I’m winning a bet. Too many years have passed so who knows what the bet was even for but I remember that I am absolutely about to win a bet at 2 am in the college dorms during freshman year. That’s why I’m waiting for the elevator when a large, round man in a safari hat saunters up to me casually.
I reevaluate if I want to wait for the elevator or take the stairs to try and avoid this strange man. Looking him over, he has an almost-beard, a halo of scruff ringing the edges of his face. His hair is peeking out from under his hat in small deep brown curls and he has a smile on his face like he has won the lottery. He’s also nearly twice my size in every dimension and I can feel my fear ratcheting up to the highest levels, on guard for anything.
This is the worst part of the dorms. A hazard of dorm life. There are just shy of 2,000 people who live in this confined space and every day you meet a new person you don’t want to talk to while waiting for the elevator. This is why I’m leaving these dorms as soon as I can. But for now, the man flashes a somehow impossibly larger smile at me and asks me where I’m going. His voice is even softer than his body, his movements are slow like honey, and he shifts too gently on his feet. I think maybe he is drunk so I decide he’s harmless enough to know I’m going to get a pry bar from my dorm room and win a bet. I say pry bar very loudly so he knows I can hurt him. It doesn’t seem to bother him. Instead he refreshes his smile and says “Oh, can I come with you my lady?”
I feel more certain that he is drunk and harmless.
Why I say yes is beyond me but it’s a stupid choice and I kick myself mentally the whole way back to my room where he waits at the door. Through the thin plywood he tells me a dramatic story that ends with him throwing his head back in laughter at the punchline. It feels like a cold splash of water when I realize he is dead sober. Stunned by this new information, I make my second mistake: I take him, along with the pry bar, back to the common room full of my friends and then just like that, he is with us.
He is possibly the most ridiculous man I have ever met. He feels like an impossible puzzle. He seems drunk when he’s sober. I can only explain it like this: where other people are likely to mope all the time, he seems to instead have found a way to exist in a state of constant euphoria. He is brilliant, bright, and quick in all of the right ways that make him an excellent conversationalist. He is thoughtful and gentle and kind to a fault. He gives of himself in a free and easy way that makes me question his motives but over time, they remain perfectly pure. He gives his time, his money, his food, and even his things. Like a modern day Buddha, it feels like he has taken a journey and found a way beyond the pain and sadness of mortal bodies.
I don’t trust him at first which means no one else seems to either. We make him preform trial after trial in order to join our social group. We ask him to paint his face, to dress up, to break in to buildings with us. Eventually, as he is accepted in to the circle, these morph into games we are all playing together instead. He remains other worldly to me though. He feels like a trap sent to make me feel bad about what a reckless cynic I am because when I look at him I feel guilty about how much hate and anger I feel for the things that have happened to me, for the things that are happening to me.
Sometimes when we hang out he will look just beyond my shoulder, as if he can see the shadows that are swirling around me but instead of shunning me he’ll look back and simply smile.
When I finally see him drunk for the first time, it’s a bizzare revelation. Sober he is full of smiles and chatting non-stop with a booming but gentle voice. But drunk, he is nearly dead silent with a 5000 yard stare. What little he does say while drunk is nonsense that somehow manages to be profound at the same time. The first time I see him drunk he silently brings me a box full of sushi. Another time his pockets seems to be filled with endless candy bars he gives to passersby. Once he even tries to prostalatize a water fountain. His drunk persona is a surprisingly endearing combination of his usual mannerisms remixed in to a softer, quieter version.
Somehow, he ends up as my roommate one summer.
It’d be remiss to say it’s anything but a boon. He is a perfect roommate in the ways that really count. He pays rent on time, he kicks in money for groceries, he stays out of my way, he doesn’t mind cleaning, and keeps his shit together. On the other hand there are some “quirks” that come along with the cohabitation.
His jovial nature it turns out, is grating to me in large doses. Especially when I am in a bad mood. He has a very strong dislike of wearing shirts. Or pants. Or underwear. He flounces around the apartment in an open bathrobe so much that I can draw you an intimate diagram. He appreciates when I cook a little too much and often eats things I planned to eat as leftovers, though he does always pay me back.
At one point we have a strange dance with juice. It goes like this: I buy a bottle of juice for myself, he drinks it and then shamefully tapes money to the back of the fridge with an apology note. I buy another bottle of juice. After the fourth time I feel bad for buying the juice because I start make a small profit off it.
One time I get home from work early and he has two roasted chickens on the living room table. He screams when I come up the stairs and begs me not to watch him eat the chicken. I tell him I wasn’t about to and go to my room. A little later, he buys me pizza to apologize even though I really didn’t care.
He is so giving that at first I believe he must be acting out of guilty. But he remains happy, and giving seems to be an easy way to make others happy. It seems so simple that it feels fake. I can’t understand his philosophy at all. From where I’m standing, nothing is this easy, everything is a battle or a fight or a concession. If I give of myself it is too exhausting to be a gift. If I take of others it causes me to feel guilt. I spend a lot of time thinking what the secret to his happiness is.
One night after a party, after everyone else has left, the two of us are laying in the dark under the table in the living room. He tells me that he wishes he could make me happy. I feel startled. We’d just held a party where I was laughing and smiling the entire time, is that not happiness? But he knows me better than that. Smiles and laughter aren’t always happiness. Sometimes they’re a shield. Or a mask. I don’t reply instead I ask him how he does it, how is he so happy all the time? Even in the shadows of the dark room I can see his cheeks bunching up as his smile fixes in its ever radiant glow and with a pale honesty he says:
“How can I be sad in a world with ice cream?”
And for him, I think, it might actually be that simple.