Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Elephant Cometh

We became friendly just as his trolley was jumping the tracks. True, my old colleague was a bit quirky, but the laughs shared over our cubical wall balanced the self-loathing panic which bubbled in my gut. What was I doing wasting away in this den of low ceilings and slipshod ethics for the income of a social worker? Shackled firmly in the throes of middle office mediocrity, we collected dust on the low rung of a rusted corporate ladder. It helped neither career nor confidence to have that ladder steadied by functional alcoholics in management positions. Changing urinal cakes was probably a worse existence, but the bottom feeding world of portfolio support was ranked a close second, or perhaps a close third behind our grease-bathing cafeteria fry man (who served up a delicious grilled cheese, mind you). Congenial as I appeared, still living at home with a minimum of expenses, sanity was fleeting in those curious days, and mine persevered where others’ fell dead. Lights out. Pencils down. Work coma. Swiftly did the monotony of account reconciliation make mush of my friend’s mind, pounding brain matter into pulp until it resembled the guts of an overripe cantaloupe; common sense scraped loose and fed to the warring dogs of office politics. Overnight he became a Class A buffoon. An unpredictable pervert. A slow-motion disaster tumbling face first down an upward moving escalator, for months at a clip. And then he snapped.

In those unpleasant days – before the arm of almighty God plucked me out of that cesspool and presented a civilized alternative with all the trappings of a living wage – my friend had fully submitted to insanity, resigned to crunch numbers on the bank’s Windows incompatible accounting software and preoccupy his downtime spinning bizarre yarns on the size of the garbage in his pants. Rechristening himself The Elephant, he was prone to outbursts of extreme genital braggadocio, often using his right arm to emulate a swinging trunk and speaking of Trojan Magnums as a necessary element to his survival, much like water or air. Although he was a man of pedestrian looks and somewhat portly build, no earthly force could prevent his testosterone from bursting through the stratosphere during happy hours; no mere mortal could shield their eyes as he strut into bars like a peacock, puffing his chest through a comically tight blazer (almost certainly last worn at his eighth grade graduation) while lighting matches off clenched teeth. He was a winking, derriere grabbing jackass – something straight out of ‘Mad Men’ or a 1970’s how-to brochure on sexual harassment in the workplace – with limitless confidence and the threat of a rocket launcher in his pants that could presumably be discharged during any conversational lull. Suddenly, the simple act of sharing a beer was like having a grenade launcher pointed at your ear. I was in a perpetual state of unease. Women were aghast. After all, he was a lowly administrator turned (alleged) phallic colossus. A godhead of virility. You would’ve been horrified.

Why this sudden swing from office dolt to sexual superman? Why the invented legend status which, ultimately, spawned an amusing fool amongst the company of men yet a deviant in the mind of females? Quite simply, he had nothing to lose. His personal and professional life were magnificent trainwrecks, and the mythic hammer behind the belt buckle was an emotional crutch; a psychological weapon to be exploited on the worst dates in the worst seats at the worst restaurants when all other attempts at witty banter fell short. For all I know, it could’ve been a twelve inch beanstalk secured to his femur with duct tape. I really don’t care and I never asked for the negatives. And when he finally quit, cowardly retreating on a Greyhound bus with the usual lot of immigrant drifters, hillbillies, and murderous church custodians, it was another chapter closed on another oddball flame-out. Keep in touch, we did not. His manliness was too hardy a force for my diminutive stature. Still, it was always fun having drinks at the circus when the elephant was out of his pen.

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