Here’s a quiet toast, on a Friday evening, my bottle of Stella Artois in hand, to the girl who’s too tall, the boy who’s too glamorous, the hippie kid smelling of weed and looking Pre-Raphaelite, the born-again teen unfashionably defending an abstinence-only life, the hipster who’s too old and the cynic who’s too young.
“Man is physically as well as metaphysically a thing of shreds and patches, borrowed unequally from good and bad ancestors, and a misfit from the start,” exclaimed Ralph Waldo Emerson, a magnanimous man, in his essay “Beauty.”
I salute you, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and you, Walt Whitman, and you, Flannery O’Connor, and you, Nathanael West, and you, Geoffrey Chaucer, and magnanimous men and women everywhere. You understood the feeble material we’re all made of.
I toast the fussy, marshmallow-skin woman who breaks a sweat looking for the owner of a misplaced purse; the earnest defender of a painfully simple idea, in whose mind the idea is the only idea, and so he gets to sleep the sleep of the righteous and certain; the mastodon-sized boy with weak, sad eyes steamed in steroids and right-wing rage; the fat kid who knows the answer to a science question. The black girl with catwoman eyes and long straight hair and fishnet stockings under a leather skirt. The white boy stammering and endlessly apologizing, unable to speak a single word above a whisper.
The old woman who just does not understand, here’s to you. And you, English teacher with the Louise Brooks hair, amateur pornographer and lover of Dorothy Sayers. And you, deflowerer of young girls, teacher of art, with your sailboat, your drumset, your Cinelli bicycle and refrigerator full of imported beer. To you, broad-shouldered and sunflower-faced woman, impenetrable, anxious, brimming with love you don’t even know where to put, to you punk-styled Vietnamese boy who doesn’t like to date Asian women, I send my love.
The pale, practically albino girl with red hair whose eyeballs seem to stick to her eyelashes when she’s nervous. The bagger at Harris Teeter who I swear to God looks retarded but whom I still wouldn’t kick out of bed. Cheers to you both. I salute the elderly Buddhist with a library of JFK conspiracies. And you, old friend, gone with AIDS, but not before you got me out of plaid pants and too-tight shirts. You, conscience-stricken confessor of a murder years ago, I’ve kept your secret. And you, Mr. S., best teacher ever in grade school, who fiddled with boys’ penises after telling a smutty story—an experiment, we were told—whose secret I did not keep, who was fired, and to whom my mother nevertheless allowed me to walk over and say a final farewell.
Here’s a toast to the flat-topped history professor with a wife who baked bread, who collected stereopticons, who told me, “Never complain because 80% of people don’t give a shit and the other 20% think you’re getting exactly what you deserve.” To the teacher who built his own house and kept his wife pregnant, although his eyes lingered hungrily on the faces of young men.
You bet your life, I’m toasting you.
To the laugher at his own jokes, the gossip everybody secretly loathes, the doomed sleepy-eyed son of two suicides, the West Virginia boy whose grandfather was saved from an eternity in hell by a mule he had thrashed nearly to death, the girl with too much eye makeup who condemned girls who wore too much eye makeup, the collector of autographs, the large hairy boy with the soul of a flower, the drunk narcissistic poet who met Derek Walcott, the father who yelled at his son only once ever and that was for not recognizing a goddamn Phillips head screwdriver, the one-armed mother who scared her son by pretending to be Frankenstein, the mother who approved her daughter’s learning how to masturbate, the black boy who played the xylophone and collected small animal organs in jars of formaldehyde, the kid whose name really was Ben Hur, the woman who’s still trying to please the father who molested her, the boy who wanted to be Jonny Quest and who looked almost exactly like him except he was not a cartoon, the woman who picked her lifelong career out of a library book, the woman who made hot pepper jelly and listened to Ruth Etting records, and the ugly, rather mean girl at school who graduated from Barbizon School of Modeling and Personal Development.
Cheers to you, misfits, freaks, losers, creeps, lost souls, sissies, retards, sinners, ne’er-do-wells, fatsos, bitches, phonies, wannabes, bullies, nutcases, sad sacks, outsiders, victims, scapegoats, pervs, misanthropes, nerds, geeks, weaklings, trolls, old maids, odd ducks, and deadbeats. Chin chin.