I really hope you’ll lend me your ears today, dear readers. I can promise to repay you by earning your interest, as I’ve a memory that will grow fonder if you fondle it: a memory of my first meeting with the fit subject of this serial, my dear friend and colleague, the hefty-yet-quick—the Olympic—Dr. Why.
I’d like to keep the details of when and where to myself, so I’ll start like this: Once upon a time . . .
I was reclining on the chaise longue in my comfortable office library, on a great campus of a greater university in the middle of everywhere the modern Academy can take you. The term was done, the students were home, and my staff was gone at last. I had no task at hand, no plans afoot, neither gleaming typewriter nor blinking computer in sight, and only nothing on my mind. It was a rare and precious and consummate moment. I hoped at heart to keep it and resolved to try as I relaxed there—on my long chair, in the great midst—into nix . . . .
But then, as if possessed, my office door spoke to me:
“Knock, knock,” it joked.
And I gasped as a blade of surprise ran through me.
“Knock, knock,” it twisted.
But I turned my attention back to my breathing—
“Knock, knock!” it persisted.
—and I dismissed an intrusive wish to rip the door from its hinges—
“Knock, knock!” it nevertheless insisted.
—and I inwardly longed that all beings without exception be happy and secure.
And my diligence was rewarded with silence. Only my heart was still knocking as I relaxed back into my chair, happy and secure.
But then my brash door-knocker began to call out for me.
“Professor?” he pestered.
And I didn’t notice my smoldering—
“Doctor,” he hectored.
—nor my wish to unhinge recurring and burning—
“Sir!” he shouted.
—and I squeezed my chair’s arm so hard that I feared it would cry out and expose me, as my toes clawed at the soles below me and my teeth gnashed my bottom lip.
“Knock, knock!” the door imposed yet again.
So I sighed loudly in resignation and rose to answer.
“Who’s there?” I demanded.
“I have an appointment with—” my caller started, as I pushed the door open.
“I have an appointment with whom?” I retorted.
“No, I have an appointment,” he started again, “with Profess—er—with Doctor—”
He gave a puzzled look and glanced in past me.
“May I speak with him?” he asked, politely.
“Ineptly,” I answered gravely.
He looked me up and down a moment and mumbled an apology at the ground. Then he gazed at me from slightly sideways. “Um,” he said with contrite eyes but a wee grin, “I thought you’d be older?”
I told him I didn’t remember any appointment. And I didn’t; I’d have instructed my secretary to cancel it if I had. But when I excused myself to “check my ledger,” he followed me in like a puppy, rubbing his paws together and acting sorry.
So I decided to keep him. I instructed him to sit and stay and gave him a cookie. Then I excused myself and disappeared into the shadows after tea.
“I’ll be back shortly,” I said.
But when I returned several minutes later with nothing in hand but the intention to show him out after all (because there was no appointment), I found him engrossed in quite shocking behavior.
It was the tremor that stopped me: the nearby lampshades quivered, the fern shivered, and the cookie crumbs shuddered as their porcelain craft jittered and rattled ever closer to getting shattered. So I backed away from the flickering lights into the dark stacks, where I could spy with impunity.
The tremor was caused, as you may have guessed, by my caller, who was jackhammering his feet into the floor with such fervor that I feared he’d loose the ceiling tiles. And then he thrust himself with the grace of a dancer and the force of a fighter into a pose neither would freely strike openly.
He sat with those nervous legs crossed now—like an aristocratic lady at a tea-and-fine-cheese benefit—except that he was leaning too far forward on his seat with his shoulders shrugged, his back hunched, his right thumb stuck under his arm, and his flushed face drawn into a determined grimace. So more like an aristocratic lady who’d had more than her fill of tea-and-fine-cheese benefits, wearied of finding her deep need to be more liberal ever obstructed, but fully committed nevertheless to giving just a little more to the masses beneath her no matter how it hurt.
It seemed that my visitor had adopted this noble position merely to gain easy access to his free thumb, however, because he was gnawing it with what I can only describe as a look of blissful desperation—like a certain six-year-old I know eating my maíz a la masala. —At a cobbed-corn eating contest. —While possessed by the spirit of a man who had once nearly escaped both shackles and a sinking slave ship at the same time—by the skin of his teeth, so to speak. Alleged telepaths the world over should have heard my guest silently screaming, “delicious yet excruciating!” I did, and I don’t even believe in telepathy.
Distressed to think that he should continue thus to eat himself unfettered, I decided to intervene. But he immediately burst open like a coo-coo clock—flapping his arms out to his sides and jerking them stiffly several times as if to count the hour—and then as quickly folded into a mirror image of his previous pose to munch again on fresh thumb, still steaming from the armpit.
I tried to move forward under cover of my guest’s consuming distraction. But no sooner had I shifted my balance off center than he again sat up and looked all around. I halted reflexively, only to find myself trapped by the realization that any further movement would betray my spying.
He sat quite still as my forward ankle spasmed for a minute that felt like ten, his head turning almost imperceptibly, his mouth open slightly, upper incisors unusually exposed, spittle glistening, squinty eyes hunting me through the stacks. And then, apparently satisfied that he was alone, he sighed with his entire body and sat at rest for a moment. I hoped he might even relax enough to close his eyelids fully—until he started twitching instead.
I noticed it initially in his fingers. First of all on the one hand, then again on the other hand, they gestured waveringly like a judicious philosopher striving to be an honest politician. They wriggled as his biceps flexed. His hamstrings also contracted. Muscles all around his body were twitching cyclically, in fact, as if in hydraulic reaction to compressed, circulating anxiety. And it grew stronger the longer I watched, until his upper body was swaying to and fro in response to the increasingly obtrusive rhythmic cramping of his oversized buttocks.
Unable to abide this absurd spectacle a moment longer, I flipped a coin from my pocket into the space behind him and moved in quickly.
“I prepared water, but didn’t spy any tweee,” I tried to lie but accidentally confessed as he turned to face me. Then our eyes locked momentarily, and I saw that he saw through me.
“I apologize,” I said. “I couldn’t help but notice—”
“The twitching?” he asked with an exaggerated grin, acknowledging only the least conspicuous of the many bizarre behaviors I had witnessed. He frowned momentarily, but then shrugged as if accustomed to such social catastrophes. A feeling of mixed guilt and sympathy washed over me at that moment, so after a long pause and a few introductory exchanges, I decided to engage.
“When did it begin?” I asked, with calculated vagueness.
I expected to hear an account mangled by maintenance if not lost to security. What I heard is the following clear memory.
(To be continued in #14….)