Gary Corinth

Gary Corinth was a man of some destiny: not that you would recognize it from looking at him. He was non-descript in the way that overweight, balding, self-conscious and arrogant men sometimes are, a face with pock marks and an assortment of pimples, a dirty-looking, poorly shaved chin, blue- gray eyes disproportionately small to the jowls and ears, glasses that bore the blue-green tinge of years of neglect. It was not a pleasant face — more spiteful than helpful, more vengeful than intelligent — a pallid face that betrays the softness of a life lived in air-conditioned spaces, but still bearing the weight of a lifetime of metaphorical boots in the face. He did not enjoy life much, en gros, but there was something driving him, something that his defeatism and anger and envy did not engender and could not utterly vanquish. He may not have recognized it, but others did.

He worked for a software/hardware company as an engineer of some sort. Because he did not excel at his trade, he tended to be fungible — moved from one project or division to the other in the expectation that he would see the writing on the wall and leave his employer for another. Gary was nothing if not tenacious, well beyond what served his career. He would retool grimly, come to work on time, clock his hours and go home, to one knows not what. He did not socialize and was not expected to. In a defining moment, he bragged to a colleague about having gone to Thailand as a sexual tourist over the holidays. That little story made the rounds quickly, leading to wobbly Hula dolls and blurry child pornography appearing in his cubicle, and a reprimand from his boss for making the work environment difficult for nearby female coworkers. None of them would admit to having made the report, and none probably did. While they seemed to think Gary was an inveterate pervert, they doubted in more than one conversation that he did more than jerk off in his living room. Gary never said a word about any of this, including the reprimand, but he was quite sure it was part of the management campaign to geld and pasture him.

Gary’s plans tended to cross a certain threshold of respectability, and eventually got him into the whole blue ball mess. One day, long after the Thai incident but not so long that it was forgotten, both for its tawdriness and its allure, Gary decided to put a truism from “Dear Abby” to the test. He resolved to go to a church to meet a nice young woman, hopefully younger than he, svelte and attractive in an understated way, and just repressed enough to find in him an unexpected savior from spinsterhood. This was an experiment, in the sense that he often undertook experiments to see how his best intentions were squelched and undermined by a cruelly indifferent life force that lay somewhere outside of him. He saw nothing contradictory in the fact that he undertook this from the point of view of a sexual adventure, not as an assay in love. There was precious little in Abby’s constant refrain that demanded more than a superficial adherence to what was good and moral and just. And Gary saw no contradiction in reading her column regularly, even religiously.
Much to Gary’s surprise, it just so happened that Abby was right. At every church he visited, there were groups with earnest young women, who were to a one surprised to find themselves single at an age when so many of their cohort had married and bought cars and houses, and perhaps even engendered offspring. Still, desperate or not, these women were hardly interested in him. At one point, Gary figured they smelled something of the impostor in him — so he decided to practice authenticity. He volunteered for committees, and showed up for bake sales and informational nights when no one but the organizers did. He went to church every Sunday, and sometimes on a Wednesday, without fail for almost a year. It was a monumental effort, and for a very long time he had nothing to show for it but the occasional pat on the back, and enigmatic, distancing, sympathetic smiles. Still, you can’t say that he resented the struggle, and there might be something in the notion that he was hungry for human contact, a treatment that this experiment provided in droves.
One day the payoff came. He was talking to a woman, almost his age, dignified and haggard from work and single parenthood, and she smiled at something he said, and Gary let fly: “Would you mind if I came by sometime and took you and your son to dinner?” She looked at him in a moment of surprise and suspicion, as if he might already be showing signs of regretting his invitation. But when she saw nothing of the kind, perhaps even a bit of pride in himself, she relented and said that that would be nice. Playing them over in his mind, Gary felt that there had never been more powerful words spoken — quite a while, for a good hour, until he found himself repeating them ad naseum on the drive home, and sensed that irony was mixing itself in. He turned up the radio and tried to think about something else.

He didn’t know how to prepare for such an unusual outing, so he didn’t. He made it out in his mind to be an everyday occurrence to take out a fellow parishioner and her young son. They had agreed on a Thursday dinner. On Wednesday, he swore that he would reduce the dissonance between the church persona and that fatuous, porno-watching, beer-guzzling bachelor that inhabited his home. At work, his new moral outlook led him to book the tickets to see his mother and his senile grandmother in Los Angeles sometime later that spring. But the promise dissolved that very night into a decision that he was better off following routine. He fell asleep to the sights and sounds of a tired, listless humping on the big screen TV in his living room.