Home > The Awkward Black Man

The Awkward Black Man
Author: Walter Mosley


The Good

News Is

   The good news was that after a lifetime of carrying an extra thirty pounds or more, I was finally losing weight. Through middle and high school, into college, and then as a data interpreter for Spanish Bank, I was always bulging at the hip and waist, chest and thigh. Too big for stores that sold regular clothes and not quite fat enough for BGE, the Big Guy Emporium. I wore clothes that were either overly snug or so loose that I needed a belt larger than my waist size that could be altered, as needed, with an awl.

   My entire life I avoided looking in mirrors, and felt sure that women who showed any interest in me were the ones who had given up, deciding that they’d never get the kind of man they really wanted.

   I married a woman, Blythe Lighnter, because I didn’t think things could get any better. I divorced her over a Frenchman named, predictably, François. He was teaching her how to play cello al fresco in a village outside of Paris while I stayed at home in Greenwich Village watching Terra Heart porn videos and imagining that my penis could one day be as large as Brad Bonaboner Backman’s—Triple-B.

   I could afford the alimony and relieve the loneliness because I made four thousand dollars a week freelancing for Fortune 2000 companies that needed their employee-generated software explained to anyone from their CEOs to users, new personnel, and the federal government at tax time.

   I lived in Manhattan in a five-thousand-dollar-a-month studio apartment and so did my ex, with François, who was going to get a job as soon as his papers came through.

   I had a girlfriend named Lana who told me she loved me but said that her impression of life was that people should live alone, answerable to no one. This, she said, made love a true choice and not a duty that inevitably transmogrified into spite.

   At least Lana didn’t play cello, and we would turn out the light before going to bed the one or two nights a week we got together, and so I was emotionally placated . . . if not truly happy.

   I didn’t complain because I liked being alone most nights and days and weekends or when it was raining or snowing or over those fake holidays when New Yorkers were off celebrating Columbus or the presidents or some religious ceremony that most of them couldn’t quite explain.

   I wasn’t above seeing prostitutes, but I stopped when I realized that I had to take both Viagra and Ecstasy in order to have sex with a woman I was paying to satisfy my needs. I was the fat guy, and she was the svelte woman who wouldn’t talk to me if we were standing on line, one behind the other, at the Gourmet Garage with our tiny lamb chops and fresh herbs.

   But all that began to change when I started to lose weight.

   At first I thought it was because of the high-protein/low-carb regimen that I had been so close to perfecting for years. The problem was that it took three days, sometimes even four, to clear the body of carbs in order for the diet to take control, and I’d buy a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, like clockwork, every other fourth day. That meant that I’d be chemically dieting only for 3.4 days a week, and that wasn’t enough to counteract the glut of calories in my system from the ice cream binges.

   But that changed, as I’ve already said. I pinpointed the moment of my transition to when I was at a 7-Eleven near midnight of an alternate fourth day, and I came to find that they were out of Cherry Garcia except for the yogurt version. My favorite flavor not available, I decided to go without. The following Tuesday I took a sideways glance at myself in the mirror and saw that I was—just maybe—a little slimmer. I dared a full-frontal gaze and saw it was true. The high-protein/low-carb diet was making me a candidate, possibly destined for regular-man clothes stores.

   That was the best news I’d had in decades.

   Blythe getting married to François was second to that. Her marriage gave him papers and also freed me from the alimony treadmill. But really what was important was that after only six weeks sans ice cream I could fit into trousers with a thirty-four-inch waist and shop at any clothes store I wanted.

   Lana and I were invited to Blythe and François’s impromptu wedding, held without reservation near the Central Park lake. It was a quasi-Buddhist ceremony conducted by Brother Franklin, an ex-convict Zen monk from upstate.

   “Buddhism does not encourage nor does it oppose the institution of marriage,” Franklin informed us. “That way the choice of the union is because of love and not duty.”

   Lana nudged me when he said this, but I had already moved on from that relationship. I had been e-mailing with a woman named Rachael Daws. I’d known her for some years, but when we ran into each other at a data-interpretation convention in Boston, she’d commented on how good I looked and said that we should stay in touch.

   “You’re looking good, Sammy,” Blythe said, when I walked up to congratulate her after the wedding. “Have you lost weight?”

   “Finally figured out that other fourth day.”

   “Anyway,” she said. “Thanks for coming . . . and don’t be a stranger.”

   She was probably just being nice, but I liked to think that the new, slimmer me was just so damn attractive that maybe she regretted the cello lessons that she’d taken a month off work for—a month away from me that she promised would make our bond stronger.

   For the ceremony I wore a buttermilk-colored single-button two-piece suit with a cobalt shirt and a yellow, red, and black silk tie, the material of which was culled from an antique kimono. I bought those clothes to celebrate myself.

   The face in the mirror every morning and night was smiling at me.

   I was looking better and feeling more confident, but that wasn’t all of it. My knees, which had bothered me since my first year at Brown, no longer hurt. I still couldn’t jog very well, because I didn’t have the wind, but I took a couple of laps around the block two afternoons a week and was planning on adding a third day.

   The only problem was that I was sleeping a lot more. Lana would complain that the days I came over I didn’t want to have sex.

   “You fall asleep right after dinner,” she accused.

   I didn’t tell her that she had stopped being frisky with me long before, just after the first few months of our relationship. I wanted to say that it was only because I was looking better that she complained, but I didn’t.

   “Maybe the diet isn’t giving you enough vitamins,” she suggested.

   “Maybe not,” I admitted. “I’ve been sleeping a lot, and I don’t eat sugar anymore. Maybe my body is transitioning.”

   “My doctor is a nutritionist. I’m sure I could get you an appointment.”

   I didn’t really want to accept her help, because I was feeling mildly guilty. Rachael and I had made electronic plans to go to Miami the following month. I’d told Lana it was another convention.

   “OK,” I said. “If you can ask I’d appreciate it.”

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