NY Times video. Erison and the Ebola Soccer Survivors
Couples who play cribbage are notoriously competitive and it was certainly true of Mr. Carton and his beloved Charlene. On this particular Friday evening when the city was full of golden possibilities for cultured activity they decided going out was too much trouble, nowhere to park, the restaurants unbearably noisy and crammed with people whose company they didn’t enjoy. They stayed home and played cribbage instead.
This was a decision they both knew to be a minefield. The last game of any kind that they had played together, bridge at the Ryans, had been a disaster. Prior to the game, Mr. Carton had devised a crude method of cheating. It was simply a leveling of the field with the Ryans who were near professionals. Eyes down left meant hearts. Down right spades. Your heart is on your left below your eyes. Spades dig down. Mr. Carton would employ the strategy discretely so as not to render the Ryans suspicious.
Despite the stratagem’s simplicity, Charlene got confused and began bidding in a distracted manner and this flustered Mr. Carton into making horrible errors of his own which he blamed on the wine. He managed to contain his anger until they were in the car driving home, and then said things to Charlene he knew he would regret bitterly which he soon did.
So the agreement to play cribbage was taken as a kind of therapy, a dose of anti-venom to neutralize the bridge fallout. Charlene, Mr. Carton knew and was prepared, would use the game to punish him. He welcomed it. He had it coming.
The first game was peaceful. They murmured together over the pegs like two doves with a windfall of sunflower seeds. Charlene won the game and Mr. Carton started to hope that maybe that did it, that all was made well. If he had been thinking clearly, Mr. Carton would have been abruptly overcome with fatigue and needing his bed, but he decided that one more game wouldn’t hurt, a game that he would actually try to win.
In the second game Charlene’s little delays in playing, her hand poised over the board, which in the first game were exasperating but nothing out of the ordinary became extended, meditated and premeditated torture. She was determined to beat him. This last thought was revelatory. It implied that whenever he had won in the past, which mostly he did, she was letting him win. He wasn’t going to believe that, even as the evidence mounted. She was waxing his butt.
The rage which had overcome him in the car on the way home from the Ryans possessed him again. He could feel his face turning purple. His head was a soundtrack of mayhem, the board and table being flung to the side, the gunshot that splattered the wall with blood and brains.
It took a few days for the doctors to determine that Mr. Carton had not in fact had a heart attack. They kept him in the hospital for observation. When Charlene came to visit she was unspeakably cheerful.
AN ANNOUNCEMENT OF MODEST PROPORTIONS
I approve this announcement,
I hereby throw my personal self into the scrum as a Republican candidate for president. What took me so long? Won’t I lag in fundraising, given how most of the major donors have been locked up, having already opened their checkbooks to someone else, a Walker or a Huckleberry or a Turnip. Are checkbooks still used?
Four years ago I had a candidate, a horse to ride. Four years we all know is prehistoric when it comes to politics. Remember four years ago? Of course you won’t. My horse was Paul Ryan. Let me remind you how cute he was with his shirt off, the most googled item in the universe at that golden moment. And, quite the intellectual, an accountant or something. What happened to him? Do you smell a conspiracy?
Let’s stay positive. Let’s not focus on my late entry, nor how this country is barreling down the road to moral depravity and government takeover. I want to focus on what makes America not only the greatest country in the world but the greatest country in history, all 6,442 years.
To preserve our freedom to be free: that is why I’m running for president. I might also mention that God told me to.
HOW’S THE PRESSURE?
There’s a word for it now; does that mean it’s a brand new phenomenon? Ghosting. I try to come up with examples in classic tales or myths and fail. Maybe ghosting is an emanation, a byproduct of cyber connectiveness. I don’t know. All I can say it feels real enough when it happens to you, when you are ghosted.
I was looking for a masseur. At the co-op I copied Derek’s information from a card on the bulletin board. On his website the comments were a harvest of high praise, mostly from women. Some guys chimed in, not as effusive but guys never are. LGBT-friendly, the website said.
I rang the bell at his address and the garage door went up and there he was in shorts and tank top, the corn god himself. His massage studio was a tidy room at the back of the garage smelling of lavender with undertones of motor oil. I asked if he’d open the window a crack, which he did. The fresh air was sweet.
Massages, like everything else, hinge on timing, a reciprocal flow of energy. Giver and recipient need to be in synch. When it happens there’s nothing better. The massage was 10+++Stars. From when it began until I wrote him a check, neither of us said more than five words.
How’s the pressure?
I held my horses for a week before I made another appointment. In the meantime I submitted my review to his website, superlative without gushing.
When the garage door came up for the second appearance he was wearing a long-sleeved tee and baggy khakis. What happened to the shorts and tank top? My brain was hot-wired for interpretation and wouldn’t shut down. Lying on the table I kept patching phrases together, some questions that would lead to personal disclosure. Where’d you grow up? What brought you to this neck of the woods? Derek’s fingers seemed to both relieve and provoke tension as he moved them over my body. Part of me, a ridiculous part, felt like I should apologize for being uptight. The point of getting a massage was to relieve tension. If the masseur was worth his salt, he would find a way.
Derek was just going through the motions. The galaxy of ten-plus-plus-plus stars was dimming down to intermittent flickers. Disillusioned, I was able to relax and then, paradoxically, the massage took flight. Later I would interpret that transformation to mean it was more my fault than his that the massage was mediocre. I wasn’t truly receptive.
I reviewed the review I’d written. Maybe it was gushy. I had the urge to edit it a little, but I didn’t know if that was possible once it was out there. Of course it didn’t matter one way or another. Reviews always should be read with skepticism. I wondered, though, given my over-the-top praise, whether Derek might have felt pressure to live up to that standard.
When the garage door went up the third time he was barefoot wearing a plaid shirt and jeans—a backwoods-buddy look that seemed like an invitation. I spilled out some of my rehearsed questions. “My partner and I came here from Michigan. We hated the winters there” was as much as I got. What gender? Business partner? Life partner? I didn’t have the nerve to pry. I resigned myself to nothing happening. Nothing ventured, and all that. But then he said, “The next massage is on me. I’d like to do it for the pleasure of it.”
This altered the gravitational field. A few days later I emailed him expressing my deep appreciation for his offer, asking what times he might be available. No response. Three days later, I emailed again and again, no response. There were of course a hundred and one reasonable explanations: a trip, a family crisis, an internet snafu, but I found it irritating nonetheless. I calculated what might be a decent interval to send a third email, but called instead. There was no answer, and I left a message. Three days later I left another message saying, I hope you’re okay. I actually hoped he had broken his neck.
Such anger. How unseemly. Gradually I let go of it, concluding that some life-changing event had happened to account for Derek’s disappearance. I had almost erased the memory of his existence when one day I was walking down the aisle at the co-op and there he was. If you were an observer you would have thought we were complete strangers the way he passed me without any recognition, but you would have been wrong. I caught how he looked away to the shelf of condiments, as if the varieties of mustard and ketchup were of special fascination.
I ask myself, why do I take this personally? It’s more about him than it is about me. But that is not much balm. I see that there are new reviews on his website, all glowing, all from women. I know I should let go of this. Instead there’s a pressure building up inside me. One day it will demand release.
PUBLISH OR PERISH
Like any true philosopher, Mr. Carton found there was no aspect of creation that was void of meaning, unworthy of scrutiny. Infinity was in every grain of sand. Which grain of sand got the attention was arbitrary, and any conclusions reached were inevitably disputable, but we can only do what we can do, Mr. Carton believed.
Mr. Carton’s philosophical sweet spot was the human body. As a young man he looked at the human body in order to discern the workings of a soul, querying the divine spark. The inquiry proved too vast, too streaked with voodoo mysticism, and hackneyed to boot, even though it was a well-paved route to publication and Mr. Carton was desperate to publish.
Willy-nilly as he matured Mr. Carton got more specific, until in his prime, his powers at their peak, he zeroed in on the pelvic area, the Solar Plexus. He gave up the riddle of the soul, and with it the question of What is Consciousness. He was prospecting for something post-modern. Post-modern was a less frequently traveled route to publication but it was a route.
After months of concentration, Mr. Carton’s philosophical inquiry devolved into this: at what precise moment does a lap come into being? Is it a question of pure mathematics, the angle of the thigh, the declension of the butt? Or is volume more salient? Must a threshold be reached? The bellies of some of his colleagues were so pre-eminent that it was doubtful they could cross any such threshold. Sometimes getting through doors was success enough.
Here Mr. Carton had his long anticipated eureka moment. Lapless Males was a field wide open. Mr. Carton foresaw his byline in Psychology Today. He foresaw a series of articles.
How long does it take to get this? Linda asks. She has made progress the first three classes in ways that have seemed remarkable to her but the last class all her doubt came back. It was immensely deflating. She couldn’t get the backfloat. She kept getting water in her nose. Despite my suggesting otherwise, she wanted it to do it without a nose clip. To prove something, I guess.
I respond, it takes as long as it takes. This remark is a clunker, a stinker. I take another tack: I refer to the cultural meme given much currency: it takes 10,000 hours to master something.
Linda’s face falls accordingly.
But what if they’re 10,000 hours of fun?
She hadn’t thought of that.
What is my level of mastery? I don’t swim laps, find them boring and too much work. My mother was right. I am a lazy guy. Put me in the ocean and the butterflies-in-the-stomach would flutter out of their larval drowse. I don’t’ have enough experience in Big Water yet. But all in all, I’m doing fabulously, considering I still have about 5,000 more hours to go.
I’d say about 4,998 hours of the first 5,000 have been fun.