by Alon Bochman
Unfasten your seat belt, and enjoy the ride.
When I graduated high school, I had it all figured out. I mean, if I didn't know it, it wasn't worth knowing. College was like a trip through a really bad car wash. I brushed against a bunch of strange people. Some brushed me lightly, others scratched deep. All of them left their mark on me. And when I was through, my windows were grimier than they were when I came in. I'm not talking about a few streaks here and there. I'm talking uniform, primordial gray. I came out of there in deep oblivion.
If you met them separately, you would never believe Aaron and Daniel were brothers. You would swear up and down that they had different parents, that there was a mix-up at the hospital, that they were switched at birth by a renegade white-gown-clad patient from the mental sanitarium next door. Or by force of sheer, light chance. Things happen that way, you know.
Daniel, the older of the two, always spoke as if he were closing a business deal. Before I ever met him, he left this message on my answering machine:
"Hello, this is Daniel Bloch. It's four thirteen. I was wondering if you'd be interested in going to see a movie with me and Aaron. If so, give me a call between seven thirty and eight p-em. Thank you very much. I will see you soon."
I replayed that message a couple of times, amazed. He stressed every third syllable. I mused that if he lived in the eighteenth century, he would make a great poet, with such adherence to the structure of his speech. When I told him about it, he was too amazed to even laugh. You could calibrate Greenwich standard time by Daniel Bloch's speech.
About a week after we met, we were at a party and Daniel asked me if I was smart. Just like that. We had both had a few beers by that time, but I later found out that they weren't really a factor. He would have asked anyway. It was a very important question.
"Very," I answered.
Daniel smiled. He looked at Rob, who was standing next to me. Rob nodded, sipping his beer.
"How smart? What's your GPA?" Daniel asked.
At that moment, I gained Dan's everlasting respect. Nothing short
of being a covert communist could shake it (and I spent the rest
of the party convincing him I wasn't one, even though I was born
in the Soviet Disunion). He didn't ask me about my memory capacity,
my intelligence, my skill at checkers or my affinity to animals.
All he needed was a number between 0 and 4. Daniel Bloch had one
yardstick, and I measured up.
(The Ground Rules)
Aaron was a different story altogether. I met him at a movie theater.
"Are you a movie fan, Frank?" he asked.
"Sure. Are you?"
He grinned. Yes, Aaron was certainly a movie fan. He knew more about movies than anyone else I've ever met. Aaron could recite the Oscar winners since 1965 and name their spouses (all seven of them, in some cases). In the same breath, he could give a critical analysis of what all science fiction movies of the 80s owe to "Star Wars," and "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
Yet with all that knowledge, whenever Aaron was with Dan, they would both rate movies with only a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Daniel Bloch had only one yard-stick, and it overpowered, in its simplicity, everything in its path.
Midway through my sophomore year, Daniel, Aaron, and I decided to move off campus together. There were only a few 'formalities' Daniel wanted to take care of. One day, he sat us all around a table in their bunk room on Colonial quad. He said we needed to devise some 'ground rules' about our house for the next year, such as who would scrub the toilet on Tuesdays (me), and whether or not we're allowed to have cats (we weren't). Daniel also volunteered to 'take some notes,' of the 'conference,' in case there is 'some confusion later.' I found his notes three days before moving out of that house, while rummaging through the basement, looking for a shopping cart we hid there. Here's an excerpt, slightly edited.
Dan: Okay, now the next item on the agenda (checks off clipboard) is rooms.
Aaron: What about them?
Dan: There are four of them.
Aaron: Well, that does it for rooms, I think.
Dan: The bedrooms are not all the same size. So we have to decide who gets which.
Aaron: I don't really care, one way or the other.
Me: As long as we pay proportionately, I can take whichever room. (everybody stares quizzically) Well, like the person who get the one big room should pay more that the rest of us.
Dan: Okay. How much more?
Aaron: I don't want to pay more. I can take the smaller room.
Me: I want the smaller room too.
Dan: But we haven't decided how much more the big room is going to pay, so...
And the conversation went on and on. I ended up with the large room. Aaron got the smaller one while Dan got the medium-sized one. Dan later accused me of masterminding the whole thing. He called it a communist ploy.
I was in the middle of vacuuming the house one day when Dan put on his double-breasted suit, which only came out of the closet for weddings and funerals (that goes for the suit and the vacuum cleaner.) He stood at the bottom of the staircase and yelled up at Aaron, "Are you ready yet, loser?"
"In a second," Aaron yelled from above.
"Where are you guys going?" I asked.
"Fraternity shit," he said.
Aaron and Daniel were both members of this pre-law-honor-fraternity, Alpha Sigma Chi Row or something. The thing was, they cared for it about as much as I did.
Dan yelled again, "Aaron, do you plan to come down the stairs before I collect my social security?"
Aaron didn't answer. He didn't usually take this long.
"By the way, Frank," Dan asked, "Can we have our pledge ceremony here--in the house--next Wednesday?"
Aaron came down the stairs. "Yeah, it's going to be just like in 'Animal House.' We're going to walk around in togas, burn a few goats, and...can I tell him about the whip, Dan?"
Dan smiled. "You are insane, Aaron."
Aaron said, "Actually, it's going to be pretty lame. We have what people with lives refer to as a 'fake' fraternity."
"I'm not sure I follow..." I could tell that Aaron enjoyed explaining it to me.
"You see, Frank, a real fraternity has binge parties and funnels and beer cans. And, lots of hot sorority-chicks (or babes, depending on the cleavage) come to them and just suck their dick at random. We're not like that. You see, we're an 'academic' fraternity. First of all, we're co-ed. So right off the bat that means no sex." Aaron shot a glance to Dan. "'cause I guess that would be, like, incest or something. Anyway, what we do for fun is sit around and appoint people to completely meaningless positions and committees so that they could put that on their resumes. Sort of like what they do in congress..."
"So why did the two of you bother to pledge this fraternity in the first place?"
"Because I could," said Aaron. "I knew I'd get in because this loser got in the year before," he pointed to Daniel. "Besides, he was the pledgemaster."
"What about you, Dan?" I asked.
He gave me a look like I disappointed him. Of course! Daniel Bloch = Law School = Pre-law Fraternity = Resume Builder. Only a complete stranger would fail to see the identity: the absolute identity.
"Our pledges are Morons," said Dan. "all of them."
"But I thought you had to be smart to get into your fraternity," I said. "Isn't it an honor fraternity?"
"Yes," said Aaron, "as in 'I have the honor to take your money and accept you into our brotherhood... And sisterhood."
"Besides, I managed to get this loser in," said Dan. "So how exclusive could we be?"
"Thank you very much, Dan. You don't know how much that makes my day," said Aaron.
"Are you ready to go, butt-wipe?"
And they left.
Next Wednesday, I came into a different house. Let me explain: I was walking home after school. It was late. It was dark. I thought I came into the right house--162 Benson St.--but the furniture was all rearranged along the walls. The lights were off, and in the darkness, 30 absolute strangers chanted and waved 30 candles in the air. I got spooked.
Dan quickly came out of the dark to greet me. "You've got to go upstairs," he said. "We're almost finished."
"How about the kitchen? I could wait there." I was starved. It was 10 o'clock and I haven't had dinner yet.
"They're... using the kitchen," he said. "How about my room?"
It was the first chance I really got to look at Daniel's bedroom. Funny, but I could never just walk in there. He inspired a kind of formal atmosphere that made it hard. Near the end of the year, I asked him why he did that. He unequivocally denied it, said it was all in my head...
It was also the first real conversation we had that year.
He had a few Escher paintings on the walls. They were all drawn simply, in one color. Concentric pencil-curves. One of them, my favorite one, showed two hands coming out of the page and drawing each other.
Right under that painting Dan had three lists clipped from the Wall Street Journal, ranking the top ten Law Schools in the country, complete with the name of the school, the average of the last entering Freshman class and mean earnings on the first year out of school, all arranged in a neat schedule.
"So when are you taking your LSAT?" He was referring, of course, to the Law School Admission Test. He was a jew. I was a jew. He was smart. I was smart. He was going to Law school, so I must be...
"I'm not going to Law school," I said.
"Are you crazy? What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to be a writer."
He looked at me as if I were in desperate need of immediate psychiatric attention.
"Is this another one of your communist things?" I laughed. He ignored me. "A writer. Let me get this straight: You have a 3.9 GPA. You have two majors. You scored 1300 on your SATs, and you want to make stuff up for a living?"
Daniel had a way with words himself.
He put some effort into understanding it, he really did, but it was like I told him two and two somehow added up to three.
"You know, Frank. I don't get people like you. I understand some shmo, who can't add going off to be a writer, but you're not like them. You're smart. You can do anything you want. You'd make a great lawyer. Why would you- how?" even syntax broke down on poor Dan. Nothing could explain my great gulf of irrationality.
"Writing is important to me. It gives me fulfillment."
"Look. You want fulfillment? You go to Law school, get rich and when you're sixty, you turn over a legal memo and write a poem. Hell, write two. But why throw your life away on that stuff?"
Finally, he said, "Good. Be a writer. Don't apply to Law school. You're my competition and the fewer people like you apply the better my chances of getting in."
We sat there quietly for a minute. Sounds of Latin lyrics and whispers seeped in from the living room. God, was I hungry.
"Sometimes I envy you, Dan. So sure of what you want to do with your life. So certain. You've got a goal. You know where you'll end up. I wish I had that. I wish had it all planned out. I mean, you never have any doubts. You don't have to deal with the uncertainty. Daniel Bloch is going to be a lawyer...Right?"
He looked a little thrown. He was obviously not used to this line of questioning. "Of course I had my doubts. I wanted to be a guitar player once. Back in high school, I wanted to play in a band."
"And did you?"
"I played the trombone in Orchestra." We looked at each other and smiled. "Then I came to college."
"Did you pick up music in college?"
"Political Science with a minor in Philosophy."
"Why not music?" I think he didn't hear me. His cadence was all off. He wasn't stressing every third syllable anymore. It was kind of disconcerting to hear.
"You know what my dad said when I declared a political science major? He said 'What are you going to do, open a political science store?'"
I chuckled. "But you chose that major anyway."
"Sure. 43% of candidates accepted to Law Schools are political science majors. Even my dad can't argue with that."
"So your choice of major had nothing to do with what you liked. It was all for law school. Is that what you're saying?"
"Look. I didn't pick something I couldn't stand. If I did that, I couldn't secure the kind of grades I need in the first place. That wouldn't work. So I compromised."
I looked at his list of Law schools. A girl's picture stood next to it, on his night table. She wore a formal dress--like at a prom. Her picture stood in a thick, gently curving wooden-looking frame. The formal photo fit right in with the rest of the 'decorations,' but the frame looked out-of-place, like a white feather in a soldier's barracks.
"What about Philosophy?" I asked. "Is that for Law school too?"
He shrugged, letting it go. He never shrugs. He opened his mouth to say something else- and, at the time, I would have given a lot to hear it (and I think he would, too) but as it happened, we heard a knock on the door. That conversation was the closest I ever got to Dan Bloch.
A girl came in and kissed Daniel on the lips.
"Ruth Esther Kaplan! How Are You!," said Dan, reverting back to his old, 18th century pattern.
Only then did I recognize the girl's face. Her picture, the one with the wooden frame, sat on Dan's night table.
(Ruth and Daniel)
Dan and I walked into the kitchen through the swinging door. Aaron stood there, looking through the fridge and mumbling something about hot-dogs and dicks. I started to boil some water for pasta. Pasta is one of the basic four student food groups. It's cheap, filling and so easy even I couldn't mess it up.
Dan grabbed Aaron by the shoulder and whispered loudly, "Come on! Are you waiting for her to come here and beg to see your basketball picture collection? Get over there!"
"My basketball picture collection is awesome!" Aaron said.
Dan patted his shoulder with one hand, and threw him out of the kitchen with the other. The door swung twice, and Dan put his door behind it, to hold it closed.
Taryn stood by the defunct fireplace, at the other end of the room, talking to two of her friends in quick, excited whispers. She was short, about 5'5". She had Auburn hair, glasses and the biggest, perkiest pair of--cheeks--Aaron has laid eyes on this side of paradise.
Aaron tried to back up through the kitchen door, but the door held firm. Aaron cursed Daniel under his breath.
For a second, he thought Taryn looked at him. He immediately looked away. Did she really see him? Or was she just surveying the room and accidentally let her gaze linger on the kitchen door right behind him? (the locked kitchen door). 'This is ridiculous,' Aaron thought. 'this is not goddamn D-day. I'm not going to beach fucking Normandy. This is a lot easier.'
He walked toward her. She saw him coming. He knew she saw him coming. He couldn't decide whether to say something from halfway across the room--and risk drawing attention to himself from everybody else, or wait until he came face to face with her--and just keep silent for those 5 seconds while he walked toward her and held her gaze. Taryn made everything incredibly complex. 'And she didn't even do anything yet.' thought Aaron. He opted for the latter.
He opened his mouth but the words got stuck somewhere up his neck, like a dry piece of chicken. He coughed--almost gagged. Perfect timing, Aaron. Just perfect.
"Are you alright?" asked Taryn.
For ten long seconds, he thought of sentence fragments that weren't good enough. He pictured an hourglass timer pissing away his precious sands of hope.
"Oh, yeah, I just had some chicken leftovers from last Friday night dinner..."
"At Chapel House?" she asked.
She's Jewish, thought Aaron. Thank you, God.
"I was at that dinner," she said. "I wonder why I didn't see you."
"Well, it wasn't my turn to lead services. But next week, I'll be-"
"You lead services? In Hebrew?" Taryn's friends tactfully blended into the background, giggling with the other new pledges. Aaron wondered what the hell was so funny. God, if she goes out with me, I promise I'll wear my yarmulke to the john. Just please, let her say yes.
He said, "Yeah, I lead services all the time. Well, not all the time--but every other week. I... You... do you go to services often?"
Do you go to services often? What is that? Is chapel house some kind of bar? What are you going to ask next?--'are you feet tired, 'cause you've been running through my mind all night?' Please.
Taryn smiled. "I just transferred here, actually. So I only got the chance to go twice. But I didn't miss a single one of them..."
"Where did you transfer from?"
"Welsley. I--went there for two years."
Aaron recalled the liberal all-girls school from 'Animal House.' In that movie, Boon said, 'Just talk about literature, Indians and freedom and you're in like Flynn.'
"From Welsley to the University at Albany," he said. "What happened, did you lose a bet?"
"My parents decided they couldn't quite afford $23,000 a year for school."
"Go figure! Myself, I don't like parents."
She laughed. "You don't?"
On the one hand, Aaron noticed she snorted when she laughed. On the other, he realized she was one of the few girls in the world strange enough to laugh at his jokes. He had hit the jackpot!
"Taryn, I don't mean to be forward or anything, but would you consider the possibility--distant as it may be--of having lunch with me some day." He let that sink in for a second, no more. He quickly added, "or not. You're probably very busy, and I wouldn't want to... I'm making a fool out of myself, aren't I. Aaron, why don't you stick to leading services and reading from the bible, huh?"
Even a 'fake' fraternity pledge ceremony is a pain to clean, particularly to three guys who'd sooner take a bath in battery acid than scrub the inside of a toilet bowl... There wasn't much drinking involved, but as the last of the pledges filed out, our house began to look like the student bars on Sunday mornings: somewhere between hung over and clinically dead.
"If you think for one second that I'm cleaning that, you're crazy," I said. I knew that if I didn't distance and detach myself from the mess in short order, I would tacitly assume responsibility for it. That's the way chores got assigned in our house. Normally, such a remark would earn me a spirited half-hour argument--or at least some juicy new insult. But the Blochs were preoccupied with something else. Dan was giving Aaron the third degree:
"...What do you mean, OK?" he asked. "What did she say?"
"She said 'We all need some lunch once in a while...'" Aaron said.
"What a weirdo! What did you say?"
"I said--what did I say? I said 'great!'"
"So what does this mean?" asked Dan. "Are you guys dating now? Is she your girlfriend?"
"I don't know, Dan..." Aaron was getting a little exasperated.
"Tell me anyway," said Dan. "Make something up."
"We're going out this Friday."
I took a theatrical step back, shook my head in mock amazement. "Aaron! You're the man!"
"Was there every any doubt in your mind?" he asked.
I lowered my voice, as if asking for some secret insight from the master. "What did you do, pay her?"
He smiled. "I'm going to forgive you, because I know those terrible words are coming out of pain," said Aaron. "The pain of not getting any! But I promise you, Frank, I'll think of you come Friday night, when I'm out with Taryn."
Dan said, "We've got a problem." He was mysteriously not ecstatic like the rest of us. "You remember the Sigma Delta Chi dance--the one at RPI?"
"Yeah, you said you're not going there."
"No, I am going. I promised Ruth."
"Okay. So what's the problem?" Aaron asked. Suddenly, his smile froze, as if he knew what was coming.
"It's Friday night, too," said Dan.
"You could still go out with Taryn..."
"I want to go out with Taryn, Dan. I really want to."
"And you can."
"Shit!" said Aaron.
Dan looked down to the floor, lower than the floor. "Maybe you can take a cab?"
"Maybe you can take a cab!"
"The dance is at Rensallear. That's a lot further than wherever you were going to take Taryn."
"How the hell do you know where I'm going to take Taryn?"
"Aaron! I've been your brother for 20 years now. We always go out to see a movie or get pizza or both. Doesn't take an Einstein to figure it out."
"Okay. So what? Isn't it Ruth's sorority that's sponsoring the dance?"
"So can't she get one of her sisters to give you guys a ride?"
"No, because they are all staying at a hotel at Rensallear overnight with their dates. It's a tradition."
"And why won't you and Ruth stay at a hotel too?" asked Aaron.
Fire and brimstone poured from Daniel's eyes. Aaron knew full well that Ruth's parents were happy that Dan was 'looking over' her, but if they found out that anything non-platonic was going on, they would have a conniption, and Dan would be out on his ass.
"I need the car to get back that night," said Dan.
"I need the car to take Taryn out."
"Look, Aaron. We've only got one car. We're going to have to work this out."
"..And I can't wait for you to tell me how we're going to do that. Wait, don't tell me. Let me guess. You're going to end up with the car and I'm going to take a cab."
Aaron walked out.
Dan called after him, "Aaron! Get over here!"
We heard the staircase leading to Aaron's bedroom creak. It never creaked so loud. Then we heard the door slam.
(The Odd Couple)
(Lunch on Dutch)
You never know when you're going to make a life-changing decision until after the fact. That kills me. It's like the car-wash I told you about. You never know your windows are gray until you're out of the building...and into the light of day.
Maybe it wasn't the right time or the right place, but what the hell? No, really--I thought--what the hell? And at the moment, the very second that you start asking yourself that question things begin to unfold.
There are two ways to live, depending on what question you ask yourself before you make a decision. Prior to that point, I had been living in the 'What if?' mode, the 'What's the plan/What's next/Which is the best way to get to the bank on State Street' mode. But there was the joint, smoke rising at my face. Rob was holding it. It all froze up and I switched my question.
Everybody, sitting around, laid back laughing and the lull in the conversation kind of converged on me and Rob passed the joint. And the sweet scent in my nostrils, and the dim light seemed to intersect and spotlight me too.
And I smoked the big fatty. What the hell? I'd never smoked pot before, and I almost never had a cigarette, except for this one time when I was five and my dad thought it would be funny to see his five year-old baby boy cough and choke some on his cigar. 15 years later he underwent a surgery for a suspicious cyst. They cut one of his kidneys out and made him quit smoking and turn vegetarian. He couldn't stand it. Peer pressure made him smoke.
It felt like spicy sweet potato in my throat, coming deep down into my lungs. I tried to pry it out with a surprised cough but it was just beyond reach. Kind of tickled my insides, juggled in there. Didn't matter, it was already in. I took another hit.
The lull of the conversation subsided, and the light spread out again. Pretty soon, the whole thing went out of focus. No; no it didn't. Nothing happened. You know what they say about first times and how they suck. Well, it's all true. Nothing happened. Took me four more times before I started feeling any of those ever-so-popularized side effects. And even then, it wasn't much.
(The Transcendental Car-Wash)
One day Aaron came in the front door and told me, "Frank, I don't know what's wrong with me lately. I just piss too much!"
"What do you mean?"
He dropped his bookbag on the clothes-covered floor of his room and fixed himself a grilled-cheese sandwich, one of the only foods he actually ate. He yelled from the kitchen, "I don't know. I woke up today, had my regular bowl of Chocolate-Crispies and then I was still thirsty so I kinda filled the bowl with milk and I poured in chocolate and I drank that. I get to class and I can't wait to take a piss. I take a piss, and in the middle of class I've got to take another one. Now, obviously professor Derheimmer's lecture is so interesting, especially when he talks his youthful academic endeavors... I just can't take my eyes off that guy's nose-hairs. They mesmerize. But I've still got to empty my bladder, right? Right. So I leave in the middle of class and I take another piss. Takes, like, two minutes.
"Then I go to lunch and I'm thirsty again.
"And by the next class, around 2pm, guess what I've got to do?"
"You are a bright one, aren't you, Frank?" I smiled as he continued "Do you think there's something wrong with me?"
"Aaron, I know there's something wrong with you. You can't take your eyes off professor Derheimmer's nose hairs? What's that?"
"Very funny. I piss all the time. Maybe it's serious. That's I do: I drink and I piss all day long."
"Maybe it's the food."
"What, the food they serve us at the cafeteria? Yeah, that stuff could kill a horse. But if that was it, I'd have pissed away all my internal organs by now. No, this is something new. I've only been pissing for the past two weeks."
"Well, I'm sure you've pissed once or twice before two weeks ago," I said.
"Yeah, but not like this. I mean, president Swygert is about to name a stall after me. This is very distressing." Aaron bit into his grilled-cheese sandwich in satisfaction. I'd noticed that all this time, he'd been drinking coke straight from the bottle in the fridge.
"Dan's going to kill you."
"What, this?" he pointed to the bottle of coke. It was empty. "Dan can suck my dick. I paid for this coke."
This was said, I learned gradually, with utmost brotherly love. To Dan and Aaron, the expressions "suck my dick" (and worse) meant nothing much more than 'I respectfully disagree with your position,' or 'golly, but I think there's been a misunderstanding.' It's when they were polite that you had to watch yourself...
"Maybe you should go to the doctor," I told Aaron, trying to beat him at his own game (of exaggeration). "I mean, drinking and pissing... That sounds pretty serious to me. Maybe you've got a tumor or something, Aaron?"
"Nibble on my left testicle, Frank," he said. And that was the end of that.
I came in and Ruth and Dan were sitting around the table holding small pieces of paper. The tea kettle was whistling in the kitchen but nobody got up to turn it off.
"What's going on?"
Dan looked up at me and shook his head. Ruth said, "we just took the Klein test for Diabetes. We're both negative. Aaron's in the bathroom right now."
"What? What are you talking about?" I asked.
That minute, Aaron came out. He dropped a small red piece of paper on the table. Ruth's and Dan's pieces were white.
"Don't panic, Aaron," said Ruth. "The doctor said this test was not a 100% accurate. We don't know you've got it for sure.
Daniel said, "the doctor said it's accurate enough. He's got all the symptoms. Don't give him any false hope."
"Oh my god," I said. "Aaron, I'm sorry."
Aaron just sat there at our dinner table holding his head in his hands, staring at the small red piece of paper.
That was the day before Yom Kippur. We got Aaron to the hospital, where the doctors ran some more tests. Up until the next day, I didn't want to believe it, always telling myself, "We can't be sure he has anything until the doctors say for certain. They're not certain yet!"
Of course, they were. He had juvenile Diabetes. Comes out of nowhere. You can live sixty healthy years, and suddenly your pancreas stop producing insulin. Nobody knows why. Nobody can predict it. But what was certain--once you get it, it's for life.
Aaron was going into insulin shock, the doctor said. That was why he was drinking and urinating so much. His pancreas just couldn't hold on to the sugar in the food and drink, so they asked for more and more to drink, thereby flushing away in the urine stream whatever energy reserves were left in his frail body. It was a sweet and vicious circle. The doctor said that the situation was getting critical. If we hadn't discovered it when we did--if Aaron had fasted on Yom Kippur, he would have almost certainly died.
(Sitting Shiva (The Wake))
He took it better than I expected. He came up with the theory that it was a punishment from god because he skipped services the week before and was masturbating too much. But for a person who just found out he was never going to have another Chocolate-and-Whipped-Cream Sundae, for a person who, from then on, would have to give himself three shots a day in the stomach and constantly prick his finger for the take-home blood-sugar tests, for a person that just had 10 years shaven off his life, he took it well.
That night, his father, Herman, came up from Long Island to comfort Aaron and tell him it was alright that he wasn't fasting for Yom Kippur. I walked into his bedroom. Aaron was lying down, facing the wall corner. Dan and Herman (that's what the Blochs called him--not 'dad' but 'Herman.') sat by him.
I walked in there and I told him about the time after my car accident, when I lay in a hospital bed and the shattered bones in my head were held together only by the lacerated skin of my face.
"I know you'll be getting a lot of advice from a lot of people, but I can tell you from personal experience what worked for me when I was all fucked up in the hospital a couple of years ago."
A tear ran down his cheek--a tear of anger and frustration. But he looked up anyway, maybe out of politeness. Maybe he just didn't have the will to argue.
"My parents and a couple of friends were there, with me, trying to calm me down, saying all kinds of soothing words, but I blocked it out. I didn't want to listen to them. What the hell do they know about what I'm going through? Who the hell were they to give me advice on 'coping,' or some such shit?
"Then the doctor came to look at me," I continued, "and he told me it was pretty bad. I started crying. I didn't want to, but I did. I was so pissed! It had to happened to me! Of all the pedestrians out there, I had to be walking that particular piece of road at that particular minute. And you know what he said to me, the doctor? He said 'The first thing I want you to do, Frank, is to stop feeling sorry for yourself. It's not going to help any.'" That was the best thing anybody could have told me then."
Aaron nodded politely, and I went to sleep.
By the next month, Aaron found a whole new way to deal with his condition. We were having lunch at the Kosher cafeteria when he said, "You know, something just occurred to me. Did you see the way that server at the Kosher line told me they didn't have any more hot dogs? She stared right at me, and I think she smiled. Yeah, she grinned, that one. You know why? Because I'm a diabetic."
"But Aaron, they didn't have any more hot dogs."
"Have you noticed how diabetics are portrayed in moves, like in 'Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory ?' You remember that fat kid who ate all the candy. Why do you think Willie Wonka made him explode? Because the kid was a diabetic. The whole movie was a 'stick it to the diabetics' fest."
"That's very interesting, Aaron." We continued eating, but he wouldn't let up.
"It's discrimination, I tell you." He waved his plastic fork in the air. "Like, how many diabetic basketball players do we have? I'll bet you it's pretty close to zero. You know, I'm tall. I always wanted to be a basketball player. You think I've got a shot? What are my chances? None. Zero. You know why?"
"Because you can't jump, can't pass and you've got no shot, Aaron" said Dan.
"No, that's not it. It's because we live in a society that discriminates against diabetics. What about Supreme Court Justices or..or presidents--do you know how many diabetic presidents we've had? Zero. Zip. Not one. Coincidence? I don't think so."
"Maybe some of them were diabetic but we just didn't know about it?" I asked.
"Ah, and why didn't we know about it? Because had they told anyone, their political careers would be over!" he concluded triumphantly.
At this point, even Dan was giggling a little.
"I think I'm going to be the world's first proud diabetic. It's about time we diabetics had some leadership with backbone!"
"What about hypo-glycemics?" asked Rob.
"They're diabetic-wannabes. I think, when I start the diabetic liberation movement, I'm going to let them do all the dirty work. They will be, like, our foot soldiers, but they'll never be true diabetics. They're never going to make it into the inner circle."
"What if the hypo-glycemics don't like that?"
"Then...they can suck my dick," Aaron said, laughing. "I think us diabetics are going to have to secede from the union and form our own state."
"What's the matter, you don't believe in peaceful coexistence?" we asked, just to prod him on, as if he needed prodding.
"No. Impossible. The sugar-man has oppressed us for too long. We're just too different to live together, under the same roof. He wants cake while we eat carrots. He has strudel while we chew on broccoli. Enough! The only solution I see is complete separation. We're going to get equality by any means necessary. We're going to liberate the state of Idaho!"
"The potatoes, of course. They're a source of starch and protein without sugar. Yupp, we'll just be a bunch of happy diabetics, living in Idaho and chowing down on our potatoes, sort of like the Mormons, only better! I think we'll call our capital 'Starch-lake city.'"
(Lunch on Dutch)
When a star's interior grows cold, when it runs out of gas, it can go one of two ways: either fizzle out quietly or explode in a spectacular supernova. Either way, it goes... Aaron was like that Thursday night. He was on the phone with Taryn.
"No. No, it's OK. I understand. You have work to do...Taryn, if I had three papers due in the next two days, I'm sure I wouldn't be out Friday night, gallivanting with somebody I barely met."
He looked up from the receiver and rolled his eyes at me. Aaron does that a lot. Pretty much everybody else is 'crazy' in his book.
"No. I didn't mean 'gallivanting'...Yes. No, of course you wouldn't...Yes...Yes, Taryn, of course we will...Goodbye and good luck with your three papers...Right, Bye."
He hung up. "I'm never going to see that girl again. You know, Frank, if there's one thing I can't stand it's when they try to make you feel better after they fuck you over, like she knows she doesn't want to go out, but instead of just telling me she thinks up this unlikely sequence of events that led up to her grave decision of not going out with me, like I need to go out with her and I need this explanation. I'll, like commit suicide or something... It's like I give a shit, or something..."
"Okay, alright, I give a shit."
It's not that Aaron never had a girlfriend--he did, at camp last summer. Her name was Judy, or maybe it was Jill. Anyway, Jill-Judy was crazy, Aaron said.
"You say everybody's crazy. What did she do?"
"She was one of those, like, Feminazi-Jew-lesbo women," he said.
Femi-what? No. You have to excuse Aaron again. This probably means she once told him that bar'mitzvas (for women) were not such a bad thing, and maybe women should be holding more political offices than they are. I told him so.
"No, man. She was radical. Like, if she lived in the sixties, she would be one of those bra-burning, I-hate-men types."
"So naturally, she dated you."
"Very funny, Steinberg. Very funny."
I thought it was just another Aaron fit. I was wrong. Dan came home a couple of hours later and Aaron practically grabbed, dragged him into his room and slammed the door behind him. I could hear the conversation all the way on the second floor.
Dan: Exactly what is the problem here?
Aaron: No problem. I don't know. She said she had three papers due in the next two days. She was washing her hair, something like that.
Dan: So she lied.
Aaron: I know she lied
Dan: So she lied to get out of your date. What difference does that make? You move on. See, this is your problem in life. You just don't know when to quit--you keep bashing your head against the wall.
Aaron: That is the most idiotic thing you've said to me in your entire life, Daniel. And you've said some pretty fucking stupid things to me before.
Dan: This girl, she's not your future wife...she doesn't affect you. You go out with this girl. Now, if you get some action, fine. If you don't, you move on to the next girl. She's history. She doesn't matter. Here are the things that concern you in your life: (starts counting on his fingers) Your school. Your family. Your future. Your-
Aaron: There you go again, Daniel. You can't keep doing that.
Aaron: You can't impose these things on me.
Dan: Okay. These are the things that concern me, if I were in your shoes...
Aaron: But you're not! What the hell do you know about what it's like out there? You've been dating the same girl for two fucking years. Its hard to find somebody who isn't just a complete wacko. It's very fucking hard.
Dan: You think I've got it easy? What, you think when I started dating Ruth my dick fell off? I still think about what would happen if.. When another girl walks by, and she's looking good, I think about it. I have to talk to Ruth for two and a half hours every fucking day just to keep her calm and satisfied. Do you think that's easy? And I have to back down from every argument-
Aaron: Oh, I know that must hurt you like a bitch! Daniel Bloch losing an argument.
Dan: Okay, I suppose I deserve that.
Aaron: What? What's this? Daniel Bloch conceding an argument to me? Is it because I'm a diabetic now? Are you going to be like Taryn now? Is this your way of letting me down easy? 'Oh, we've got to keep the diabetic happy. Let's let him win this argument.' Maybe you want to go wash your hair or something.
Dan: (In tears) Aaron, why are you saying such mean, terrible things to me?
Aaron: You've been busting on me all fucking day yesterday 'cause I left the stupid coke bottle open. Then I tried to invite some of my friends for dinner this weekend and you didn't like them so you called it 'charity night' for 'losers.' How come my friends are always the losers and your friends end up spending time with us?
Dan: I'm sorry. I'm not going to do that anymore.
Aaron: You've been making fun of me for the past 20 years, Daniel, and you don't even notice.
Dan: Aaron, calm down. You're stressing out. The doctor said-
Aaron: You want to know why I'm stressing out? Because I go out there, in the real world and everybody gives me grief. Then I come back home and you just pile some more on.
Dan: (sobs) I don't want to be a source of stress in your life, Aaron. I just want to be a good brother to you. I bust on everybody. You know that.
Aaron: I don't 'bust' on you.
Dan: Why haven't you told me any of this before? You've just been building all this thing inside you.
Aaron: What fucking difference does it make? Last week- this whole month, I- It doesn't matter. My body is falling apart, Dan.
Dan: Why, because you've been diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes? That doesn't mean your body is falling apart on you. That just means-
Aaron: That I'm not going to be able to enjoy myself ever again. Yes. Yes, don't turn around and make a face at me. It's the truth, Daniel. You can't just give me some sympathy and pity and make it all go away. This is me, Aaron, your brother. And I'm half dead! (sobs).
Dan: You can still have pleasures in your life.
Aaron: Like what?
Dan: I don't know...if you ate a few other things. If you weren't so stubborn about your diet, maybe you could still enjoy some really tasty foods.
Aaron: But I like my diet. I don't like the other stuff.
Dan: You can still do sports. I'd say one of the biggest pleasures in my life is playing basketball--with you, Aaron.
Aaron: (cuts in at 'Basketball') Unless I overexert myself, and like, faint on the parquet. C'mon, give me another one.
Dan: A source of pleasure in my life. Let's see, now. Kissing Ruth.
Aaron: Thank you. That helps so much.
Dan: But you can kiss Taryn.
Aaron: Not if she's washing her hair, I can't.
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