Reggie Valerio

Now, I won’t try to imitate Reggie’s voice, his Southern and very black voice, but it would be important to try to get a sense of it. We have already experienced Gary’s incredulity at Reggie’s liaison with Alice — attributing it to race, which reveals a great deal in itself — but we don’t have much to go on from Alice’s angle. What would she see in him? Had she somehow lost the ability to discriminate among males — because, well, she was surrounded by losers? You might think that Gary’s inability to see Alice with Reggie was the flower of Gary’s own jealousy, but that would attribute a bit too much influence to his retrospective view. He had had a viscerally negative reaction to Reggie the first time he met him.

This reaction was fairly typical. There was something grating about Reggie’s voice and manner from a male perspective: at times self-ironic and then indefatigably self-confident, ingratiating and preemptive, supplicating and guiding, the kind of voice that plays with intonation and vocality as if they were clay, creating a statue of the subject at hand, with such dexterity and self- possession that you might at first miss that you have, in fact, been made into a statue yourself, and been put, lock-step, in a column of similarly wowed recipients. Then you might get angry. Or you might feel charmed by the skill of it all. You might also find yourself not so ingratiated the next time, when you see his clay-laden hands rub themselves in anticipation. You might exit the other way in disgust, or, if that moment of formation satisfied some other need for you, you might stay — or even seek out his supple conversation.

I can’t say whether Gary experienced that moment of satisfaction, but we can say for sure that he couldn’t stomach Reggie’s manner. What he saw was a male who warbled like a songbird, attuned to all that is fluttery and flighty in the female. Not that he wouldn’t enjoy having this skill himself, but he absolutely felt it was the wrong way to win the female. Charm her and steal away with her in the night, instead of fighting it out with your rival? There was something dirty and insubstantial about this approach, something that broke rank with other males and created an unholy alliance with females, without at the same time being a true and forthright compact with them.

Not that Reggie couldn’t sit down with his kind. He could talk football or cars or meaningless comparisons about weather and work. He could down a beer in a chug, and slap you on the back. But you had the feeling, if you watched him, that he felt out of place, not exactly comfortable looking into the steer eyes of his comrades: how could they not see that their standoffish and oafish approach to women was lucky to attract a lone female — the kind of woman who would be happy not to compete for her man. Reggie, in other words, had something of that manner: a fox in the hen house. If the rest were satisfied, fine.

Was it that predatory manner and steely look that captured Alice? Or was it that Reggie had found something in her that extended him, taught him something about himself, as Gary had seen himself act in a new way, at least until that fateful day? Was there something that each found in the other that echoed earlier relationships — with Alice’s ex, perhaps?

Gary couldn’t nail it down, and neither can I. I suspect that if you were to look very long and very close you would find evidence of all of the above and more. Love is, after all, a many-splendored and many-splintered thing.

Reggie was an individual for whom the answer to “what do you do?” was fluid, plastic, a work in progress. “Entrepreneur” was the most common thread, but as plans and investments came and went, the answer changed naturally, without reference to earlier incarnations, to false starts or to contradictions. He was a man of the moment, and never apologized — didn’t know the word — for what had come before. That was no doubt an attraction for Alice’s mix of self- assurance and self-questioning, even as it left the two of them somewhere on a brink between indifference and judgment.

While Gary could describe Reggie’s flaws in bitter detail, he would be wrong if he speculated that Reggie was after Alice’s, or, indeed, any other woman’s money. Reggie was not the type to put himself in a position of dependency. His schemes were always business, hopeful and mostly unencumbered by personal relations. At the same time, he seemed to survive by his ability to huckster, to convince others of exactly that of which he was convinced. In the business domain, his influence was equal on men and women, though for different reasons.

The first time that Gary noticed Reggie was after a surprising and even moving presentation at the church on the state of the African American male, given by a minister from another church and another state, organized mostly by Alice. Gary remembered vividly how she beamed at the conclusion of the successful evening, with twenty or so transfixed liberals — the same old crowd that attended any such event, more or less — pleased that at least they had come.

It was as if Reggie were invented that night. He moved among the conversing groups of people with the ease of someone who knew — as the sardonic Israeli advertisement campaign had it — no one belongs here more than you. He was tall, not a large man but ample, and he wore mostly synthetic clothes that that slung themselves well upon his frame, usually browns or grays or yellows. His hair varied by mood and business climate, but he often wore it wet and slicked down — still visibly wavy but not natural. He typically wore a wide set of glasses with tinting, but with such a weak magnification that one might suspect, perhaps with a moment of guilt for the suspicion, that they were just vanity lenses.

This was also the fateful night when Gary asked Alice for dinner. Or maybe not, but it makes for a good story. The euphoria of a successful event might have been just the thing to have Alice more talkative than usual, and for Gary to feel like she could even say yes — even on a night when the topic was the injustice visited upon male members of the African Diaspora in America.

Reggie was a complicated fellow — not necessarily more interesting for that, because the complication was a character flaw that kept playing itself out in his endless charming and dealing. But perhaps, or so Gary realized later, the complication also meant that he could be misunderstood in a way that gave him a strange advantage: the guilt of having misjudged him, or the mistake of underestimating him, in many different low-grade conflicts of the kind that day- to-day life is full.

Gary left Alice’s condo with mixed feelings about the encounter with Reggie. It was difficult for him to sense how Reggie fit in there; he had felt that the room was too crowded with him there — something about two interested males occupying the same space — an even more basic emotional response than the tribal space he had felt that night when he captured the signal.

He knew that they were heading down a dangerous path — there was no way for them to communicate now without the fear of surveillance, and she was naturally suspicious of his effort to move their discussion to a safer location. No matter where he got the storefront, he would need a lot of leverage to get Alice there. Probably with her FCC guests in tow. He was on the road, heading back home, when he realized he needed a different assist from Bluthe, a bigger commitment than he could really ask of him. But there was no question in his mind that it was the only way out. He had to stash the connection, and Bluthe had to find a place for it.