This was not what we had in mind.
“I am a disappointment to my family. My technical skills are substandard relative to my peers. I am needlessly ungainly in appearance. My ambition is unacceptably low and my achievement level reflects that fact. My parents desired a female child.” He sniffed. “And I smell funny!”
And then Nathan forced a grin, and held it at us for an eternity in three seconds. And we broke, terrified of the tsunami that a three-eyed alien’s tears may cause.
“No, you’re okay,” I assured him.
“Really terrific,” Carla agreed.
“I know I am,” he replied. “But this is fun.”
And so the abuse session continued, Carla and I levying complaints about Nathan and he detailing the shortcomings of some proto-Nathan that was him but simultaneously was wholly disconnected from him.
This Nathan was selfish and miserly and unkind to people and animals in occasionally criminal ways. He deserved his exile, the real Nathan flatly declared, and probably worse. As the self-abuse continued, most shreds of pity I felt evaporated. The individual that Nathan decried was a work of fiction, another elaborate construction for the benefit of Nathan’s guests.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. Complaining is one of the great simple joys of life. My father is pretty strict about denying it; growing up if I did complain about something, or if I seemed like I was about to, he would cut me off with “I didn’t build my business by complaining—I built my business by doing something about it!” So I don’t have a whole lot of opportunity to do so. But man, when you know that there’s nobody there who’s going to complain about your complaining, it just feels good. When we’d exhausted our issues with Nathan, we moved on to a whole host of other topics: our regular jobs, defects in our apartments, mean people, the notoriously slow sandwich shop next to our office, and politics. (Carla participated in this last topic with relish, but she only ever referred to “the president,” which suggests that she doesn’t actually know his name. Given her laser focus on computers and comic books, this is plausible.)
With this mild euphoria in the air, Nathan’s announcement that the evening was at an end came abruptly, and for the first time, before rage had set in. He did examine our evening’s production before letting us go to bed. “Excellent, excellent,” he judged my work, a fuzzy yellow rectangle maybe seven inches wide and ten long. “And very nice work,” he commented on Carla’s which was a bit longer and a bit narrower, deep forest green, and completely unfuzzy.
“And mine,” he said, tossing completed hats to both Carla and I. Nice hats. Carla’s was bright red with a blue lightning bolt on one side and a blue pompom on top, while mine was black with little gray flecks. Mine also had these ludicrously long flaps that would cover my ears. They looked silly, but intentionally so, and therefore cool rather than clueless. I would definitely wear it.
“For your comfort while sleeping,” Nathan explained. Carla or I, or more likely both, must have betrayed our terror at this idea. “A joke,” he amended. “These winter hats are intended for use during winter.
We thanked him sincerely—these were very nice hats, after all—and prepared for bed.