When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat? — Chuck Palahniuk
“This is just the kind of thing I was in the mood for,” I said, gesturing at my plate of pasta.
“It’s a smart move, this change of direction,” said David. “You know, taking a higher-end, white-linen kind of restaurant and turning it into a rustic Italian place.” It’s impossible for my man to patronize an establishment without imagining the changes he might make as proprietor. His present focus was Cucina Urbana, which had replaced Laurel, a restaurant we frequented when money was flowing in, not gushing out of our bank accounts. “Warm lighting, a pizza oven, wine — it really taps into people’s need for comfort. Especially these days.”
“Mmm, yes, comfy cozy carbs,” I said. “What do you mean, ‘especially these days’?”
“I mean, people are afraid right now. Afraid they’re not going to have a job tomorrow, that they might not be able to pay their mortgage, afraid of terrorists, or that our country is going to disintegrate past the point of no return.” David paused, as he does while talking — long, formidable pauses I often misinterpret to mean he’s finished. This time I decided to wait it out, mostly because my mouth was full.
“I heard of a study on NPR.” There it is, I thought, congratulating myself for my restraint. I nodded silently at this long-awaited revelation, imagining myself graceful and composed, a person who enjoys the back-and-forth of intelligent discourse, one who doesn’t require constant possession of the conch. So focused was I on my exceptional listening skills that I missed a good chunk of what David said. As he now seemed to be waiting for a response of some kind, I mentally backtracked and retrieved a handful of words to repeat in a way that would encourage him to elaborate.
“So, basically, when things are unstable and chaotic, people prefer songs with a steady beat, and when times are good and stable, they like more variety in their music, like weird time signatures or shifting rhythms,” David explained.
“Huh. So is that why so much crap has been on the radio recently?”
“Probably…I wouldn’t know. I only listen to NPR,” David said with a wink.
“I guess it makes sense that people would seek comfort and stability right now,” I said. “First we’re attacked, then we’re at war, and then, just when you think things can’t get any worse, the entire economy implodes — unemployment rates skyrocket and incomes plummet, institutions crumple like yesterday’s grocery list, and ‘corporate reliability’ turns out to be a flimsy curtain for a handful of twisted and greedy little wizards. Nothing is right anymore. It’s like our blankie got snatched away.”
“Speaking of which, I still have my childhood teddy bear in storage,” said David. “If things continue this way I might just dig it out again.” I couldn’t tell if he was joking. When he continued, his tone was all business.
“I wonder if all people are drawn to soft objects when they’re stressed. I know you are.” I began to shake my head, but then David added, “Think about Cecil. And the hedgehog.”
Cecil was the name David had given to the giant, Japanese anime-styled stuffed hamster I bought at the Asian toy store adjacent to Tofu House. The hedgehog — a smaller, squishy plush toy — was acquired from Fry’s Electronics. Both were impulse buys, each on days I had been particularly stressed. David has witnessed me seeking solace in these inanimate creatures, sometimes walking in to find me hugging pillow-sized Cecil or stroking the silken back of the small hedgehog while contemplating one stressful situation or another.
“Did you have a stuffed animal when you were growing up?”
“What, like, am I regressing or something? I don’t think so. I think it’s human nature, or even nature-nature,” I answered. “Soft is maternal — all kinds of animals make soft nests for their young; a human baby rests on its mother’s soft breasts. Don’t mean to go all Freud on you, but think about it — isn’t everyone attracted to soft stuff?”
“Yeah, maybe, but not as much as you, especially when you’re wigging out over something,” David said.
“Foxy,” I declared. David’s brows performed a dance of inquiry. “That was her name. You asked if I had a stuffed animal as a kid, and I did — a big fox with a long tail, and I named her Foxy. Only, she wasn’t the first Foxy. See, there was an incident…”
David, exhibiting the silent encouragement of a good therapist, listened as I relayed the saga that led to the first panic attack I can remember. I’d only had my new stuffed animal for a few weeks — long enough for a five-year-old to personify an object and become attached. Foxy wasn’t just a toy, she was my confidant, my cohort, my friend. That is, until I let her down.
It wasn’t intentional, but then again, negligence rarely is, at least not consciously. One minute I was enjoying my Happy Meal with Foxy at my side, and the next I was in the backseat of the family van, presumably in a digestive stupor. We hadn’t made it far when the fast-food fog vanished as a sudden and acute fear of loss swept over me. Because I wouldn’t stop screaming, my mother drove back to McDonald’s so I could search the empty booth in which I’d sat moments before. Foxy had become such a stable and major part of my short life that it seemed impossible she could be gone.
When Mom finally managed to extricate me from the restaurant, she brought me to Foxy’s birthplace, where only one such creature remained on the shelves…that is, until my relieved mother purchased it, and, with the sigh of a woman who had been through a trying day, bequeathed to me the instrument of calm. “I never let her go again,” I said to David, who had listened to the entire tale without interruption.
“Eventually, I grew out of my need for Foxy. When I was 23, I finally said goodbye and, with one last hug, placed her in a box of old stuff bound for the dump.”
“Right,” David said with a gleam in his sky-blue eyes. “So then you won’t mind if I—”
“Don’t you touch Cecil,” I said. “You lay one hand on that hamster’s head and I swear to God you’ll need a lot more than your precious old teddy to comfort you.”
David adjusted his features into an eloquent smile and for the moment found solace in a sip of wine.