided that that was it, he was through, he didn’t even like it anymore, this was it, no more hiding, no more imposing on his colleagues and putting different messages on his answering device and moving his car away from his condominium and closing his windows and curtains and blinds and living in quick vectors between his bedroom’s InterLace teleputer’s films and his refrigerator and his toilet, and he would take the bong he’d used and throw it away wrapped in several plastic shopping bags. His refrigerator made its own ice in little cloudy crescent blocks and he loved it, when he had dope in his home he always drank a great deal of cold soda and ice water. His tongue almost swelled at just the thought. He looked at the phone and the clock. He looked at the windows but not at the foliage and blacktop driveway beyond the windows. He had already vacuumed his venetian blinds and curtains, everything was ready to be shut down. Once the woman who said she’d come had come, he would shut the whole system down. It occurred to him that he would disappear into a hole in a girder inside him that supported something else inside him. He was unsure what the thing inside him was and was unprepared to commit himself to the course of action that would be required to explore the question. It was now almost three hours past the time when the woman had said she would come. A counselor, Randi, with an i, with a mustache like a Mountie, had told him in the outpatient treatment program he’d gone through two years ago that he seemed insufficiently committed to the course of action that would be required to remove substances from his lifestyle. He’d had to buy a new bong at Bogart’s in Porter Square, Cambridge because whenever he finished the last of the substances on hand he always threw out all his bongs and pipes, screens and tubes and rolling papers and roach clips, lighters and Visine and Pepto-Bismol and cookies and frosting, to eliminate all future temptation. He always felt a sense of optimism and firm resolve after he’d discarded the materials. He’d bought the new bong and laid in fresh supplies this morning, getting back home with everything well before the woman had said she would come. He thought of the new bong and new little packet of round brass screens in the Bogart’s bag on his kitchen table in the sunlit kitchen and could not remember what color this new bong was. The last one had been orange, the one before that a dusky rose color that had turned muddy at the bottom from resin in just four days. He could not remember the color of this new last and final bong. He considered getting up to check the color of the bong he’d be using but decided that obsessive checking and convulsive movements could compromise the atmosphere of casual calm he needed to maintain while he waited, protruding but not moving, for the woman he’d met at a design session for his agency’s small campaign for her small theater company’s new Wedekind festival, while he waited for this woman, with whom he’d had intercourse twice, to honor her casual promise. He tried to decide whether the woman was pretty. Another thing he laid in when he’d committed himself to one last marijuana vacation was petroleum jelly. When he smoked marijuana he tended to masturbate a great deal, whether or not there were opportunities for intercourse, opting when he smoked for masturbation over intercourse, and the petroleum jelly kept him from returning to normal function all tender and sore. He was also hesitant to get up and check the color of his bong because he would have to pass right by the telephone console to get to the kitchen, and he didn’t want to be tempted to call the woman who’d said she would come again because he felt creepy about bothering her about something he’d represented as so casual, and was afraid that several audio hang-ups on her answering device would look even creepier, and also he felt anxious about maybe tying up the line at just the moment when she called, as she certainly would. He decided to get Call Waiting added to his audio phone service for a nominal extra charge, then remembered that since this was positively the last time he would or even could indulge what Randi, with an i, had called an addiction every bit as rapacious as pure alcoholism, there would be no real need for Call Waiting, since a situation like the present one could never arise again. This line of thinking almost caused him to become angry. To ensure the composure with which he sat waiting in light in his chair he focused his senses on his surroundings. No part of the insect he’d seen was now visible. The clicks of his portable clock were really composed of three smaller clicks, signifying he supposed preparation, movement, and readjustment. He began to grow disgusted with himself for waiting so anxiously for the promised arrival of something that had stopped being fun anyway. He didn’t even know why he liked it anymore. It made his mouth dry and his eyes dry and red and his face sag, and he hated it when his face sagged, it was as if all the integrity of all the muscles in his face was eroded by marijuana, and he got terribly self-conscious about the fact that his face was sagging, and had long ago forbidden himself to smoke dope around anyone else. He didn’t even know what its draw was anymore. He couldn’t even be around anyone else if he’d smoked marijuana that same day, it made him so self-conscious. And the dope often gave him a painful case of pleurisy if he smoked it for more than two straight days of heavy continuous smoking in front of the Inter-Lace viewer in his bedroom. It made his thoughts jut out crazily in jagged directions and made him stare raptly like an unbright child at entertainment cartridges — when he laid in film cartridges for a vacation with marijuana, he favored cartridges in which a lot of things blew up and crashed into each other, which he was sure an unpleasant-fact specialist like Randi would point out had implications that were not good. He pulled his necktie down smooth while he gathered his intellect, will, self-knowledge, and conviction and determined that when this latest woman came as she surely would this would simply be his very last marijuana debauch. He’d simply smoke so much so fast that it would be so unpleasant and the memory of it so repulsive that once he’d consumed it and gotten it out of his home and his life as quickly as possible he would never want to do it again. He would make it his business to create a really bad set of debauched associations with the stuff in his memory. The dope scared him. It made him afraid. It wasn’t that he was afraid of the dope, it was that smoking it made him afraid of everything else. It had long since stopped being a release or relief or fun. This last time, he would smoke the whole 200 grams — 120 grams cleaned, destemmed — in four days, over an ounce a day, all in tight heavy economical one-hitters off a quality virgin bong, an incredible, insane amount per day, he’d make it a mission, treating it like a penance and behavior-modification regimen all at once, he’d smoke his way through thirty high-grade grams a day, starting the moment he woke up and used ice water to detach his tongue from the roof of his mouth and took an antacid — averaging out to 200 or 300 heavy bong-hits per day, an insane and deliberately unpleasant amount, and he’d make it a mission to smoke it continuously, even though if the marijuana was as good as the woman claimed he’d do five hits and then not want to take the trouble to load and one-hit any more for at least an hour. But he would force himself to do it anyway. He would smoke it all even if he didn’t want it. Even if it started to make him dizzy and ill. He would use discipline and persistence and will and make the whole experience so unpleasant, so debased and debauched and unpleasant, that his behavior would be henceforward modified, he’d never even want to do it again because the memory of the insane four days to come would be so firmly, terribly emblazoned in his memory. He’d cure himself by excess. He predicted that the woman, when she came, might want to smoke some of the 200 grams with him, hang out, hole up, listen to some of his impressive collection of Tito Puente recordings, and probably have intercourse. He had never once had actual intercourse on marijuana. Frankly, the idea repelled him. Two dry mouths bumping at each other, trying to kiss, his self-conscious thoughts twisting around on themselves like a snake on a stick while he bucked and snorted dryly above her, his swollen eyes red and his face sagging so that its slack folds maybe touched, limply, the folds of her own loose sagging face is it sloshed back and forth on his pillow, its mouth working dryly. The thought was repellent. He decided he’d have her toss him what she’d promised to bring, and then would from a distance toss back to her the $1250 U.S. in large bills and tell her not to let the door hit her on the butt on the way out. He’d say ass instead of butt. He’d be so rude and unpleasant to her that the memory of his lack of basic decency and of her tight offended face would be a further disincentive ever, in the future, to risk calling her and repeating the course of action he had now committed himself to.
He had never been so anxious for the arrival of a woman he did not want to see. He remembered clearly the last woman he’d involved in his trying just one more vacation with dope and drawn blinds. The last woman had been something called an appropriation artist, which seemed to mean that she copied and embellished other art and then sold it through a prestigious Marlborough Street gallery. She had an artistic manifesto that involved radical feminist themes. He’d let her give him one of her smaller paintings, which covered half the wall over his bed and was of a famous film actress whose name he always had a hard time recalling and a less famous film actor, the two of them entwined in a scene from a well-known old film, a romantic scene, an embrace, copied from a film history textbook and much enlarged and made stilted, and with obscenities scrawled all over it in bright red letters. The last woman had been sexy but not pretty, as the woman he now didn’t want to see but was waiting anxiously for was pretty in a faded withered Cambridge way that made her seem pretty but not sexy. The appropriation artist had been led to believe that he was a former speed addict, intravenous addiction to methamphetamine hydrochloride 1is what he remembered telling that one, he had even described the awful taste of hydro-chloride in the addict’s mouth immediately after injection, he had researched the subject carefully. She had been further led to believe that marijuana kept him from using the drug with which he really had a problem, and so that if he seemed anxious to get some once she’d offered to get him some it was only because he was heroically holding out against much darker deeper more addictive urges and he needed her to help him. He couldn’t quite remember when or how she’d been given all these impressions. He had not sat down and outright bold-faced lied to her, it had been more of an impression he’d conveyed and nurtured and allowed to gather its own life and force. The insect was now entirely visible. It was on the shelf that held his digital equalizer. The insect might never actually have retreated all the way back into the hole in the shelf’s girder. What looked like its reemergence might just have been a change in his attention or the two windows’ light or the visual context of his surroundings. The girder protruded from the wall and was a triangle of dull steel with holes for shelves to fit into. The metal shelves that held his audio equipment were painted a dark industrial green and were originally made for holding canned goods. They were designed to be extra kitchen shelves. The insect sat inside its dark shiny case with an immobility that seemed like the gathering of a force, it sat like the hull of a vehicle from which the engine had been for the moment removed. It was dark and had a shiny case and antennae that protruded but did not move. He had to use the bathroom. His last piece of contact from the appropriation artist, with whom he had had intercourse, and who during intercourse had sprayed some sort of perfume up into the air from a mister she held in her left hand as she lay beneath him making a wide variety of sounds and spraying perfume up into the air, so that he felt the cold mist of it settling on his back and shoulders and was chilled and repelled, his last piece of contact after he’d gone into hiding with the marijuana she’d gotten for him had been a card she’d mailed that was a pastiche photo of a door-mat of coarse green plastic grass with WELCOME on it and next to it a flattering publicity photo of the appropriation artist from her Back Bay gallery, and between them an unequal sign, which was an equal sign with a diagonal slash across it, and also an obscenity he had assumed was directed at him magisculed in red grease pencil along the bottom, with multiple exclamation points. She had been offended because he had seen her every day for ten days, then when she’d finally obtained 50 grams of genetically enhanced hydroponic marijuana for him he had said that she’d saved his life and he was grateful and the friends for whom he’d promised to get some were grateful and she had to go right now because he had an appointment and had to take off, but that he would doubtless be calling her later that day, and they had shared a moist kiss, and she had said she could feel his heart pounding right through his suit coat, and she had driven away in her rusty unmuffled car, and he had gone and moved his own car to an underground garage several blocks away, and had run back and drawn the clean blinds and curtains, and changed the audio message on his answering device to one that described an emergency departure from town, and had drawn and locked his bedroom blinds, and had taken the new rose-colored bong out of its Bogart’s bag, and was not seen for three days, and ignored over two dozen audio messages and protocols and e-notes expressing concern over his message’s emergency, and had never contacted her again. He had hoped she would assume he had succumbed again to methamphetamine hydrochloride and was sparing her the agony of his descent back into the hell of chemical dependence. What it really was was that he had again decided those 50 grams of resin-soaked dope, which had been so potent that on the second day it had given him an anxiety attack so paralyzing that he had gone to the bathroom in a Tufts University commemorative ceramic stein to avoid leaving his bedroom, represented his very last debauch ever with dope, and that he had to cut himself off from all possible future sources of temptation and supply, and this surely included the appropriation artist, who had come with the stuff at precisely the time she’d promised, he recalled. From the street outside came the sound of a dumpster being emptied into an E.W.D. land barge. His shame at what she might on the other hand perceive as his slimy phallocentric conduct toward her made it easier for him to avoid her, as well. Though not shame, really. More like being uncomfortable at the thought of it. He had had to launder his bedding twice to get the smell of the perfume out. He went into the bathroom to use the bathroom, making it a point to look neither at the insect visible on the shelf to his left nor at the telephone console on its lacquer workstation to the right. He was committed to touching neither. Wher