Back Bay BooksCopyright © 1997 David Foster Wallace
All right reserved.ISBN: 0316921173
YEAR OF GLAD
I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. My posture isconsciously congruent to the shape of my hard chair. This is a cold roomin University Administration, wood-walled, Remington-hung, double-windowedagainst the November heat, insulated from Administrativesounds by the reception area outside, at which Uncle Charles, Mr. deLintand I were lately received.
I am in here.
Three faces have resolved into place above summer-weight sportcoatsand half-Windsors across a polished pine conference table shiny with thespidered light of an Arizona noon. These are three Deans—of Admissions,Academic Affairs, Athletic Affairs. I do not know which face belongs towhom.
I believe I appear neutral, maybe even pleasant, though I've been coachedto err on the side of neutrality and not attempt what would feel to me like apleasant expression or smile.
I have committed to crossing my legs I hope carefully, ankle on knee,hands together in the lap of my slacks. My fingers are mated into a mirroredseries of what manifests, to me, as the letter X. The interview room's otherpersonnel include: the University's Director of Composition, its varsitytennis coach, and Academy protector Mr. A. deLint. C.T. is beside me; theothers sit, stand and stand, respectively, at the periphery of my focus. Thetennis coach jingles pocket-change. There is something vaguely digestiveabout the room's odor. The high-traction sole of my complimentary Nikesneaker runs parallel to the wobbling loafer of my mother's half-brother,here in his capacity as Headmaster, sitting in the chair to what I hope is myimmediate right, also facing Deans.
The Dean at left, a lean yellowish man whose fixed smile nevertheless hasthe impermanent quality of something stamped into uncooperative material,is a personality-type I've come lately to appreciate, the type who delaysneed of any response from me by relating my side of the story for me, to me.Passed a packet of computer-sheets by the shaggy lion of a Dean at center,he is speaking more or less to these pages, smiling down.
`You are Harold Incandenza, eighteen, date of secondary-school graduationapproximately one month from now, attending the Enfield TennisAcademy, Enfield, Massachusetts, a boarding school, where you reside.' Hisreading glasses are rectangular, court-shaped, the sidelines at top andbottom. `You are, according to Coach White and Dean [unintelligible], aregionally, nationally, and continentally ranked junior tennis player, a potentialO.N.A.N.C.A.A. athlete of substantial promise, recruited by CoachWhite via correspondence with Dr. Tavis here commencing . . . February ofthis year.' The top page is removed and brought around neatly to the bottomof the sheaf, at intervals. `You have been in residence at the EnfieldTennis Academy since age seven.'
I am debating whether to risk scratching the right side of my jaw, wherethere is a wen.
`Coach White informs our offices that he holds the Enfield Tennis Academy'sprogram and achievements in high regard, that the University of Arizonatennis squad has profited from the prior matriculation of severalformer E.T.A. alumni, one of whom was one Mr. Aubrey F. deLint, whoappears also to be with you here today. Coach White and his staff havegiven us—'
The yellow administrator's usage is on the whole undistinguished,though I have to admit he's made himself understood. The Director of Compositionseems to have more than the normal number of eyebrows. TheDean at right is looking at my face a bit strangely.
Uncle Charles is saying that though he can anticipate that the Deansmight be predisposed to weigh what he avers as coming from his possibleappearance as a kind of cheerleader for E.T.A., he can assure the assembledDeans that all this is true, and that the Academy has presently in residenceno fewer than a third of the continent's top thirty juniors, in age brackets allacross the board, and that I here, who go by `Hal,' usually, am `right upthere among the very cream.' Right and center Deans smile professionally;the heads of deLint and the coach incline as the Dean at left clears his throat:
`—belief that you could well make, even as a freshman, a real contributionto this University's varsity tennis program. We are pleased,' he eithersays or reads, removing a page, `that a competition of some major sort herehas brought you down and given us the chance to sit down and chat togetherabout your application and potential recruitment and matriculationand scholarship.'
`I've been asked to add that Hal here is seeded third, Boys' 18-and-UnderSingles, in the prestigious What aBurger Southwest Junior Invitational out atthe Randolph Tennis Center—' says what I infer is Athletic Affairs, hiscocked head showing a freckled scalp.
`Out at Randolph Park, near the outstanding El Con Marriott,' C.T. inserts,`a venue the whole contingent's been vocal about finding absolutelytop-hole thus far, which—'
`Just so, Chuck, and that according to Chuck here Hal has already justifiedhis seed, he's reached the semifinals as of this morning's apparentlyimpressive win, and that he'll be playing out at the Center again tomorrow,against the winner of a quarterfinal game tonight, and so will be playingtomorrow at I believe scheduled for 0830—'
`Try to get under way before the godawful heat out there. Though ofcourse a dry heat.'
`—and has apparently already qualified for this winter's Continental Indoors,up in Edmonton, Kirk tells me—' cocking further to look up and leftat the varsity coach, whose smile's teeth are radiant against a violentsunburn—'Which is something indeed.' He smiles, looking at me. `Did weget all that right Hal.'
C.T. has crossed his arms casually; their triceps' flesh is webbed withmottle in the air-conditioned sunlight. `You sure did. Bill.' He smiles. Thetwo halves of his mustache never quite match. `And let me say if I may thatHal's excited, excited to be invited for the third year running to the Invitationalagain, to be back here in a community he has real affection for, tovisit with your alumni and coaching staff, to have already justified his highseed in this week's not unstiff competition, to as they say still be in it withoutthe fat woman in the Viking hat having sung, so to speak, but of coursemost of all to have a chance to meet you gentlemen and have a look at thefacilities here. Everything here is absolutely top-slot, from what he's seen.'
There is a silence. DeLint shifts his back against the room's panelling andrecenters his weight. My uncle beams and straightens a straight watchband.62.5% of the room's faces are directed my way, pleasantly expectant. Mychest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it. I compose what I project will beseen as a smile. I turn this way and that, slightly, sort of directing the expressionto everyone in the room.
There is a new silence. The yellow Dean's eyebrows go circumflex. Thetwo other Deans look to the Director of Composition. The tennis coach hasmoved to stand at the broad window, feeling at the back of his crewcut.Uncle Charles strokes the forearm above his watch. Sharp curved palm-shadowsmove slightly over the pine table's shine, the one head's shadow ablack moon.
`Is Hal all right, Chuck?' Athletic Affairs asks. `Hal just seemed to . . .well, grimace. Is he in pain? Are you in pain, son?'
`Hal's right as rain,' smiles my uncle, soothing the air with a casual hand.`Just a bit of a let's call it maybe a facial tic, slightly, at all the adrenaline ofbeing here on your impressive campus, justifying his seed so far withoutdropping a set, receiving that official written offer of not only waivers but aliving allowance from Coach White here, on Pac 10 letterhead, being readyin all probability to sign a National Letter of Intent right here and now thisvery day, he's indicated to me.' C.T. looks to me, his look horribly mild. I dothe safe thing, relaxing every muscle in my face, emptying out all expression.I stare carefully into the Kekulean knot of the middle Dean's necktie.
My silent response to the expectant silence begins to affect the air of theroom, the bits of dust and sportcoat-lint stirred around by the AC's ventsdancing jaggedly in the slanted plane of windowlight, the air over the tablelike the sparkling space just above a fresh-poured seltzer. The coach, in aslight accent neither British nor Australian, is telling C.T. that the wholeapplication-interface process, while usually just a pleasant formality, isprobably best accentuated by letting the applicant speak up for himself.Right and center Deans have inclined together in soft conference, forming akind of tepee of skin and hair. I presume it's probably facilitate that thetennis coach mistook for accentuate, though accelerate, while clunkier thanfacilitate, is from a phonetic perspective more sensible, as a mistake. TheDean with the flat yellow face has leaned forward, his lips drawn back fromhis teeth in what I see as concern. His hands come together on the conferencetable's surface. His own fingers look like they mate as my own four-Xseries dissolves and I hold tight to the sides of my chair.
We need candidly to chat re potential problems with my application, theyand I, he is beginning to say. He makes a reference to candor and its value.
`The issues my office faces with the application materials on file fromyou, Hal, involve some test scores.' He glances down at a colorful sheet ofstandardized scores in the trench his arms have made. `The Admissions staffis looking at standardized test scores from you that are, as I'm sure youknow and can explain, are, shall we say ... subnormal.' I'm to explain.
It's clear that this really pretty sincere yellow Dean at left is Admissions.And surely the little aviarian figure at right is Athletics, then, becausethe facial creases of the shaggy middle Dean are now pursed in a kindof distanced affront, an I'm-eating-something-that-makes-me-really-appreciate-the-presence-of-whatever-I'm-drinking-along-with-it look thatspells professionally Academic reservations. An uncomplicated loyalty tostandards, then, at center. My uncle looks to Athletics as if puzzled. Heshifts slightly in his chair.
The incongruity between Admissions's hand- and face-color is almostwild. `—verbal scores that are just quite a bit closer to zero than we'recomfortable with, as against a secondary-school transcript from the institutionwhere both your mother and her brother are administrators—' readingdirectly out of the sheaf inside his arms' ellipse—'that this past year, yes,has fallen off a bit, but by the word I mean "fallen off" to outstanding fromthree previous years of frankly incredible.'
`Off the charts.'
`Most institutions do not even have grades of A with multiple pluses afterit,' says the Director of Composition, his expression impossible to interpret.
`This kind of . . . how shall I put it . . . incongruity,' Admissions says, hisexpression frank and concerned, `I've got to tell you sends up a red flag ofpotential concern during the admissions process.'
`We thus invite you to explain the appearance of incongruity if not outrightshenanigans.' Students has a tiny piping voice that's absurd coming out of a face this big.
`Surely by incredible you meant very very very impressive, as opposed toliterally quote "incredible," surely,' says C.T., seeming to watch the coachat the window massaging the back of his neck. The huge window gives outon nothing more than dazzling sunlight and cracked earth with heat-shimmersover it.
`Then there is before us the matter of not the required two but nine separateapplication essays, some of which of nearly monograph-length, eachwithout exception being—' different sheet—'the adjective various evaluatorsused was quote "stellar"—'
Dir. of Comp.: `I made in my assessment deliberate use of lapidary andeffete.'
`—but in areas and with titles, I'm sure you recall quite well, Hal:"Neoclassical Assumptions in Contemporary Prescriptive Grammar,""The Implications of Post-Fourier Transformations for a HolographicallyMimetic Cinema," "The Emergence of Heroic Stasis in BroadcastEntertainment"—'
`"Montague Grammar and the Semantics of Physical Modality"?'
`"A Man Who Began to Suspect He Was Made of Glass"?'
`"Tertiary Symbolism in Justinian Erotica"?'
Now showing broad expanses of recessed gum. `Suffice to say that there'ssome frank and candid concern about the recipient of these unfortunate testscores, though perhaps explainable test scores, being these essays' sole individualauthor.'
`I'm not sure Hal's sure just what's being implied here,' my uncle says.The Dean at center is fingering his lapels as he interprets distasteful computeddata.
`What the University is saying here is that from a strictly academic pointof view there are admission problems that Hal needs to try to help us ironout. A matriculant's first role at the University is and must be as a student.We couldn't admit a student we have reason to suspect can't cut the mustard,no matter how much of an asset he might be on the field.'
`Dean Sawyer means the court, of course, Chuck,' Athletic Affairs says,head severely cocked so he's including the White person behind him in theaddress somehow. `Not to mention O.N.A.N.C.A.A. regulations and investigatorsalways snuffling around for some sort of whiff of the smell of impropriety.'
The varsity tennis coach looks at his own watch.
`Assuming these board scores are accurate reflectors of true capacity inthis case,' Academic Affairs says, his high voice serious and sotto, still lookingat the file before him as if it were a plate of something bad, `I'll tell youright now my opinion is it wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't be fair to the otherapplicants. Wouldn't be fair to the University community.' He looks at me.`And it'd be especially unfair to Hal himself. Admitting a boy we see assimply an athletic asset would amount to just using that boy. We're undermyriad scrutiny to make sure we're not using anybody. Your board results,son, indicate that we could be accused of using you.'
Uncle Charles is asking Coach White to ask the Dean of Athletic Affairswhether the weather over scores would be as heavy if I were, say, a revenue-raisingfootball prodigy. The familiar panic at feeling misperceived is rising,and my chest bumps and thuds. I expend energy on remaining utterly silentin my chair, empty, my eyes two great pale zeros. People have promised toget me through this.
Uncle C.T., though, has the pinched look of the cornered. His voicetakes on an odd timbre when he's cornered, as if he were shouting as hereceded. `Hal's grades at E.T.A., which is I should stress an Academy,not simply a camp or factory, accredited by both the Commonwealth ofMassachusetts and the North American Sports Academy Association, it'sfocused on the total needs of the player and student, founded by a toweringintellectual figure whom I hardly need name, here, and based byhim on the rigorous Oxbridge Quadrivium-Trivium curricular model, aschool fully staffed and equipped, by a fully certified staff, should showthat my nephew here can cut just about any Pac 10 mustard that needscutting, and that—'
DeLint is moving toward the tennis coach, who is shaking his head.
`—would be able to see a distinct flavor of minor-sport prejudice aboutthis whole thing,' C.T. says, crossing and recrossing his legs as I listen, composedand staring.
The room's carbonated silence is now hostile. `I think it's time to let theactual applicant himself speak out on his own behalf,' Academic Affairssays very quietly. `This seems somehow impossible with you here, sir.'
Athletics smiles tiredly under a hand that massages the bridge of his nose.`Maybe you'd excuse us for a moment and wait outside, Chuck.'
`Coach White could accompany Mr. Tavis and his associate out to reception,'the yellow Dean says, smiling into my unfocused eyes.
`—led to believe this had all been ironed out in advance, from the—'C.T. is saying as he and deLint are shown to the door. The tennis coachextends a hypertrophied arm. Athletics says `We're all friends and colleagueshere.'
This is not working out. It strikes me that EXIT signs would look to a nativespeaker of Latin like red-lit signs that say HE LEAVES. I would yield to the urgeto bolt for the door ahead of them if I could know that bolting for the door iswhat the men in this room would see. DeLint is murmuring something to thetennis coach. Sounds of keyboards, phone consoles as the door is brieflyopened, then firmly shut. I am alone among administrative heads.
`—offense intended to anyone,' Athletic Affairs is saying, his sportcoattan and his necktie insigniated in tiny print—'beyond just physical abilitiesout there in play, which believe me we respect, want, believe me.'
`—question about it we wouldn't be so anxious to chat with you directly,see?'
`—that we've known in processing several prior applications throughCoach White's office that the Enfield School is operated, however impressively,by close relations of first your brother, who I can still remember theway White's predecessor Maury Klamkin wooed that kid, so that grades'objectivity can be all too easily called into question—'
`By whomsoever's calling—N.A.A.U.P., ill-willed Pac 10 programs,O.N.A.N.C.A.A.—'
The essays are old ones, yes, but they are mine; de moi. But they are, yes,old, not quite on the application's instructed subject of Most MeaningfulEducational Experience Ever. If I'd done you one from the last year, it wouldlook to you like some sort of infant's random stabs on a keyboard, and toyou, who use whomsoever as a subject. And in this new smaller company, theDirector of Composition seems abruptly to have actuated, emerged as boththe Alpha of the pack here and way more effeminate than he'd seemed atfirst, standing hip-shot with a hand on his waist, walking with a roll to hisshoulders, jingling change as he pulls up his pants as he slides into the chairstill warm from C.T.'s bottom, crossing his legs in a way that inclines himwell into my personal space, so that I can see multiple eyebrow-tics andcapillary webs in the oysters below his eyes and smell fabric-softener and theremains of a breath-mint turned sour.
`. . . a bright, solid, but very shy boy, we know about your being very shy,Kirk White's told us what your athletically built if rather stand-offish youngerinstructor told him,' the Director says softly, cupping what I feel to be ahand over my sportcoat's biceps (surely not), `who simply needs to swallowhard and trust and tell his side of the story to these gentlemen who bear nomaliciousness none at all but are doing our jobs and trying to look out foreveryone's interests at the same time.'
I can picture deLint and White sitting with their elbows on their knees inthe defecatory posture of all athletes at rest, deLint staring at his hugethumbs, while C.T. in the reception area paces in a tight ellipse, speakinginto his portable phone. I have been coached for this like a Don before aRICO hearing. A neutral and affectless silence. The sort of all-defensivegame Schtitt used to have me play: the best defense: let everything bounceoff you; do nothing. I'd tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I madecould be what you hear.
Athletics with his head out from under his wing: `—to avoid admissionprocedures that could be seen as primarily athletics-oriented. It could be amess, son.'
`Bill means the appearance, not necessarily the real true facts of the matter,which you alone can fill in,' says the Director of Composition.
`—the appearance of the high athletic ranking, the subnormal scores, theover-academic essays, the incredible grades vortexing out of what could beseen as a nepotistic situation.'
The yellow Dean has leaned so far forward that his tie is going to have ahorizontal dent from the table-edge, his face sallow and kindly and no-shit-whatever:
`Look here, Mr. Incandenza, Hal, please just explain to me why wecouldn't be accused of using you, son. Why nobody could come and say tous, why, look here, University of Arizona, here you are using a boy for justhis body, a boy so shy and withdrawn he won't speak up for himself, a jockwith doctored marks and a store-bought application.'
The Brewster's-Angle light of the tabletop appears as a rose flush behindmy closed lids. I cannot make myself understood. `I am not just a jock,' I sayslowly. Distinctly. `My transcript for the last year might have been dickied abit, maybe, but that was to get me over a rough spot. The grades prior tothat are de moi.' My eyes are closed; the room is silent. `I cannot makemyself understood, now.' I am speaking slowly and distinctly. `Call it somethingI ate.'
It's funny what you don't recall. Our first home, in the suburb of Weston,which I barely remember—my eldest brother Orin says he can rememberbeing in the home's backyard with our mother in the early spring, helping theMoms till some sort of garden out of the cold yard. March or early April. Thegarden's area was a rough rectangle laid out with Popsicle sticks and twine.Orin was removing rocks and hard clods from the Moms's path as sheworked the rented Rototiller, a wheelbarrow-shaped, gas-driven thing thatroared and snorted and bucked and he remembers seemed to propel theMoms rather than vice versa, the Moms very tall and having to stooppainfully to hold on, her feet leaving drunken prints in the tilled earth. Heremembers that in the middle of the tilling I came tear-assing out the doorand into the backyard wearing some sort of fuzzy red Pooh-wear, crying,holding out something he said was really unpleasant-looking in my upturnedpalm. He says I was around five and crying and was vividly red in the coldspring air. I was saying something over and over; he couldn't make it outuntil our mother saw me and shut down the tiller, ears ringing, and cameover to what I was holding out. This turned out to have been a large patch ofmold—Orin posits from some dark corner of the Weston home's basement,which was warm from the furnace and flooded every spring. The patch itselfhe describes as horrific: darkly green, glossy, vaguely hirsute, speckled withparasitic fungal points of yellow, orange, red. Worse, they could see that thepatch looked oddly incomplete, gnawed-on; and some of the nauseous stuffwas smeared around my open mouth. `I ate this,' was what I was saying. Iheld the patch out to the Moms, who had her contacts out for the dirty work,and at first, bending way down, saw only her crying child, hand out, proffering;and in that most maternal of reflexes she, who feared and loathed morethan anything spoilage and filth, reached to take whatever her baby heldout—as in how many used heavy Kleenex, spit-back candies, wads ofchewed-out gum in how many theaters, airports, backseats, tournamentlounges? O. stood there, he says, hefting a cold clod, playing with theVelcro on his puffy coat, watching as the Moms, bent way down to me, handreaching, her lowering face with its presbyopic squint, suddenly stopped,froze, beginning to I.D. what it was I held out, countenancing evidence oforal contact with same. He remembers her face as past describing. Heroutstretched hand, still Rototrembling, hung in the air before mine.
`I ate this,' I said.
O. says he can only remember (sic) saying something caustic as he limboeda crick out of his back. He says he must have felt a terrible impendinganxiety. The Moms refused ever even to go into the damp basement. I hadstopped crying, he remembers, and simply stood there, the size and shape ofa hydrant, in red PJ's with attached feet, holding out the mold, seriously,like the report of some kind of audit.
O. says his memory diverges at this point, probably as a result of anxiety.In his first memory, the Moms's path around the yard is a broad circle ofhysteria:
`God!' she calls out.
`Help! My son ate this!' she yells in Orin's second and more fleshed-outrecollection, yelling it over and over, holding the speckled patch aloft in apincer of fingers, running around and around the garden's rectangle while O.gaped at his first real sight of adult hysteria. Suburban neighbors' headsappeared in windows and over the fences, looking. O. remembers me trippingover the garden's laid-out twine, getting up dirty, crying, trying to follow.
`God! Help! My son ate this! Help!' she kept yelling, running a tightpattern just inside the square of string; and my brother Orin remembersnoting how even in hysterical trauma her flight-lines were plumb, her footprintsNative-American-straight, her turns, inside the ideogram of string,crisp and martial, crying `My son ate this! Help!' and lapping me twicebefore the memory recedes.
`My application's not bought,' I am telling them, calling into the darkness ofthe red cave that opens out before closed eyes. `I am not just a boy who playstennis. I have an intricate history. Experiences and feelings. I'm complex.
`I read,' I say. `I study and read. I bet I've read everything you've read.Don't think I haven't. I consume libraries. I wear out spines and ROM-drives.I do things like get in a taxi and say, "The library, and step on it."My instincts concerning syntax and mechanics are better than your own, Ican tell, with due respect.
`But it transcends the mechanics. I'm not a machine. I feel and believe. Ihave opinions. Some of them are interesting. I could, if you'd let me, talkand talk. Let's talk about anything. I believe the influence of Kierkegaard onCamus is underestimated. I believe Dennis Gabor may very well have beenthe Antichrist. I believe Hobbes is just Rousseau in a dark mirror. I believe,with Hegel, that transcendence is absorption. I could interface you guysright under the table,' I say. `I'm not just a creatus, manufactured, conditioned,bred for a function.'
I open my eyes. `Please don't think I don't care.'
I look out. Directed my way is horror. I rise from the chair. I see jowlssagging, eyebrows high on trembling foreheads, cheeks bright-white. Thechair recedes below me.
`Sweet mother of Christ,' the Director says.
`I'm fine,' I tell them, standing. From the yellow Dean's expression,there's a brutal wind blowing from my direction. Academics' face has goneinstantly old. Eight eyes have become blank discs that stare at whateverthey see.
`Good God,' whispers Athletics.
`Please don't worry,' I say. `I can explain.' I soothe the air with a casualhand.
Both my arms are pinioned from behind by the Director of Comp., whowrestles me roughly down, on me with all his weight. I taste floor.
I say `Nothing is wrong.'
`It's all right! I'm here!' the Director is calling into my ear.
`Get help!' cries a Dean.
My forehead is pressed into parquet I never knew could be so cold. I amarrested. I try to be perceived as limp and pliable. My face is mashed flat;Comp.'s weight makes it hard to breathe.
`Try to listen,' I say very slowly, muffled by the floor.
`What in God's name are those . . . ,' one Dean cries shrilly, `. . . thosesounds?'
There are clicks of a phone console's buttons, shoes' heels moving, pivoting,a sheaf of flimsy pages falling.
The door's base opens at the left periphery: a wedge of halogen hall-light,white sneakers and a scuffed Nunn Bush. `Let him up!' That's deLint.
`There is nothing wrong,' I say slowly to the floor. `I'm in here.'
I'm raised by the crutches of my underarms, shaken toward what he mustsee as calm by a purple-faced Director: `Get a grip, son!'
DeLint at the big man's arm: `Stop it!'
`I am not what you see and hear.'
Distant sirens. A crude half nelson. Forms at the door. A young Hispanicwoman holds her palm against her mouth, looking.
`I'm not,' I say.
You have to love old-fashioned men's rooms: the citrus scent of deodorantdisks in the long porcelain trough; the stalls with wooden doors in frames ofcool marble; these thin sinks in rows, basins supported by rickety alphabetsof exposed plumbing; mirrors over metal shelves; behind all the voices theslight sound of a ceaseless trickle, inflated by echo against wet porcelain anda cold tile floor whose mosaic pattern looks almost Islamic at this closerange.
The disorder I've caused revolves all around. I've been half-dragged, stillpinioned, through a loose mob of Administrative people by the Comp.Director—who appears to have thought variously that I am having a seizure(prying open my mouth to check for a throat clear of tongue), that I amsomehow choking (a textbook Heimlich that left me whooping), that I ampsychotically out of control (various postures and grips designed to transferthat control to him)—while about us roil deLint, trying to restrain theDirector's restraint of me, the varsity tennis coach restraining deLint, mymother's half-brother speaking in rapid combinations of polysyllables to thetrio of Deans, who variously gasp, wring hands, loosen neckties, waggledigits in C.T.'s face, and make pases with sheafs of now-pretty-clearly-superfluousapplication forms.
I am rolled over supine on the geometric tile. I am concentrating docilelyon the question why U.S. restrooms always appear to us as infirmaries forpublic distress, the place to regain control. My head is cradled in a kneltDirector's lap, which is soft, my face being swabbed with dusty-brown institutionalpaper towels he received from some hand out of the crowd overhead,staring with all the blankness I can summon into his jowls' smallpocks, worst at the blurred jaw-line, of scarring from long-ago acne. UncleCharles, a truly unparalleled slinger of shit, is laying down an enfilade ofsame, trying to mollify men who seem way more in need of a good browmoppingthan I.
`He's fine,' he keeps saying. `Look at him, calm as can be, lying there.'
`You didn't see what happened in there,' a hunched Dean respondsthrough a face webbed with fingers.
`Excited, is all he gets, sometimes, an excitable kid, impressed with—'
`But the sounds he made.'
`Like an animal.'
`Subanimalistic noises and sounds.'
`Nor let's not forget the gestures.'
`Have you ever gotten help for this boy Dr. Tavis?'
`Like some sort of animal with something in its mouth.'
`This boy is damaged.'
`Like a stick of butter being hit with a mallet.'
`A writhing animal with a knife in its eye.'
`What were you possibly about, trying to enroll this—'
`And his arms.'
`You didn't see it, Tavis. His arms were—'
`Flailing. This sort of awful reaching drumming wriggle. Waggling,' thegroup looking briefly at someone outside my sight trying to demonstratesomething.
`Like a time-lapse, a flutter of some sort of awful . . . growth.'
`Sounded most of all like a drowning goat. A goat, drowning in somethingviscous.'
`This strangled series of bleats and—'
`Yes they waggled.'
`So suddenly a bit of excited waggling's a crime, now?'
`You, sir, are in trouble. You are in trouble.'
`His face. As if he was strangling. Burning. I believe I've seen a vision ofhell.'
`He has some trouble communicating, he's communicatively challenged,no one's denying that.'
`The boy needs care.'
`Instead of caring for the boy you send him here to enroll, compete?'
`You have not in your most dreadful fantasies dreamt of the amount oftrouble you have bought yourself, Dr. so-called Headmaster, educator.'
`. . . were given to understand this was all just a formality. You took himaback, is all. Shy—'
`And you, White. You sought to recruit him!'
`—and terribly impressed and excited, in there, without us, his supportsystem, whom you asked to leave, which if you'd—'
`I'd only seen him play. On court he's gorgeous. Possibly a genius. Wehad no idea. The brother's in the bloody NFL for God's sake. Here's a topplayer, we thought, with Southwest roots. His stats were off the chart. Wewatched him through the whole WhataBurger last fall. Not a waggle or anoise. We were watching ballet out there, a mate remarked, after.'
`Damn right you were watching ballet out there, White. This boy is aballetic athlete, a player.'
`Some kind of athletic savant then. Balletic compensation for deep problemswhich you sir choose to disguise by muzzling the boy in there.' Anexpensive pair of Brazilian espadrilles goes by on the left and enters a stall,and the espadrilles come around and face me. The urinal trickles behind thevoices' small echoes.
`—haps we'll just be on our way,' C.T. is saying.
`The integrity of my sleep has been forever compromised, sir.'
`—think you could pass off a damaged applicant, fabricate credentialsand shunt him through a kangaroo-interview and inject him into all therigors of college life?'
`Hal here functions, you ass. Given a supportive situation. He's fine whenhe's by himself. Yes he has some trouble with excitability in conversation.Did you once hear him try to deny that?'
`We witnessed something only marginally mammalian in there, sir.'
`Like hell. Have a look. How's the excitable little guy doing down there,Aubrey, does it look to you?'
`You, sir, are quite possibly ill. This affair is not concluded.'
`What ambulance? Don't you guys listen? I'm telling you there's—'
`Dope him up, seek to act as his mouthpiece, muzzling, and now he liesthere catatonic, staring.'
The crackle of deLint's knees. `Hal?'
`—inflate this publicly in any distorted way. The Academy has distinguishedalumni, litigators at counsel. Hal here is provably competent. Credentialsout the bazoo, Bill. The boy reads like a vacuum. Digests things.'
I simply lie there, listening, smelling the paper towel, watching an espadrillepivot.
`There's more to life than sitting there interfacing, it might be a newsflashto you.'
And who could not love that special and leonine roar of a public toilet?
Not for nothing did Orin say that people outdoors down here just scuttle invectors from air conditioning to air conditioning. The sun is a hammer. Ican feel one side of my face start to cook. The blue sky is glossy and fat withheat, a few thin cirri sheared to blown strands like hair at the rims. Thetraffic is nothing like Boston. The stretcher is the special type, with restrainingstraps at the extremities. The same Aubrey deLint I'd dismissed for yearsas a 2-D martinet knelt gurneyside to squeeze my restrained hand and say`Just hang in there, Buckaroo,' before moving back into the administrativefray at the ambulance's doors. It is a special ambulance, dispatched from I'drather not dwell on where, with not only paramedics but some kind of psychiatricM.D. on board. The medics lift gently and are handy with straps.The M.D., his back up against the ambulance's side, has both hands up indispassionate mediation between the Deans and C.T., who keeps stabbingskyward with his cellular's antenna as if it were a sabre, outraged that I'mbeing needlessly ambulanced off to some Emergency Room against my willand interests. The issue whether the damaged even have interested wills isshallowly hashed out as some sort of ultra-mach fighter too high overheadto hear slices the sky from south to north. The M.D. has both hands up andis patting the air to signify dispassion. He has a big blue jaw. At the onlyother emergency room I have ever been in, almost exactly one year back, thepsychiatric stretcher was wheeled in and then parked beside the waiting-roomchairs. These chairs were molded orange plastic; three of them downthe row were occupied by different people all of whom were holding emptyprescription bottles and perspiring freely. This would have been badenough, but in the end chair, right up next to the strap-secured head of mystretcher, was a T-shirted woman with barnwood skin and a trucker's capand a bad starboard list who began to tell me, Iying there restrained andimmobile, about how she had seemingly overnight suffered a sudden andanomalous gigantism in her right breast, which she referred to as a titty; shehad an almost parodic Quebecois accent and described the `titty's' presentinghistory and possible diagnoses for almost twenty minutes before I wasrolled away. The jet's movement and trail seem incisionish, as if white meatbehind the blue were exposed and widening in the wake of the blade. I oncesaw the word KNIFE finger-written on the steamed mirror of a nonpublicbathroom. I have become an infantophile. I am forced to roll my closed eyeseither up or to the side to keep the red cave from bursting into flames fromthe sunlight. The street's passing traffic is constant and seems to go `Hush,hush, hush.' The sun, if your fluttering eye catches it even slightly, gives youthe blue and red floaters a flashbulb gives you. `Why not? Why not? Whynot not, then, if the best reasoning you can contrive is why not?' C.T.'svoice, receding with outrage. Only the gallant stabs of his antenna are nowvisible, just inside my sight's right frame. I will be conveyed to an EmergencyRoom of some kind, where I will be detained as long as I do notrespond to questions, and then, when I do respond to questions, I will besedated; so it will be inversion of standard travel, the ambulance and ER: I'llmake the journey first, then depart. I think very briefly of the late CosgroveWatt. I think of the hypophalangial Grief-Therapist. I think of the Moms,alphabetizing cans of soup in the cabinet over the microwave. Of Himself'sumbrella hung by its handle from the edge of the mail table just inside theHeadmaster's House's foyer. The bad ankle hasn't ached once this wholeyear. I think of John N. R. Wayne, who would have won this year's What-aBurger,standing watch in a mask as Donald Gately and I dig up my father'shead. There's very little doubt that Wayne would have won. AndVenus Williams owns a ranch outside Green Valley; she may well attend the18's Boys' and Girls' finals. I will be out in plenty of time for tomorrow'ssemi; I trust Uncle Charles. Tonight's winner is almost sure to be Dymphna,sixteen but with a birthday two weeks under the 15 April deadline; andDymphna will still be tired tomorrow at 0830, while I, sedated, will haveslept like a graven image. I have never before faced Dymphna in tournamentplay, nor played with the sonic balls the blind require, but I watched himbarely dispatch Petropolis Kahn in the Round of 16, and I know he is mine.
It will start in the E.R., at the intake desk if C.T.'s late in following theambulance, or in the green-tiled room after the room with the invasive-digitalmachines; or, given this special M.D.-supplied ambulance, maybe onthe ride itself: some blue-jawed M.D. scrubbed to an antiseptic glow withhis name sewn in cursive on his white coat's breast pocket and a qualitydesk-set pen, wanting gurneyside Q&A, etiology and diagnosis by Socraticmethod, ordered and point-by-point. There are, by the O.E.D. Vl's count,nineteen nonarchaic synonyms for unresponsive, of which nine are Latinateand four Saxonic. I will play either Stice or Polep in Sunday's final. Maybein front of Venus Williams. It will be someone blue-collar and unlicensed,though, inevitably—a nurse's aide with quick-bit nails, a hospital securityguy, a tired Cuban orderly who addresses me as jou—who will, lookingdown in the middle of some kind of bustled task, catch what he sees as myeye and ask So yo then man what's your story?