In Praise of Hanes
Did you ever wake up with the feeling that the world was your oyster yesterday, but today it has opened negotiations with someone new? Insidious isn't it? The way the thirties creep up on you. Yesterday I was twenty-nine; and the day before that I was nineteen; and the day before that time had no meaning whatsoever. It stretched like an ocean, infinite in every direction I looked.
Today, there are limits, walls and ceilings, doors and locks on everything. I have a gnawing doubt that I will receive a permanent appointment at work. This is a theoretical problem which will become acute in the spring when my contract expires. I like molecular biochemistry. I think I'm good at it. My former lab chief agreed. Maybe that was what killed him. No, no, it was just a heart attack, mordant enough since we were researching heart disease
My new lab chief barely knew my name. Refo Fitzjohn. Refo is a family name. What's so hard about that? He usually calls me Reno or Rollo; one afternoon at a picnic, after a half dozen limoncellos, he called me Rocco. “So, lately ...” as he begins every conversation, he said he read my paper, the paper I had been working on for eighteen months. “Did you know the typist misspelled your name on the title page? R-E-F-O … of all things.” He returned the paper to me for correction. I have to assume he never got past the title page. No paper, no permanent appointment.
This came on top of yesterday, when I decided that my boy friend is cheating on me and lying about it. I was pretty sure something was up, but the proof came yesterday. The evidence, almost an admission really, was very damning. Frank flat out said, “I fucked that long-haired dude who works at the gym. Know him? The one who always wears the wrist bands? Well, that was a lie and I should know because I had fucked him and he way to passive to go for my boyfriend. So who the hell was Frank really screwing around with?
On a normal day I could handle this or at least look into it, but today is not normal. It's a travel day. Plus I'm absolutely positive that I will miss my flight which departs in less than two hours from Baltimore, which is NOT convenient to Washington, no matter what name they give the damn airport.
With these things on my mind, it was only a small victory when the traffic on the Beltway suddenly parted before me and like Moses I led a string of wanderers east. Then, on arrival at the ticket counter, I learned that the flight was operating even later than I was. The boarding process was a pain, since I was carrying a long tube with my presentation in it. It didn't fit in the overhead bin and I was determined not to let it near a baggage handler. We compromised on stuffing it behind the last row of seats, for which I was very grateful and gave the attendant my best smile, which worked. Two drinks later I dozed off for the rest of the flight securing in the knowledge that my presentation and my carry-on were safe.
The carry-on was almost as important as my presentation, since Charlie had tucked a survival package into it. The last time it was glow-in-the-dark condoms and lube. I told him the glowing condoms were off-putting for some guys but he said to wear them because they were supposed to make your dick look bigger. Telling him “that isn't MY problem” was ungrateful of me, but it was better than calling him Needle Dick. He's not really that small, but he's sensitive about what he calls his shortcoming. He actually has a very nice cock. I know this first hand because we started out messing around and only later morphed into best friends.
We knew most of each other's secrets and all of each other's weaknesses. “Do NOT let anyone fuck you,” he cautioned tucking the survival kit into my bag. “Remember the last time. You were months getting over it.”
Ok, I do have a tendency to get a little dreamy over guys who fuck me, but it's not as bad as Charlie thinks. I do not fall in love THAT easily. I'm thirty, for God's sake, not some teenager. The proof of this is my boyfriend. He fucks me sometimes and I'm definitely not in love with him. The fact that he's a lousy fuck doesn't have a whole lot to do with it. It has more to do with the fact he's a selfish prick. So why do I keep him around? Good question.
Still a little buzzed from the airline's booze, I stumbled through the airport exit process and onto the BART. Inside the crowded, stuffy car I noticed the small headache bound to get bigger if I didn't so something about it. The noise didn't help either. By the time I got to the hotel and faced the crowd attempting to check in I ran for the bar.
“Alka-Selzer on the rocks, please.” The bartender didn't say a word, just served me the fizzing drink and hid a smile as I chugged it. I declined his offer of another and gave him a good tip. Looking around, I noticed the hotel was already full of people attending my convention. The tell-tale name tags worn around their necks hung from little ribbons that advertised Sigma-Aldrich reagents and gave a distinctive, nerdy look to the wearers. A name tag around the neck can destroy even the most stylish look utterly, not that biochemists are stylish – but even if they were, it wouldn't work with the name tag as fashion-killing albatross.
The check-in lines were shorter by the time I returned from the bar and within twenty minutes I watched the unavoidable bellboy open the door to my room. He was trying his best to be appealing as he showed me the obvious features of the room. Once I might have responded to the possibilities he offered, but maybe he was just being friendly, I decided, and I'm thirty, for God's sake – way to old for him. Five minutes and a five dollar tip later, he left.
I put my headache to bed, figuring I'd get in contact with the rest of my lab in a couple hours. I woke feeling groggy and felt even worse when I noticed it was four in the morning. Usually there is something reassuring about a morning hardon, but this time it was just an annoyance.
After unpacking and showering, it was still only four-thirty. I checked Charlie's kit and found two packs of cheese crackers.
The only advantage of getting up so early was beating the crowd first to breakfast and then to the Moscone Center. I was even ahead of the event organizers. I took advantage of that fact to “improve” the location I had been assigned to mount my poster. Two booths away from mine was the location of a big name lab. It wasn't hard to switch places with their nearest neighbor; I just made a pen-and-ink change to the master layout. The printed programs would be wrong, but they always were anyway and I'd be close enough that anybody actually looking for me would find me.
Once the crowd began arriving, I did get a good bit of spill-over foot traffic from my neighbor looking at my poster, but I'm not sure it was any more than I would have seen anyway. The group at my original booth was getting just as much notice. After four hours of explaining my work to strangers, my boss showed up. “You name is still misspelled,” was his first comment and then he looked at my visitor log. “Loewy from Boston, huh? What did she have to say?” She had said a lot and I briefed him. For the first time, he paid attention. “Nice,” was his closing comment.
I was pretty stoked after that and breezed through the rest of the morning until the very generous two hour lunch break. Lunch would be followed by the keynote speech which almost no one ever attended. I had three hours to myself. I grabbed a couple free sandwiches and one ofr those Coca-Cola half-bottles from the Toshiba display and headed for my hotel room and a chance to pursue my hobby.
Photography had always fascinated me. I went nowhere without my camera. I added the camera to the name tag around my neck and headed out, looking even nerdier, combining the caricatures of a scientist and Japanese tourist. Half a block from the hotel, everything changed and I was swept up in the allure of San Francisco. Forty-five minutes later I saw him.
The waterfall was in the Yerba Buena Garden. At its top was a pool that attracted a mix of pigeons and sea gulls. Hunched low and holding out a phone camera was a man trying to take a picture of the birds. The birds were tantalizingly close. Protected by the water, they ignored the man who wanted to photograph them. The man was handsome, what I could see of him displaying an athletic body straining to lean forward over the water to get his phone as close to the birds as he could reach. Without even seeing his face, I found his pose compelling. He was a whole lot more attractive than the birds. He took pictures of the birds and I took pictures of him. As he stretched forward, his jacket rode up. A strip of skin and the band of his underwear appeared in my viewfinder.
I was shocked by the profound urge I felt to touch his skin. Manly and athletic and somehow vulnerable, as if that little strip of skin was Achilles' heel. So appealing. The moment was over. He stood and watched the birds briefly and then turned to go.
I walked quickly to his side. “I took pictures of you taking pictures of them,” I blurted and pointed at the birds. “I hope you don't mind.”
He looked at me uncomprehending at first and then smiled. He put his hand on my bicep and said, “ No, I don't mind.” He laughed at the thought.
First voice won me; it had an immediacy that made just those four words sound intimate and personal. Then I became aware of the touch of his hand. I couldn't just walk away. Then I noticed his convention name tag. “You want to grab a coffee of something? I'll show you the pictures I took.”
Please say yes. Please say yes. His face was open and honest. I had never much noticed brown eyes before. His sparkled with warmth and depth and intelligence. Full on, his smile was devastating. Please say yes, I silently begged.
“Sure. Why not?”