||He tried not
to think of these things as he sat in a consciously hip—in an
unaffected and humble, Seattle sort of way—café. But
as it happens, the more he tried not to think about it, the more impossible
it became to block it out. Outside distraction was needed. Fortunately,
a familiar one came along.
"You know what I figured out?" Michael said philosophically,
to his friend Chris. Chris sat down at the table across from Michael,
and Michael noted with disdain the Amway shirt Chris was wearing.
Why anybody over the age of thirty would voluntarily wear an ironic
t-shirt was beyond Michael.
"I decided," Michael said, staring into his complicated
and expensive cup of coffee, cradling it pensively for effect, "that
I never want to have to clean up another person's—or thing's—shit."
He looked up at Chris. "If I can get through life without having
to wipe a baby's ass, or pick up dog shit…I think it’s
the whole idea of it really. Not the fact that it's shit, the fact
that it's someone else's."
Michael Irwin was the rare person that could begin and carry on a
conversation like this straight out of the blue. Being a sales' rep
meant that it was his job to make good conversation; a natural talent
bolstered by self-confidence, yes, but also a learned and finely tuned
skill. He would be the first to tell you that good small talk with
strangers is one of the most complicated and intricate processes in
the natural world. Chris looked at him momentarily, then at a girl
with unconventional hair and a pierced nose sitting across the café.
He then opened a copy of a local alternative weekly, and began scanning
the "I Saw U" section, checking to see if anyone had noticed
him in public, or rather, gone to the trouble of trying to find him
after the fact.
Chris was used to these seemingly non-sequitur observations. His friendship
with Michael could be measured in decades, and although they were
different in a lot of ways – job, lifestyle, the way they dressed,
the girls they dated – the mere history of their friendship
kept them in touch. If they had met for the first time a week earlier,
they wouldn't have exchanged more than a handful of words before half-heartedly
excusing themselves and moving on to a different conversation. But
the sheer passage of time had bonded them together securely –
that and the fact that they had never pissed each other off enough
to break off the friendship.
"It’s just," Michael continued, "I see these
seemingly normal people, and they're walking their dog around the
neighborhood, carrying a plastic bag full of dog shit. You know? Have
they no sense of pride?"
"I know what you mean," he said. "There’s some
weird sort of pathetic air about people who pamper their pets that
much. They’ve got this stench of social dysfunction. Same with
people who push their strollers down the middle of the sidewalk at
one mile an hour: ‘Look out here comes a baby; a precious, helpless
baby that I created. The adorable future.’ Like producing offspring
lifts your social ranking to royalty. New parents and pet owners are
fucking nuts. They place importance on beings they can manipulate.
As if a baby is more important than an adult, an object of unabashed
worship, some sort of simplistic perfection."
Michael eyed Chris blankly, passively signaling that he had no interest
in Chris' abstract diatribe.
"Anyway," Michael continued on in his own vein, "I
think it’s pathetic. It’s just gross."
They had both successfully cut short the topic of conversation by
discussing it on two completely different levels—an occurrence
that was happening more and more frequently when they got together
and were sober. So they sat in vacuous silence, Chris again staring
at the girl across the café. He was far too shy to go up and
talk to her cold. Chris was a conversational reactor, at his best
when somebody else was leading the discussion, him piping in with
occasional clever insights.
"You used to go to church all the time, right?" Michael
"Yep," Chris replied, "every Sunday. Now I'm in with
the semi-annual crowd. Big holidays only: Christmas and Easter."
"I think—" Michael stopped and drained the dregs of
his coffee. "My dad was…Lutheran or something. Mom was…Presbyterian?
I don’t know if they even got married in a church. Anyway, we
never went to church. Dad said it was ‘Full of hypocrites.’"
"Hmm…" Chris thought for a moment. "Well, I never
had a problem with that. As far as I remember, everyone was cool at
my church. It just got to the point where it all seemed redundant.
They kinda recycle the same ideas and scriptures and stuff every year.
You thinkin' about finding Jesus or something?"
"Nah, that stuff's for the weak-minded. Sheep. I don't know why
I even brought it up."
Suddenly, Michael's cell phone rang. He answered, and began talking
in a loud, congenial voice. The display gave Chris a chewing tinfoil
sort of feeling, so he finished his coffee, got up, and waved goodbye
to Michael, who barely acknowledged him. The sort of treatment you
could get away with only with a good friend. He left Michael with
his self-importance, as Michael garnered increasingly agitated disdain
from nearby patrons.
Read Next Page