I speak on behalf of the race of pale men who travel alone or in herds with their heads to the ground or the sky.
I speak for those who were incapable, as children, of harming their stuffed animals, who sat by their beds swallowing hard while their next-door neighbors threatened to dismantle their beavers and raccoons with scissors and Swiss army knives — and who cried, finally, holding those beavers and raccoons to their cheeks while their neighbors went home to watch “Terminator II.” I speak, more specifically, for those who lost their beavers and raccoons, at which point their mothers — mothers who hadn’t learned from grade school or college or political protests or Baba Ram Dass or lovers or husbands or friends how to distinguish themselves from their children — would say “Oh my God! Not Beaves!” and their children would reply, solemnly, “Yes. Beaves ran away.”
(I do not speak on behalf of the beavers and raccoons, who fled from our homes in the night, invested with our imaginations, and had the gall to use those imaginations to commune with each other across great distances, as if the bedroom they had formerly occupied, with its superhero posters and Little League trophies, were not enough. They left our houses through the ventilation systems. They traded secrets in the dark with squirrels.)
I speak for those who sat on school busses and could not sing the diarrhea song, who stared at the window or their knees and picked green plastic from the seat in front of them. The ones who smelled the rain and wet rubber. The ones who befriended older kids in the back of the bus and shared their portable video game in which you became a hedgehog in a tropical land where golden rings disappeared when you touched them. (I do not speak on behalf of the hedgehog, who after conquering a world turned yellow in ecstasy and shot through the sky.) I speak also for those who grew fat in middle school and developed no facial hair, who sat in girls’ houses disgusted by their fashion magazines, unable to understand why Lily Sabinson would want to look any different than she did. (I would like to speak on behalf of Lily Sabinson, who appreciated Harold and Maude and taught her friends to hug each other, but unfortunately cannot.)
I speak on behalf of those who stayed up till 3:00 a.m. watching the nature channel in high school when nothing else was on, who learned how beautiful it is to be a squid under an ocean or a teenager under a halogen lamp on an old couch, who saw, one night, a documentary about Tibetan sky burial, in which a monk sliced a corpse and fed it to vultures, who dreamed, that night, of slicing their own corpses for pigeons in Prospect Park, of seeing, from the pigeons’ stomachs, whole landscapes stretch out before and behind — as if the entirety of the earth could be seen at once, and every bloodless creature, every rock, every house, every diner, every vinyl booth, every fry consumed on the verge of sleep in the arms of a woman at the end of high school, a thing as much as a memory, a memory as much as a thing, and all one’s past contained in those living objects.
(I do not speak on behalf of the pigeons, who eat anything you give them, who can’t tell the difference between a pale man’s sliced corpse and the crusts of stale bread, who filthy themselves in daylight by bathing in puddles and cooing. Cruel men feed them Alka-Seltzer and they do not realize till their stomachs explode.)
I speak on behalf of these pale men because I am no longer among them. I gave my beavers and raccoons to cousins who bit off their ears. I taught myself to enjoy bathroom humor. I tell women they look like models in magazines. I feed Alka-Seltzer to pigeons. I laugh.
Still I speak on their behalf. It is fashionable to call one’s self a nerd, a geek. Beautiful women say, “God, I’m such a geek,” and toss their perfect hair. But it will never be fashionable to be a sad man. Not a depressed man — a sad one. A sad man is unaware of his sadness. In the afternoon he retreats to the library and does not read. He sits and watches the light alter through the windows. At night he lies down in public spaces and marvels at the shape of the sky.
He will not take a table at the freshmen bazaar. He believes he has no cause to advocate. He asked me not to write this essay. “There’s nothing to say about us,” he said. “We don’t want our beavers and raccoons back. We don’t want to kiss Lily Sabinson anymore. And we never really cared about the pigeons.”