This morning my high school football coach follows me to work, where he
paces in front of my desk while I'm on a conference call. He's grown
older and heavier, but still has the habit of twisting his visor in his
hands, as he did whenever we trailed at halftime. "You mind telling me
one thing," he says, at the exact moment I'm the closest I've been to
making this deal. I raise a finger, as if to say, One moment,
but my coach ignores me. "Just tell me what gives you the right. That's
all. What gives you the goddamned right?"
I'm about to answer, when my ex-wife's maid of honor joins the
conference call. "You son of a bitch," she says. "After I sent you all
those pictures of my kids' Christmas pageant." I'm about to tell her it
didn't have anything to do with the pictures, but she cuts me off and
says, "Save it. Okay? Just save it." I can hear her beginning to cry.
"And here I was thinking I was being nice, what with everything that
happened after you and Amelia split." I haven't heard her cry since the
one time she called me after the divorce and told me she'd had a
falling out with Amelia and I told her I would see what I could do, but
ended up not mentioning it to Amelia, since my chief means of
corresponding with Amelia had devolved into sending one another photos
of salads we'd just made.
"I didn't mean to—" I say, but before I can finish, my office
door swings open and my college roommate's lab partner bursts in and
throws a Ralph Nader baseball cap at me, one that matches the T-shirt
he's wearing and, I notice as he approaches my desk with an angry
stride, a constellation of buttons and pins dotting his messenger bag.
"Poser!" he shouts, and I can see the space between his front teeth
that often imprisoned sunflower seeds. He clutches the edge of my desk,
where the Nader cap has landed atop my iPod dock. "But this is what I'd
expect from someone who voted Kerry!" he hisses. His breath is redolent
I escape to the men's room, but my neighbor's brother—the one
who keeps sending me links to est conferences—is just
finishing up at a urinal, while my father's Al-Anon's sponsor wrestles
a paper towel from the wall dispenser, and says, "For your father's
sake, I wish you'd reconsider." I head for the nearest stall, but my
junior high yearbook editor is already inside, arms folded, staring me
down with a clear look of contempt. "The sad part is," he says, in the
slow, measured cadence he now uses in his audio posts, "I was always
the one who defended you when everybody else said how shallow you
were." The occupants of the other two stalls—my
coworker's Wiccan sister and the Emo kid who bartends our company
parties, respectively—punch and kick and call me names I'd
hear if my driver's ed teacher wasn't yelling at me for not responding
to his epic poem. "Sing, oh goddess," he cries, "of my murderous rage!"
I run to the lobby—my sixth grade pen pal pelting me with
wadded airmail envelopes—and manage to reach the security
desk before my sister's boyfriend grabs my sleeve and tells me I can
just forget about checking out the Dave Matthews Band the next time
they're in town. He's wearing the skinny jeans he and my sister posted
photos of, and I would mention that I voted for the other,
less-distressed pair, if the woman who always sends me links to her
Etsy site didn't have me by the collar, her clunky and frightening and
ill-wrought earrings juddering with unmistakable anger. "Don't think
you'll be missed!" she says. "Because you won't."
Outside, it is raining, and I would take a cab to the subway if the
cabs weren't driven by guys from my ex-wife's company softball team.
So, I run to the subway, where half my senior class is pushing through
the turnstiles, fists raised, and my mother's friend's
son—the one whom my mother promised I'd give free drum
lessons to—tries to take me out at the knees. I hurdle him,
but cannot escape the crowd of poker buddies from my last job who gain
on me as I reach the train, its interior
crammed with my sister's graphic novel book club, my neighbor's best
friend's adorable baby, that guy who always says hi to me at company
barbecues, my landlord's wife's physical therapist, and the members of
the 1998 Greenfield High School Model UN Reunion Committee. They glare
at me as I step onto the train. They hurl insults, damp umbrellas.
And I nearly make it to my seat, when someone pulls me by the hand. I
turn to see my ninth grade girlfriend, privately the only person I
believe I've ever loved, her pretty hair and face rain-soaked enough
that I cannot tell whether she is crying or not when she asks me why, when we said we'd
stay good friends?