categories: Cocktail Hour
Comments Off on The Adventures of Mr. Id–part 4
The pleasant activity of snorting in those odors was interrupted when Stanwurst, quite unexpectedly, slapped him on the back. It took a second or two for Charles to comprehend that his intent was bonhomie, not violence.
“How’s your father?” Stanwurst boomed. “How’s Old Hank?”
Old Hank was the absolute last person Charles wanted to think about at that moment but now his father’s visage appeared on the screen of his brain: the skull-like head and tight jawline and straw blond hair now turned straw white. The face his father wore at home, tight-lipped and temples always at the throb was so contrary to the one they knew at Harvard: the jovial, avuncular crew coach, so long a Crimson icon. Hank drove his boys hard, but they loved him—or so the legend went—never more so than when they tossed him in the river after the latest triumph. Of course the son had some insider information about which of his boys Hank drove the hardest. The varsity crew always laughed during the coach’s opening day speech when he told them that he loved the river so much that he had named his only son after it, forgetting to mention it was his mother’s father’s name too.
“He’s fine,” Charles said.
This simple statement seemed to please Stanwurst and elicited another hearty slap. Charles expected more—the usual blather about what a “grand fellow” Hank was—but Stanwurst seemed fully absorbed in the world of his cigar. And so Charles turned back to his and, with no small pleasure, watched the show that was the now dying-sky. It was in full sunset glory, heaped up with oranges and purples and mauves, all swirling around as if an artist, caught up in both the frenzy and the comedy of the thing, had been unable to stop himself, swishing and sloshing his brush about, scumbling the lower sections and swirling the higher. Then finally, as if the sunset couldn’t take its own gaudiness anymore, it began to snuff itself out. Sucking in the cigar smoke, Charles bore witness to the flamboyant nightly suicide (though, looking again, he saw the sunset wasn’t completely dead: a few final laval trails still burned hot orange, and specks flickered like embers in a wood stove, giving an orange blue cast to the last patch of visible sky.) Finally the more subdued grayish purples came swooping in, erasing the flamboyant colors, ushering in the duller shades that preceded true night.
When the last colors faded Charles looked back at the Faculty Club itself with its thousands of bricks and spires and old Mary Poppins chimneys jutting out of the roof. Then to his right at the modern jumble of the Carpenter center with its ramps and blocks and planes, as if made solely for handicap accessibility, even though it had been built before such a thing became fashionable. He began to pull harder on the cigar, drawing the tobacco in and then just as he did, a bat zigged by, a concurrent event that he was quite sure must be in some way connected to his inhalation. To confirm this he again pulled deeply on the cigar, hoping to call up another bat, but no luck. The whole sidewalk lifted up and down in waves, wobbly, while the darkness took over the sky world and the first dim stars began to pulse as if signaling down to them. He was enjoying the whole experience, the cigar of course but also a new sense of companionship and camaraderie with Stanwurst, when a group of people, all dressed in tuxedos and fancy dresses, suddenly emerged from the Fogg Art Museum next door. These people were harmless, he was sure, but taken together, as a group, they felt threatening, a band of warriors from another tribe. Charles nudged Stanwurst with his elbow and pointed his cigar toward the pack that descended the museum stairs.
“Ah,” Stanwurst said, taking a long pull on his own cigar. “The Fogg is dispersing.”
It didn’t occur to Charles right away that this was a pun, and a pretty good pun at that. But then his brain somewhat laboriously put the words together, saw how they could mean two things (not one!), and this understanding surprised and delighted him. Charles laughed his new bleating laugh. Ha! Humor! The idea of it! Jokes! The idea of them! Here was something else that was direct, like smashing the wash basin or eating the steak, and so he bleated again, sounding to himself somewhat like a strangulated goat. Charles had no idea how much time passed between when Stanwurst made his little joke and when he laughed in understanding of the same. A second? Ten? A minute or two? (Later Charles concluded that this was a rehearsed joke on Stanwurst’s part, perhaps purloined even. At the very least, Stanwurst, who had been at Harvard forever, had made the same crack before.) Anyway, Charles patted his new friend on the back, as if this gesture were something he always did, and they sucked their firesticks down to the snubs. Walking back to the club they passed a couple with a medium-sized dog, the dog yellow, wide, and solid like a coffee table, one of those mean-spirited beasts that had spent centuries nipping at the heels of cattle, and that should never have been bred into pets. Charles swore he caught the dog’s eye and for a second they understood each other on terms more the dog’s than his. He also caught the dog’s smell—a faint fecal odor–and it suddenly struck him as strange that this animal should be walking, barely tethered, down a sidewalk in the middle of Cambridge.
“Did you just growl?”
Words again. They had to be coming from Stanwurst. The two of them were now headed up the steps to the dais in front of the Faculty Club.
“No, of course not,” he said.
“I could have sworn I just heard you growl at that dog.”
Charles laughed this time and Stanwurst laughed too. How ridiculous! Anyway what was one growl between friends? And having smoked together now, having shared fire, they had become friends of sorts, a charry bond formed between the two animals they were. Together they walked back to the Smoking Room, not quite arm in arm, only to find that in the short time they’d been gone the character of Charles’s lair had changed entirely. The room was full now, bursting with the professors from their table, all clutching sweaty drinks and gabbing, presenting a bestiary of human possibilities.
As a trained molecular biologist, Charles had long ago concluded that homo sapiens was just another animal, but what he saw now was something different, something new, something more vivid. Studying his colleagues, they seemed no more than a swirling collection of animal parts, a miss-matched panoply of snouts and haunches and hummocks and hocks—old parts that evolution had used and re-used in packrat fashion. He couldn’t help but laugh—his new bleat again—at the way these animals wore clothes and stood on two legs, the way they held their drinks and spit forth their never ceasing spew of words—words, words, words. It was all a cover-up of course. Why the masquerade of talk, the sham of clothing? The only honest response to this show of pretension, it seemed to Charles, was to rip off his own clothes and stand naked before them all. Then he would waggle his prick. Lookie here, folks. The gig is up. This is what we fucking are.
He started laughing to himself, quite audibly he was afraid, his own created scenario so much funnier than any mere word joke, certainly than, “The Fogg is dispersing.” He wondered if Stanwurst, his new friend, would think it funny, too, and he lurched back toward him. But Stanwurst was gone, off somewhere in the middle of the swirl of haunches and hocks and dewlaps. Charles poked around the edge of the crowd, drawing some stares, not ready to commit to actually talking to anyone but willing to sniff them. He didn’t exactly remember circling the group, hunching down and smelling them, though he would later see evidence that that was exactly what he had done.
Out of the crowd he picked out Helen Warworthy, who surprised him by smiling a disarming smile, as if Charles were a good friend, and seemed hurt when he ignored her and continued his circling. His nose was growing ever stronger and even in her brief passing he caught something in her scent that worried him, something vaguely canine but also black and tumorous that made him want to follow her and hold her tightly. But before Charles could act on this impulse, another odor distracted him and when he turned he saw the pimply page boy bartender. What was the boy doing in the crowd, away from his post? Just serving drinks of course. (This time bringing them to people! What a boy!) Charles waved to show he meant no harm, and tried to get a drink of his own, but the boy looked confused. When Charles saw him again he noticed that the bartender held something small, shining, and metallic in his hand, a trinket maybe, a peace offering.