In the aftermath of the clipped conversation with the musician came a full accounting of Don Vargas’s life. He’d grown up a few clicks north of upper middle class in an all-white suburb of Rochester, New York. His childhood was full of overnight summer camps, golf lessons, then golf camps when the golf took. At sixteen a new Honda Accord, modest, to take him to school, which was public, but top ten in the state. Then, at seventeen, he’d been given a Jeep Grand Cherokee after he’d rolled the Honda in an incident that remained off his record with the help of his lawyer father. Things progressed nicely.
With his three-hundred yards, straight away, drive off the tee, golf led to a scholarship at a nearly all white private college tucked in the foothills of Connecticut. He studied business, got mediocre grades, made a group of heavy-drinking, white friends he’s had ever since. The only black students at his school he was aware of were the fifteen basketball players who were all closer to seven feet than six. It was those players who performed such miraculous maneuvers on the court but were so aloof, and disenfranchised in the classrooms that set the tone of Don’s thinking towards them. He was not alone in his judgements and budding racism, and neither him, nor or his friends took into account the small sample size they’d constructed their views from.
His college years were a fine time, though often, quite sloppy. At the egging of his friends, he stripped naked, donned a women’s bikini top, tucked his genitals far back between his legs, then did a bent-knee, waddling dance while everyone chanted, Mangina! Mangina! Mangina! It became a parlor trick of sorts at parties where the goal was to get drunker than everyone else.
He was one of a crowd of party-more-than-study guys who worked from bar to bar throughout the weekend which started on Wednesdays. He never needed jobs as there was always enough money to pull from in his account, and he never thought about it.
It was on one of those deep drinking nights he first met the musician.
The musician was bartending, and tolerated him and his friends, giving them extra shots for extra tips. During the week the bar set up a stage the musician played his guitar on, trying out his own songs, and doing covers that Don and his friends asked for, again for extra tips. The musician had something special, and even then Don knew it. He was one of the only people his own age Don admired, and not just because the musician was rumored to have had steady flows of women’s company, and spent all his breaks seeking out jobs that let him travel around the country, in National Parks, on fishing boats in Alaska, and a tourist resort in Baja. Each time Don heard him play, he seemed to get better, to be honing his voice. Don did shot after shot and told him how much he liked his music.
Though all the drinking led to a swelling of his body, he could still drive a ball long and true and chip it onto almost any green under par, which he parlayed into a job at Northrup Grumman after graduation.
What followed was business travel. Expense accounts. Company golf tournaments he kept getting paired up with higher and higher up executives, which often came with incremental raises and promotions.
There was his bachelor party where he received a tremendous and theatrical blowjob from a nasty stripper in front of thirty other guys at a party. Half his fattening college friends roared with delight and the other half clapped with a repulsed resignation on their faces. When he came, he lifted his fists over his head in triumph, and his old friends chanted, Mangina! Mangina! Mangina!
There were of course the times that he had been at his best, at work, with his girlfriend/fiancé/wife/mother of his child/then children. But the musician made him think of none of that. Not the years of tending to small children, the few friends he’d allowed to stay with him during their divorces. None of that seemed to matter when he pulled everything up to sift through the pillars of who he had become.
He worked with contractors to supply parts. Parts for weapons, machinery for tanks, turbines for war ships, and computer circuitry for missile guidance systems. It led him all over the world, where he did well fitting in with other salesmen, and golfing where he could. Rarely did he come into contact with the weapons or products being made. His was the busy work of putting a face on the finances. He’d joke with male clients about birding trips south of the border to hunt down the, “tan-bellied, double-breasted, bed-thrasher,” and gotten a laugh. Though he had hired a taxi in Caracas, Venezuela, and the driver said, ‘There are two kinds of bars in Caracas. One you go to drink and watch ladies take off their clothes, and one you go to fuck!’ Dan chose the latter. When away from his wife, and others, he always chose the more base option.
Then, eighteen years after college, he took a twelve hour flight from Germany to Chicago, where he drank scotch across the Atlantic, and landed in time, half-smashed for an old college friend’s wedding. It was there he saw the musician again. The musician had made it to the charts as lead guitarist and backup singer for a pop band, then recorded half a dozen successful solo albums that found their way onto the radio. Don had followed his career through alumni newsletters, gossip from mutual friends, and occasionally in tabloid articles. The musician had forsaken any set career and led himself into the shape of his own life. Traveling around the country, then around the world, on his own efforts and talent, doing exactly what he wanted to do. Don had tried to get him to play several corporate parties over the years, but the answer always came back no.
At the wedding reception, where Don cornered the musician, and his lithe, gorgeous, Italian wife, he asked about the invitations.
“Do you get so many invites you can’t come to them all? I mean, we’ll pay you a fortune.”
“I don’t like what your company does in the world,” the musician said. His wife scanned the room.
This took Don by surprise. He leaned into the table. “Like a real fortune they pay the entertainment.”
The musician didn’t follow up on the conversation. “So. Tell me about yourself. A family?” the musician asked.
Don told him about his wife and two kids. “A girl, twelve, and boy, ten.”
“What do they like to do?” the musician’s wife asked, now interested in him.
“Sports. Both Soccer.” Don leaned in closer, looked around the room, to make sure no one was near, and said, “My son is nigger-fast.” Don gave his best full-on-drunk, full-of-fun smile.
The musician hooked his hand under his wife’s arm and they both walked away. There was a clear look of dismissal on the musician’s face, not disgust, but something much worse. Like Don didn’t matter enough to pretend to care about him a moment longer. An immediate banishment. He’d heard enough to judge Don as no import to their time and left without another word.
Don lifted his hand to call them back, “A joke. A joke,” he called. But they were already across the room, so he waved them away. Who needed them?
But he stood at the table without trying to engage anyone else or taking another sip of his drink. The look on the musician’s face needled him. He went to the bathroom to have something to do and not look like he were standing alone at a party.
He washed his face, patted it with a paper towel, then looked at himself in the mirror. “Hey Guy,” he said.
He went back out into the party. Smiled. There were some still-attractive bridesmaids dancing. He eyed them over.
The musician danced with his wife. Fuck him, Don thought. Fuck him for judging me. This is how I behave, like it or not. This was probably how his father behaved. No, he was certain of that. This was probably how most men he ever knew behaved. He talked like most of the salesmen he came across. Tell the best stories, party the hardest, make the most deals. The hippie ass musician couldn’t hack it for a second, he told himself. He wouldn’t let his son take music lessons now, he thought, but the thought of his son came to him as the DJ switched songs. His son would probably be just like him.
That rung through him and it felt like doubt only needed one small crack to come gushing in. That musician made him feel small, and of course, that is what he was, it now occurs to him.
He went to the bar to think of something else. What would he tell his son about himself? I was a white American business man. A pig. A boar. I came to this awakening late in life and could do nothing about it. He took his drink to the center of the dance floor which felt like an expanding chasm of technicolor light and noise pushing everyone away from him. He wanted to scream at the musician but couldn’t muster the words as he felt suddenly hollow out and lost. Then, to keep from thinking any deeper about how he was feeling, he undid his belt, shimmied his pants down around his ankles, and tucked his genitals back by his scrotum—a petty, gross spectacle at best— and began to waddle there until the crowd could chant what he truly was.