by Randy Ford
Harry thought highly of himself and thought he was tolerant of others. That wouldn’t last.
There seemed at the time as though Harry thought so highly of himself that he thought that he was incapable of having a negative thought about anyone else. Harry felt he was almost sure that he was not prejudice, and he tended to blame other people when they looked down on others because they were different. He was pretty sure he wasn’t bigoted or racist and would deny feelings that showed that he was just as intolerant as anyone else. Perhaps he placed too much stock on how he thought highly about himself, perhaps, perhaps. It gave Harry great pleasure to think of himself in this way. It gave him a high, and then flying high, he looked down on people. From on high, Harry looked down on people he considered prejudice.
Getting ready to go to college was what he was up to … “getting ready,” yes, but more like waiting not merely because it technically was still summer and the semester hadn’t started, but he hadn’t been accepted in college yet. So waiting it was, in fact, it was a long wait. He waited all summer. It was a long summer for him. It was a long summer for Harry because he hadn’t made good grades in high school and hadn’t been accepted in college yet. And it was harder for Harry because having to wait was contradictory to ideas Harry had about himself. Harry wasn’t used to waiting. Harry wasn’t used to waiting for anything.
But this did not become evident to Harry that summer until it looked as if he wouldn’t be accepted into college, a college he wanted to go to, a college that excited him and a college he thought would challenge him. Friends of his would not go to college, but he didn’t want to be the same as those friends. And ever since he could remember his parents stressed importance of college, stressed need for college, planted in his brain need for college, so now as he waited and waited, waited all summer for an acceptance letter Harry panicked and kicked himself for not studying in high school.
He always wanted to go to college. It was true that he wasn’t prepared to go, to go to college but he wanted to go anyway. Now time had come for him to leave the family nest, which with some reluctance he planned to do, realizing that he would have to study for the first time in his life. Harry didn’t know what to expect from a roommate. He never had a roommate before. He didn’t have a brother.
This summer Harry worked and saved for college, and waited and fretted, waited and fretted. This summer Harry didn’t go on a vacation. This summer Harry didn’t go with his family on a vacation. This summer he stayed home and worked, worked and waited, waited for an acceptance letter he thought would never come. This summer Harry work and waiting, worked and saved for college. And there was nothing he could do about it, or was there? And so he decided to visit the college he wanted to go to and talk to the Dean of Admissions.
This was easy enough, and it payed off.
Opening the letter was easy enough, while anticipating what it said was harder. Harry fumbled as he opened it. Yes, yes, yes! Hey, Harry! Harry got excited, really excited as he read his acceptance and name and address of his future roommate. There was name of his future roommate. There was name of Harry’s future roommate and his future roommate’s address in Ranger, a small town a little more than a hundred miles away. “Hey, Harry, your future roommate lives a little more than a hundred miles away. Let’s go. Let’s go see him. Let’s meet him.” And as quick as that, Harry decided to drive to Ranger and meet his future roommate. “Yes, it was that quick.” Without hesitating, Harry decided to go, go to Ranger to meet his future roommate.
Harry figured he could drive to Ranger, meet his future roommate, and drive back home without missing work. It seemed easy enough. He wouldn’t have to miss work. He wouldn’t miss work. He felt as if he could drive to Ranger and not miss work. It was important that he didn’t miss work. He couldn’t afford to miss work. Harry couldn’t afford to lose his job.
Night before he took off, Harry couldn’t sleep. Night before, he didn’t pack anything. Night before, he didn’t pack anything because he knew he had to get back. Harry didn’t pack anything because he knew he had to get back for work that evening. Harry worked the nightshift, so he had to drive back from Ranger that afternoon to make it back for the nightshift. “Okay.” And he didn’t want to speed. Harry didn’t need another ticket. He couldn’t afford another speeding ticket. Harry left home in the dark, so that he could drive to Ranger and still make it back so that he wouldn’t miss work.
So Harry couldn’t sleep. He hadn’t slept. It was three a m, and Harry couldn’t sleep. There was an acceptance letter, name, address, address in Ranger, and Harry was itching to go. He wanted to meet his future roommate. He wanted to meet his future roommate in Ranger. “Good idea.”
He got up. He sat up and got out of bed. Dressed. Hurriedly dressed. Didn’t bathe. Bathe night before. He was thinking he would drive to Ranger without stopping. Harry gassed the night before and thought he would drive to Ranger without stopping. Drive by himself. Without stopping. Without stopping except for stop signs and stop lights. Harry was pretty excited because he hadn’t driven that far in one stretch before. “Yeah!” Freedom.
Considering that he had to go through a major city, the drive would take a little more than two hours. Surely, Harry could drive that far. Surely, Harry could drive it in a little more than two hours. Surely, … Harry was not convinced. “I’ll have to hurry” he said to himself with a smile. “But I don’t want to get there too early.” Getting there early didn’t particular appeal to him.
He said “but I don’t want to get there too early” as he left the house, tiptoeing to keep from waking his parents. He planned to eat breakfast in Ranger, but he still would have time to kill. If he got there too early, he would have time to kill. He was excited. He was nervous. He was excited and nervous, even anxious. Of course he wanted to meet his future roommate. He could picture him, though he hadn’t seen a photo of him. He couldn’t be certain, though Harry could picture his future roommate. How could he be certain what he looked like? He hadn’t seen a photo of his future roommate. Certain? As certain as he could be.
Now feeling more confident than before he received an acceptance letter, he drove through the night. It was pretty well settled. He was going to college, and he felt pretty good about it. He was still uneasy about meeting his future roommate, but Harry managed to concentrate on his driving. He took letter with him. He didn’t want to rely on memory so he took the all-important letter with him, the letter that had his future roommate’s address on it. He almost forgot it. He almost forgot it but remembered it at the last moment. He remembered it in time. He also had to make sure he had his billfold, his billfold with money in it.
Day before, Harry planned to get an early start, so he gassed up and studied a map. Ranger. Yes, he could drive there in a little more than two hours. It really wouldn’t be hard. He would have to tell his parents he was going. He decided to leave them a note. He decided to leave them a note so that they wouldn’t worry about him. He didn’t want his parents to worry about him. Then he went to bed, hoping he could sleep.
Sleep, sleep, sleep. Except he couldn’t sleep. Except, would he go? Except, did he want to meet his future roommate? Did he want to know his future? He was jittery. When he thought of the future, Harry felt jittery. Yes, he would go. Yes, he wanted to meet his future roommate. Yes, yes, did he give a damn? “Yes,” he gave a damn. He then felt exuberant; and all trace of uneasiness disappeared. Yes, yes, he would drive to Ranger. Yes, he would drive alone to Ranger. Yes, he would drive further than he ever drove before. Yes, he was about to go on an adventure, a great adventure.
Time passed slowly. He couldn’t sleep. He figured he would stay in bed until dawn, but he couldn’t sleep. He was really too nervous to sleep. Ultimately Harry lost interest in sleeping. Finally, he got out of bed and, already dressed, stumbled out door.
“Damn it!” he cried, as he stumbled on stoop because of lack of sleep. If he had to, he could always pull over to side of road. “Here’s nothing!”
Harry was finally behind the wheel.
At this point he felt…well…well, he really didn’t know (remember he hadn’t slept) which didn’t mean he wouldn’t get in touch with his feelings. Put the pedal to the metal. You’ll be all right, and let’s hope cops don’t stop you…and stoplights are coordinated…Careful, can’t afford to get a ticket. His car responded. Harry, no doubt, was now sleepy; but- sleep? Was sleep necessary? If he were going to make it through college, he needed to learn to function without sleep. Oh, well. Enough is enough is enough. And so he took off.
Staying awake was harder for Harry than he thought it would be. He didn’t know how he managed to stay awake. He stopped for coffee. It was an achievement. Staying awake was an achievement for Harry. It was hard. He couldn’t keep his eyes open until he had to pull over to the side of the road. But with a few winks, Harry was back on the road. He didn’t want to waste precious time. Then compared to other achievements, his struggle to stay awake, with help of coffee, may not seem like much, but it was a miracle just the same. He barely made it to Ranger.
Now to find the right house and meet Martin Goldberg. Hey! He had to meet him, meet his future roommate, had to know what he was like, and whether he liked Martin Goldberg and whether they had anything in common. Couldn’t help but be curious. Couldn’t help it.
Harry got there early. Harry got to Ranger before he expected he would. He had ample time to fool around. He had time to kill. He had too much time. He had too much time on his hands. Ranger was a small town, so at that hour there wasn’t much open. Getting there early meant that he could close his eyes and sleep, if he could find a spot to park…sleep at last. And wouldn’t it have been better had he called ahead? It could have saved him trouble. Calling ahead might have made it easier. It might have meant Harry knew they were home and knew he hadn’t driven a little over two hundred miles for nothing. Calling ahead would have been polite. Calling ahead might have been appropriate. They might not be home, or it might not be a good time for them. It was a chance he took, and he could well pay for it. Harry clearly manufactured the situation he found himself in and caused him so much grief. He wondered, in retrospect, what got into him.
Now he slept. He slept and slept. Couldn’t remember when he slept so soundly. Couldn’t recall. Success of getting to Ranger forgotten. Well, can’t recall. Success and pleasure produced by sleeping. Before he knew it, it was almost noon. Now he needed to hurry. Harry hurried. What if they weren’t home? Becoming bolder, Harry drove down their street. Then fretted about it and could still backed out, even after driving around block, even after drive a little more than two hundred miles.
The idea, though it had merit, was impulsive, and Harry, if he could do it over, would’ve called or written Martin before driving to Ranger and thus would’ve avoided a predicament he faced. But he came all that way and was only a few blocks from Martin’s home. Becoming bolder as he drove around. And around.
A mistake, everyone has to agree, was made; a mistake he and possibly only Harry would’ve made, and it had nothing to do with reason he decided to make the trip. The reason and the mistake were miles apart. Therefore, fretting wouldn’t solve anything, so as far as Harry was concern, he would have to go through with it and hope for the best. Then he swallowed hard and looked for Martin’s house. It wasn’t hard to find. But what if he and Martin didn’t get along? What if they didn’t like each other? Or if… Or suppose… Then coming all this way would be a mistake, and the embarrassment wouldn’t be worth it. And what about embarrassment? Wasn’t it better to be embarrassed then rather than later? It didn’t seem right. If only he called or written him in advance. He could kick himself for not thinking ahead or showing more consideration for his future roommate! He could kick himself for not calling or writing. A mistake. A mistake. A mistake. Was there a bigger mistake than leaving a bad impression? After he drove so far … after he drove a little more than two hundred miles, witness him kicking himself and grasping situation he was in. What if…what could be more humiliating than arriving just as they were leaving, leaving, leaving for a wedding or a funeral…or say for a grocery store?
But Harry had come this far and couldn’t back out now. By then he was positively heady. By then he had regained his courage. By then he regained something he lost. By then he was wild-eyed and arrogant. There was, so to speak, a swagger in his step. He couldn’t stand suspense any longer. He had to meet Martin, Martin Goldberg, his future roommate. And if we put ourselves in his shoes, we could see why he couldn’t change course. A fool, it is said, is born every minute. And if we’re looking at a fool, we wouldn’t have found a bigger fool than Harry. Surly, since he was a fool, a loveable fool, and would always be one, he threw caution to the wind and hurried up onto Goldberg’s porch and rang doorbell. Then he waited, while planning what he would say to Martin, Martin Goldberg, his future roommate. And he waited and waited some more. And while he waited, he hoped no one was home. And if no one were home, they would not know how big a fool he was.
When Harry didn’t get a response from ringing the door and was about to leave, Martin’s mother came around from back of house and greeted him. She caught him as he was about to walk off. She caught him when he was about to give up and leave, which increased his feeling awkward. Harry felt awkward and couldn’t explain it. He thought he needed to break the ice but couldn’t come up with anything. He wished he could laugh or something. He wished he could come up with something. He felt like saying something obscene but didn’t … didn’t say anything for half a minute.
“Yes?” Martin’s mother asked.
Harry could have called or written and avoided this. Yes…a thousand times, yes, Harry could’ve. Yes, it was another example of Harry’s impulsiveness. Yes, he was more likely to do something without thinking than most people were, yes, jump in over his head, more likely jump in over his head than most people and not realize it, not realize it until it was too late. But now…as he stood in front of Martin’s mother, who he was meeting for the first time…and who wrongly thought he stuttered, as he stammered around, Harry introduced himself. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
Silence that followed didn’t help his cause. Harry knew it was mistake. Harry knew he made a mistake. We all know it was a mistake. And we all know Harry was human and was allowed to make mistakes. He didn’t have enough sense to play it cool. He didn’t play it cool. Truth compels us to say it and feel sorry for him. Harry didn’t play it cool.
Then the only thing he could do was smile, smile and put on a happy face. Then there was business of explaining who he was, then there was a pause. A long pause. Quite a shock: a long pause. Why hadn’t he called? Why hadn’t Harry written or called… let them know he was coming?
She was only thrown off for a moment. She was thrown off for a moment before she invited him in. Another pause. Then realizing that he was on someone else’s turf, after realizing he had entered someone else’s territory, Harry tried to be courteous. He was as courteous as he could be. He wished he could retreat. He wished, he wished, he wished he could retreat, but it was too late.
She offered him a chair and asked if she could get him something to drink. Presumably he had eaten or else she would’ve offered him leftovers, but there was no sign of Martin. She asked him if he would like juice, soda, or water. Time passed, as she fetched a glass of water, water instead of soda or juice because he had had enough soda for one day. Harry slowly drank water instead of soda.
Clock on wall told him time. Where was Martin? What if Martin wasn’t in town? What if Martin had gone somewhere? How much had Martin changed since photo on mantel was taken? We all change. How much had Martin changed? (Harry assumed boy in photo was Martin.) Harry’s mind came up with other questions he couldn’t answer, simple ones, simple questions, such as “where was Martin.” What if Martin wasn’t in town? “Oh, he should be back soon.” Martin’s mother said her son would be back soon. Good! Then it wasn’t a wasted trip. Then it wasn’t a wasted day. Then it wasn’t end of the world, as he foolishly half expected it to be. Fool, fool, what to ask next? She seemed nice. Now Harry wanted Martin to hurry up. If only Martin would come home.
Let’s go over it again, then, why this morning he drove to Ranger, why he drove more than two hours, more than two hours to Ranger and was in a hurry to meet his future roommate? And without hemming or hawing, asked why he hadn’t called or written and avoided awkwardness (who was a bigger fool than he was then?). And then thinking what if he and Martin couldn’t get along? What if he and Martin couldn’t get along? Fool, fool, fool! What a fool he was! And then playing a part, as he sat on his hands and knew he made a mistake, made a big mistake, made a big mistake when he didn’t call or write … when he didn’t let Martin know he was coming. What could he do or say now? Remember he couldn’t wait until light before he set out. Fool, fool, fool! Fool, fool, fool!
Often we end up living with our mistakes, living and in some cases dying with them, and kick ourselves when we find out that we’ve made them, and then think how stupid. But rarely can we go back and we end up asking, “When will we ever learn?” When would Harry ever learn? And another questions for Harry are “would he ever learn” and “does it pay to fret?” So why not accept Harry for who he was then? Except he should’ve called or written before he jumped in his car and drove a long way. Then he would have had lunch. Then Martin’s mother would have had lunch waiting for him, and Martin would’ve been there. Funny, funny, funny. Yeah, funny.
At this moment, but not quick enough for Harry, Martin headed home and on the way stopped for gas. “Fill her up!”
His mother did her best to entertain Harry. There was lemon for his water and cookies. Martin took his time, took his time filling his gas tank, while Harry felt uncomfortable while he waited, while he waited with Martin’s mother. “If I make high enough grades, I plan to go to law school!” Harry planned to say, “if I make high enough grades, I plan to go to law school.”
Here was an example of how Harry liked to toot his horn, or perhaps he actually thought he wouldn’t want to go to law school. But there was no reason for her to question him. At length she replied, “Martin is interested in accounting. He’s always been good with numbers.” The way she said it showed that she was proud of her son. Harry half expected her to produce an award for math, and if Martin had actually won an award she would’ve shown it to him, but would it make a difference? It would’ve been framed, but would it make a difference? It would be prized. It would hang on a wall if not in the living room. Hung on a wall with pictures of Martin, but would it make a difference? Pictures of Martin everywhere. And if Harry looked at any one of them he would notice that Martin had a surgical scar on his upper lip. Had Harry looked closely at any one of them he would’ve notice a surgical scar on his upper lip. It was lamentable that he hadn’t, it was lamentable that Harry hadn’t closely looked at one of those pictures so that he wouldn’t have been shocked when he saw Martin in person. Harry would have seen a surgical scar if he closely looked.
The service station where Martin bought gas wasn’t that far from his home or anywhere else in Ranger. He bought groceries and filled car with gas. Martin loved driving and always went the long way around so that he could drive longer. A strange car sat in front of his house when Martin drove into driveway and into garage. He unloaded groceries before he went into living room and was introduced to Harry. When he paid attention, he heard his mother talking to someone, heard his mother talking to someone he didn’t know. “Pray God,” he thought (remembering that they weren’t expecting company and that Martin didn’t recognize car sitting in front of his house), “Pray God, it’s not a salesman.” For it would be annoying, if it were a salesman. Then he remembered that they had a new paper deliveryman. By then conversation in living room would have shifted somewhat; while Harry hoped Martin would hurry up. Harry wanted Martin to hurry so that he could make it to work on time.
Then Martin came in.
Oh, but Harry wouldn’t see him yet because he had his back to kitchen door. Harry didn’t see Martin immediately. How could he break the ice? he wondered. He fretted. Harry fretted and rehearsed what he would say the same as he rehearsed driving to Ranger. That was before Harry saw Martin. That was before Harry saw Martin’s face and surgical scar. Everything changed when Harry saw Martin’s surgical scar. “They were out of roasted chicken, mom!” Martin said.
“They were out of roasted chicken mom,” Martin repeated.
Long silence. Shock and silence.
Harry looked at Martin’s face and only saw a surgical scar, and instead of a pleasant smile Harry only saw a surgical scar; instead of a pleasant face, a surgical scar, a surgical scar. Instead of a pleasant face, Harry only saw a surgical scar. A surgical scar. A surgical scar. Harry couldn’t get passed a surgical scar. And Martin’s voice seemed too whiny, too strident, too nasal, too grating, and too creepy to Harry … for Harry. Shrillness was too grating to Harry, as Martin walked into the room. Though thoroughly benign, Martin’s whiny, strident voice hurt Harry’s ears. Then how could Harry stand such a whiny, strident voice? How could he? How? And then how could he live with Martin? How could he? How? Hearing such a whinny, strident voice and seeing such a deformed face, Harry wondered how he could live with Martin. He was about to yell out but thankfully stopped himself. He checked himself before he yelled out.
With a sudden urge to run away, he was stopped by Martin. Martin standing in the way. His eyes focused on surgical scar and he instantly knew he made a mistake. Harry knew he made a mistake. He knew it was a mistake to drive to Ranger. He shouldn’t have come! He knew it! He shouldn’t have come. He knew it! Now there was no way to run, nowhere to run and surrounded and bugged by pictures of Martin … and surrounded and bugged by pictures of a surgical scar. And Martin talking and asking questions while his voice hurt Harry’s ears. And while Martin’s mother tried to be nice. was trying to be nice.
Harry didn’t have anything personally against Martin. He didn’t have anything personally against him. But holy God, Harry couldn’t stand Martin’s voice, and he was bugged by a surgical scar. As he reflected later on why he requested a new roommate, Harry might have realized that Martin would have been perfectly justified in rejecting him instead of the other way around. So Harry talked funny? So Harry once had a split lip? So Harry had a surgical scar? So? So what? This question later gave Harry pause: “What would it have been like had it been the other way around?” What if he acquired Martin’s voice … what if he had Martin’s surgical scar … what if he experienced prejudiced the same as Martin did? What if Martin became his roommate? What if Harry got too close to Martin? What if? Would he crash the same as Icarus?