Saturday, November 26, 2011

Character Sketches with Gary

Gary lives in a condemned house on the outskirts of the city, and apart from the occasional meter reader and postal worker, he has few visitors. Well, I mean apart from the animals. But unlike the civil servant, the animals have access to the inside of the house, and they come and go as they please – cats, dogs, rats, an armadillo – an array of at least 37 flee-ridden, tick-infested creatures, most of which aren’t domesticated. Since they aren’t bound by leashes, collars, or potty training, it goes without saying that it isn’t safe if you forgot to bring your snow boots.

His yard looks like a mine field after the mines have gone off. Or rather like what a college fraternity on a treasure hunt might look like, assuming all the students had foregone shovels in favor of dynamite. There are so many two to three feet deep craters in his yard that you couldn’t get from one side to the other without a land rover.

The only reason the city hasn’t evicted Gary yet is probably because they feel sorry for him. Gary’s heavy cocaine and meth use years ago – not to mention his frequent partying with potheads today – probably hasn’t helped his Tourette’s and other associative tics. And yet Gary is the friendliest guy you’ll ever meet. He greets everyone with a welcoming, if not curious “How you doin’? He pronounces the word ‘you’ in a sing-song fashion. It’s as if he wants to differentiate you from an imaginary acquaintance standing next to you.

He knows every astrological sign in the night sky, its corresponding days on the calendar, and the four elements to which it belongs. If this entitled one to at least theater ticket discounts I might care more. As it is, it’s just an impressive pick up line. What’s shocking is that it almost works. I have no doubt in another life – a life in which he bathes regularly and brushes his teeth more than once a week – he would be quite the ladies man. And once you get past his inability to fit the right holes to their corresponding shirt buttons, his knowledge of civil war history is astounding as well.

He’s a great chess player too, but if the game looks like it’s going in your favor, he’ll dig his feet in because he hates to lose. I’ve never understood good chess players. I mean they memorize openings – a sequence of moves and variations on those moves should their opponent decide to counter it. This forces them to be a kind of prophet of spatial relationships. Not only must a good chess player plan several moves ahead, but they must also see this future on the board despite what the present board arrangement staring back at them at any given turn happens to be. So why’s it so hard for them to keep their shoelaces tied? At any rate, if you plan to beat Gary at a game of chess, either bring a chess clock timer or pack a suitcase.

Gary is at least two hours late to everything. After a few years of him not showing up for lunch and then getting a call around four that afternoon about a friend he was visiting, we started telling him to meet us at the restaurant for lunch at Of course he knew we didn’t intend to eat lunch that early, but at least he showed up round the time we were waiting for the check. The conversations afterwards are the reason we remain his friends.

“But Gary. You’ve known since yesterday that we were gonna eat today at . We asked you to make your way here to the house by ten. It’s like a five minute drive from where you live. Now it’s four in the afternoon.”

“Well, yeah, but I got a phone call. My brother called me from Wisconsin.”

“On your cell phone, Gary, and your brother calls you twice a week. You make it sound like that’s some rare thing you couldn’t avoid. You still could’ve called us to let us know.”

“Well, yeah. I guess. I guess. I mean I guess.” This is where the nervous tic comes in. He’ll reach up and tap his left temple, again and again, like he’s applying rouge.

“But I couldn’t just hang up, hang up, hang up on him. That would be rude.”

“Yeah, Gary. It’s not rude to make your friends wait for four hours.”

“Well, I mean I said I’m sorry. Sorry, I’m sorry. It’s really not my fault, ya know?”

“It never is, is it, Gary?”

“I got pulled over by a cop, a cop. I got a ticket. In fact, fact, it’s more yall’s fault.”

“Our fault.”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I was speeding, was speeding, so I could get here in time, you know. And I knew you guys, ha! You guys were gonna be upset if, upset if –”

“Hold on. Let me get this straight. You blame us? You speed here to cut two minutes off a four hour old engagement? And when you get pulled over, it’s our fault?”

“Well, yeah. Yeah. I mean … I guess so.”

The only thing you can depend on Gary for is entertainment. But you’ll have to wait.

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