Exercise in Description, part IV

– Never Let It Be Said There Is No One Worse Off Than You –

There is this fellow I know named Henry.

The 6 fell loose on Henry’s watch. Not only was it loose and rattling around beneath the crystal, but eventually it managed to snag both the second-hand and the minute-hand so that the two were tied together in the 6’s tiny loop and had to move, if they moved at all, as one, and thus make a mess of time. The probability of this happening unaided is something like 3,600 to 1 — except it is probably more like a number broaching infinity given the large number of 3 dimensional events which would have also had to conspire to occur all at once for this to happen (since our world is manifold). And so it is safe to say that this sort of thing could only ever happen to Henry, who is, so far as I have observed, a favorite in Misfortune’s harem.

I asked him to see the watch, which he was banging noisily against the table during a sensitive work meeting, and saying to himself, bemusedly, “How about that”, and, “I can’t believe it” (he couldn’t believe it!). Finally he handed me the watch and said, “Careful now, Peter, that’s a 9 dollar watch!” I saw that, with all the banging to dislodge the 6, he had also knocked loose the 2. That is the sort of thing that usually happens when Henry tries to solve his problems.

For example, in college he impregnated a girl, whose name he did not know, after a drunken one-night stand. Not without honor he chose to remedy this by marrying the girl; yet the malevolence and ingenuity of his stars managed to twist this noble gesture and make of it the broad matrix from which all following disasters were engendered. In order to mitigate the financial damage of medical school Henry organized crews during weekends, breaks and summers to paint apartments and campus buildings, making for himself a fair amount of money. But when a second child followed hard on the heels of the first his wife reasoned they would all starve before the long-term payoff of med-school, and that he should therefore expand the short-term payoff of painting.

Initially, things went well. Then one Sunday, his crew painting a church in order acquire tax breaks, Henry fell from the steeple scaffolding four stories. Though he landed on his neck he did not break it, and six weeks later when he finally emerged from the grey mists of his coma his doctor commented, with unintended irony, that he was a very lucky young man. Nevertheless there was residual brain damage: a connection had been severed destroying his ability to taste and smell, as well as a certain dimming of intelligence. Seeing as after this fall misfortunes befell him with an even quicker pace, I often wonder to what extent his diminished ability to reason is responsible, and to what extent the machinations of his evil fate.

Henry spent three months in rehabilitation, where he had to relearn the finer points of writing, speaking and walking — and where at night his unhinged roommate, when left unchained, would sometimes attack him with fists and teeth. Henry required sedatives to sleep, so he had to infer these beatings from cuts and bruises he discovered in the mornings. In the meantime his wife began to drink. Then, just short of one year after being discharged, was born a third child. All three were daughters.

Eventually his wife persuaded him to move away from his family in Indiana and near her family in Florida. Henry was deep in debt; he had no luck organizing another painting crew; his wife would not permit him to return to med school; his wife ceased to conceal her drunkenness and grew irritable; the kids wanted to play soccer, go to birthday parties, take dance lessons, have pretty clothes. There were no resources for any of this. So Henry’s wife left him. It was not an amicable separation.

These are simply some of the broad strokes of Henry’s bad luck. As such, they are not much different from anyone else’s — the real interest lies within the details. There was, for example, the time in class he tried to break up a fight between two female students who subsequently turned their attack on him, which resulted in him having to contact the union lawyer to defend him against charges of assault. Or the time the school principle, aware of his financial destitution, personally delivered a ham to his door on Christmas Eve and, looking over his shoulder, espied in horror the truly squalid state of his apartment. Three days later he received a call from Child Services, resulting in another protracted legal battle. And these on top of the endless divorce proceedings with his wife.

Since Henry knows I am considering law school he often calls me for free legal advice, despite my vigorous protestations that I am in no position to give it. He has asked me whether evidence gathered by slipping a tape-recorder into his daughter’s coat pocket during a visit to her mother’s would be valid in a libel suit. And since he also knows I do a little work in finance and accounting he has asked me if I am aware of any ways to conceal earning statements because of an approaching alimony hearing. I generally counsel him to do the exact opposite of whatever he is thinking.

One day my phone rang and I answered to hear Henry’s undefeated, perpetually cheery voice. I should mention I have never once found him in a bad mood, and often wonder how this is possible. I cannot yet account for it. He was calling to ask me if I knew how to get a phone number.

“There is the phone book, or 411 information,” I said. “Do you have the person’s name?”

“No,” he said, “and anyhow this is an out-of-state number.”

“Do you even know the person you want to call?”

“Yes, but not by name. But I don’t want to call him, I want to call his wife.”

“Do you have his wife’s name? Do you have any information of theirs?”

“I have his license plate number.”

“Did you try the DMV?”

“Yes, they said they are not authorized to issue me anyone’s personal information. I also tried the police department, but they said the same thing.”

“Then I don’t know what to tell you.” There was a long pause on his end, then I heard him draw a deep breath.

“This is the thing,” he began, “I drove past my ex-wife’s house and saw this cop-car parked out front with Chicago lisence plates. What would a cop-car with Chicago lisence plates be doing all the way in south Florida? Then I remembered my ex-wife used to date this guy named David who eventually became a cop, and she admitted to having cheated on me with him when we were still living up there. It has to be him. And I know he’s married, so I want to call his wife and let her know what he is up to.”

“Of course, I don’t blame you, and if that’s the case I agree he deserves it. But are you sure it is him?”

“I’m sure enough. Who else would it be? And furthermore, if he drove state property all they way down here I’m sure that is some sort of offence his precinct should be informed of.”

“Probably. Nevertheless, I don’t see any way of getting his home number short of asking him for it.”

“Alright well listen, this is what I was thinking. First of all he’s never seen me. So if I wait outside the house in my car until he leaves I can follow him and at some point run my car into his. Not hard, just enough to do a little damage. Then we’ll have to switch phone numbers and insurance information. Then I’ll go call his wife.” He finished and there was a long pause on my end.

“Let me clarify this,” I said, “you, who have no car insurance, want to purposely damage your car and his in order to deceive him into giving you his information so that you can call his wife and accuse him of adultery? And in addition to this it is a police car you want to intentionally damage, which might be for all we know something like a federal offence?”

“That’s right,” Henry said with conviction. “What do you think?”

I kept waiting for him to say, “Ha, just kidding!” But he never did.

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~ by Peter on April 30, 2008.

7 Responses to “Exercise in Description, part IV”

  1. Strangnesses of fate. Tangled time and tangled minds, cool story, how was Paris?

  2. This is very fine, reminds me of the perfect prose of Richard Ford, by that I don’t mean it is in his style, just that it is as fine, as engrossing, you’ve caught a man’s whole life in what, a thousand words, and it’s a portrait with depth and nuance. Excellent.

  3. Ha! Very nice post. This friend of yours…he sounds familiar.

  4. I liked this one a lot. It makes me think that there is either a little or a lot of truth weaved in to it, but I cannot tell which. Plus I really want to know what happens next.

  5. To both Mermaid and Broken Forum: this sort of stuff cannot be made up! As to what happens next, I myself am always wondering that since every time I hear from him it is something new.

  6. Just fucking brilliant…

  7. i can’t lift my jaw off the floor.

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