Friday, July 4, 2014

The March, Chapter 12: Brooke's Day with Teddy

220…221… whatever it takes
-        Mr. Mom

At around 11:00 am or so, Brooke walked into Teddy's apartment building carrying Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and donuts (as per request) and somewhat haughtily informed the doorman that she was there to see Teddy Causobon. The doorman responded to her haughtiness with purposefully skeevy amusement and referred to her as his "niece" when he called up Teddy to announce her arrival.

He made sure to pronounce the quote marks.

She ignored the doorman’s patronizing leers.  Riding up the elevator, she felt awkward, unable to find a comfortable way to hold the donuts and coffee.  She was overwhelmed by the scope of Teddy’s great work, the years he’d spent on this important project.  She hoped he’d be willing to teach what he could to her, allow her to assist him immediately and intimately.  She’d be happy being his Girl Friday.  She might end up indispensable. 

As she exited the elevator, she arranged a smile and endeavored to handle her parcels more elegantly.  She knocked on Teddy’s door with her elbow (rather inelegantly, it must be said) and listened for his approach.  He answered the door, a minute or so later, wearing his usual uniform: threadbare, loose trousers that sagged unattractively over his rear end, a faded too small tee shirt (it used to fit a little better) and a ratty tweed blazer than smelled of too many hours inside a bar and too few inside a dry cleaners.  There were no patches at the elbow.

Don’t kid yourself: Teddy had practiced his look until he’d perfected it: shopworn professor anti-chic.  He felt he looked very serious.

“Ah, Brooke,” he said, smiling thinly as he opened the door wider to let her in.  “How does the day find you?”

“Excited,” she said.  “And eager to help.”

“Right this way, my dear,” he said, gallantly ushering her into the main room.  “Here’s where I do the bulk of my organizing.”

Brooke looked into the great room of the apartment.  It was huge!  An expensive, worn Persian carpet lay over hardwood floors. A rich, red camel back sofa faced a working, wood fireplace that was framed by an exquisite oak mantle.  Large wing back chairs were to the left and right of the fire, each with its own delicate antique end table.  There was a gorgeous mahogany coffee table in the middle of it all.

If I stop right there, it all sounds really nice, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t. 

There were papers strewn across the floor everywhere.  Ashtrays teeming with cigarette butts littered every table, along with a shocking number of half full coffee cups and empty pop cans.  It smelled… it smelled like you’d imagine a room would smell that was full of old papers, stale cigarette butts, ancient coffee and a man who privileged a noble intellect to the exclusion of personal hygiene.

Teddy was very proud of it. His apartment was enormous, especially for this haute enclave in the city.  It had four bedrooms, two baths, with a formal dining room, a terrace and a walled garden.  It had been in the family for decades and Teddy owned it outright, his annuity easily covering the taxes and the limited upkeep he put into it. But, the place stank of stale cigarettes and not much cleaning.  There were old books and papers stacked up helter skelter in every room.  It was dusty.  There were mice.  It wasn’t exactly Gray Gardens, but it may have been nearing the verge.

Much like his sloppy, negligent style of dress, Teddy felt his apartment projected the image of a man who spent all his time working.

Brooke agreed with this tacit assessment.  She swallowed up her initial distaste and smiled up at Teddy.

“Where should I put this?” she asked, holding out the coffee and donuts.  Teddy helped himself to a donut and then pointed her in the direction of the kitchen.

“Just put it in there, dear,” he said.  “Can you bring me a cup of that coffee and then I’ll show you around?”

Brooke brought in two cups of coffee and they got right to work.  Teddy introduced her to his arcane, sloppy filing system while he expounded on his various theories as to mankind’s tragic neglect and dire predictions for its imminent demise.  Brooke spent the day scoping out research categories and eagerly suggesting alternate filing systems, all of which Teddy pooh-poohed dryly.  This, irritatingly to all except the principal actors in this scene, only served to intensify her crush.

-        What if you sorted by decade and then location?
-        I’ve thought of that, only that ignores category.
-        Well, we could add category into the system.  How about decade, location and then category?
-        Yes, but I cannot determine whether to weight category over location or vice versa.
-        Why not begin with decade and then determine the weight of subsequent sort after?
-        That strikes me as rather cumbersome, dear.  Now tell me, have you studied any American aboriginal dialects?  I could teach you a smattering of Cherokee.

Oh, how Teddy loved to be the teacher!  How Brooke loved to the student!  Cherokee!  How exciting to be with someone who knew Cherokee and was willing to teach her!  How gratifying to be with someone who wanted to learn!

There is nothing wrong with a student/teacher relationship.  We all need to learn and we all have something to teach.  But once you add romance into the relationship, it becomes unsustainable.  Eventually, the teacher decides the student is too stupid to learn and becomes wearied.  One day, the student realizes she’s learned all she cares to from the teacher and becomes scornful.   Or, more likely, one of them wearies of the dynamic, sick of being relegated to one side or the other of the powerful/powerless dichotomy.

It can’t help but get boring, can it?

Fortunately for this narrative, though, some juicy drama precipitates the inevitable end.

By 4:00 that afternoon, Brooke was dusty, hungry, overwhelmed and thoroughly smitten.  She’d learned to say “sunrise” and “pine cone” in Cherokee.   She smelled a little of Teddy’s apartment. She didn’t mind!  But she thought it prudent to take a shower before heading into work so she headed home.


As Brooke was dreamily washing the smell of Teddy’s apartment from her hair, Gio wandered into The March early for work and determined to talk to Mary about the Brooke Situation.

When he got there, he joined John Farebrother, who sitting at the bar enjoying an early afternoon beer.

“Mary,” said Gio, sitting down heavily, brow furrowed, the very picture of fraternal concern.  “You know Brooke doesn’t have much family, right?  Her father lives out in the burbs with his new wife and kids.  She and Celia pretty much raised themselves.”

“Life’s a bitch,” said Mary.  “But she seems to be doing OK.”

“I don’t think so,” said Gio.  “She’s at Teddy’s house.  I think she’s going to start going out with him or something.  You need to talk to her about it.”

“Me?!” said Mary, laughing.  “Why the fuck me?”

Farebrother smiled into his beer. 

“Well, you’re a little older and wiser,” said Gio.  “You could be like a big sister.”

“Gio,” said Mary, gently, taking his hand.  “What the fuck is wrong with you?  Seriously, honey, what the fuck? Did you hit your head or something on your way in?”

“Come on, Mary,” whined Gio. “You have to.  Why not?”

“Because I barely know her,” said Mary.  “And you know that.”

“He likes her,” chimed in Farebrother.  “Clearly.  And he wants you to make her like him too.”

“No,” said Gio.  “Well… at least that’s not the point.”

Mary and Farebrother exchanged a look.

“Look, Gio,” said Mary.  “From my vantage point of being all older and wiser and shit, let me drop a little wisdom on you: Brooke gets to like who she wants to.  She gets to make her own decisions.  And, furthermore, when smartypants guys start trying to tell her they know better than her, you’ll just piss her off.  It would piss me off, only I feel kind of sorry for you.  You know, because you’re such a fucking idiot.”

“Somebody besides me is the fucking idiot,” said Fred, who’d walked in with a sports page tucked under his arm.  “Thank God.”

“Oh, you’re the king favorite fucking idiot,” said Mary.  “But Gio is making a pretty good effort to unseat you.”

“You know, Gio,” said Fred, sitting down and opening his paper.  “Everyone knows you like Brooke, but her sister is the one you should be going out with.  Celia is the one who likes you.”

“She what?” said Gio.

Mary rolled her eyes.

“I remember when I was your age, Gio,” said Farebrother, smiling.  “I was almost as stupid.”

“I’m not being stupid,” said Gio.  “He’s too old for her and he’s gross.”

“I won’t argue those points,” said Mary.  “But Brooke is a grown ass woman and gets to date who she wants to, no matter how fucking weird her choices are.”

“Wait,” said Gio.  “Celia likes me?”

Farebrother decided it was time for a shot of Jameson.