“Did you enjoy dinner, Betty?” I asked the rather plain-looking woman seated across from me. Betty’s plate, like mine, was half-empty.
“I did, thank you. It was quite enjoyable.”
“I agree. It was good. I’m glad we chose Italian this evening. Is this your first time at the Olive Tree?”
“At this one, yes. I have been to the one on the south side of the island, which is also good.”
“Well, perhaps we’ll try that one next time.”
“That would be nice.”
All in all, not a bad first date, I mused as I drove along after seeing Betty home. Yet I would not say that there had been any stirrings from within; not that I would necessarily recognize a stirring if one were to stir. I am, you see, a thoroughly boring person, and very much a product of my environment.
That environment, which has become my home, is here now, here on the Isle of Mediocrity, the principal landmass in the Sea of Compromise. It had never been my intention to come here. Far from it. It was to the Isles of Passion, far across the Sea of Adventure, that I was bound when a line of squalls came suddenly across a cloudless sky, pitching me from the deck of my ship and into the tepid waters.
For many days I swam, lackadaisically, until I reached these shores. And while you might think that I would have been elated by my salvation, such was not the case. Vaguely tired was what I felt, a feeling that has persisted for the nine years since my first washing ashore.
Let me try to paint for you a picture of life as it is lived hereabouts. Housing is adequate. There is nothing on the island that one would call architecture. Just houses. Prices are pretty much what you would expect.
As it is with housing, so too with the local job market: no jobs that will make you want to leap out of bed and get to work. On a positive note, employers’ expectations are not particularly high, and one can slide by with a modicum of effort and still hope to advance, at least marginally, with time.
The school system is decent. Performance on government-mandated standardized tests placed the schools in the 50th percentile. The football team had a passable year, finishing the season with a record of 0-0-10, as it did last year.
Death, when it comes, is met by the islanders with equanimity, mirroring as it does so completely, life.
ZEUS (to a messenger): Please go and find my brother and tell him I’d like to see him.
(Exit messenger, on winged feet, returning with Poseidon, god of the sea, shaker of the earth, and brother of Zeus.)
POSEIDON: Do you really have to be bothering me in the middle of hurricane season?
ZEUS: This won’t take long. I want you to provide Alan Handwerger with a sturdy ship, calm seas and a following breeze so that he may leave Mediocrity.
ZEUS: You heard me: Alan Handwerger. You stranded him there nine years ago for no apparent reason.
POSEIDON (looking down at me from Olympus): Oh, him.
ZEUS: Yes, him. A man without a bone of malice in his body. What might Alan Handwerger have done to incur your wrath?
POSEIDON: Nothing. Just in the wrong place at the wrong time. As I recall, I had just gotten a new trident that day, and I was looking for someone to try it out on.
ZEUS: So you turn a man’s life upside down for nine years just because you want to field-test your new pitchfork?
POSEIDON: Why all the fuss over a mere mortal?
ZEUS (thundering): I want him home – NOW!
POSEIDON: Fine, if it means I can get back to wreaking havoc on the Gulf coast, I’ll get right on it.
“Hi, hon. I’m home,” I said, slamming the door with great vigor, taking Lorrie in my arms and kissing her hard.
“I was getting worried about you,” she said, somewhat puzzled by my ardor. “We’re meeting the Jacobsons for dinner in about ten minutes at that new seafood place.”
“Yah. Poseidon’s New Venture. You remember?”
“Well call and tell them we’re not coming. ”
“Ten minutes before we’re supposed to meet them?”
“I’ll call them …
“Phil. Hey, listen, I know it’s short notice; but we can’t make it … No, everyone’s fine. I just can’t bring myself to eat fish at the moment… No, I’m serious. I don’t suppose you’d like to have a steak, would you? Yeah? Great. We’ll meet you at the Palm in half an hour…”
“So did you like Betty?” Phil Jacobson asked as we sat eating two-inch thick Porterhouses where sea bass and mahi mahi were to have been.
“Who’s Betty?” Lorrie wanted to know.
“You didn’t tell her?” said Phil. “Oops.”
“Betty is a life coach,” I explained to my wife. “I went to see her this afternoon.”
“So what’d you think of her?” asked Phil.
“I thought she was an idiot,” I answered with newborn frankness.
“Thanks,” said Phil, somehow taking this personally. “Sorry I tried to help.”
“Don’t be sorry, for God’s sake. But why would you hire a total stranger to tell you what to wear, what to eat, what to think, how to feel …”
“That’s not what she does?”
“Oh? Did you know she now offers a service to help you name your baby? She’s a veritable conglomerate, that woman.”
“Fine,” said Phil. “You tell me you’ve been feeling kind of lost lately. I just thought she might be able to help.”
“She did help, actually – in a way.”
“Oh?” said Lorrie.
“Yeah. Her office is down by the harbor, right across from where the ferry docks.”
“So?” said Phil, evidently still feeling bruised.
“So when I left her, I decided to go for a ride. I hadn’t been out on the water in a long time. The ferry was full of tourists drinking beer; so I had a beer. And then I fell asleep.”
“And nothing – except since I woke up everything looks better, tastes better, smells better. I mean, just look at my shirt. Have you ever seen a whiter white? And Lorrie’s hair – give it a sniff… Anyone else for another steak?”
ZEUS (to Poseidon at dinner that evening): Did you take care of that Handwerger matter?
POSEIDON: I did. I felt kind of bad about the whole thing, so I threw in a few drops of nectar.
ZEUS: Good. I think he deserved it.