Last Night with Tom

From an Unknown Blog
Wednesday, June the Fourteenth
of the Year Two Thousand and Six.

by Paul A. Toth

Upon this day . . .
Last night, I went out with Tom, and by , I mean . That is to say Tom was being, as usual, ironic in his way, which, of course, is not his way at all but rather a style he borrows, probably from Bill, but possibly from Keith. Keith, by the way, won't be coming over again. And if I squint, Tom is square. Not like a straight arrow. Square-square.

To continue, we're ordering dinner when Tom decided he must announce the decision he made several weeks ago. He will pay for both our dinners, as well as the wine, I assume, but only to prove he indeed received the raise about which he has bragged for months, presuming (mark that word for later reference) he would in fact receive it. And, unfortunately, he did.

I must interject here that Tom is a nuisance. Not only is he a nuisance, but he is a danger to himself and everyone he encounters.

I would not say that to his face. He might read about it here and wonder the identity of this Tom, since I had dinner with his Tom last night. Fortunately, I am quite aware that my friends and family would never read these words, and so I speak what comes to mind, as it is my understanding that the purpose of such a forum as this is to write what I would not say elsewhere about my personal affairs. Why else would I make these entries public? Thus, I can only wonder how many hours Tom might have spent on the dubious debate of where exactly he had been while I had dinner with him, or why I had arranged two dinners in one evening, which is exactly the kind of thing he so often presumes. And I must state for the record that I am not presumptuous in that way, that I would not presume he reads these entries, only that he doesn't.

He proceeds to order the most expensive bottle of wine the restaurant had to offer, obvious enough when he tells the waiter to bring us your most expensive bottle of wine. I'm having salmon. You? I wasn't ready yet. The waiter suppressed his laughter at Tom's expense. That was nobility in inaction. When the waiter finally appeared to believe what Tom just said, he leaves to retrieve the bottle. He returns with a Riesling. Now Tom was incensed.

Does that look like it goes with salmon?

It does, of course.

Of course, it does, wouldn't it?

The waiter shrugged. There is more than one Tom in this town, and the type is readily perceived. The waiter would have none of it. I congratulate him. He poured the wine. I drink a glass fast. He poured another. I drink that fast, too. He poured again and then I begin to take my proper time. I am not one to follow social convention for the sake of merely so doing, though I would not go so far as Tom. Tom is in a class by himself, and there's no instructor. Would Tom notice? No. He would presume he had been offered the class alone, and, talking to himself and hearing his own voice, take his voice for the missing professor's. He would record his own words, thinking them so delightful that they must have been peeled from the tongue of a Harvard man.

That said, I must admit Tom earns his keep at work. He is a good worker. That much is true, as far as it goes. Still, had he truly earned the raise he received? He deserves possibly half of it, if that. One cannot know, can one? One can only guess. Yes, one can guess but never know. Still, I'm fairly certain I know. At least, I like to think so. I would say it's fair for me to say that Tom never did a thing to deserve that raise, that indeed, from my perspective, he should be fired, not for his performance but his presence. His presence is . . . it's difficult to say, exactly. You might call it -- you can't know what to call it, unless you also know Tom, and I assume anyone who does would not be invading my privacy by reading this blog. So I will describe the presence of Tom. His presence was like that of a mosquito, with the feeling of an unwanted surprise in store. If he were that small, I would kill him. I would kill him without a thought. Unfortunately, he is human, which may only mean he looks human; how would I know? That, of course, is an exaggeration, but not much Not much at all.

I should note that I am now recording the thoughts that passed through my mind as I watched Tom try to gather the courage to attack me for drinking most of the wine within five minutes of it's having been opened.

I apologize, I say, striking first. I'm the guest, and I acted rudely.

I will order another bottle, that's all, he said. I can afford it.

I'd rather pay, since I drank most of this one.

If you prefer.

I don't prefer anything. Would anyone but Tom think I meant I would rather pay? That makes Tom quite possibly the most presumptuous person in the world, and he should receive the award, his name engraved on a trophy, so that he might not forget. I may be arrogant, as many claim, but I am not presumptuous. I was arrogant enough that I might offer to pay for a bottle of wine when I in fact have no intention of doing so. I might also have expected, as anyone would, that he who had offered to pay for my dinner would decline my offer to pay for wine I assumed had been par for the course. I was only drinking fast because Tom is annoying. I certainly never would have honestly admitted acting in a rude manner. That much, I admit. However, I certainly would admit that I would not have accepted the offer as if it had been honestly made. I can't begin to even imagine the presumptuous nature such behavior suggests.

I must now reveal that I saw the darkness in Tom, that I spotted his shadow, and it looks remarkably like him, almost identical but not -- not -- identical. What's the difference? It is difficult to pinpoint, exactly. I see his face eclipsed by that of a madman. They look alike Yet they do not. But they must be twins No, they are not.

Settle down, I tell myself, but it was late, and I'm beginning to feel the effects of the wine, because in point of fact I rarely drink wine, and it makes me more arrogant, much more so than vodka or even whiskey. There is something about wine that cannot be denied, let it be said But it cannot be located in the alcohol content. That makes no sense Yet, it's a fact. It is a fact for me but not necessarily for you. And there is no need for you to concern yourself because one should know the boundaries between oneself and others. And I do And you do not Yes, I am arrogant. But I am not presumptuous. At least I am not that. If nothing more nor less be said when I am reclined in my coffin, let it be said, loud and clear, that I was never presumptuous, not for one second. Now, all that I say here now is all that happened until then, and still we left the restaurant chagrined, and also vexed, and he did not know why, but I knew why, for he didn't turn down the money I gave him but takes it in his hand, his presumptuous little hand that one would never shake if you knew what was coming, a handshake of a petty, presumptuous coward. Why didn't he say what was on his mind, or in it? Instead, he exacted his revenge by exploiting my arrogance, and that is more than I could bear.

Why must I endure these constant criminal violations of etiquette? This was no misdemeanor. No, it was a capital crime. Divine ladies of etiquette wept on the pages upon which they set their dipped, feathered pens, and rules agreed upon centuries ago bled from sepia paper, once albino, now this unsatisfying brown. Well, that is what he caused. That is what he did

We made our way to our respective automobiles, which are unfortunately vertically parked next to one another, all but requiring us to say goodbye, which it took us some time to do. I don't know if we looked at the sky, or if music was playing in the barbershop, as was often the case, but we managed to distract ourselves for half an hour. I am waiting for Tom. Tom is waiting for me. More presumptions. It would never end. And so I said:

May I presume to thank you for dinner?

May I presume to thank you for the wine?

He had me cornered. Now I was me, and I do not care for that feeling. I do not like it at all. I got into my car without further conversation and drove away.

It was days such as these that make me content with my life in academia, for despite my arrogance, and even because of it, I am not to be overestimated. Better that I keep to myself and my students. It only makes me sad to watch a man like Tom presume what he cannot know and make a fool of himself in the process. That is why I record these thoughts here, where they are safe from his view. I wouldn't want to offend Tom or his shadow. I will assume I may call the latter by name, that being Stu. Better I not reveal the last name. I would be so arrogant as that But I would not be so presumptuous as that.

Now I have reached that time when I pass judgment upon the manuscripts my underlings vote up for my final determination. It is a day I despise, as the best writers are not only too arrogant even for me, but so presumptuous that they forget to include the return envelope, my assumption being that they await my telephoned acceptance. That will not happen. I shred every such submission without notice of rejection. I store up the postage included with the hundreds of stories that have been voted down by my staff or myself, and I sell it at half the cost to my students, encouraging them to submit to my rejection. More postage, except from the good ones. In this way, I am able to afford bottles of wine that I never mean to purchase. However, as a result, the journal is a monotonous nightmare, if such a thing is possible, and it must be, since it is. But nobody subscribes to the journal or even borrows it from the library, for if they did, I would lose my tenure, and my income from reselling postage. The authors read only their own work, and already know as much as they can know, confusing what they know with the idea that they are talented, and presuming my acceptance is proof of what they already knew, when it is just the opposite. That is what happens when one is presumptuous. Instead, the odds are better that you are talented if you've never heard from me. But you are also arrogant. Such is the corkscrew path we, the elite, must walk, with men of weak handshake, and a world in quotation marks and italics.

One day, when we are old, I will tell Tom this story, to see if he remembers; I know he will not. Until then, consider it our secret.



Copyright 2007 by Paul A. Toth