A hairy surprise at the work retreat.
At my work retreat, I shared a room with a hetero-male co-worker who shall be referred to herein as “Benny.” We are, in the context of being co-workers, somewhat friends, in the sense that we know of each others’ lives and engage in amiable conversations without incurring the obligations of being actual friends. There is something liberating about knowing someone without having to really know them. As such, he offered to room with me during the retreat, given the mandatory double-room set up. I, of course, said okay, and looked forward to it. It may be worth mentioning here that Benny is a relatively hairy man with an emphatic, almost violent snore.
After dinner on “day one,” a Monday, there was a reception whose central ethos was the mutual inebriation of everybody in our department. Our modern understanding of the “open bar” is the last breath of socialism in a capitalistic world, i.e., we are the proletariat workers placated by the State, complicity so, simply grateful for some occasional rest and a chance to get smashed for “free” — though such perceived temporary freedom is only economic, and far from spiritual or existential. In short, it was our time to reap the benefits of our ponderous soul-crushing employment by getting tanked off discount wine. I recall having about 7 glasses of merlot, my purple lips bruised like those fallen grapes a handful of harvests ago.
I stumbled to my room, struggled with the magnetic key card, and finally opened the door. There’s something about entering a dark empty expensive hotel room alone that aids in the commentary of one’s life. “You have succeeded, yet failed,” it seems to say. Benny was apparently still partying hard, his backpack on one bed marking his wishes for it. I grabbed my toothpaste and brushed my teeth, the interface (see Figure 1.) as common as all the preceding times I’ve done so: I uncapped it, squeezed out a moderate share of paste from the tube onto my toothbrush, and let fate and foam handle the rest. I quickly fell asleep.
Benny eventually came back, the haziness in the room exuding 2:00 a.m. or so. He said he scored 3 beers and took the clanky evidence out of his pockets. I was half-asleep, but remember saying something to the effect of “okay,” or even “sweet.” This becomes more relevant very soon, but basically, Benny had a handful of minutes to himself in the bathroom at this point. That night, in the vague area between the back of my eyes and my brain, I felt each of his respiratory eruptions, each gasp, one after another, all night. The sad alienating intimacy of hearing your partner snore.
I woke up the next morning to discover one single deftly placed pubic hair neatly tucked under the cap. It, unfortunately, was the same hair color as Benny’s. The thickish pube gently “rode” the toothpaste like a surfer as I squeezed it out. Naturally, I contained said pube-paste duo within a dense clump of toilet paper and flushed it away, then thoroughly washed the tube’s opening, its cap, and my toothbrush. In the mirror’s reflection, Benny was still asleep, ravaged under a deep smile that suggested he was having a pretty damn good dream.
“Hey Benny, sorry if this sounds weird, but I noticed what seemed like a pubic hair in my toothpaste this morning, and I have no idea how it could have gotten there” was a question not worth asking. Benny and I both knew the answer. Like the confession of love towards someone who is cruel, irrevocable truths are best conveyed with reticence, and mild shame. “Hey Benny, I know what you did, and I’m contacting Human Resources” is an assertion not worth executing, as I am not a fighter, in both a physical and legal sense. Pacifism lends cowardliness legitimacy.
The plucked and rhetorically placed human pubic hair, detached from its symbolic transgression, is merely a pubic hair. It is not inherently “gross,” as we are all primates with hair on our bodies; and yes, some of these hairs reside in moist areas redolent of secretions from the vicinity. As a semi-practicing Buddhist, I remain unattached about the relationship of another man’s pube and what could have been my mouth. I will not take this personally, though it is clear that this affront towards me was. It’s okay, just a pube. Life is weird that way.
I told myself this on the silent car ride home (Benny drove us there and back). Swaying through the winding roads, the trees which loyally followed the shoulders for miles and miles seemed to honor our silence by pointing the only direction they could, towards an equally silent cloudy sky whose only capacity for emotion were the cold tears they threatened to drop that day. I coyly looked at Benny’s eyes through the rearview mirror, then at his long eyelashes, then remembered why I was angry at him. But I am tired, so tired of this life which is only masochistically humorous. The car kept going, as did the power of my mitigation. I fell asleep, my lips sealed perhaps more tightly than usual.