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Such a Wide Array of Such Important Topics by Zoë Geltman

He found it hard not to be a snob, knowing as much as he did, having read so much.

He found it hard not to condescend to people, having had little to no encouragement or resources growing up, in the South, among the Uneducateds and the Pious.

And having grown up this way, he still managed somehow—impossibly—incredibly—to know so much—so much more than other people.

To have such a firm grasp on such a wide array of such important topics as the U.S. Tax Code, the Fiscal State of the European Union—which, he knew, was pretty much a tautology since, obviously, the EU was already a commonwealth of countries, held together merely by a common currency and economic best-interests—best interests on the part of Germany, let’s be honest—rather than a cultural or even administrative union—Chinese-American Commercial Trade Policy, the Liberal Backlash at Unquestioning Conservative Support of Zionism.

And he even managed to have opinions, too.

Like really good, carefully considered opinions.

He didn’t understand how so many people who grew up with it all just at their fingertips—or more like ensconced in it all, just lying lazily in a sea of books and education and teachers who cared and parents who supported—how they could be so blasé about everything.

How they could not even read the newspaper every day.

How they could not have a job lined up for after graduation.

And how they could not even be worried about their lack of prospects. Because he knew they would just end up not doing anything, or else assume some kind of honorary/titular position for which they really had no responsibilities at all but could go around and say to people “Oh, yeah, I do that.”

Or—worse yet—they would sort of offhandedly, nonchalantly, at the last minute, apply for the job that he so desperately wanted.

The job that he went so far as to tell his parents that he would actually be crushed not to get—a vulnerability he later regretted admitting to—although not particularly to his parents since they were so removed from that world and had no real, vested interest in his obtaining a job at a prestigious institution except insofar as they would then be able to head-shakingly brag about it to people in their small, backwards town, and wouldn’t have to see their only son mire himself in dreams-crushing debt—since they had neither the assets nor the higher-education-means-more-than-anything ideals to front the outlandish tuition costs for his intellectual pursuits—but that he was just a little mad at himself for even saying out loud since he generally considered himself to be kind of prickly and impenetrable, and didn’t like one bit the idea that his hidden, searing desires could so effortlessly slip out without him even knowing they were coming. But he wanted it. Only, he didn’t like his parents to know. Or any of the girls he met. Or even the people he one day hoped to really hob-knob with.

And of course they would get the job—the elites would, among whom he now sort of counted himself, due to his own pluck and resolve and some fortunate circumstances.

They’d get it because of some friend-or-other of their uncle’s who remembered them as tots in corduroys and St. Bernard’s blazers.

They’d get it, despite the fact that he'd sacrificed most of a childhood, holed up in his room devouring books, and now a social life, and health, and a future of economic security—not to mention a significant other.

But having worked so hard to get to the point of even being able to consider applying for the same jobs as these people who had it all from the very beginning—but not actually, in the end, acquiring these coveted positions—he, not they—he realized that the people who grew up with it all didn’t really have to try to get to the point that he was basically killing himself to reach. In fact, they had to try pretty hard not to be there.

Had to do something really outlandish, like grow a chin beard and stop showering and move to some ghost town in the southwest and start a chicken farm.

But even then, even when they’d given it all up, and said a resounding “No Thank You” to the world to which he aspired, even then they’d still have something about them that would make you know they were born into that world.

Something left lurking in their bones.

So he found it hard not to try to make people feel bad that they knew less than he.

To feel some small inkling of guilt at the fact that he was way more in touch with whatever field they happened to be going into, and that he could throw around the really Important Figures and Seminal Books and Historical Contexts of a given field in casual conversation while they would just nod their heads sort of jerkily but also belatedly, in that way that’s always so clearly a disguise—everyone knows it, too—for not knowing what the hell someone’s talking about when you really goddamnit should.

Because shouldn’t someone else acknowledge that a grave injustice was being perpetrated here?

Shouldn’t the elites at least take some small pause before they plunged, half-heartedly and flippantly, into what should have been his life?

But of course no one did.

So he just ended up cutting a kind of caustic, bitter figure; alienating.

It was the reason he only dated women he found in bars with big fat ruddy men smoking cigarettes outside. Bars he went to by himself on Monday nights, that sometimes didn’t even play music. Just had a game on sort of quietly with some baseball-capped fellas staring up occasionally and commenting—to each other or more likely to themselves. He’d find a sort of older lady—maybe in her forties—one who looked a little meth-y, with those kind of deep lines, and sagginess under the eyes and at the chin, but still tryin real hard to keep it together with low-cut tops and turquoise shimmer eyeshadow. And he’d sit down right next to her at the bar, or even at a booth if she was at one. And he’d feel right up her skirt, without even saying a word.

He’d be sure this way—this, he knew, pretty sexually aggressive and even assaulting, as well as really skeevy and out-of-the-way-way—that there was absolutely no chance that they would have any connection to the world from which he was—it seemed to him—actively being denied admittance.

And so he wouldn’t have to genuinely worry about hurting their feelings because they were so messed up to begin with that it wouldn’t really make a difference if he made a bunch of off-hand, snide remarks about stuff they’d never read or even heard of because really anything he’d say could potentially send them over the edge and into an abyss of self-loathing and psychosis, so he felt he might as well practice feeling superior on them.

He recently went out on a second date with a girl—a woman—he, half-horrified, half-delighted, found out upon first meeting her by the bathroom in MacBlain's—W-O-M-A-N—the first date having pretty much misfired when he arrived at her apartment to pick her up and she yelled out, inviting him through the unlocked front door but then appeared to have locked herself in her bathroom and was bawling inconsolably and screaming at him to “Get the fuck out of here! Just get out!”—who brought him back to her apartment, and into her tapestried bedroom and proceeded to strip naked and accuse him of fathering her unborn son. And then she’d knelt on her bed and read portions of the Old Testament, rocking back and forth like someone possessed.

He stood there just watching her for what seemed like half an hour and then asked how she already knew it was a boy if she just found out she was pregnant, at which point she leapt up and slapped him across the cheek with the back of her hand—the one with the large, coiled snake ring.

And most of his elite semi-friends, when they heard about his various romantic exploits, would laugh at him and shake their heads at what a character he was. What an out-there guy—given the kinds of women he chose to date, and the really bizarre situations he found himself in.

But he could tell that deep-down they were jealous of his wild, ragged, outsider status; he was permitted to surround himself with girls that were alive and most likely into some sort of kinky sex thing—as opposed to the staid, arms-crossed bores that they sort of had to date.

He liked to imagine himself a surly and sour personage in the drama of other people’s lives. At an early age, he had forced himself to forge this mental image of a spring leaf entering his puckered mouth, and immediately shriveling up until it was nothing more than a crumpled, crusty ball—having recoiled so at the acrid flavor of his mouth.

But there was something about the way people laughed, hollowly, at him that made him scared—late at night when he wasn’t sleeping, only lying stiff with a clenched face, nervous-scratching at his forehead—and made him clutch himself hard in the realization that they weren’t recoiling so much as being spilled on, backing away disgustedly at some unpleasant leak, some unwanted juice oozing from somewhere you didn’t even know had juice—like a crack in the wall, or a hard pimple. As though he were really more like an overripe peach. A peach that you left the store vowing to eat right away, as soon as you got home, even—but that bruises in the plastic bag on the way and oozes sticky and saccharine all over the carrots and the cucumbers. Maybe even out an incidental hole near the top and onto your canvas bag, your jeans. Your hands. Ruining your day in a small, trivial, but really very unpleasant way.

###

When the girl with the large, coiled snake ring slapped him hard across the cheek, he felt a bitter rush, like acid coming up, and with a hot blindness, he slapped her back. Also with the back of his hand. She was quite pretty, actually. Not like the others—the ones he couldn’t believe still existed anymore, or at least that they existed anywhere outside the movies or those terribly addictive crime shows on T.V. She was prettier than they by a long shot. But maybe not quite pretty. She was pretty in a blurry way. As though her face hadn’t been fully formed yet. But if it had been, it would have been pretty; it was on its way to being a pretty face and then something got erased or smeared, or dribbled on.

He imagined the red that was spidering out on her cheek underneath her clutching palm gradually darkening into a purple bruise with a disease-y yellow border. And her having to put makeup over it so that it’d end up looking kind of gray, or like a blemish in a wall that’s been painted over, but is still pretty visibly—if not more noticeably and embarrassingly, because self-consciously—a blemish.

As she lay broken on the tan carpet by the rounded window alcove—his slap having apparently had the brute force to send the weight of her body—not to mention her ring—a distance of a few feet—an arm strung awkwardly over a pile of books, he noticed that a blurry face looked good when it was upset. That it somehow cohered when anguish-ridden in a way that it did not when just peering out at you in blank expectation. He stared pointedly at her, wondering how she could have visible ribs on her sides and even in that space above and between her non-existent cleavage—because outside of the supportive grasp of a bra— while still sporting some impressive padding around her hips and ass. It was strange how women’s bodies worked: How a sunken valley in one area didn’t preclude the existence of a prominence in another. How a clavicle could be so very delicate, so delicate that every time he was with a woman—in an intimate way, that is—he thought seriously about sliding his hands under the wings of her shoulders and lifting her torso up this way and then pressing his thumbs down hard into that center area, into those bones that always faced the world, and cracking her in two, right through the middle, so that she’d have almost a hinge now, right up and down the line that her belly button created. And if he wanted, he could even fold one side—the right arm and the right breast and the right hip and the right lip and the right leg, say—onto the other side. Folding her in on herself. Even her face, if he wanted to be consistent. So then her eyes would just be staring into each other—not even blinking, because her eyelashes would get tangled in each other being as close as they were—for as long as he decided they would be.

He wondered if she were embarrassed by her fleshiness—or her selective fleshiness—those parts that weren’t the delicate facing-the-world bones. And if she wore clothes to try to hide it. It dawned upon him recently, though, that whenever girls tried to hide something, they actually just ended up drawing attention to that thing. A baggy outfit, for example, just made it impossible for you to see the curves underneath, which were presumably at least a tiny bit sleeker than the clothes that covered them.

But maybe she was one of those girls who “owned” it, as they say. Who wore whatever she wanted and even things she really shouldn’t have been wearing simply to tell the world that she didn’t give a damn; that she recognized the feminine beauty ideal and she fucking rejected it. Which was pretty sexy in itself, if you thought about it. Which was pretty ironic and twisted, if you thought about that: That consciously going against that which was generally accepted as beautiful and sexy was itself beautiful and sexy. So that maybe you could always just do the opposite of what was expected of you, as long as you did it consciously. As long as you did it willfully.

But maybe it didn’t always work. And how could you tell beforehand without risking your whole life and reputation? It was definitely too risky a move, he decided.

He didn’t think she was that kind of girl anyway. The two times he had seen her, at least; she wore a tightish top, to accentuate her dancerly upper half, and then sort of dark, nebulous pants so you really couldn’t tell what was going on down there.

Even now, when she stood hands on hips, one knee bent. Pointing towards the door. Telling him to get the fuck out. Because he didn’t hit her. He didn’t even touch her. He respected her decision. He respected women’s choices. That was a fact. He never went against a woman’s wishes. That was a point of pride.

Even now, even though he still really couldn’t tell what was going on. And not just because she was staring straight at him and he couldn't focus her face into one form, squeeze those fuzzy outlines into the boundaries of her. Not just because he felt he really should have been the one yelling “fuck” or something to that effect since he sure had the right to be pretty mad about her claiming—presuming, more like it—to be carrying his child—his!—and so it didn't make any sense at all for her to be yelling at him. Because he couldn't quite fit the outlines of what had just happened into the boundaries of his mind. Could she actually be pregnant? Did it make sense that she would be kneeling on her bed, rocking back and forth, reading the Bible? Did they have sex? He didn’t feel like they did. His body felt the same as it did just a few moments ago. None of the familiar postcoital soreness and pleasant calm after exertion.

But something told him he had done something shameful. Something green and sinister whispered over his nerves and made him shiver. Did he go over to her at the bar and spout some kind of transparent—but also effective—sleaze that somehow convinced her that he wasn’t like every other guy she had ever gone out with? Persuaded her—in her infinite discernment—that he wouldn’t take advantage of her? That he wasn’t even interested in her in a sexual or crass way? But simply as a friend, as someone he could share his most intimate thoughts with and with whom she could share hers? And did she buy it?

It was like trying to fit something a little too large into something a little bit smaller. Or maybe something of indeterminate size into something quite determinate.