The Interview

Christmas, 1999 / No. 3
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

My feet have touched more pavement than dirt. When I say pavement, I refer to everything that is not dirt. When I say dirt, I refer to everything that is not pavement. Actually, I think I must expand on this. When I say pavement, I include the floor of my father’s car, I include the monkey bars in the park, I include the hardwood surface of my bedroom floor, I include the carpet in my aunt’s living room and den. I also have to throw in escalators, linoleum and the endless metal fields of my dreams. When I say dirt, I refer to water and to grass and to sand. I must include mud, which is a combination of two of the above elements. Also, the emerging roots of old trees, the trunks of trees, and rocks. Rocks are very important. I’ve spent a bit of time on rocks and it was quality time. But I’ve spent more on pavement. It feels so much more molecular. Like flesh. Which is something I haven’t categorized yet, but I think maybe it’s half dirt and half pavement.

Where had I gotten to? Oh, yeah. I’m eleven years old and Larry Stein is sitting on my chest with his hands pinning my arms down. I am lying on my back on pavement, and I’m trying to squirm my way out of this. A crowd begins to form around us, and I see Debbie Larker. She is puny and has dark hair, and her mother is missing several fingers. Surely I would someday marry her. I found this out—about her mother’s fingers—when I went to her house to work on a geography project we were forced to do together. And now Debbie is watching me lie on my back under Larry Stein, so I have to try to act nonchalant, to appear in control. I have an idea and I put it into action. “Larry,” I say, “you’re such a homo. Get off of me.” Larry’s grip on my arms loosens a bit, and, as the circulation returns to them, I can feel all the little pebbles that have become embedded in my elbows. I peer beyond Larry’s shoulder, but I can no longer see Debbie among our spectators. “You’re the homo,” Larry says to me. “A double homo.” I wiggle about a bit, try to rock from side to side, but I can’t get out from under Larry, and when I try to reach up and shove him off, his fingers dig into my arms again. I have many loyal friends, and they are sprinkled through the crowd, joining in the growing chant, which deals with what a double homo I am.

When I lose my temper, I’m careful not to smash things. I would get in so much trouble, and also I might destroy something I’ll later miss. So, what I do is shove my furniture around. I have a bed, and this I shove diagonally across the room, knocking over a chair. I push my desk away from the wall, as well, and slide it in front of the door. This way, my brother can’t get in and see me crying. My bookcase is attached to the wall so I can’t move it, but I take down great armloads of books and stack them on the floor. I’m careful, because I don’t want to wreck their covers. I also pull my dresser out of the corner and turn it carefully on its side. When I’m done shoving everything around, I flop myself onto my bed and become like jelly. I sob and yell into my pillow, and it is my room, a room I have control over. I wiggle and wobble on my bed, until my tears have run dry and I have fallen asleep, and into the world of endless metal fields.

I think we’ve reached my seventeenth year, or perhaps my thirty-fourth. Regardless, what happens is my self-esteem begins to mistakenly build and I can actually talk to people and occasionally look them in the eye. So, an old man comes into the library where I’m working, and he asks if I play chess. I guess I look like the type who plays chess. I look down at his fingers, and they are thin and bent in strange directions. I figure he must be good. I tell him I play, but not well. We agree to meet in the park beside the library later on, and he will bring his chessboard. We do this for years, every day playing chess for hours, so that I have to sneak in through my bedroom window so my parents don’t get angry. (I must be seventeen.) The old man’s name is Schaeffer, Mr. Schaeffer, and as we play, he tells me about his ailing wife, in his thick German accent. He loves her very much and his eyes water as he talks. His eyes are always watering. I wonder if, when you get that old, everything just seems so sad. I become a stronger player with every game of chess. Mr. Schaeffer loans me books to study, by Znosko-Borovsky and Reuben Fine and Emanuel Lasker. I study the classic openings, learn about the strength of the measly pawn, go through the end games until I know them inside out. But still, after three years, the score is six hundred and twelve games to zero. Since my self-esteem is so enormous, I feel I have a chance of catching up. It’s only a matter of time. But before I have the opportunity, a strange thing happens. An old woman meets me in the park. She asks my name. I tell her. “Klaus is dead,” she says. I look down at her gnarled fingers and say, “I didn’t know his name was Klaus.”

Can I go now? You can probably figure out the rest of my life based on what I’ve just told you. It follows a predictable pattern, with few surprises. I will leave you hair samples and nail clippings, which might be some help as well. If you have any questions, you can call me. Besides, I’m late now. I have to pick up my mother’s belongings.