eyes

In the backyard, a hammock stretched between two trees like a fishing net. It was just before our speech communications department’s welcome potluck with fruit-in-wiggly-Jell-O and foil-covered casseroles and jalapeño-cheddar burgers. Amy, the director, was sick. So, Christopher, the assistant director, had hosted it. Out by the hammock, he asked one of the new graduate students if she wanted to have a threesome with him and his fiancé. She walked away.

When it happened, I was looking through the porch’s screen. My girlfriend Lauren and I were ready to eat. The evening tinted darker despite flames licking out of the fire pit.

***

I found porn on my computer, Lauren texted.

I had checked the time on my phone as I made copies of rubrics for class. I wondered what the porn was and how I hadn’t deleted it. I didn’t use my laptop for the Internet, only Lauren’s which was always on. I always covered my tracks by clearing history, emptying cookies, and refreshing the cache. I never downloaded anything and never paid for anything. The laptop had pop-up software and virus detectors. It almost would have been easier to deny the porn if I could pass it off as randomly appearing. Without more information, I needed to be vague.

Do you know anything about this? Lauren texted.

What?! I texted back and then turned off my phone and shoved it in my pocket.

***

One of my students was advocating for emergency poles on campus. Her plan for installing poles in the line of sight all around campus made sense. Then she began to list off other colleges to support her argument. While our university was a public research school, the ones she used were historically women-only private institutions.

I’d had another female student attempt to turn in a persuasive topic calling all women to not walk alone at night. In office hours, I had asked her if our town was unsafe. And were only women at risk? I didn’t ask if all crime—want of money, want of flesh, want of power—was mostly done by men. The girl changed her topic to suggest every college student not walk alone.

During the emergency pole speech, I didn’t interrupt. I let her finish. The class applauded as they always did. I wrote on the notes section of her rubric: So, are men the real problem?

1. The Visionary Stage.

The idea is brilliant; so brilliant, in fact, that it is best described as a “vision.” No one has thought to combine these elements/metal components/animal JPEGs before. The world is laughably behind. This vision will overtake the critics and investors, necessitating that cash be shipped to you via truck freight.

 

2. The Gritty-Eyed Stage.

Month four: you’re still springing out of bed in the mornings, but it’s mainly because your back is knotted with stress. You landed that big commission in Australia, but now you’re working weird hours and none of your traditionally employed friends understands why when you laugh, it sounds like you’re crying. It’s thrilling to be able to earn money for your vision, except that the currency exchange rates are killing you a little more each month. Also, the word “month” in Australia translates to “60 days” in the U.S. The electric bill is an unfriendly color.

 

3. The Scotch Drinking Stage.

The Australians just got hit with a major flood. Despite their initial enthusiasm for your groundbreaking project, you’re now back in the ranks of the unemployed. Except you can’t collect unemployment because you haven’t been employed full-time for over six months by anyone aside from your own misguided ambition. On a whim, you picked up a minor commission from some English people a few weeks back “for a little extra cash.” Oh, ha! Your friends are short on sympathy. Not only are you a loser; you’re a loser in a time of the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. Maybe you should have just made nice with that asshole at the old 80-hour a week job who drove you screaming from the building. No, you can’t go that far. Whatever happens, never trust anyone named Gavin.

 

4. The Royal Tenenbaum Stage.

Perhaps it’s time to turn to crime: after all, your fingertips are now polished smooth from exertion. For entertainment, you imagine likely organ solos at your funeral as you treat yourself to a cup of cooked rice. The English people don’t like how the project has worked out and have refused to pay your last bill. This, despite the hours you spent on Skype patiently explaining the nuances of your ingenuity. You’ve got some leads with a few Canadians and a guy who calls himself “MajorDomo51.” You’re going to die in the company of used cardboard containers. The only way people will remember you is with mockery, especially that dickweed Gavin.

 

5. The Jazz Bar Stage.

The darkest hour comes before checking your email. After discarding the grammatically pioneering messages from BestPenis, you discover an explosion of interest from half a dozen serious investors. Maybe it’s the genius of the new Google algorithm or the simplicity of critical mass, but this integrity-plagued existence of yours is starting to turn a profit. You haven’t kowtowed to anyone in over two years, and you’ve settled this evening’s bar tab with unleveraged cash. The feeling is so good that you start swapping anecdotes with the guy sitting next to you. After you explain that you’re your own boss, you see that look in his eyes. It’s the look of a man who has an idea; no, a VISION.