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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Divided into two parts with what I hope is a unifying meaning at the end, sort of like, my own split personality!

Submitted: November 29, 2009

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 29, 2009



Twenty-Six Percent
The conversation that Brian has on the phone begins with her complaining.
Most of Brian’s conversations with women, whether they take place on his cell phone or not, have complaining involved in them somewhere. Even if that complaining isn’t about HIM directly, but even if it’s more like the soft melodic undertones of a flute ensemble in a symphony orchestra, a sort of constant buzzing, it’s still there, and it’s still complaining.
At least she’s not complaining about him though—that’s one not too small consolation. It sounds over the phone as if, believe it or not, Michelle is complaining about herself.
Such true candor is extremely rare in a person. Some people, instead of complaining about their own deficiencies, which intellectually speaking and in their most logical heart of hearts they know to be there like the proverbial wooden beam in the eye that Jesus spoke of, will instead, consistently complain about everyone and everything else in the world around them. It’s a way of, in the truly Freudian sense of the word, projecting their almost numberless self-complaints onto everyone else that they come across in the world. I know this to be true because both Brian and myself suffer from thia same malady.
However, this isn’t being said to criticize or to complain about other people. No, quite to the contrary. There are no worse people in the world, no people who are more deserving of being complained about, than those people who simply refuse to complain or to negatively comment on anything at all, for whatever reason. You know the type of person that I’m talking about, I’m pretty sure, and Brian Grabowski definitely knows the type of person that I’m talking about.
In fact, just as Brian sits on a chair at his kitchen table with his cell phone pressed to his ear, he’s thinking about a conversation that he had at the office the other day.
He was standing, milling about is actually a better phrase for it, outside the glass paneled door of the boss’s office, when he struck up a conversation with Monica who works in Human Resources. Brian always talks to Monica, probably because she wears short skirts and has nice legs, though why he talks to her for that reason and what exactly he expects to happen because he always talks to her for that reason is anybody’s guess, and not even Brian himself could tell you the answer.  Hell, Brian couldn’t even tell you if he likes talking to Monica, she rarely says more than one syllable to him at a time, and when she does say more than that to him, it’s almost always only when she’s complaining about something he’s already said to her. Suffice it to say that, for whatever reason, Brian always talks to Monica whenever he can.
This time, while they’re standing, milling about doing nothing and pretending to do something at the photocopier outside the glass paneled door to the boss’s office, Brian looks up from checking out Monica’s legs and sees Frank Marsden sitting across the desk from the boss.
“I hate that guy,” Brian mutters while staring straight ahead, but talking loud enough so that Monica will hear him.
“Who?” She listlessly asks.
“That guy Frank,” Brian mutters, this time giving a short jerk of his head.
“Why? Because he’s fat?”
“No, I don’t care about that,” Brian says, “even Santa Claus is fat, but everybody loves him. I hate Frank because he never complains about anything.”
“Oh well. That’s how those people are,” Monica says while she lifts up the top of the photocopier to ostensibly make a copy of what seems to be a blank page.
“What people?” Brian asks, turning to look at her, and trying his best not to peek at her legs.
“You know,” Monica says as she closes the top of the photocopier, “Born Agains; religious kind of people like that. People like Frank.”
“What?” Brian says, while this time, being far too distracted to even think about peeking at Monica’s legs. “You mean Frank’s Born Again?”
“Yeah, you didn’t know that?”
“No,” Brian says thoughtfully, “I didn’t know that. What did he do with his old self after he got Born Again? Eat him?” Brian says to her as he laughs, trying his best to elicit a laugh from Monica with the fine shapely legs.
But she doesn’t laugh. She looks at Brian, frowns, shakes her head and simply says, “That’s not funny.”
Brian comes back with a quick and apologetic, “Sorry.”
He watches, newly Born Again to him, Frank Marsden, talk to the boss through the glass for a few seconds without saying anything or peeking at Monica. Then he says, “Still, I mean, I’m not complaining or anything, but I can’t stand that guy. You could, like stick a knife in the guy’s arm and all he’d say is, ‘Ouch, that really hurts. Could you take it out please?’ without even getting mad or cursing, or anything.”
“Very spiritual people are like that, Grabowski, you know,” Monica says emphatically as she begins to walk away.
Brain turns his head to look at Monica’s shapely legs walking away from him, and as he does so, he feels a little sorry about the whole thing for an instant.
It’s this conversation that Brian’s thinking about now as he sits in a chair at the kitchen table and talks to his friend Michelle with his cell phone pressed to his ear…
I think that I read somewhere, or more probably, I overheard once while I sat with a hangover pressing on my temples like a vise-grip in an Introduction to Psychology class that 13% of all people will complain about everything for any conceivable reason and that conversely, 13% of all people won’t complain about anything for any conceivable reason.
What is the point of this random statistic? Really, I’m not all that sure. Maybe our professor was simply trying to tell the class that 26% of all people are certifiably, statistically speaking, crazy.
This statement is one that I would largely agree with to this day, but truthfully, I’m not sure exactly what I heard because my record in the classroom is checkered and spotty at best.
One thing that I know for certain is that since Michelle is complaining on the phone to Brian, not about a petty lie that a co-worker told to her in the vicinity of the office water-cooler, or about an old friend from high school who got the chance to be a bridesmaid before she did, but because she’s complaining about herself and her own actions or lack thereof, Brian is certain of at least one reason why he’s been an on again/off again acquaintance of Michelle’s for nearly a decade and a half.
At the very least, Michelle’s candor and her open, light-hearted ability to freely bitch about herself and not about someone else to Brian over the phone is proof enough that she is not one of the 26% certifiably crazy people in the world.
For Brian, who seems to have an inexhaustible amount of dumb luck when it comes to running into members of the elect 26%, the sheer fact that Michelle doesn’t seem to fit into that 26th percentile makes him feel like she is one of his closest friends in the world, despite the fact that over the last decade and a half, their acquaintance with one another has been checkered and spotty at best.
There are reasons greater than personal temperament why Brian and Michelle’s acquaintance has been on again/off again for the past fifteen years.
For one thing, Michelle is married and Brian is not, and a single man and a married woman have a greater chance of losing their sanity in this world than they do of holding onto the closeness of their friendship.
For another thing, Brian and Michelle now live over two hours ride distant from one another, so to say in actuality that the two of them have an on again/off again friendship is a bit of an exaggeration. It would be much more accurate to say that the two of them once had an on again/off again friendship, and that now, all they have is the mutual sense of their both clinging to an on again/off again friendship that they once had in the past. But this hollow sense of friendship is okay with Brian at least that’s what he tells himself.
Maybe their friendship isn’t exactly okay with Brian, but hell, it sure does seem fitting to him. The word clinging, the verb to cling, the act of holding onto every available ledge with fingernails scraping into the earth along the way, is an apt way to describe Brian Grabowski’s jobs, friendships, love-affairs, sanity—any and everything in his life appears to him to be about just that one thing—clinging.
Brian clings to memories, Michelle complains about herself, time moves forward and the earth continues to revolve around the sun.
Michelle says, “In seven years of working at this job, I’ve never once, not one time like gone out with any of the people from the office.”
“Not any of them?” Brian asks while he tries to stifle a yawn from being heard over the phone.
For some inexplicable reason, Brian is extremely paranoid that Michelle may hear him yawning over the phone and take offense. Brian knows that she wouldn’t care if she heard him yawn over the phone, but he can’t stop himself from worrying about it.
If you knew Brian Grabowski personally, like I know him, then you’d know that this inexplicable sense of worry around beautiful women is completely ordinary for him, even when talking with them over the phone.
“No, none of them,” Michelle says, “I’ve never personally hung out with any one from work.”
“Well that’s normal,” Brian says quickly trying to cover-up his yawn, “it’s normal not to hang out with the people that you work with.”
“Yeah, but that’s normal for you Brian. You don’t hang out with anybody.”
“True,” Brian says, “but there’s no conflict of interest that way.”
If asked to name some adjectives that best describe himself Brian would probably answer: normal, boring, average and indecisive. He might even think about answering ‘misanthropic’, but on second thought, he probably wouldn’t answer with that word because there would be no way that Brian would ever go so far as to describe himself using such a definitive adjective as ‘misanthropic’.
“Fine, I agree. I mean, what you say is true,” Brian reiterates, “but I still think that it’s normal to not necessarily hang out with the people that you work with.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” Michelle admits as she sighs into the phone.
“It makes sense you know,” Brian continues, “to keep the personal and the professional separate like that.”
“True, but that’s just me you know,” Michelle says.
Then there is a pause over the phone and a noise like a click, as if either Brian or Michelle has lost reception and dropped the call, but neither one of them has.
“I have another call,” Michelle says, “that must be Richard.”
Richard is Michelle’s husband. Brian doesn’t say anything about Richard or about the fact that he’s Michelle’s husband. Instead he just says, “Oh.”
“Sorry Brian, I gotta run, but it’s been nice talking to you.”
“Nice talking to you too.”
And like that Michelle is done complaining about herself and Brian is left sitting alone in silence.
As he sits in a chair at his kitchen table, Brian thinks about Monica’s legs at work walking away from him; his on again/off again friendship with Michelle and, inexplicably, he thinks about the number 26.
For an instant, but only for an instant, he feels a little bit sorry about the whole thing.

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