How do you give a friend unvarnished advice and still keep him as a friend?
"Please, tell him to get rid of the motorcycle," Lorie asked me on the phone. "Gary listens to you." Lorie and Gary are in their mid-thirties. They've been married for nine years, and are expecting their first child. It's going to be a girl.
"Good show, man," I greet Gary next time we meet.
His face goes into a wide grin. "What a relief! I was at the point of giving up totally on the family issue. I thought I was shooting blanks."
"No, not you," I shake my head. It's so stupid, though; I'm his fishing buddy, not a sperm counter.
He takes out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.
Silence. I have to say something. "I hear it's going to be a girl."
"Yeah, Lorie and I have decided to have another kid after this."
I lift my hand to a military salute to show I admire their dedication. "Good idea, Gary. What a great idea."
"You don't think we gonna have a second child just because I always wanted a boy?" He looks deep into my eyes. "That's the reason, you think, don't you?"
What else, you son of a bitch? "No, of course not. Why would I think that?"
"I always wanted a boy and a girl. There are advantages to both. Little boys are funny; you can play baseball with them, teach them poker, show them how to fish for bass, catfish, trout. And little girls, they're so cute...."
Silence again. I clear my throat. "They tend to gravitate to their father."
Gary smiles. "Lots of advantages to having a daughter."
I nod. "Lots of advantages."
Gary pulls out a cigarette from the pack. "You think she's gonna be good looking?"
How on earth would I know, you moron? "Yes, Gary, she's going to be beautiful."
"Looks is genetic, ain't it?"
Gary is relatively handsome, just a little bald on the forehead, and Lorie is a French woman who looks five years younger than her age. Or at least she did before she got so huge. Now she looks fifty.
Gary continues talking, "I've got lots of different genes. I'm a real mutt: Irish, Hungarian, Italian, English. Even some Eskimo."
"Inuit," I correct him. By the time his daughter grows up, people will receive ten-year prison sentences for uttering ethnic slurs like Eskimo.
Gary waves his hand; he always says what he thinks. It's different only when he gets shitfaced on booze: then he uses the two-dozen words he can still recall from his vacuous memory.
I put my hand on his shoulder. "She'll have French charm, Irish ingenuity, Hungarian intelligence, Italian warmth, and the pride and nobility of her Inuit ancestors."
"What about English?"
Nothing comes to mind. For evasion, I fill my mug with seltzer.
Now Gary is talking about life's complexities, how the next generation is going to be exactly like us, but still totally different. He even throws in an Oriental proverb: "You can't step in the same river twice."
While drinking the club soda, I study his face.
Gary looks away. First he mumbles unintelligibly, then he speaks up, "Lorie wants me to sell the motorbike. She's afraid I might have an accident and get hurt or die."
I sigh; it's so much easier that he's brought it up. "Lorie is right. Sell that stupid motorcycle. It's got the speed of a car, but gives as little protection as a regular bike."
Gary takes a deep breath, and his eyes sparkle as he makes a solemn announcement, "I'm gonna get rid of the mobike on the day my daughter is born."
I wipe my forehead with a paper tissue. "Good decision, Gary, I'm telling you. It must've been painful, but we all have to make sacrifices." I stop, but his body language indicates he wants to hear more of it. "You know, John Irving, the writer, did the same thing when his first child was born."
"John Irving, huh?" Gary squints his eyes. "Garp and Hotel New Hampshire?"
"That's the one."
"All right!" he yells. Then he adds in a lower tone, "Never read his books. Seen the movies, though. Pretty good. So, what was his first child, boy or girl?"
Oh, shit! "If I remember right, he has three boys from two marriages."
"How many girls?"
"I don't know. Maybe he's got only boys."
Gary makes a slight guttural sound, then stares in front of himself.
Absolutely nothing to say, so I speak again, "Look at the sunny side, Gary--you'll get a beautiful daughter, and lose a clunky motorcycle." I hesitate. Should I shake his hand? I decide to show him a thumb-up instead.
He forms a V between his fingers and nods. I sigh again; it's over, finally.
Gary scratches his chin. "What if my daughter's not that beautiful?"
It's not over yet. I shrug. What if she is ugly? Plastic surgery? Sell her to a rich childless couple? Let the Indians steal her? Euthanasia? All good ideas; fortunately I am still focused enough to keep my mouth shut.
"What if the baby is totally unattractive?" Gary repeats the question louder, and moves so close to me that my eyes are burning. I make a mental note that next time I have a serious conversation with the man I'll put on reading glasses.
"What I mean is, should I get rid of my mobike even if the baby is repulsive? Because I don't think I should!"
I turn away. This will never end.
Gary grabs my arm. "You know what? If she's gruesome like hell, I refuse to sell the motorbike. Better yet, I'm gonna ride it without a helmet!"
I resist the urge to ask the dingbat if he's already been riding without a helmet.
Both of us have to get underway. In three months, Gary will be the proud father of the youngest American. I sure hope the kid is good looking.
John Szamosi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an R&D scientist who lives in the sticks of northwestern New Jersey. He is a fitness-and-fiber fanatic: He has run four marathons, including the 1995 New York Marathon. He has been writing humor, satire and fantasy fiction since college.
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 7, Number 4 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1997 John Szamosi.