Monday, December 6, 2010

POP16: “The Recording”


“I met him at school,” a woman’s voice said.

To Sal it was strange to relive the conversation. His memory returned to the coffeeshop of paintings and plants, and the girl behind the counter who resembled a kind of wild artwork herself.

“It was a small school for poorer kids or those who can’t get into the big name places. We were in the same class. Astronomy, I guess it was. We both arrived late all the time and sat in the last two seats in the back row. The prof hated us! That made a kind of conspiracy between us.

“’I’m going to fail anyway,’ I told Max.

“’No, you won’t,’ Max said. ‘You’re too smart. You’re the smartest person in class, Professor Harbus included. And I’ll pass no matter what!’

“Max was on the football team and football players always passed.

“Max was gigantic. Not just a football player, but a very large football player. I’d laugh when he’d squeeze himself in or out of his desk, which looked about to collapse. Max laughed also. He was a genuinely nice guy. A little naive, but so was I. Among the normal students we both stood out, were freaks. That’s what bonded us, even though we were opposite in everything else. Max was a frat boy and rather conservative, if he’d ever thought about it, while I was a bi-punk artistic anarchist.

“We came from different worlds. Max came from money, power, influence. He could’ve gone to a way better school if he’d been smarter, or applied himself. He was a black sheep in his high-brow world, but still carried the air of a preppy. A failed preppy, but a preppy all the same. Me? I was a runaway who lived in a squat.

“We had a phrase between us: ‘It’s only life.’ That’s how we approached the class and everything else. A pop quiz? Other kids laughing at us? The professor’s grimace? ‘It’s only life.’”

The voice on the cd continued on for several minutes about the class and the college, until it came to the part which most interested the two men.

“Anyway,” she said. “It was spring, near the end of term. The fraternity that Max belonged to threw an outdoor kegger, with a garage band playing crazily enough in a garage. Max had invited me, so I stopped by. Now, know this. I liked Max, a lot, but just as a friend.” She sighed. “You men! You always have to ruin it. Max had been impressed with me and maybe even intimidated by me—I’d picked up on that—I was outspoken in class, while he’d gone through his entire life in the presence of powerful people like his aunt—she’s the D.A., you know—and had never spoken up about anything in his life, browbeaten, kind of a forced disability, if you will, his mind and potential crushed into a tiny box. He was afraid to speak to me! I put this together later.

“It turned out he put so much into me going to their little frat party, and built it into importance, so that by the time I arrived he was drunk. Blotto. Which for him must’ve taken a couple kegs, he’s so big. He embarrassed himself, introducing me to his friends as if to say, ‘I know a girl’; pawing me, trying to kiss me—which he’d never have done if he hadn’t been drinking. If he’d been smoother. . . but the size difference between us was so great it was too awkward and I guess we looked ridiculous. Too bad he couldn’t leave it alone. We connected in other ways, you know. Through our minds. Maybe just a little through our souls.

“As he tried to lean down to kiss me, Max tripped and fell, to many laughs. His face turned red. To hide his embarrassment and to show off to me, Max immediately challenged another boy to a chugging contest. Someone brought out two large tankards. I didn’t watch the other guy. I watched Max. I pleaded with him to stop. Beer splashed down his face and neck, but enough entered his mouth to put him over the edge, into unconsciousness. He staggered and passed out. ‘Do we drag him in the house?’ his friends asked themselves. Instead they let him lie there like a felled ox.

“Max skipped the last two days of class. A buddy of his brought me a note. ‘I’m sorry,’ was all it said. It was signed, ‘Max.’ The final exam was in a large lecture hall. Max made sure to sit across the room from me. Not once did he glance my way. I wanted to somehow tell him, ‘Hey, it’s only life,’ but missed the opportunity. Max finished the test early and walked out. That was the last time I saw him.”

There followed three minutes of silence on the cd. Sal held up a forefinger, signaling Fake Face to wait. Thunder could be heard in the background. Then a man’s voice came on: Sal’s.

“Would you like to meet him again?” Sal asked.

“Sure,” Merrily answered.

The way she said “Sure” captured many emotions, good and bad. Hope; uncertainty; surprise; weariness; longing; doubt-- and many other feelings among them.

NEXT: “The Trap”

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