Survival of the fittest. Selected for an iron sphincter. Hold it in is what we do. Eight o’clock breakfast with Marketing and Creative Services to conceptualize integrated branding paradigm. The grotesque irony of an ameba like her quoting Sun Tzu. Epic power struggle to see who can drink the most lukewarm coffee without a bathroom break. Employee retention. What’s lower than a Beta? Seems like there should be something lower. Eleven o’clock with department heads to brainstorm redesign of scoring criteria for six month employee objectives. And the best lack all conviction. Except not really the best. Best at lacking all conviction, maybe. Selected for having bladders the size of basketballs. Social Darwinism, indeed. They parrot that nonsense without a clue. Produce nothing. Decide nothing. Stand for nothing. Hold it in is all we do. Reschedule 12:30 biweekly teleconference with San Francisco to avoid potential conflict with one-thirty Motivation Task Force. Thirty-six and counting. It’s like The Blob, except you’re the creature and the meal. Swivel-hips Steve McQueen’s big break. Wear a pink plastic bracelet and become the office radical. And in twenty-five years when you’ve forgotten how to do anything but hold it in? Run screaming for the exit before you’re absorbed. “Transition.” Teach History. Social Studies. Twenty-years of overheated classrooms reeking of bubblegum and hormones. Twenty snotty tweens who’d rather be anyplace but. “I honestly don’t see what use any of this will be to us in the real world, Ms. Cullen. Ms. Cullen, can I be excused?”
Maybe I’m just a bad dream someone much better than me is trying to wake up from. Some golden boy’s night terrors. What is that, loser’s revenge? Puts a whole new slant on schadenfreude: Reveling in one’s own misfortunes on the chance you’re a sleeping man’s secret shame. Christian suffering in a nutshell as far as I can tell. Be all that you can be in God’s Army. Love to throw that one in his phony spud face. And that absurd name. What asshole names his kid Lyle? Little baby Lyle. That she could find anything remotely seductive about that Jesus-spouting jackass. Wonderbread exotic. Rhymes with vile. Quoting scripture while putting it to her in the utility closet. Do you feel it sistah, do you feel the powah of the lawd? Newly-renovated butt crushing spare toner cartridges and toilet paper rolls. Suddenly she’s at the gym five times a week, and there I am thinking….What a schmo. Rattling the potato-head family photos and kid art on the other side of the wall. Brushed gunmetal frames. Very manly. Says it all. And that dreamy, well-fed look afterward. Always got with me, anyway. More power to ‘em, I say. If ever two people deserved one another. Should’ve known the minute she told me she’d beat out Ron Kaniff. And with pile. And Mr. Night Terrors, the Nightmare Man, what does he deserve? “Lady Yin and Princess Yang”. Very funny, except she was the only one laughing. Should’ve spotted it right off. Probably did.
Thank god she saw me shed a tear. At least I wasn’t worried about my hair. Awareness of self, the human thing, isn’t being any less a rat, only knowing that you are one. William James? Dorothy Parker? Gautama? Thought while the tear was still rolling. Was any heart so unalloyed? How many new parents passing an open window have thought, “why not”? Every single one’s my guess. One tear, soulful yet manly—perfect, I thought. Awareness of self = performance anxiety. True, I wouldn’t have minded slicing off a piece. What a coup to bag the dead man’s sister with her husband in the next apartment. Of course she knew. In our shared moment of grief she never forgot the shape of her ass in those jeans. The sway of her tits under cashmere. And I was the urchin with his nose pressed to the glass. Being human also means being a hungry spectator. “Ned told us how kind you were and how helpful when things got really bad”. And could she also see how relieved I was there’d be no more late-night rapping at my chamber door? How I dreaded the wee-hour tea and sympathy with that wild-eyed, pain-wracked raven? Or how I’d wondered, every time, if I’d only let him in because I was afraid of a drop in my ratings? Will it ever feel safe to stop being so damned human? Or was his last thought: “Shit, I could’ve played that with a whole lot more conviction.”?
All of a sudden there they are on the downtown F Train. Five, six years old is my guess. Could’ve been mine. Should’ve been. It wasn’t like I’d insisted that you carry for nine months. Adoption was always on the table. Nothing sanctified about these genes. That’s for damned sure. It’s a talent you’re born with, god’s gift, Colonel Ng had said. Some gift. Some god. Hell, you wouldn’t even have had to rearrange your schedule. I’m home. I’m a famous poet, right? How little you concerned yourself with where my money came from. The one talent which is death to hide. Feels all wrong. Why send me to Montreal? We’d hate to think you’d ever betray our trust in you Mr. Mancuso. Fair enough. Call it karma. Then call me a cab. The trick said Balbec is to be an efficient killer without contracting the affliction of tyrants and ideologues—the belief that to create more death is to be more alive. No problem. Life’s what makes you more alive. Son. Unblemished olive skin, tapering black-within-black eyes. Looked right through me. Mirea’s severe beauty recast as something startlingly new. Or very ancient. A god who disdains to destroy us. Why else, when any butcher at half the price would do? Retirement benefits. So be it. One way or the other, my last job. At least there’ll be the satisfaction of knowing I gave them the button to push. Death and poetry, my gifts to the world. Happy 60th Mr. Man.
Thomas D'Adamo is a writer living in Manhattan. His story "Big, Big Love" appeared in the Dec.06/Jan.07 issue of The Brooklyn Rail and his three stories,"Inside-Out," "Cadences," and "Barbara," appeared in the July/August 2005 issue of The Brooklyn Rail.