M. M. Adjarian
Until I met Robert my senior year at Berkeley, I was an oddball magnet. Some of the people—and especially the men—who came into my life were so strange that I often wondered whether I should laugh, cry, scream or give myself a cross-eyed headache trying do all three at once.
First there was the Berkeley dropout I met as a Zellerbach Hall usher just before the fall of my sophomore year in 1984. Within minutes of our first conversation, Paul told me he had a genius IQ as well as intimate knowledge of shibari, the ancient Japanese art of rope bondage. Then there was the 30-year-old recluse who appeared at about the same time Paul did. When I moved out of the rental we shared as housemates the following spring, Jim gave me a five-page dot matrix-printed letter that described every fantasy he’d ever had about me in agonizing detail.
But the man who really took the prize was the balding Frenchman who taught my medieval literature class. From his perch behind an old wooden desk in Wheeler Hall, Louis Menard spent half the time ranting about his conniving colleagues and the other half extolling the beauty of passages from Beowulf that left him “rrrrolling on ze floor in orgasmic delight.”
One day I took a seat to the right of his desk and just by the classroom door. Several times during the hour, I noticed Professor Menard’s hand slipping between his legs to adjust—and linger at—his crotch. When my classmate Savitha sat in the same place a few days later, I wondered if she would see the same show I had.
“Did I tell you about the story I wrote for creative writing class?” she asked me not long after that episode. “It’s about a professor with a compulsion to touch himself in front of his students. My teacher loved it.”
Savitha’s words made me feel vindicated. But they also gave me an excuse to throw a private pity party for myself. No matter where I turned, the twisted, the hopeless or the just plain weird came crawling out of the woodwork. Was it me or something about the people who kept crossing my path?
In my personal life, romance seemed an impossible dream; and my gift for drawing eccentrics to me made the situation seem beyond remedy. I’d had a few passing crushes, none of which ever amounted to much. One had turned around to bite me hard after I discovered that the crush in question, a former high school classmate, had been leading me on. After he finally admitted that he was dating a girl from USC, I told him to go to hell. He did the same. We were even, but I was unhappy.
Then there was the inevitable fallout that seemed to accompany relationships, and especially their endings. My friend Savitha had gained more than 50 pounds after her freshman year lover had left her. And after breaking up with her long-term boyfriend, my dorm roommate Lisa had turned into a love avenger who had indiscriminate sex with every man she met. Getting emotionally entangled with someone only to eventually have to cut ties could change you—make you crazy, even—and that scared me.
Besides which, the men I had gotten to know while in college had made me question whether anyone even remotely normal would ever find me. Where was the nice boy next door who didn’t have bizarre fetishes or behaviors and wasn’t a secret Don Juan? It just didn’t seem possible that two ordinary people could meet on a level playing field of attraction and decide they wanted to go out—not without trying to do idiotic things to get each other’s attention, anyway.
When I began my senior year, I was floundering. I’d just returned from junior year abroad in Ireland and had moved into my fourth new living situation in as many years; a student-run residential co-op called Cloyne Court. In the meantime, Savitha and Lisa had graduated and left Berkeley, one for grad school and the other to teach English in Kenya for the Peace Corps. They were the closest thing to friends I’d had, and I missed them, especially now that I was faced with the terrifying prospect of going out into the world totally clueless as to what I’d be doing next.
A few weeks after I moved in, Isabelle Margolis, a gangling six-footer, and her wall-eyed friend Carla Pierce, stepped in to fill the vacuum Savitha and Lisa had left behind. But the way they tried to befriend me was to plan a surprise birthday party and then randomly accost me around Cloyne with the words, “It’s coming.” When my birthday finally arrived that October, both of them dragged me into Isabelle’s room where we startled a moon-faced man who had been sitting on the floor reading a book. Carla grabbed something out of Isabelle’s closet, which she gave to me.
“It’s here!” they shouted. I looked down. In my hands was a coconut decorated with a Magic Marker smiley face.
My lack of enthusiasm for their well meaning though peculiar gestures of friendship caused Isabelle and Carla to disappear soon afterwards. But Mal, the man who had accidentally witnessed the “party,” became a permanent fixture in my life. Over time, he would reveal his own set of quirks, including a penchant for dating women taller than he was. “It’s the grace in how they move,” he said. Isabelle had in fact been his lover, and the two had often enjoyed furtive sex in the back of her old VW bug on drives up to Grizzly Peak.
“Wasn’t that—well, kind of uncomfortable?” I asked.
Smiling like the Buddha, he said, “Where there’s a will, there’s always a way.”