Alan always suspected there was something that set him apart from others, but he could never quite get to the bottom of it. As a boy he never seemed to fit in, and classmates made fun of his peculiar gait. Years ago I happened to be in a restaurant and met Alan. He graciously invited me to dine with him and we talked about politics and Victorian literature into the wee hours of the night. I admired his command of world affairs and his passion for the arts, but I couldn’t help but notice him gorging large quantities of food. His culinary lust seemed to know no boundaries. I ignored this indulgence at first, for I figured that Alan was making up for a rough day. Earlier in the conversation he had let it slip that he’d been to the proctologist early that morning. The appointment had lasted almost two hours. “Does that shock you, friend?” he asked with probing eyes. “Not at all,” I responded. “I hate going to the doctor’s,” I added nervously with a fake smile, trying to change the subject.
A half hour later I started to detect a most nauseating odor and only my keen sense of decorum—a trait inherited from my mother—kept me from gagging. The waiters had all but disappeared. As I feared, Alan picked up on my discomfort. “Are you feeling alright? Is there something wrong?” he asked. “Nope, can’t say there is,” came my unconvincing response. I tried to downplay the situation, but my face betrayed the efforts. “Look,” he continued, much to my chagrin, “I’ve appreciated our conversation. I find you to be a worthy interlocutor and I value your viewpoint. I am wondering if you’re being fully honesty with me, however.” I took another sip of wine and dabbed the corners of my mouth with a napkin. Alan watched these seemingly meaningless motions with intensity and in the process seemed to pierce the very fiber of my being.
Even though I knew the cat had cornered the mouse, I tried in vain to wriggle my out. I knew he knew. What was I to do? The food, the smell, the rumors, the strange walk. I continued the charade in vain. “I’m feeling a bit tired, I’m afraid. Work’s been hectic. Don’t let my fatigue trouble you.” I had heard from Peggy, a coworker-friend of mine, that Alan had discovered the truth when he dated Peggy’s friend in college. He broke down and cried in her arms, having realized that the relationship was over and that he’d never share the experience of “normal” human beings. Had he found someone like himself in this lonely world, Alan would probably not wear that disconsolate, longing look that even the most obtuse oaf cannot miss. Knowing that he was self-cognizant of the uniqueness of his condition, I became perturbed with his insistence on pursuing the issue. Was not my embarrassment enough for him?
“Listen, Alan…” “Yes,” he cut in right away. “Something’s on your mind. You seem uncomfortable. You do have issues with me. Please, speak freely.” I insisted that, to the contrary, I held him in high regard and had nothing but pleasant feelings at the moment. He looked at me as if to say, ironically, you are so full of shit. At this point I could no longer control myself and told him that I thought he was a freak. Readers will forgive me, for I am not usually so ungracious and brutally forthright. I certainly scolded myself in a few sleepless nights for having lashed out so rudely. It’s as if he broke me down and, against the dictates of propriety, the emotions deep within me imploded and bubbled to the surface.
But that was nothing like the explosion of a different sort that he released, I am told, a few weeks after our encounter at the restaurant. The heavens were said to have darkened on that day, as if three Dutch boys had taken their fingers out of the dyke at the same time in a coordinated terrorist attack. According to one eyewitness, Alan had made even the most crazed, feces-flinging chimpanzee look like a dignitary at an economic summit or a chivalrous knight in a medieval romance. I suppose we’re all to blame for this spectacle. We inadvertently rattled his cage by assuming he had accepted his lot in life. I arrived at this insight when I overheard a man on the street dismissing Alan’s eccentricities. “Don’t mind his walk, and pay no heed to his eating habits, for he’s the Man with Three Rectums.”