My Checkered Past

I grew up in the deepest jungles of Brazil. A rebellious teenager, one day I came home from school without the ritualistic bone in my nose. My father was furious and really let me have it: “As long as you’re living in my thatched hut you’ll wear a bone in your nose! We’re having our family picture taken today so take off that ridiculous suit and tie and strap a leaf between your legs. You look ridiculous!”

In college I majored in advertising and soon was able to land a job with a small firm in the heart of the Amazon. It was fun at first, dreaming up winning campaigns for dreamers, mostly smalltime entrepreneurs. But then we landed a big fish – Viagra – and all the creative joy was gone. The couple sitting in bathtubs on the beach sharing a bottle of champagne? That was mine. I was desperate to come up with an idea that would get me fired but nothing seemed beyond the pale as far as Viagra was concerned. I was finally fired after developing a two-page pop-up ad. I exited the building with a severance package that consisted of two weeks’ salary and a piece of biscotti and never looked back.

With my father’s help I landed a job as wine critic for Popular Mechanics magazine. I was utterly unqualified – to this day I am unable to distinguish a red from a white. I did, however, learn to appreciate any wine with possessing notes of buttered toast, an aftertaste of pomegranate and the ability to get me drunk in under 20 minutes.

From there I landed a job at a men’s big-and-tall clothing store. At 5’5″, I was hired, in my bosses’ words, to loiter around the store and “make customers feel big and tall”. A kind and gentle man, he would nonetheless point me out to customers and say “Hey look – Pinoccio is a real boy!” I quit when I realized I was unable to trigger the electronic eye above the urinal in the break room. I tried everything to make that damn thing flush: stand on my toes, wave my arms above my head, jump up and down – the whole shebang. Ultimately I had to ask help from my co-workers: “Hey Bob, would you give me a hand over here? Hey! Where are you going?! Come back – you didn’t wash your hands!”

Most of the jobs I’ve been worth a nickel at tend to exploit my diminutive physique. I’ve been a jockey, a chimney sweep and once, in Cleveland, I was used to prop up the short leg of stool. When times were hard I always found work assembling those sailboats inside the those little bottles.

I was happy just dime dancing around the country. Then I up and married my landlord. That my wife not only continued to charge me rent but refused to replace the squeaky hinge on the screen door was no small source of friction between us. One night, feeling frisky, I was put a move on her in bed and she said “It’s that time of the month”. Given that she was both my landlord and my wife, this was fraught with meaning. But what did it mean? I decided that the safest way to proceed was to give her a thousand bucks in cash and slowly back out of the room. She still writes me every Arbor Day.

It was exhilarating to be single again. For a while there seemed to be sex available around every corner and even, sometimes, at the end of long hallways. In Denver I fell in love with a beautiful prostitute, Helen, whose innate modesty caused her to rebuff my sexual advances “until we’re married”. I thought about paying for it but it was just too degrading. One night we got into a screaming match over the proper use of “suffice” – she insisting that “suffice to say” was correct while I knew from my days in advertising that the correct use is “suffice it to say”. She calls me each year on my birthday, although to this day she stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that I was right.


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