In the conference room, the man seated to my left has kind eyes and a skinny body and I will not look at him directly. I cannot, because if I look, he will see into my soul with his kind eyes and know I am considering him. It’s a violation, how much I discover about this man without looking. So skinny, he’s maybe skinnier than any man I’ve seen before. Slight, wiry, but too old to be called scrawny. He has no hair on his arms, but he’s got enough five o’clock shadow to show that there’s some on his chest, just a small patch over his sternum, which must protrude from his body like the exoskeleton of an alien trying to escape. Does he have a tiny penis and tiny balls, proportional to his matchstick legs? Or because these appendages are flesh, not muscle, are they normal size? Does his having a normal size penis and a normal set of balls create the optical illusion of his being well endowed? When the conference facilitator asks us to find a partner, I turn to my right, clinging to a woman whose soft body does not hold any mystery.
My one contribution to the conference is when I tell a Turkish man that constant praise is more than just an American thing. It’s a millennial thing. They need it. We need it. I need it. If you do not say good job (three times, at least) a millennial will believe that they have failed in some way. People my age and younger, that’s what they think. When we break for lunch, the conference facilitator thanks me for my comment. Very astute. Good job. Is it that I have done a good job? Or is it that he knows this is what I need to hear in order to fall asleep sober in my hotel room tonight, in order to sit in this conference room again tomorrow?
On the wall of the conference room there is a large portrait of a man sitting in a metal folding chair, wearing ripped jeans, and he is staring at me. The canvas is maybe four feet by five feet, and his plain olive T-shirt hangs limp off his shoulders with such realism that I can smell him. He’s a sour man with coffee breath and cigarette smoke in his hair. He’s the same as any man I loved when I was young. He has moved beyond the realm of the tortured artist. More than a creative man, he’s a man worth creating. He looks at me through dark eyes under dirty Kurt Cobain hair, and I know what he is thinking: I have sold out. I have betrayed him. I have grown up.
The Heaven of Animals
David James Poissant