Authors: Steve Martin
strode with a gladiator’s pride to his primered ‘92 Lincoln and split with a
gas pedal roar. I then heard someone descending the stairs, who was
undoubtedly Philipa. But her pace was not that of a woman in pursuit of her
fleeing boyfriend. She was slow-walking in my direction and I could hear the
gritty slide of each deliberate footstep. She stopped just outside and lingered
an unnaturally long time. Then she rang my doorbell, holding the button down
so I heard the
but not the
pretended to be just waking as I opened the door. Philipa released the doorbell
as she swung inside. “You up?” she asked. “I’m way up,” I said, dropping my
charade of sleep, which I realized was a lie with no purpose. I moved to my
armchair (a gift from Granny) and nestled in. Philipa’s centre-parted hair,
long and ash brown, fell straight to her shoulders and framed her pale unmade-up
face, and for the first time I could see that this was a pretty girl in the
wrong business. She was pretty enough for one man, not for the wide world that
show business required. She looked sharp, too; they must have come from an
event, had a spat, and now here she was with something on her mind. She sat
down on the sofa, stiffened her arms against the armrests, and surprised me by
skipping the Brian topic. Instead, her eyes watered up and she said, “I can’t
get a job.”
definitely had had a few drinks. I wondered if she wanted something chemical
from me, which I wasn’t about to give her, and which I didn’t have. “I thought
you just finished a job, that show
she said. “I played a sandwich girl, delivering lunches to the law office. I
was happy to get it. I poured my heart into it. I tried to be a sexy sandwich
girl, a memorable sandwich girl, but they asked me to tone it down. So I was
just a delivery girl. My line was ‘Mr. Anderson, same as yesterday?’ I did it
perfectly, too, in one take, and then it was over. I look at the star, Cathy
Merlot— can you believe how stupid that name is? Merlot? Why not Susie
Cabernet?—and I know I’m as good as she is, but she’s the centre of attention,
she’s the one getting fluffed and powder-puffed and…”
kept talking but I stopped listening. By now her body was folded in the chair
like an origami stork, her elbows, forearms, calves, and thighs going every
which-a-way. She didn’t even finish her last sentence; it just trailed off. I
think the subject had changed in her head while her mouth had continued on the
old topic, not realizing it was out of supplies. She asked me how old I was.
I said. “I thought you were late twenties,” she said. I explained, “I never go
out in the sun.” She said, “Must be hard to avoid.” I thought, Oh goody,
repartee. But Philipa quieted. It seemed—oddly—that she had become distracted
by my presence, the very person she was talking to. Her eyes, previously
darting and straying, fell on me and held. She adjusted her body in the sofa
and turned her knees squarely toward me, foreshortening her thighs, which
disappeared into the shadows of her skirt. This made me uncomfortable and at
the same time gave me a hint of an erection.
your birthday?” she asked.
an Aquarius,” she said.
guess. What’s yours?” I asked.
your birth date.”
said, “Nineteen seventy-four.”
Friday,” I said.
she said, not recognizing my sleight of hand. “Do you date anyone?”
yeah,” I said. “I’m dating a realtor.”
said. “But she wants me to be.”
she paused. Cocked her head like Tiger. “Wait a minute. How did you know it was
a Friday?” she finally asked.
I explain to her what I can’t explain to myself? “It’s something I can do,” I
do you mean?”
I don’t know, I can just do it.”
April 8, 1978?”
Saturday,” I said.
that’s freaky. You’re right; it’s my brother’s birthday; he was born on
Saturday. What’s January 6, 1280?”
you lying?” she asked.
do you do for a living, and do you have any wine?”
wine,” I said, answering one question and skirting the other.
want some wine? I’ve got some upstairs,” she said. Open, I’ll bet, too, I
thought. “Okay,” I said, knowing I wasn’t going to have any. Philipa excused
herself and ran up to her apartment with a “be right back.” I stayed in my
chair, scratching around the outline of its paisley pattern with my fingernail.
Soon she was back with a bottle of red wine. “Fuck,” she said. “All I had was
poured herself a tankard full and slewed around toward me, saying, “So what did
you say you do?”
wanted to seem as if I were currently employed, so I had to change a few
tenses. Mostly “was” to “am.” “I encode corporate messages. Important messages
are too easily hacked if sent by computer. So they were looking for low-tech
guys to come up with handwritten systems. I developed a system based on the
word ‘floccinaucinihilipilification.’” I had lost Philipa. Proof of how boring
the truth is. She had bottomed-up the tankard, and I know what wine does. Right
now I was probably looking to her like Pierce Brosnan. She stood up and walked
toward me, putting both hands on my chair and leaning in. I kept talking about
codes. She brushed my cheek with her lips.
what I was to Philipa. A moment. And she was attached to Brian, in spite of
the recent storm clouds. And I was attached to Elizabeth even though she didn’t
know my name. And I knew that if Philipa and I were to seize this moment, the
hallway would be forever changed. Every footstep would mean something else.
Would she avoid me? Should I avoid her? What would happen if she met Elizabeth?
Would Elizabeth know? Women are mind readers in the worst way. But on the other
hand, I knew that if I dabbled with Philipa that night, I could be entering the
pantheon of historical and notable affairs. There is a grand tradition
involving the clandestine. The more I thought about it, the less this seemed
like a drunken one-off and more like the stuff of novels. And this perhaps
would be my only opportunity to engage in it.
Philipa’s eyelashes were brushing my cheek and her breath was on my mouth. With
both hands, I clutched the arms of my chair as if I were on a thrill ride. I pooched
out my lower lip, and that was all the seduction she needed. She took my hand
and led me into my own bedroom. I’m sure that Philipa was lured on by my best
asset, which is my Sure-cuts hairdo. I’m lanky like a baseball pitcher, and the
Sure-cut people know how to give me the floppy forehead at a nominal price. So
without bragging, I’m letting you know that I can be physically appealing. Plus
I’m clean. Clean like I’ve just been car-washed and then scrubbed with a
scouring pad and then wrapped in palm fronds infused with ginger. My excellent
personal hygiene, in combination with the floppy casual forehead, once resulted
in a provocative note being sent to me from my former mailwoman. Philipa never
saw females going in and out, so she knew I wasn’t a lothario, and I had come
to suspect that she regarded me as a standby if she ever needed to get even
with Brian the wide receiver.
have interfered with a relationship, out of respect for the guy as much as for
myself, but Brian is a dope and Philipa is a sylph and I am a man, even if that
description of myself is qualified by my failure to be able to cross the
street at the curb.
bedroom was a little too bright for Philipa. She wanted to lower the lights, so
I turned out three sixty-watt bulbs but had to go to the kitchen to turn on a
one-hundred-watt bulb and a fifty-watt bulb and two fifteens, in order to
maintain equity. It is very hard to get thirty-watt bulbs, so when I find them
I hoard them.
still didn’t like the ambience. The overhead lights disturbed her. I turned
them off and compensated by turning on the overheads in the living room. But
the light spilling into the bedroom was just too much; she wanted it dim and
sexy. She went over and closed the door. Oh no, the door can’t be closed; not
without elaborate preparations. Because if the door is closed, the light in
the bedroom is cut off from the light in the living room. Rather than having
one grand sum of 1125 watts, there would be two discrete calculations that
would break the continuity. I explained this to Philipa, even though I had to
go through it several times. To her credit, she didn’t run, she just got tired,
and a little too drunk to move. Our erotic moment had fallen flat, so I walked
her to the door. I hadn’t succeeded with Philipa, but at least I could still
look Elizabeth straight in the eye.
left, I lay in the centre of the bed with the blanket neatly tucked around me;
how Philipa and I would have mussed it! Inserted so neatly between the bed and
the sheets, I thought how much I must look like a pocket pencil. My body was so
present. I was aware of my toes, my arms, my weight on the bed. There was just
me in a void, wrapped in the low hum of existence. The night of Philipa had led
me to a quiet, aesthetic stillness. You might think it odd to call a moment of
utter motionlessness life, but it was life without interaction, and I felt joy
roll over me in a silent wave.
as I remained in bed, my relationship to Elizabeth was flawless. I was able to
provide for her, to tease out a smile from her, and to keep her supplied with
Versace stretch pants. But I knew that during the day, in life, I could not
even cross the street to her without a complicated alignment of permitting
circumstances. The truth was—and in my sensory deprivation I was unable to
ignore it—I didn’t have much to offer Elizabeth. Or for that matter, Philipa
(if that were to happen) or Zandy (if she were to ever look at me).
guessed that one day the restrictions I imposed on myself would end. But first,
it seemed that my range of possible activities would have to iris down to zero
before I could turn myself around. Then, when I was finally static and
immobile, I could weigh and measure every exterior force and, slowly and incrementally,
once again allow the outside in. And that would be my life.
The next morning I decided
to touch every corner of every copying machine at Kinko’s. Outside the
apartment I ran into Brian, who was lumbering toward Philipa’s, wearing what I
suspect were the same clothes he had on yesterday. He had the greasy look of
someone who had been out all night. Plus he held his cell phone in his hand,
which told me he was staying closely connected to Philipa’s whereabouts. His
size touched me, this hulk. And after last evening, with my canny near-seduction
of his girlfriend, I felt I was Bugs Bunny and Mercury to his Elmer Fudd and
decided to pump Brian to find out how much he knew about my night with Philipa.
I trudged out my technique of oblique questioning: I would ask Brian mundane
questions and observe his response.
Daniel. I see you sometimes around the building. You an actor, like Philipa?”
Brian cocked his head and glared at me through squinted eyes, I could gather
that he was aware of my escapade with his girlfriend. But he didn’t. He said, “I’m
a painter,” and like a person with an unusual name who must immediately spell
it out, he added, “a house painter.” Then he looked at me as if to say, “Whadya
think about that?”
was so flat that not only did he not suspect me, but this guy wouldn’t have
suspected a horned man-goat leaving Philipa’s apartment at midnight while
zipping up his pants. He didn’t seem to have a suspicious bone in him. Then he
rattled on about a sports bar and a football game. Staring dumbly into his face
to indicate my interest, I realized Brian would not have been a cuckold in the
grand literary tradition. In fact, he was more like a mushroom.
felt very manly when I first approached Brian, having just had a one-nighter
with his girl, but now I felt very sheepish. This harmless fungus was innocent
and charmless, but mostly he was vulnerable, and I wondered if I was just too
smooth to be spreading my panache around his world. “Hey, well, best of luck,”
I said and gave him a wave, not knowing if my comment was responsive to what he
had been talking about. Then he said, “See ya, Slick.” And I thought, Slick?
Maybe he is on to me after all.
Kinko’s task was still before me, so I turned west and headed toward Seventh
Street, drawing on all my navigational skills. Moving effortlessly from one
scooped-out driveway to the next, I had achieved Sixth Street in a matter of
minutes when I confronted an obstacle of unimaginable proportions. At my final
matched set of scooped-out driveways, which would have served as my gateway to
Kinko’s, someone, some lad, some fellow, had, in a careless parking
free-for-all, irresponsibly parked his ‘99 Land Cruiser or some such gigantic turd
so that it edged several feet into my last driveway. This was as effective an
obstacle for me as an eight-foot concrete wall. What good are the beautiful
planes that connect driveway to driveway if a chrome-plated two-hundred-pound
fender intersects their symmetry? Yeah, the driver of this tank is a crosswalk
guy, so he doesn’t care. I stood there knowing that the copiers at Kinko’s
needed to be touched and soon, too, or else panic, so I decided to proceed in
spite of the offending car.