The research-supported fact that people are less inhibited out of doors was Ted’s rationale for commandeering Daria’s training session to Central Park. “If you know any guy nervous about popping the question,” he told her, “tell him to do it outdoors. He’ll have a seventeen percent greater success rate.”
“Good to know,” she replied as they walked awkwardly together up Fifth. It was difficult to make small talk with Ted. Her inability to nail down anything of strong interest made her feel old. His proffered topics she found painful to even carry on the pretense of back and forth. Consequently she took a risk. “Before we get started,” she said, “there’s one question I have to ask.”
“I already know what it is,” he replied with neither eye contact nor pause. “No, I didn’t kill my mother—not that I never thought about it. How about you?”
“What—kill my mother or think about it?”
“Actually neither.” Now she had to catch up with him. “But that wasn’t the question. It’s just—well, it’s your name, Ted Brand. It sounds totally made up. How did that happen?”
“Probably for the same reason bin Laden got away from that cave in 2001.”
“I don’t get it.”
He sighed heavily. “Nobody knows.”
“You really think my name’s so bad?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to make you feel bad, but you deserve better. Did you explore workarounds, like initials?”
“You mean go by T.B.?”
She laughed again.
“You’re digging a serious hole for yourself.”
“Harvard had a vice provost named Cole Blackman.”
“I knew Cole. It’s too bad he left.”
“He got fired. He had all kinds of affairs.”
“I don’t think the affairs had much to do with him leaving.”
“The Harvard names get better,” she went on. “There was my crazy boss, Lillian Hellmann, but she had an extra ‘N,’ like the chromosome.”
“Somehow that doesn’t sound good.”
“They fired her too.”
“I wish there was a way to get more of this backstory in the alumni magazine,” he said. “All it does is shill trips to the Holy Land for the Class of ’86.”
“You’d definitely have more material for your talks.”
“Hap says we have to be like what Henry James said about good writers—someone on whom nothing is lost.”
“Hap reminds me of Cole Blackman.”
“I guess. Hap has . . . well, let’s just say a way with the ladies.”
The way he said that made her wince. A way with the ladies—out of time, out of place. She wondered now whether it was all just a put-on, the ambiguous sexuality vibe. Maybe Ted Brand was just messing with the world.
“It’s funny you’re saying that about an ex-priest.”
He shrugged. “My mother is an ex-model.”
“Don’t ask me what her name is. Whenever you tell someone your mother was a model they think you’re lying so they ask you her name. And of course they’ve never heard of her because people have never heard of 99.9% of the people paid to do modeling. If you had Google glass, you could see her. Probably you’d know her face.”
“Do you look like her?”
“I look like my father.”
“Was he a model too?”
He laughed. “You’re the first person who’s ever asked that.” Then he laughed some more.
“People ask me if both my parents were models all the time,” she said. “Ha ha.”
She didn’t think she’d like this conversation this much. “So what’s your father’s story?”
“I don’t know what the hell he did, who the hell he was. It was a one-night stand. I never saw him.”
“How can you say you look like him?”
“That’s what I mean. I look like my father. Which means I don’t look like anything.”
“Ted, that’s sad.”
This seemed to amuse him. “There’s a website called MyRealDad.com where you can connect with your lost father—whether always-lost, long-lost, or recently lost. One minute you’re just cruising along, looking at ages and cities, and the next it’s ‘Jesus Christ, he’s the dictator of Libya!’ ”
“It could be a front for old men looking for hookups.”
“If it were, it’d be pretty cheap. It costs nineteen dollars a month.”
“If they can find your real dad, why would you need it more than a month?”
“Maybe because most Lost Dads come and go . . . talking of Michelangelo.”
This was definitely a thread not to be pursued. Luckily, she had plenty of alternatives. “My parents got divorced when I was young, and my dad died when he was young. Or young compared to when people die.”
“People die before they’re born, Daria.”
“Well, he was young to me.”
“I’m sorry you lost him.”
“I grew up in Milton, Mass., in case you want to know.”
“I don’t know where that is. Not the ‘Mass.’ part.”
“How can you say that? You went to Harvard for four years.”
“It’s a dim view outside the ivory tower.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, it’s north of Connecticut.”
“That’s useful because I mostly grew up outside Hartford, with my mother’s parents, even though my mother lived here. She was always struggling with money. Then she sent me to Horace Mann.”
“Isn’t that where everyone gets sexually abused?”
“You make it sound like admissions criteria.”
“The name sounds pretty creepy.”
“You have a thing for names,” he observed, “don’t you?”
He laughed. “If Jude were here, he’d tell you to just say yes without the redundancy. He’s always correcting people’s grammar. Or more like editing what you’ve just said to tell you how it could be said the right way. It can be obnoxious.”
She was suddenly moderately excited, for she hoped she might find a friend in Ted Brand with his vacant name and ambiguous sexuality.
“I never had problems at Horace Mann,” he went on. “They do everything to get you into Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. But in my junior year my mother married Drew—that would be Andrew W. Tomlinson III—so the Harvard entry was pretty secure. Still, I was like a machine.” He thought for a moment before adding, “I once said that to Jude, that I was like a machine, and he began calling me SML, for Shelly the Machine Levine. You know, from the Mamet play.”
She shook her head even though he wasn’t looking at her to notice. “No, I actually don’t know Shelly the Machine Levine. I know a poet named Shelley that I would easily lie about reading.”
“Do you lie a lot?”
“Not serious lies. Just the kind everyone tells every day.”
“Do you steal?”
This made her nervous enough to laugh. “No, that’s one thing I don’t do.”
“I ask because I was a victim of identity theft.”
“Yeah, I heard that from your talks. You didn’t go into much detail about what happened.”
“It was 2007. I was in college, just some dumb-ass dupe. It was these Russian guys in Miami.”
“Because I had an AmEx card with some astronomical credit limit—from my stepfather. I never used the card. But once they filled it and opened others, they used ‘Ted Brand’ as their scapegoat. They created this elaborate digital trail to me as the identity thief—made it look like I racked up all this debt on myself and started going after other people.”
“You said the cops came for you.”
“They showed up at Weld. It was such an annoying process. But then I had Drew—the Avengers of the legal system at my disposal. Still, I had to sit in a courtroom and listen to these sad people whose lives were wrecked by one Ted Brand. There were four plaintiffs, three from the South and one from Arizona. Their lives were totally wrecked for debts of—I don’t know—twenty grand or so. Such pathetically small amounts. A marriage ended, a guy loses his job. This window who can’t get a mortgage.”
“Even when they nailed one of the guys, it was like these people still blamed me for being privileged. I think they expected me—I guess it would be Drew—to give them some kind of settlement. It made a big impression on me.”
Yes, she was pretty sure she might have a friend in Ted as they kept walking and walking into the temporary yellows of newly leafing trees. When they arrived at the Naumberg Bandshell, he motioned for her to sit away from the most aggressive skateboarding. He rubbed his hands together like only the fathers of young children did. “OK, so I’m currently doing higher ed, and you’re going to take it over.”
“Don’t act eager, Daria, or it’s not going to work.”
“I’ll act sullen then.”
“Look, I’m a lot nicer than Mariette and Jude. So I’ll tell you: Just be competent. Never try to be cute. It will only get on people’s nerves, and it won’t do you any good in the long run.”
She realized she’d been premature in thinking him friend material. “Sure,” she said matter-of-factly. “I got it.”
“Jude goes to Chicago and Mariette does a lot of work in DC. Hap had been doing the West Coast, but now he wants Mariette to focus on LA and the South and Jude to take SF and the North. I’ll take over DC. Of course we all do New York and various hinterlands.”
“It sounds like you need more people,” she said. “Family, I guess.”
He seemed annoyed at this comment but didn’t bother with a reply. “Like I said,” he continued, “with higher-ed, you’ll be all the places there’s higher-ed. And the first thing you need to know like the back of your hand is this: Everybody is happier right after spring break.”
Be open to new experiences, trust your gut wisdom, expect good fortune, see the bright side of challenging events. Liberate yourself from unconscious obsessions, bad habits, and conditioned responses. Cultivating joy can make you a more ethical and compassionate person. Interrupting positive experiences makes them more enjoyable. Renters are happier than homeowners.
Daria was struck by how it all boiled down to just repeating any random statement so much that it sounded like you believed it. She realized she could be good at this job without really knowing anything, without understanding.
“You’ll soon learn that at Hap, small, geographically limited study samples pose no barriers whatsoever.” Ted found immense amusement in this proposition. “Stay-at-home-dads in Vancouver, home-schooled preschoolers in Arkansas, breastfeeding mothers of twins in Oslo—as long as the conclusions lean in the right direction.”
“Should I be impressed?”
“That’s your choice,” he said with a shrug. “Any questions?”
“Yeah, I have a question. What’s an épat?”
“Jude will tell you.”
“I’ve heard that before.”
“The concept—or I suppose you might call it a meme—originated with Jude, so he’s the best one to explain.”
“I can’t wait for that—don’t have the patience. Besides, he’ll only edit what I say down to nothing.”
“He’s not that bad.”
She shook her head. “There’s so much to learn about the legit stuff, but I also have to understand things that can’t be explained.”
“I hope you can manage,” he said without sounding empathetic.
“I feel like there’s this black hole as to Hap’s past. The man I mean.”
“Hap’s cool. You don’t need to be digging.”
“I need to know that he wasn’t kicked out of the priesthood for molesting children.”
“You’re really into the institutional molestation of minors, aren’t you?”
The way he said that sounded strange. “Admittedly, yes.”
“You said that redundantly on purpose.”
“Yeah,” she said defiantly, “because I know what you’re doing. Mariette too. Throw me off a scent. It’s not a two-way conversation. It’s not fair.”
“You’ll see that it becomes convenient.”
“Who else knows the secret of Hap besides the four of you?”
He bristled at this. “Don’t ever call it a secret. I’m serious, Daria. We’re not Rhonda fucking Byrne.”
“Do those other people working at Hap know? Do they realize?”
He shook his head. “None of them has got much going on upstairs. When they’re in the office they want to be other places.” He looked as if he might have only just realized that this was what all normal people did. “Well, I guess that’s it for our training today.”
It was so cold, his way. She searched for a gesture to rub in how she’d felt duped. “I guess you’ll give me a business card.”
He gave her a look.
She was trying to mock him in some way. “You mean you don’t carry business cards?”
“You know what card I carry?” He took out his wallet and extracted something plastic shaped like a credit card. “A Badass Card.”
She read what he handed her:
Don’t even make me mad, ’cause I’m Badder than Bad;
Don’t mess with me, fool, ’cause I’m Cooler than Cool.
She laughed out loud, feeling herself lurch toward being a real person and not a Hap person. “I’m going to write that down,” she said, digging into her bag.
He was alarmed. “What are you doing?”
“Just getting some paper.”
“Why the hell do you use paper? Use your phone.”
She remained frozen in the position of having touched a pen at the bottom on her bag. “I like to write things down.”
“Don’t even say that, Daria. I can’t stand the thought.”
“What—paper or writing stuff down?”
“Both! I can’t stand having things written on little pieces of paper anywhere around me.”
She quickly decided he had an irrational fear that things written down can incriminate you, steal your identity.
“Just keep the card,” he told her.
She tried to smile. “Wow, you’re giving me a gift?”
“Sarcasm, Daria. You’re sounding like Mariette already.”
She wondered why it was Mariette she had to sound like and not either him or Jude. She felt sorry for Ted for seeing only a girl-boy world.
“Mariette has an ungodly number of Facebook fans,” he thought to add. “Hap Mariette, I mean, not Mariette Mariette. “They’re college girls, her fans.”
“Probably because she rowed,” she said dismissively. She still hadn’t recovered from the lightweight crew comment, which seemed to indicate that Daria’s lopsided boobs would land her in with the heavyweights. She had intended to ask Ted how Mariette had killed her mother, but now the attempt at confidence seemed neither attractive nor worth it.
She could tell he was struggling with the awkward prospect of having to talk to her all the way back to the office. She decided to be kind and give him an out. “I want to write in my paper diary,” she said. “You should go ahead so you won’t die at the sight.”
Five minutes later, as she walked under the rows of gigantic elms, she was surprised at herself for saying she kept a diary and specifying a paper one. Hap pushed people to keep a journal as a way to help discover what makes them happy, because people often don’t realize what in their daily lives does. Telling Ted that she had to write in her diary somehow made her feel less local, like she was speaking a role in a play that came from a book—a serious book. Literature. She didn’t read many books. None, in fact. She had always imagined there was another Daria somewhere, her twin like Veronique in that movie, and that she would one day meet this twin with her face in a book, doing all the reading that she herself never had the time for. She imagined she might meet this Daria in New York. She would be thin, with symmetrical boobs that had been fixed at the get-go.
Why did they have to be such snobs? Why did they have to be so unfriendly? She’d watched videos of their talks over and over and each of them came across as so warm, so caring. Maybe not so much Jude—his M.O. was to be cool—but they all seemed nice, like they would help you out if you had a flat, especially Ethylynn, whom she would never meet.
Then she thought about Hap as their father, willing to put up with these problematic children. Perhaps that was the pact between them: he put up with the brats, and the brats kept whatever deep, dark secret was lodged in his past. How could she ever pull off her own charade? How long would she last here? It was only Day 3. She had a ways to go.