Do any of you know a person like my friend Boyd? He is loyal, forthcoming, opinionated yet charming. He also cannot remain with any woman, except as a friend. He has lived with three or four women in the time I’ve known him; he’s been twice divorced, and the young son he inherited when he married his second wife has become a lawyer who recently deposed him in a case involving a policeman who went berserk and attacked a bag lady. Boyd just happened to be putting more money in the parking meter when the policeman lunged at the shrieking woman. Of course, Boyd tells it as a very funny story. Also, he doesn’t care who wins or loses.
And maybe that’s part of it: he doesn’t have enough regard for himself. He’s aware that he has enough unique qualities that he’s not likely to lose profoundly. Meaning that so far, he’s been lucky in meeting women who’ll consider spending the rest of their lives with him—which he usually considers, aloud, as a rhetorical question, on the first date.
This may already be giving the sense that he’s an egomaniac, or just plain foolish. But that impression wouldn’t be quite right; he has adequate empathy and enough distance from his romantic mistakes that he spells himself by acting as his own Holden Caulfield.
Recently, Boyd went to the spca to see about a dog, instead of a woman. I’m just being honest about this. He wouldn’t say it about himself, even in an abashed, charming sort of way, but that’s what it came down to this time—this time meaning that his new love interest called it off, saying he asked too many questions and only posed rhetorical questions himself. Also, she was angry that he hadn’t sided with the homeless woman, the bag lady. She, herself, might have been on the verge of being a bag lady if she hadn’t been saved by a bequest in her sister’s will, she insisted. What she really wanted to talk about was how she and her sister had never gotten along, but you had to hear about it under the guise of her anxiety about money.
Anyway, the spca was apparently used to seeing people when those people were in funny moods; for example, taking antidepressants and suddenly having an epiphany that they needed a cat, or having a midlife crisis they felt sure could be remedied by the possession of a pit bull mix. The people at the spca were a bit on guard, is the way Boyd tells the story, all but fingerprinting him before they’d let him into the kennel. Sudita, the girlfriend who was leaving him, had given him a ride, because her dermatologist’s office was right across the road; she went there for Botox injections several times a year. So when Boyd met her at the car, she was knitting her brow every other minute, which is what they tell you to do—frown deeply, then relax your face—so the stuff will sink in. He asked Sudita to come look at two possibilities with him—a shepherd mix with one ear up and one ear down, and a yellow Lab/Dalmatian that probably slobbered too much, but that seemed the livelier fellow. Sudita hadn’t even wanted to give him a ride, let alone look at dogs, but she shrugged as she frowned, and grudgingly agreed as she resumed a neutral expression. She crossed the road with him and together they looked at the hopeful dogs, under the watchful eye of Bobbi, an spca volunteer who thought—because of Sudita’s odd expressions and Boyd’s excessive earlier questioning—something strange was going on. If you didn’t see this coming, he wanted the volunteer to become his replacement girlfriend, though for several days he was also preoccupied with talking about the Lab/Dalmatian he’d left behind, and its spotted head and “marbleized” paws.
There is nothing wrong with meeting someone at the spca and calling the next day to ask them out for coffee—except that in this case, Bobbi really wanted to place “Gomer”—which was the dog’s name—so she felt coerced into having coffee with Boyd, even though he knew nothing of her attachment to that particular dog.
The funny part of the story, according to Boyd, is this: They went to the Omni for coffee and sat facing the television above the bar that was broadcasting local news. The downtown mall had had its old cracked bricks replaced—a yearlong project—and three young women in high heels were giggling and talking on the tv about how much easier it was to strut their stuff, now that their heels would no longer get caught between bricks. Boyd recognized one of the people; it was Amber, the former girlfriend of Gavin, whose mother had been Boyd’s second wife. “Yeah, I think this is a good use of our tax dollars,” she said to the interviewer, “but I’d rather take one of those bricks and shove it up the [bleep] of my ex-boyfriend.” The show was live, so somebody had to be listening very carefully to bleep out the dirty word. Boyd immediately took out his cell phone to call Gavin and warn him that Amber had been interviewed on camera, and had said something bizarre, when—no kidding—the bartender appeared, and who should it be but Ms. Shove-It-Up-The-Bleep herself. “Yeah, I work here now.” She pointed at Boyd: “And this guy’s bad news,” she said to Bobbi, “and the son he raised is bad news, too. Ask yourself why somebody’s got to be in a bar at eleven o’clock in the morning for coffee.” Then she picked up the remote control from the bar top and clicked off the tv. She dropped it in her apron pocket and walked through the swinging doors to the kitchen. During which time, Bobbi shot her eyes to Boyd, and—as he told me—started gazing deep into his green irises, so that they no longer reminded her of moss, but slime. She rose from her chair, turned and bounced up the steps, and walked quickly down the corridor, through the revolving door, relieved she’d found out about Boyd’s bad character before he tried to adopt Gomer, whom she, herself, adopted that afternoon—but that was another story.
“Tell me why a nice, educated woman like Bobbi would pay attention to a crack made by an obvious nutcase, just because it was negative, and because it was against men. A man. Me,” he said.
I told him he didn’t spend enough time between girlfriends. That he wasn’t the type to get up in the middle of the night if the dog needed to go out, or to fence his yard and put in a pet door, either. He was even paranoid about peepholes. He’d removed one from the front door of his townhouse and filled the hole with putty. Not that paranoia was a problem, generally. I just couldn’t resist telling him that he wasn’t a dog person. Yes, it was a little indictment. Something made me—made women—a little angry with Boyd. “I went back that night, before the spca closed, and do you know what she said? That if I didn’t leave her alone she’d get a restraining order, and that, furthermore, she had protection. She had Gomer.”
I told him it was best to just forget the whole thing. He was making me think he was unhinged himself, obsessing about such people. “Well, oh yeah?” he said, faux-pugnaciously. “Well, Ms. Know-It-All, what do you make of Amber refusing to bring me a cup of coffee? I sat there for fifteen minutes, and she never came back. A bartender!”
“Please tell me you’re not interested in her,” I said.
“Not one bit,” he said.
“Which must distinguish her, among all the trillions of other women who populate the planet.”
“Do you notice a tendency in yourself to become caustic?” he said. He didn’t wait for a reply. “Here’s how it goes with you,” he said, “if I tell you someone was rude to me, you become rude. If I say that a bartender didn’t do her job, you don’t behave like a friend—you jump to the conclusion that I would find that intriguing. What does that say about you, that you’re so oppositional that you criticize when I need a little sympathy?”
I thought it over. Have you ever had someone say something so bluntly you’re not aware if it’s the unexpected tone, or the content, you should respond to? In that moment, I realized I didn’t like him anymore. That when I had liked him, I’d really been in love with him, but that was over. There had been too many years of listening, of giving conventional good advice he’d often repeat to me years later, having sorted out my obvious comments from my more insightful ones to remember, so that I always sounded a bit dull-witted. It came to me that his stories were told to diminish women, and that he didn’t even realize I was a woman, really. As he complained about other women, he looked right through me, into the mirror where he’d see his reflection; the words were only chatter to distract me, so I wouldn’t see him looking at himself. Which I don’t mean metaphorically, by the way. He could make a mirror of most anything: a black tv screen; the dark glass on the front of the microwave. He’d see himself as words popped like corn kernels about to inflate and be buttered—well-oiled, salted, taken in—his audience’s fingers reaching again and again into the bag.
One time he even saw his reflection in a shot glass of bourbon, raised in a toast: to friendship, so much more important than love. To me. To big me, from little him.