( a story I have been playing around with for a long time)
“I am a teamster,” he said once to me. “I am deceptively strong. I can lift heavy boxes.”
I had never wished for him. But then I saw him in a hallway, and then I saw him in a classroom. And then I saw him in my classroom.
I know what you’re going to say. It’s against procedure. You are going to remind me that I’m overdue to re-take the university-required online animated sexual harassment classes – which you’re supposed to take once every 2 years so that this fact can be hammered into you.
But people do it. You should know. You’ve done it. And what about that poet over at the other campus? He did it. And that woman in Art History. People need to connect even and across boundaries of the permissible.
No, what happened to you wasn’t different. It was the same. So stop hunching your shoulders and let me tell you about him.
He appeared the first day of office hours – an unthinkable thing – no one ever did it.
He loomed in the doorway, came in, sat, folded and unfolded long legs.
I didn’t normally like those tall string bean men.
“You like them tough, Walter” said Brady – who was a janitor and a bird watcher and a weight lifter and was older and was Irish.
“Don’t you?” he said to me at night at home in bed. “You like them manly.”
I did. I do.
“I’m a teamster, “ said the tall one in the office during office hours. But he really just worked part-time for Fedex while he got his Science diploma. A poor boy from the South whose voice didn’t work right but who could do equations — long ladder formulae — in his head. Double major in Physics and Engineering.
“I can’t cheer,” he said in his light soft voice. “I’m a washout at any sports event.”
His younger sister was a scientist too, and she liked girls exclusively.
But this one – he didn’t know for sure.
The sex got discussed in that first hour in the office.
“I didn’t know either,” I said, playing Socrates. “For a long time. These things are difficult.”
Later, at home, I studied the refrigerator, wondering about the men that make mechanical things work.
“What are you doing in remedial English?” I asked him another time, another office hour visit. I’d read a poem he’d written about a boy in an insane asylum. It was good.
He shrugged luminous bony shoulders that jutted out of a thin, old t-shirt.
Another time he came in for advice about a suit. He had a wedding to go to. His aunt. He needed to shop. He didn’t know how: where to go, or what size or what color or anything.
“You’ve never owned a suit?” I said.
I helped him. Nordstrom’s Rack.
“I’m going to do this store,” he announced. He spun before me in pinstripe.
A crisp pastel pink shirt glinted between the lapels. Like my father used to wear.
I started coming home later and later.
Teaching got less interesting.
I started photographing machines. I took pictures of telephones, and ovens; then of computers, and automated parking meters. The earthmovers at campus. Sprinkler systems, circuits in the utility closet outside the department reception area.
“You should take more pictures,” he said simply when I showed him the work. He said things in a way that felt absolutely, completely true. And he said this the first time we had sex:
“You are very far from looking bad.”
We became thresholds for each other. Doorways.
“I have to grow up,” he said at the airport the next summer. “I have to figure out cold fusion – I have to see and know others.”
He smiled. Thin lips, but they suited him.
He lifted me into his arms like a heavy box he couldn’t find a way transport.
He went to study quarks and the grand unifying theory at a pretty good graduate school. Despite the poor testing.
Brady got sick as older men are wont to do – it got — lonely. We had been together a long time.
In the hospital, before he died, Brady told me about the many men who have been his lovers. I nodded. I know all these stories.
“What about that boy at school?” he asked.
“He graduated,” I answered.
“Find another one, Walter,” he replied. “It’s important to connect with others.”
When Brady died, I came home and took pictures of the science shows on television. Now at least once a week I freeze the picture so I can photograph both the apparatus and the screen clearly focused. Then I watch the shows.
This week one program told about the CERN atom smasher in Switzerland. The accelerator builders state that they are looking for the Higgs bosun. It’s a possible particle — only speculated to exist. Producing it might explain the origin of mass in the universe.
Another program discusses how cold fusion has fallen into disregard because the experiments have not proved productive.
I take a picture with one hand of my other hand clutching my knee with the silver tv in the background.
The announcer explains that it’s clear that the quest for fusion isn’t over. And surely multiple approaches to understanding energy and the universe are necessary and worthwhile.
Back in the classroom, I scan the seats. The students are young and indifferent. They want to know what is the right answer. They are unmoved by singularities, and ask repeatedly about grammatical rules.
I shrug my shoulders and teach about thesis statements and paragraphs. Then I go back to my office. The new printers have arrived, and I volunteer to carry them to my colleagues.
“These boxes are heavy,” the new office assistant warns me. I look at him – he’s a young guy, wearing a crisp oxford shirt. He has rolled the sleeves up; he has miraculously shaped arm muscles.
“I used to be a teamster,” I say.
He arches an eyebrow.
I pick up the first box, and assure him that I am deceptively strong.
That’s when you say you think I’m a brave person. You say I need to keep on taking pictures, making connections, looking for the unifying truth.
I say ok. I will try.
But you have to try too.