The Average Man

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The Average Manby S. L. Wisenberg  

man says, I’m average-looking. He says, That’s how you’ll know me, I’m average-looking. He doesn’t say, I’m about average when it comes to good-looking. What he says he says almost with pride, not quite. Mandy has heard his voice three times. Recorded, all three times. You can tell a lot from a man’s voice, a whole lot from his answering machine’s outgoing message. She’s hung up on several, dozens. Hey there, some of them say. Or there’s blaring music. Or TV and film voices. Boris Badanoff, Bullwinkle J. Moose, Bart Simpson, Brando — all the same, derivative. Signs of an unoriginal mind. She also hates motorcycle engine sounds. Or when they say, You know what to do. It’s not the words, it’s the tone. The smarminess. This man’s voice is even, even keel. Average. The mythical average man. Which doesn’t mean normal. By a long shot. Would the normal man — well, isn’t it just an extension of power relations in the real world? Wherever that is.


The normal man, the average man, is waiting for her, in the lobby of a restaurant on Michigan Avenue. He’s wearing a suit. It’s an average suit, maybe a slightly above-average suit. He’d suggested a snack. She felt he’d wanted lunch. She said coffee to his answering machine. He answered coffee to hers, maybe a roll. The way he said roll, he sounded like a father talking about a quick Sunday breakfast, early morning, a man from her father’s generation, not a man who looks up personal ads in the back of City Life, under the heading, Special Needs/Desires. That would be a man who knew scones. Ruggelach, turtle cheesecake, the fare of coffee houses. A cappuccino man, an espresso man, someone who’d been to Europe. Or at least Wicker Park. Not places like this, where tourists might go to rest between shops or businessmen might stop in for a tête-à-tête.


A waiter seats them. Just coffee, she tells the waiter. The man’s name is Al. That’s what he tells her. Mandy has said her name is Nancy. A dumb name, but that’s one of the ones she uses. She used to tell them exotic lush names, but they’d say things like Veronica, that suits you, a twinkle in the eye, perhaps, because they knew as well as she did that that wasn’t anywhere near her real name.


The average man looks around forty-five, has brown hair, flecks of gray. Tanned, wrinkled forehead, aviator glasses. At this late date. He looks like a banker. A loan officer. She doesn’t want to know. She does. She wants to know what he does all day, what runs through his fingers. He’s fingering the menu. He looks it up and down, as if comparing prices, as if calculating how much each item would weigh, or speculating about the number of calories. She holds her breath, irritation in her solar plexus. No. She said coffee. He said coffee, a roll. Not lunch. It’s two-fifteen. A Coke. She should have said a Coke. Give me a fucking break, Mandy says silently. She thinks, I agreed. I don’t have time anyway. Or I do have time but we didn’t say lunch, only coffee. This is just get-aquainted. That’s what we said on the phone. Between appointments, he said, I’ll have time to meet you, to go over particulars, if you’d like. To make sure this would work, that we’re talking the same, ah, language. Between appointments for him, between chores for her. Kinko’s, the library, a newsstand to buy a neighborhood paper for the ESL class she’s teaching tonight. She needs time to prepare for the lesson on filling out job applications. She’ll pair the students up: job interviewer, job interviewee. Pairs and one group of three, if she has an odd number.


Her eyes sidle around. Is he looking at the list of sandwiches? His eye on the first menu panel. He looks fierce. His eyes are fierce. Is his mouth? Is it set? Is his jaw clenched? If he was to unclench it she’d be able to tell if it was clenched in the first place. No sandwich, only dessert, she telegraphs. How dare he? You can get up now, Mandy, she tells herself. Leave.


But the flush is spreading, from there, she’s wet, dammit, feels something, a flush, even up in her forehead. Maybe this is it, she thinks. He’s starting early on. At the beginning. Before the beginning, before they agreed overtly. Maybe she’s already said yes to the unmoving wrinkle lines, the flexing hands, the dark hairs between his knuckles, the hairs that rise ever so slightly in the draft from the opening door.


And he’s just waiting for me, waiting for me to object.

S. L. Wisenberg and