Why do I sit here, sit in this room with its heavy drapes blocking the sun, my feet on the thick and dusty carpet, the sagging ornate lamps flickering? It’s a big yet claustrophobic room, and I am listening to a young man I barely know sing wretched out of tune songs, and recite self-absorbed, crappy poems.
What do I know of him? He comes once a week and buys the cheapest mass market paperbacks at the bookstore where I work. He knows I am a writer. I’ve shown him a few of my books on the shelves while I pointed out different sections of the store, but he’s never picked up a book of mine and looked inside, and yet now he expects me to sit in this apartment and listen as he sings and recites for hours on a Friday afternoon while his wife is at work.
“I am not made for the money-grubbing world,” he tells me between reciting the poems he has stacked on the piano chair. “I’m so lucky Mary loves and cares for me. We were high school sweethearts, and she moved to Dallas from Big Spring for her career. Ten years later I was in Big Spring, and she came back and rescued me from that horrid hospital of crazies and brought me to Dallas to be with her.”
I am thinking, as he turns his back and returns to pounding the keys and singing his wretched songs, O it is great that he can make his art. The space to create, what a wonderful gift from his wife! I too have struggled to create, and been blessed with moments where I could write my stories and poems.
But this moment, now, is excruciating. I came for some lively conversation, for the sharing of enthusiasms and ideas. I did not think it would be just the two of us. A home is not a theatre, a place for a one-man show. I came for interchange, not to be subjected to a display of heavy egotism. Poor guy. I may be his first and only audience. I sense what’s happening could be an attempt at seduction, to awe me into compliance and bed. I’m forty-five. What is he? Twenty-five?
When he’s finally done at the piano, I suggest we take a walk. The young man’s skin is pasty, and he’s got a paunch larger than mine. I wonder if he ever gets out much. I don’t feel right if I go too long without seeing trees, I tell him. I live outside the city fifty miles with my wife and kids. We keep goats, ducks, and chickens, and have this wonderful huge garden full of flowers and vegetables. Every day we all work together in the garden.
He and I walk through an asphalt parking lot in a hot bright sun of late spring in Texas, toward a line of trees. We’re walking side by side. He makes a joke and laughs, and as he laughs he reaches over and squeezes my ass. I jump back surprised by his move yet fairly certain a pass was coming sooner or later. I wanted to be outside when it happened.
I am irritated. Perhaps I should be flattered that anyone would make a move on my skinny butt, but I am thinking, who is the published writer here, who is the one who has gotten publishers to take a risk on his writing and to pay to publish his books? Who is the one who knows something, and why am I tolerating this jerk who should be bowing down, ready to kiss my feet? What is wrong with me? Have I allowed my kindness and politeness to make a fool of me?
I spot my car in the parking lot, pull out my keys, grimace a smile, and wave as I stride away.