Archive for May, 2010
The Nondisclosure Agreement, a legal document once used by
negotiations and now popular among ambitious young
entrepreneurs, is a perfect symbol of the toughening of intimate life.
According to the Wall Street Journal, some of these young turks
are demanding that their friends, roommates, relatives, dinner-party
companions, and even their clergymen and fiancées sign on the
dotted line, to ensure that if one of them does babble on about his
new venture, at least he can sue them for damages. As one
consultant told the Journal, “It’s one of the critical items for a date:
car keys, credit cards, condoms, and an NDA.”
I was so looking forward to my date with Jason. My friends gave me the usual lame jokes about hockey masks and big knives but when I had seen Jason across the crowded classroom and later the cafeteria I knew that he was my dream-come-true. Wide eyed, frizzy haired, he had a perfect complexion and lots of gold. His presentation on the extra meaning of Robert Perzigs ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ sent shivers up my spine, echoed by the sustained applause of the normally reticent 10A. The goss was that Jason was big on IT and had already designed a wargame that has sold thousands of copies. The word was that he was about to go international. The word was that Jason was hot property. My mother gave me the usual run-around.
“Has he a car?”
“Yes Mum he has a nice car (in fact a new Porsche, tastefully done in black with gold trim and a natty little hood that folded down – I guess that explained the frizzy hair). He’s a nice respectful boy. You’ll love him.”
“You know to take precautions don’t you!”
“Yes Mum. Jeez I’m eighteen. We did all this when I was eleven.”
My Mum has been very protective since Dad passed away two years ago. She retreated into her shell for a year or so then came out with this overdeveloped sense of motherhood that must have deserted her when Dad was alive. It was him who explained the facts of life to me.
The stillness of the silence after my reply was broken by the sound of a car pulling up outside. Mum pulled the curtain aside.
“Oh! Such a nice car. Its one of those Ferrara thingies isn’t it?”
I rolled my eyes but there was no use in correcting Mum. Once she had her mind set on things she was like the rock of Gibraltar.
The bell chimed and a moment later there he was. After exchanging pleasantries with Mum and clearly looking distracted by her questions, we were in the car. Jason turned to me and, looking me firmly in my left eye he started in –
“I know you might find this a little unusual but you are probably aware that I, unlike some of our less industrious classmates, have started to do something with my life. I have designed a couple of games which have bought me a little money-“. He was momentarily interrupted by the shrill screaming of a cellphone which he flipped open and cupping his hand over the mouthpiece talked staccattically into.
I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable. This was sounding a little like dad’s explanation of the bird and the bees.
“-and I am currently engaged on a project that will bring me a lot of money. People like myself often let things slip in the course of intimate exchanges –“
I started to wonder what he had in mind for us this evening.
“-and to protect both you and me I would like you to sign this Non Disclosure Aggreement before we embark on tonight’s journey.”
His soft brown eyes blinked and I realised that he had stared fixedly at me for the entire length of his unpunctuated sentence. Quite what he was suggesting I had no idea.
“A Nondisclosure Agreement- what is that? Some sort of —-.” I was a little at a loss for words and could think of nothing to make comparisons with,
“its sort of like if I tell you something about my work and you tell someone else and they steal the idea then I am protected.”
“And what does protected mean.”
“Well! I can sue you.”
My feelings for Jason took a downward spiral as the last part of his sentence resounded in my ears.
“Sue me! What sort of person are you Jason. We are on a date for Gods sake. Sue me!”
The cellphone shrieked again and without hesitation Jason flipped it open and listened to the machine-like language coming from it. A simple “No!” and he was back, totally focussed on me.
“It’s not like I actually will sue you/. It’s just a protection that any prudent business-person takes nowadays. Can’t you see that?”
I couldn’t understand this man-boy who a few hours previously I had been anticipating falling madly in love with. It was like he was living on another planet.
“Jane had no problem with it. She signed straight away.”
My heart leapt to my boots. Jane, my mortal enemy. She had been with Jason. Probably sitting in this same spot. If I forgot my dignity and placed my nose close to the upholstery I could probably detect her Opium smell.
“No Jason! I am not going to sign any fucking Non Disclosure thing with you. I am a human being and I want to be treated like one. This is a date, not some business arrangement!” I could feel him shrivel as the distance between us suddenly assumed the proportion of a chasm.
A paid special attention to the evolution of Jason after that. He was not long for 10A and, in fact, left the next month. I heard he had moved to Wellington and then my spies sighted him in Auckland. His Porsche had become a Jaguar and then a Maserati. It was rumoured that his appearance had changed. His face more chiselled, his chin more dimpled. His physique had changed as if to match his head. And then I had a chance to travel and check out the real thing. I hesitated to dial his number but my curiosity overcame what fears I harboured deep in my psyche. He sounded pleasant enough and agreed to meet at a place called the fishbowl. The fishbowl (the lower caps were intentional), I found, was the meeting place for single guys who didn’t want to be involved with long term dates. Jason ambled through the door a half-hour later than we had agreed to on the phone. I was just thinking of leaving but had become obsessed with looking at the buff, tanned god in the corner booth. Jason sat opposite me and I could see that it was a very different Jason from 10A. He seemed to have grown in size and the suit was moulded to his sparse frame like cellophane wrapping around a Ken doll. He smelt of something almost spiritual and he looked younger than his thirty years.
“Well K! What a surprise to see you in the big city.” His perfectly aligned teeth flashed a brilliant white as he shot the cuffs on his silk shirt. “It is what-twenty years since we last saw each other?”
I was still trying to unravel what it was about Jason that was now giving me the same sense of disquiet I had felt that night I had come to call ‘The Night of the Nondisclosure Agreement’. My friends will tell you that I am not one to mince words.
“What have you done to yourself Jason?” I asked “You look like-well you look so good.”
Jason drew himself upright and leaned forward.
“See that guy over there?” he pointed at tan-buffed-god in the corner booth, “Word is that he has just had twelve and a half grand’s work done by his maxillo facial surgeon. He spends thousands of dollars on imported skin product. He was the first to get hold of a regular supply of Smezler Facial Buffing and Eroding Creme and that’s $140 a six-ounce bottle.
I cocked my head sideways and looked into Jason’s eyes which I had always remembered as brown but which now were steel grey.
“What the hell are you talking about. Whats Smezler Eroding Creme? It sounds like something you would put on a car!”
Jason looked back at me and I could see that same faraway look that I remembered from ten years ago.
“Come on K. You must know what every male is up to these days. We have as much right to look after our bodies as you females have been doing for years. We use beauty products to make our bodies appear as to their potential. No more hangover puffy eyes or wrinkled foreheads for us. Ever since Cliff Richards told the world he used regular botulism injections to keep his forehead wrinkle free it has been OK for men to look after themselves.”
My head was reeling. Again. But I was curious to know more.
Men. They are really just grown up little boys. Physically grown up I mean. Not mentally. Mentally they stay as midgets. Obsessed with their things. Their toys. Even the really smart ones have some hobby which involve a toy, some obscure and disgusting habit, and always competition. Take bird watching. It should be an enjoyable thing that, if a women were doing it, would involved restful walks in the countryside and then slumbering in a grassy field while the overhead twittering gently shaped your dreams. Men turn it into a competition. They compete to see how many different species they can spot in a given time. They spend vast amounts of time and energy pursuing this singular goal. They bend the rules, they flex their physical and mental muscles. They have the audacity to accuse us of preening in front of a mirror but their little game is the same. Jason was representative eof his sub-species.
Confused and Vulnerable
His hands trembled at his side then, in an instant, they were at his face, picking at an imaginary scab. He nodded and then spoke eloquently to someone who he alone could see. He turned and walked to the back of the room and continued his conversation with the wall, then, spun on his feet and rushed back to me. This had been the pattern for most of the day. He got like this only once in a while but the drinking increased the likelihood of it happening. Forty-five years old; he looked like an old man in his seventies. His trousers, although not stained, appeared to be colored with urine. He had a ripe smell about him but not the ripeness of fruit ready to pick and eat. Rather, it was the ripeness of fruit which had just dropped from the tree and had been lying on the ground for one day to many. Fermenting; on the edge of rotting. Taffy was a strange combination of friend and mentor, though lately he had become more of a pet project. And now he had been accused of molesting. At first I couldn’t believe it of him and then I had seen the muttering, the face picking, the evidence of hallucinations. Then I had guessed that I had not known him as well as I thought I had.
Taffy lived alone in a ramshackle shack by the sea. Unheated, unlined, unpainted, and unmanaged, it was everything that one would think a bachelor’s habitat would be. But Taffy was none of these things. He lived a solitary life but he preferred his own company.
It was said of Taffy that he had once famously swum the length of inland New Zealand. He had been enamoured by the Burt Lancaster character Ned Merrill in The Swimmer. Ned swum back to his home through the neighbourhood swimming pools and Taffy decided that he would do the same but on a much larger scale. Of course, just as Lancaster never swum from one location to another without getting out and walking a ways, Taffy planned to do the same. He realised from his wanderings that most small towns and country schools, like their larger counterparts, had swimming pools. It was Taffy’s intention to travel form Bluff to Cape Reinga via this route with a little overland wandering between waterholes. He never realised that this feat would attract the imagination of the people of the land. But then Taffy never thought anything much of what he did would be of any interest to anyone else.
He had asked to be buried without any fuss. He didn’t want the ceremony to overwhelm who he had been. Just a simple casket, no flowers, no music. He wanted his body to be cremated and the ashes spread in the three harbours in the South Island. Bluff, where he had watched many an oyster boat bring in his favourite food. Otago, where the hills reminded him of all the women he had lusted over in his long life. Akaroa, where he dreamed of life in France and all the possibilities of living in another land. Although he had asked for this, he thought that his wishes would never be honoured. His sole surviving relative was a son, long neglected, and unvisited. His son (according to Taffy) was a born-again, do-gooding, bloody meddling Christian, who had never done a decent days work in his life and was unlikely to do anything that could be construed as worthwhile for his ageing father. I think that I had become a surrogate son. He called me ‘Boy’ and was constantly laughing at my efforts to emulate some of his feats. And now this.
The new, politically correct, world had been particularly hard on men. They are reviled by hard-nosed, rejected women who think that they are cesspits of violence and sexual perversion. Men cannot be trusted to be alone with a women or small children in a room because they will surely tear off their clothing and violate any bare flesh in the near vicinity. Their leisure time is taken up with looking at pictures of naked women and children and when they sleep, their dreams are filled with body cavities screaming out to be filled with a penis. Taffy didn’t tell me the details of what he had been accused of – I had to get that from the kindly social worker who, although well-intentioned, had already lost the respect of Taffy.
“Bloody woman. All she wants to know is how my Mum and Da treated me when I was a kid. When I say that it was fine, I was happy, everything was fine, she just shrugs her shoulders and rolls her eyes, then sighs. I don’t think she believes one word. Stupid bloody woman. What does she think I am? Some kind of nutcase.”
Actually, the bloody woman did think that Taffy was disturbed and his curious behaviour did not dissuade her from that opinion. However, she did think that he had committed the offence with which he had been charged.
“They get so they can’t control themselves any more. They have these feelings which they know are wrong, and, for years they suppress them. Its like a rage. They bottle it up and the bottle just gets to small for all that rage. One day it starts to crack and on that day they commit their first act. It might be small. It might be just looking at a child and imagining what it would be like. It might be buying a book and looking at the pictures and it might be enticing some child into letting him fondle them. That’s what Taffy did. Got this little girl in a playground and then started in on the fondling.”
I blanched at her story but I could not get my head around Taffy doing something like that.
“That’s what the ones closest always say. He couldn’t harm a fly. He was such a nice neighbour. He was a pillar of the community. Then they find all the pornography and the filth and suddenly they re-evaluate how they judge people. Its tragic that these people slowly erode away our faith in others.”
I wondered what her role was in this. Was she there to help Taffy or there to extract some damning evidence? I asked Taffy but he couldn’t answer the question. He was also silent on the accusation itself.
We went swimming that afternoon. I dived into the pool and worked out my tired shoulders with two quick lengths. The water was full of chlorine and my eyes stung. I watched Taffy. He lowered himself gently into the deep end of the pool and swam, crab-like for a length before he assumed his familiar breast stroke that had taken him from the bottom of the country to the top. His arms looked terribly old. The skin on the underside had begun to sag and you could tell where the muscle had once been strong and rigid and now was a little flabby. His stomach had that old man look about it, still muscled, but now stretched to the side as though his insides were slowly leaking out. His wet hair showed the bits of pale white scalp beneath were the covering was starting to thin and when he reached me after ten lengths he was quite out of breath.
“I didn’t do it you know,” he said between breaths. “They have it all wrong. The little girl will clear it all up. I know she will.”
With that he stretched out and swum to the side of the pool, pulled himself out, and disappeared into the changing room. I followed him onto the changing room. He was sitting in the corner, slumped over, staring at his feet. I touched him lightly on the shoulder and he looked up. His eyes were glassy and a tear slowly ran down his stubbled cheek.
“I can’t remember. I just can’t remember what happened. One minute I was sitting there talking to her and the next I was alone. I just know that I would not do something like that.”
I put my arms around his shoulder and he stiffened and drew away from me.
“Old age. It’s a terrible thing.”