He was really fucking quiet. It kind of freaked me out.
I met him late in the day. A fucking hot early summer Midwest day. I was living in this house he was going to be spending the summer at. He was a friend of a friend of the girl who owned the place, who I was friends with. I was the only one home when he showed up in town after driving halfway across the country.
I helped him unload his stuff from his packed car. His friend was a waitress at this bar. I drove him over there.
But man he just wasn’t talking. I kept trying to talk about stuff. Baseball, the weather, where he was from, how he knew this girl, but nothing took. It was freaking me out. I even told him so. He just shrugged and said he was never much of a talker.
I was beginning to think it was because I looked liked Timothy McVeigh. That guy that blew up OK City a few years ago back in the day of domestic terrorism. They had just happened to have shown his face a day or so earlier. I really looked like the dude. Got pulled over by a cop too; grilled me before they let me go.
Eh, nice guy. But didn’t have anything to say about anything. Maybe he was a little more open as the summer wore on. Maybe.
I wouldn’t say he was an arrogant bastard, but he was arrogant. He was too aloof to be a bastard. Arrogance isn’t so bad if it’s warranted, but his, as far as I’m concerned, was an unwarranted arrogance.
This based on careful observation between 2006 through 2007.
We went out on a date years ago. I asked him out. He would have taken more. I demurred. He didn’t push things. We just became friends.
A few months later, we were hanging out at his place. His roommate, who had big crush on me, but was just not attractive, wasn’t around that night. I don’t remember where he was. He was usually around.
I had only had one real boyfriend. We had dated for three years, but had broken up about a year earlier. I had only had sex with one other guy. Somehow we were talking about this while we were hanging out making dinner. I don’t know why? I told him that I had had sex with everyone who has ever asked me for it. I wondered, was concerned, if that made me a slut.
He didn’t think so. I was hoping that he would ask me right then to have sex with him. He could just pretend that he was testing my hypothesis. I get the impression that he got the hint, which it kind of was, maybe. He was at least thinking about it, but he never asked. I would have done it, I think. Even if it did make me a slut.
He left town a couple of months after that. I never saw him again.
He is one of my all time favs. Because he has it all figured out without exhibiting any traits of someone who has it all figured out. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but that is how you know it’s all figured out. It’s very Zen. And it just makes me like him. He’s like a living breathing walking koan. And who wouldn’t like that.
If it turns out he doesn’t have it all figured out, I’ll keep that to myself.
We were neighbors. Friendly, but not really friends. We both kept to ourselves for the most part.
A couple months ago he stopped by to watch the Seinfeld finale. We both found it underwhelming.
“It all ends in disappointment, in the end,” he said.
I wasn’t sure what he meant, if anything, by the two references to ‘end’.
He didn’t seem depressed or distraught. He was in good spirits. Though reserved, as he was. As if he were resigned to the inevitable disappointment and thus could carry on knowing it was coming, which would mean not so much disappointment.
But then he said, “But you still hope for something better.”
Again he didn’t seem to be despairing, even though I knew he wasn’t just talking about sitcoms.
He moved out last month.
I suspect this is the memory of him that’ll last.
He had a dry sense of humor, with great timing. Very underrated if you ask me. Though admittedly it could disappear for days. Maybe more like weeks. Or maybe it was him that disappeared. He could’ve been off somewhere telling sneakily great jokes.
I remember the gang was discussing big deaths in music. Whitney Houston had just died. We wondered who would have the biggest death. The consensus ended up being split between Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan. For some, McCartney only if he was the last Beatle. Dylan definitely the biggest with the media and critics, but average Joe music fan, maybe not so much. Personally I think it would be Stevie Wonder.
Anyway, in the deliberations somebody had thrown out Aretha Franklin. “Aretha Franklin would be a big death,” somebody says.
And he says, right on cue, as if an afterthought, “It’d be a big coffin.”
Cracked us the fuck up.
I’ll always remember that about him. No matter what other memories I have, and there are a variety, I’ll see him as this: funny.
It was three weeks ago.
He got drunk. I think he was an angry drunk. Not belligerent. More frustrated I guess. But there was a rage there. Not quite unleashed. But not exactly secured either. And not angry at anyone. Just angry at the world, I presume. His place in it to be more exact. That’s really the case when anyone is ‘angry at the world’, can’t really be angry at the world, it just is what it is.
That’s where the frustration was. Since you can’t really be angry at the world, or at life for the same reason, and since he wasn’t angry at any person, he couldn’t direct it anywhere. So it becomes a frustration, but so great that it could become a rage. If it ever were to be let loose, I guess it would be on himself, unless he just happened to have found somebody who was a real dick to let loose on.
Anyway, he was sitting on the couch, pretty drunk like the rest of us, passively watching Pulp Fiction. I think we were at the scene where John Travolta gets wasted by Bruce Willis when the Pop Tarts pop up. And I see him just griping the beer bottle with both hands and twisting it like he’s trying to rip it in half. I could see his biceps bulging. And he stays that way all the way until they bring out the Gimp, which is like ten minutes later. He then just placed the bottle on the coffee table and got up and left.
I was fascinated with him. Though hell if I know what about him was so damn fascinating. He was enigmatic.
Hard to get to know. Couldn’t say that I did know him. Just aware of him when some mutual friends of ours hung out in this coffee shop. Neither one of us were there quite as often as the others. One of our friends worked there. Another one always played music there. I didn’t know how he knew them.
He seemed friendly and cheerful and joked around like the rest of us, but man was there something ungraspable. I would say off, or different, or strange, but that wasn’t quite it. Just something hidden about him. But hidden in the most casual way as to hardly be noticeable. I don’t know why I noticed it. Maybe I just caught him in one brief moment of transparency.
It wasn’t attraction, in the normal sense of it. I guess in the literal sense I was attracted to him because I would watch him whenever he was around. But I wasn’t hot for him. I was just fascinated with him. For months, though I never got around to really trying to get to know him.
But one night talking to him alone, in the back of the café watching our friend play his music, sipping mochas, I came to the conclusion that what was fascinating was just my attempt to find out what was there, my expectation that there was something underneath all that nothingness. But it was just void.
James Van Noy
The dude just didn’t belong anywhere he was at. That’s all I gots to say about him after knowing they guy for like twenty years, since the early 90s. Meet him with a bunch of others going to a Nirvana concert. He just didn’t fit in exactly, you know. Shit not even at that concert, way back then. It’s not like he stuck out like a sore thumb. But he was never cool with any place. Never could just chill, if you want my opinion (which obviously you do), no matter how much he seemed to be chillin’ somewhere. It was all posture. Dude just didn’t belong anywhere.
We got in to a fight. An honest to goodness fistfight. Only one I’ve had as an adult. It was surreal. Though it was shortly after 9/11 so maybe everyone was just on edge.
I made some wisecrack about a friend, very innocuous as I remember, insulted this guy’s manhood, but he reacted with unequal insignificance. He punched me in the arm. Not really hard, but it hurt.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said when he saw my anger.
I punched him back. He shoved me back. I shoved him. Then we grappled a little bit. Then he threw a real punch that mostly missed. I threw a punch that connected. He threw a punch that connected. I threw one that missed. He shoved me. I swiped at his hands as he shoved me. And that was it.
So, not much of a fight. But still a fight. Fucking stupid. That’s what our friend Nicole said, “You guys are fucking stupid.”
“What does it matter?” he said.
Like I said, it was after 9/11 so maybe he had a point.
He always seemed to be hanging on by a thread, every time I saw him, which was every few months for years, even way back when I first met him, like ten years ago. This was before he went away and everyone thought that said thread had finally broke. But then I saw him like two months ago and he seemed to be doing well. He had a nice car and looked all right.
And maybe that thread did break and he just managed to pull himself back up, or maybe he found out that he didn’t have to be hanging by that thread all the time and secured it more thoroughly. I don’t know what I’m talking about.
I am an old man now and this was a long time ago. Years and years past. Back when you could do such things. We just had ourselves a night. Let loose as they said back then. He was crazy that night. And it was natural. He was at ease. It didn’t strike me until later. Next day. During the night I was too busy having fun to notice.
Now, the then now, the next day, I realized how much tension he carried around. He carried it well, didn’t look like it weighed on him, but it was there.
But not this night.
I hardly remember what we did. I think we broke into a store. Stole something trivial, a lighter. Smoked some weed. Threw a rock at a police cruiser. Crashed a party. Um, what did we call it, hooked up with some girls.
I tell you, there was something great and inspired within him. It just didn’t get out very often.
He almost always held something back.
I hated the guy. And I can’t tell you why. I don’t hate him anymore. I don’t have anything to do with him anymore. But even if I still knew him I wouldn’t hate him now because I’m not the same impulsive guy I was then. Though I’m sure he’d be the same. ‘Knew’ him. I’m not sure that’s the proper word. I was aware of him. I think that’s all people can say about him. They are ‘aware’ of him. But you can’t know that guy. Might be why I hated him. Had to categorize him somehow, judge him some way. I ended up judging him . . . as lacking something vital. And it made me hate him, the way you hate what you don’t understand but think you should.
Brian Brunson studied philosophy and history at the University of Oregon. His fiction has appeared in Literary Juice. He lives in Arizona with his cat, also named Brian.
2 Replies to “Hearsay”
FYI I think you have to pay to access the full story now which is a new thing, but you get access forever for all the stories etc.
Also, bonus points for those who know where the name The Dr T J Eckelburg Review comes from.
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