.

 

Occupation

Filling in the spare forty-five minutes.

I occupy my lunch hours with lying. On Thursday I went into Shakespeare & Co.—it's quiet at lunch—and said “I need a book about otters for my son. He's gotten into otters.”

“I will look and see what we have,” says the bookstore employee. “Does he like any other playful aquatic mammals in case we lack otter books?”

“He is off of seals,” I said. “Would you say the walrus is playful?”

“The walrus has playful aspects,” said the man.

“I do not find walruses playful,” I said. “Don't they attack each other viciously in order to maintain their massive harems?”

“You're thinking of sea lions,” said the gray-haired man, pecking at his computer terminal.

I said, “I think people look at those sea lions with the big harems and think, good for you. They empathize with the strong sea lion. Not me. I think the other sea lions might have said, screw it, what's the point of littering the ice floe with a bunch of sea lion pups if I have to have some huge fight? I mean, look at Enron. They were successful sea lions and where are they now? That's what derivatives trading can do to you if you're not careful. One minute you're worth millions on paper and the next thing you know they bank has reposessed your floe.”

“We do not have any books on otters for children,” said the man. “We do have a book of seven thousand photographs of naked wrestling otters published by Taschen. It has a sequence of photos within it in which a female otter is tied to a bed and an otter in a leather mask breaks open oysters on her bare stomach. But that's not for children.”

“Oh,” I say. “I'm sorry. My son would love that book. He's thirty.”

Even though my hair is graying and I am in terrible shape I don't look older than thirty-five. The bookstore employee notes this. “Your son is thirty?” he asks.

“I grew up in Belgium,” I say. “You know. He's not really my son.”

“Oh,” says the man. “Well, do you want the book?”

“Not really,” I said. “But thank you.”

Somehow it makes the days go faster.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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