Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
Last week Mr. Evans made the rules and then hid from them.
I have been a voracious consumer of Archie comic books, as literary objects, since my early childhood. These days -- it seems that it's been this way ever since the less-than-amicable departure of Dan Decarlo from the company -- the writers and artists are crap, but during the Seventies and Eighties, in particular, all kinds of interesting things were going amongst the stories of teen love triangles and seasonally-appropriate adolescent adventures. I am thinking of one story, in particular, called "The Rules Maker." It is a short story, half of a comic book page, comprised in its totality of only three or four panels. In the first, Archie, who is playing tennis with the bully in the group, a big, blathering blonde-haired fellow named Moose, calls Moose's shot out
. And we can see that the shot is
out. In the cartoon panel, animated by dialogue but frozen in time physically, the ball's trajectory is marked by a couple of swooshing motion lines, and those lines clearly converge with the ground outside the legal territory demarcated by the white boundary lines. Moose approaches the net to contest the call, and Archie approaches to engage the dissent. "The rules maker," Moose says,"says that it was in."
Archie frowns, furls his brow:
"What rules maker?" he says, with dubiousness.
Moose folds one of his massive fists into a ball and holds that ball of flesh and knuckle, of lines and brushstrokes, near Archie's face.
"This rules maker," he says, moving it very slightly (the movement, once again, indicated by swooping, swooshing motion lines),
Archie smiles nervously, perspires slightly.
"Oh," he says. "That rules maker."
Does anything else really need to be said about the rules?
I have been invited to use this space, and some of this material, to write about "rules and other contracts of mutual indifference." I'd rather share the following story:
Two summers ago. We have a student on our program named Celeste. Celeste has thick thighs, overdeveloped breasts, and is of Central American or, more likely than that, Caribbean origin. She offers conflicting explanations, but what we all know is that she was adopted as an infant by a white family and raised in a small town in upstate New York. Usually, when working with high school students, you can figure that there are going to be two groups that you have to deal with: the popular kids, the kids who fit into the group, who are probably going to try to break the rules, but who really cares if they do because they'll be doing it with each other and in a controlled environment; and, on the other hand, the losers, the kids who don't fit into the group, who form a few clumsy alliances amongst themselves but for the most part sit in corners, lean against bus windows, examine their fingernails. You can count on the members of that group, which is really not a group but rather the antithesis of a group, the group comprised of that which does not comprise the group, to obey the rules with a sense of indifference.
Celeste, to our dismay, is neither. Her thighs are too thick. She is too ethnic. She comes from upstate New York, and not from the New York area where most of the other students come from. Her clothes are all wrong. She'll never be accepted into the popular group. But, at the same time, Celeste is not content to form a couple of odd alliances with other outcasts, sit in corners, lean against bus windows, examine her fingernails. Celeste is a rules breaker. We can see it from the beginning, and the reason that it concerns us so much is that, because she has no hope of being accepted into the popular group, if she is going to break the rules she is going to have to go outside, where the risk-taking and rules-breaking is not controlled.
We were sharing space at Madrid's Universidad Complutense, that summer, with a group of Mexican university students who were not subject to any rules at all. At night, after we had shuffled our group into their hallways, checked to make sure all of the doors were closed and the lights were off, and then turned our backs so that they could scramble into the room where the alcohol was, or meet somebody in a dark stairwell to exchange some series or another of poorly-executed sexual gestures, the Mexican students would pour out onto the deck along the residence's swimming pool where they would drink, smoke cigarettes and hash, and generally revel until the early hours of the morning. From our rooms on the third and fourth floor, we could hear the sound of cans and bottles opening, corks popping, lips locking, and it always made me think of something I once learned about Alcatraz.
Apparently, from certain places inside of that prison, during the summers, and if the wind was just right, the prisoners could hear, as though in their very cell, the sounds of the San Francisco Bay Yacht Club. When I learned this, I thought of the ache of imprisonment, what it must be like to be that close to freedom and yet so fundamentally far away. As it turns out, the prisoners weren't spending a lot of time aching for freedom when they were hearing the sounds of the parties at the Yacht Club. You see, there weren't any women at Alcatraz, and those nights, when the voices from the Yacht Club joined them in their cells, were as close the prisoners could come to actual physical contact with that other sex. So there would be time for aching, time for yearning, time for remembering. Those nights, they stayed awake on their cots and masturbated furiously.
Celeste comes to us one morning in the office with the odd complaint that all of the slats on the bed in her room at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid have broken.
"When?" we ask her.
"Last night," she tells us. "I woke up this morning and they were all broken."
"All of them?"
She confirms: "Every single last one."
This is strange.
My boss and I walk back with her to her room to examine the situation. Elizabeth, much more attractive than Celeste and dripping wet with a towel wrapped tantalizingly and precariously around her midsection, sees us and frowns:
"No boys on the girls side," she says.
"We're not boys," we tell her. "We're men."
"Does that mean I can bring men back to my room with me?"
She sticks her tongue out.
"I don't know what you think we would do, anyway," she says.
"We don't think," we tell her. "We know what you would do."
"No," she says. "Just because that's what you would do, that doesn't mean that's what we would do. Sickos."
We pull the mattress off of Celeste's single bed. Indeed, every single slat has split down the middle, and now they are piled like firewood in a bed-frame that has become something more along the lines of a mattress pit.
This is very strange.
"I don't know how it happened," Celeste tells us. "I guess I must have been moving around in my sleep."
We guess so.
Later that night, we are clearing our kids off of the poolside deck to make room for the Mexicans, who despite their reputation generally wait patiently and respectfully for us to leave before they begin their misbehavior and revelry. Now, as we file back into the building, they are filing out, squeezing past us so that we are two single-file lines, two human centipedes snaking in opposite directions.
"Let's go," I'm saying. "Line up and move out. What did the big tomato say to the little tomat? Hurry the fuck up. He said, let's get moving you little fucker. The fun's over. Time for bed. In we go."
Elizabeth, as she passes, touches me on the elbow.
She is beautiful and sparkling underneath this northwestern corner of the Madrid sky; I am thinking, there is nothing more beautiful than a teenage girl.
And it's true. I've been around the world and I can confirm this.
"You see that guy?" she says to me, and points to a greasy-looking and acne-stained Mexican boy with an unlit cigarette behind his ear. He is holding an opened can of beer in unsanitary fashion, from the top.
"What?" I say.
"You know that Celeste didn't break her bed just by sleeping," Elizabeth says.
"That guy," Elizabeth says.
Her eyes are black.
She suffers from a pretty nasty case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a malady she treats with 80 milligrams a day of Paxil.
I myself have taken Paxil.
Who are we kidding? I still take Paxil, because that's the way these drugs work. Once you've started, it's impossible to stop. I've tried to stop three times and every time I went crazy. Psychiatrists call it a rebounding effect. If you stop the medication, the psychological condition for which you began taking it in the first place rebounds back, in the sudden absence of that which corrected it, rejuvenated, more forceful than ever.
Around here, addiction makes the rules.
Around here, the rules are what we say they are.
Because we said so.
"Get to bed," I say, getting her moving in the right direction.
She puts her head down and moves forward into the guts of the building. Years later I will think of her breasts, her lips, her face contorted with pleasure, the smooth, young insides of her hands. I will not think of those things now because the rules have determined that I should not.
A little later, maybe twenty seconds, Celeste passes me. We may be the rules makers around here, but she is the rules breaker, and she knows as well as we do, and perhaps better, that she has the power over us.
Now, as she passes me, our faces skim close together. Her nose is near my Adam's apple. She looks up at me. She is the rules breaker.
Our eyes meet.
There is no give in her gaze.