When asked what you could never live without, how would you respond? Would you mention one of those threadbare clichés like ‘family’ or ‘friends’? Or would you try to be clever and mention some material item that you obviously could live without, such as your ‘doc martens’ or your ‘ipod’, thus elevating it to the status of an object that forms an essential component of your own personality, an item that you perceive makes you ‘you’?
While the stiff familiars to this question grow old after awhile–who, even if he really thought so, would have the courage to say his family and friends could go tripping over the rim of the Grand Canyon, for all he cared?–the second kind of answer bothers me to no end. Whenever I see people reply snidely, “Oh, I could never live without my ‘insert-name-of-a-genre-of-music-that-lets-everybody-know-how-I-identify-myself’”, I want to growl at their pretentious self-absorbed faces. As if whatever material object in question actually can, or should, contribute to their sense of immaterial identity! I only lecture you on this matter because I want to express my disdain for these people and to emphasize that what follows is not an attempt to cleverly express the importance some material element holds in helping me to form a sense of character and identity in American consumer culture.
But I simply cannot live without sweater vests.
I understand that at this point you probably doubt my credibility, but I can assure you that the above statement is different from what I detest in that, unlike those people I have just described, I do not exaggerate. Although thankfully I have never had to know what it is like to live without sweater vests, I simply cannot believe that I would be able to survive. You see, if I had no sweater vests, I almost surely could no longer hold my head up high, after which people would cease to admire me, causing me to lose my position as Greatest Weatherman in the World, which would lead me to stop making such a sizeable income and force me to resort to begging on the streets, which would most assuredly lead me to starvation and a cold, lonely death.
Sweater vests are quite possibly man’s greatest invention, after fire and computers. There is absolutely nothing a man in a sweater vest cannot accomplish. They are at once comfortable and elegant, refined and casual, so that a man can wear them to almost any occasion without appearing out of place. What’s more, they come in a variety of wonderful colors, so that when paired with button-up shirts of different styles, an infinite variety of outfit possibilities is created.
When I go to work every morning, my female colleagues hang around me like fleas. I try to wave them away so that I can drink my coffee in peace, but even a sweater-vested man is sometimes powerless against a horde of women who are determined to express their admiration at whatever color combination he has chosen to wear for the day. When my manager comes by to observe my live broadcast of the world’s most popular weather forecast, to which millions tune in regardless of whether the show has any relevance for them, simply in order to watch my graceful movements and hear my astoundingly accurate weather predictions, he gives me a broad shake of the hand and repeats in his hearty voice that it’s a pleasure working with me.
My friend Rutherford, who since he met me has become a novice sweater vest-wearer, every morning laments to me his inability to mix and match as easily or as gracefully as I do. Most recently when we had one of these talks, poor Rutherford was wearing a red sweater vest with a pink button-up shirt, making him look like a walking Valentine’s Day commercial product. I patted him on the back and told him that, with enough practice and perseverance, maybe he would get the hang of it someday. Wearing sweater-vests may be powerful, but only if the man who takes that power into his hands knows what he is doing.
There’s a new substitute anchorman at work, Stan Larson, who sits by the camera in his silly, old-fashioned bowties and smiles at us as we do our morning show. Rutherford, who works the cameras, whispered to me that apparently Stan has a formidable background in weather forecasting. I chuckled to myself at how easy it was for the most ordinary of men to gain my friend’s respect and admiration, meanwhile applauding myself for not falling so easily for the charming tricks Stan has employed to cause everyone in the workplace, man or woman, to blush as they pass him and peer at him shyly out of the corners of their eyes.
I heard a rumor that Stan treats them all for lunch. This is unfair. Nobody ever treats me to lunch. Every morning before I go to work I spread two pieces of white bread with exactly one tablespoon of peanut butter and one tablespoon of blackberry jelly and put them together, afterwards carefully cutting off the crusts and cutting the sandwich into two isosceles triangles. I wrap each half separately in foil and place them both gently into my tin lunchbox (whose image of a smiling cloud wearing sunglasses, by the way, reflects my unwavering dedication in all aspects of my life to my genius and my passion).
Apparently Stan is also a superb tap dancer and singer. Rutherford told me that he even writes poetry. This is unheard of and also despicable in the field of meteorology, since having irrelevant habits distracts from the noble task of discerning the weather patterns of our region.
Nevertheless, I decided it was time for me to round out my own skills. I am an especially good weatherman, but I have devoted so much of my life to perfecting my skills in that area that my abilities in other fields have been unable to develop. I mentioned my problem to Rutherford, who’s going through this East Asia kick, and he gave me a translation of the Confucian Analects.
“No, read it!” he insisted, probably in reply to my initial confused look. “It will give you some good tips on how to be more well-rounded, like Stan.”
“I don’t want to be more well-rounded because of Mr. Larson,” I replied from between clenched teeth. “I have simply decided that it is about time to bring my skills in other areas into line with my superb weather forecasting ability.”
After having read the Confucian Analects, I decided to raise myself to a higher level of self-cultivation in order to achieve a greater sense of my moral being and obligations. After all, Todd Strasser the incredible weatherman, though nearly impeccable at predicting rain or shine, doesn’t know a whole lot when the conversation turns away from what the clouds are doing.
But what hobby would I take up? The list was daunting. I could paint, perhaps, but I didn’t like the idea of oil-based paints or charcoals or what-have-you getting all over my neatly ironed and pressed sweater-vests. I could play a contact sport–but no, this idea quickly passed out of favor, as the very thought of having to push and shove against fellow sweaty men made me shudder and run to the kitchen cabinet to gulp down a small glass of cherry liqueur. Well, then, perhaps a nice solo sport, like bowling or golfing.
I was seriously considering this last option when, one wintry night, sitting at home before a cozy fire in my maroon sweater-vest (for the Christmas spirit), the classical music station turned on low in the corner played that part from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time in which a cello plays alone. Hearing the deep, sad intonation of the low instrument reminded me of a time long ago and long forgotten, when my mother and father had refused to let me play cello when I asked after school one night, retorting that music was for fiddling ragamuffins, not serious scientific types like me.
I think I sat up a bit more straight in my chair that night, as my former desire to play cello, long repressed, reemerged from the depths into the spotlight of my mind. The piece hadn’t even ended when I had retrieved my local phone book from the kitchen and returned to the fireside chair, the book sprawled open across my lap.
I flipped to the “cello–instruction” page and ran a finger down the long list of names, stopping at a particularly promising candidate, due to her proximity to my home. Satisfied, I put the book aside and resolved to call the listed teacher, Ms. Jane Lichtmann, first thing next morning.
I’m not quite sure what’s going on at work. All Stan has to do is flash that toothy grin of his that so repulses me, and everybody else comes running to him. The women actually ask him for autographs now. Perhaps more revolting is that there has been talk of the manager willingly stepping down to allow Stan to take over. This would surely mean the end of the world.
I’m very upset at talk that Stan is the most endearing and absorbing weatherman we’ve ever had, since I, Todd Strasser, have always been the best. Even Rutherford, when I asked for his opinion one day, cast his eyes to the ground and muttered, “I’m sorry, Todd, but it’s a world of bowties out there now. Nobody likes sweater-vests anymore.”
Well, discarding even one of my sweater-vests is out of the question. I suppose that normally, I would not mind buying a bowtie–but under these circumstances, that would be giving in to the power of Stan. I am the only one at work who has not succumbed to his persuasive abilities.
As if this pressure at work isn’t enough, I’ve also fallen in love with my cello teacher, Jane. This doesn’t help my playing skills much–these days I spend most of our classes hardly hearing what she says and focusing on her soft, curly hair, and the way it cascades over her shoulders. For this reason, she often rebukes me sharply. I can’t help it, though–sometimes I even dare to picture my own face buried in that mass of hair, amidst the rose scent of her shampoo, safe from the world of Stans.
She won’t date me, though. I’m not sure why. I’ve dropped red roses by her front door several times with little notes attached that explicitly state, “To Jane, Love Stan,” and I’ve sent her exactly two heart-shaped boxes of chocolates on Facebook, by way of encouragement. She never responded to those. She did tell me, in person at our next lesson together, that she wasn’t interested, even though I explained that I was Todd Strasser, world’s best weatherman. She only responded dismissively, “Oh, I thought that was Stan Larson.”
Stan Larson! The despicable cur!
But here I am, wearing sweater-vests to work every day in order to hide a broken heart. Weather is a difficult thing to predict accurately…even the best weathermen usually only get their predictions right about seventy percent of the time, which is what makes me such a great weatherman. My percentage is up at ninety-nine percent. But women…this is still strange, uncharted territory, and I wonder that nobody yet has made a career out of learning how to predict their movements.
Although I do not like to call myself an inexperienced man, my knowledge of women and romance is, quite understandably, perhaps not up to par with that of some of the other members of my sex, since I have rather devoted my life to the higher principles of learning that are central to any weatherman’s profession (a fact which Stan, with his hordes of women, seems to have totally forgotten. He is a disgrace to the profession). As a result, though I have never so much as grazed against her shirtsleeve, these weekly sessions with Ms. Lichtmann, or Jane (as I call her in my daydreams), in which she plays on her cello and I imitate, in which her ears intently listen to nothing else but the notes I strangle out of my instrument, in which her eyes watch nothing else but my own hands and their movement across the glossy cello, are more than enough to keep me glowing all week until our next meeting. Why, since starting lessons with Ms. Lichtmann, or Jane, really, I have barely stopped to consider in the morning whether the sweater-vest I am wearing matches my shirt! Of course, I still manage to look impeccable, but I have found that selecting sweater-vests no longer seems to be a priority to me. Even the sky above, whether it rolls rumbling fluffy clouds my way or, despairing, threatens my area with dramatic bolts of lightning and thunderclaps, fails to capture my attention these days. Going to work, which at one time was meaningful enough to me to earn me the title of World’s Best Weatherman (a title that still belongs to me, despite what you may have heard about Stan. He’s no good, really…his performance is too flashy. Really, the weather should be the central focus of a weather report), means little more to me now than simply a mechanical routine. I go through the motions all day, but every weather map and camera I look at somehow warps into Ms. Lichtmann’s little pointed face, framed by those cascading curls.
The thing is, I would likely understand Jane’s refusal to date me better if she had a policy against dating anybody at all. For instance, if she was one of those feminists that believed she was better off without any men in her life, then I would be entirely content to, once a week, simply sit across from her in her living room gazing dreamily at her hair as her eyes follow my awkward fingerings and her sighs grace my delighted ears. I would be satisfied to do that with her until the end of time, once a week, as we alternate between my unhappy cello and hers, which glows with the pride of the graceful fingers that handle it.
That is, if I knew that she was not dating anybody else. But the problem is, she does see other men. I know she does because sometimes she takes calls on her apartment phone in the kitchen during our lessons, and even though I am not allowed to leave the living room, I quite cleverly place my ear up against the thin wall between the two rooms. During these calls, she always seems to make plans for Friday or Saturday night with Earl, or Joe, or Steve, usually punctuating her sentences with giggles that cascade like her hair (and which I am never privy to. There is no laughter during our weekly lessons). Few men seem to last more than a week with her. I think Joe may have made it to three, but then I stopped hearing his name, too, and like a forgotten slip of paper it fluttered into the gutter like all of the other faceless names she went out to the movies or the clubs with (I looked upon this tendency of hers to be hard to please with a sort of warm pride, as though I had somehow fostered it in her).
Though I try not to let her indifference toward me creep its way under my skin, my imagination taunts me constantly with images of her out somewhere looking at these faceless men the way she never looks at me, imagining her stroking their featureless jaws and kissing their formless lips. And then, later on in the course of their date, to imagine Joe-Steve-Earl back in her apartment—perhaps, if he was feeling particularly frisky, in the very living room where I took lessons from her!—unzipping her dress, rolling down her stockings, sticking his face into her tangles of hair! And then—and this is the part that always makes me tremble, as I sit alone at nights in my armchair in front of the fireplace, listening to the radio—to hear her, lying underneath him, call him her “loved one,” or her “darling,” or some other such silly pet name! I never had a tolerance for pet names, which at their best are frivolous and utterly ridiculous. But to hear her call him one, and furthermore, to look at him that way, and not me—
Every night now, and sometimes during the day, at work, these kinds of scenes play through my mind. One night, not too long ago, as though maddened by some force I was unaware of, with a bloodthirsty battle-cry I leapt up from my red armchair and ran outside of my fashionable white house into the rain showers that earlier at work I had predicted (well, okay, so maybe Stan got the time more accurately…I had thought they would hit later that night. But still, that is at best a quite minor victory on his part, and not even a victory, I would say, it amounts to so little). Like an idiot I ran through the rain, almost totally blinded and already soaked through head-to-foot, ruining not only a sweater-vest but an expensive pair of pants and designer shoes, until I skidded to a stop in the mud in front of her apartment building. As soon as I stopped it occurred to me how pointless my childish outburst had been—if I were to ring her doorbell at two in the morning and fall, blubbering, to my knees before her, soiling her nightclothes with mud and rainwater, she was likely to refuse to see me ever again, a risk I couldn’t take. At the very least, whatever respect she held for me as the World’s Best Weatherman (because I know that, deep down inside, she is aware of how miraculously accurate my weather predictions are), would diminish considerably if I were to ever cease carrying myself before her with the same demure confidence that makes me a hit with everybody.
So I stood there stupidly before her dark apartment complex, nearly lost in the heavy rainfall, and peered with strained determination into the window that I knew belonged to her, as if to prove to myself that there was, after all, some purpose to my foolish venture.
If an observer, quiet, unnoticed, had happened upon the apartment complex that night, he would have seen me, hair and clothes plastered to my drenched body, biting my lip and gazing up intently into the black gaping window of Jane’s apartment, in which the lights were out and there was nothing whatsoever to see. But what he could not have seen was that running down my until-now paper-dry cheeks, gently disguising themselves with the rain that fell all around out of deference to the importance of my public image, was a pathetic trail of unobtrusive tears.
That misguided, melodramatic run through the rain, which thank god was not, in fact, observed by anybody, was nothing to worry about. After I had slowly padded home in the puddles collecting on the sidewalks, given myself a nice bath, and changed into a pair of warm pajamas decorated with images of smiling white clouds, I sat back down in my red armchair in the living room and decided quite definitely (as the birds began to chirp outside) that it simply marked a low point in this period of my life. Everybody has them…even the World’s Best Weatherman has to have a bad moment every now and then. It thus stood to reason that, since this was my low point, it could only get better from here on. I went to bed for what little remained of the morning and woke up, refreshed and readier than ever to go to work and thrust my all into my weather predictions. That morning, I had a bounce in my step as I hurried out to my car, swinging my keys in hand and whistling—actually whistling—some sort of mindless jolly tune. That day, for the first time in ages, I was going to give a weather report that made me worthy of the title of World’s Best Weatherman. I imagined Stan looking on in envy as I enunciated with such care and gestured with such grace as he could only ever dream of achieving. Afterwards, my manager would run out after the shooting was done, clap me on the back while gurgling on about how sorry he was for ever doubting my abilities as a weatherman, and would fire Stan promptly on the spot. Oh, how I could not help hitting my steering wheel in glee at the red light as I imagined him sauntering out of there with his shoulders drooping and his head between his legs, perhaps throwing his bow tie into the trash can as he left, to add a dramatic touch to the whole thing. Perhaps…did I dare to dream? Perhaps Ms. Lichtmann, even, after watching my broadcast, would, at our next lesson, push my cello out of my lap and throw herself there instead, wrapping her willowy arms around my neck, kissing my forehead and exclaiming how sorry she was she hadn’t seen earlier what a wonderful catch I was. It was unlikely at best, but still possible. The Stan thing, though, was almost sure to happen, since he had never been that great anyway (despite what it may seem from the sight of the misguided people who walk around nowadays sporting pins that read “We love Stan”). Yes, for certain, everything was sure to get better, now that I had experienced my low point. That was the way of life.
Nobody seemed to understand that this was the way of life. I had been sharing air time with Stan recently, which was bad enough as it was, but when I arrived at work that very morning, my manager approached me and, instead of clapping me on the back, announced sadly but definitively that Stan was going to take my place as weatherman on the news program.
“Don’t worry, Todd, you’re not going anywhere. You’re a good guy, and you’ll always have a place with us,” my boss reassured me as he led me down a dingy hallway I had never seen before. I stared hard at his fat lips, my mind entirely shut off. “We gave you an office job, which is really just as good, you know…why, the majority of our staff works behind the scenes! Why, they’re the ones that get the whole show on the road! Without them, where would we be?” And now he clapped me on the back, as he opened the door to a room of cubicles, where a trail of voices called out, “Glad to have ya with us, Stan! Come join the party!”
My boss even led me over to a sterile white cubicle, exclaiming, “Look here, Stan, we even got it all cleaned up for ya! Look at that, your very own cubicle! You never had an office as a weatherman, now, did ya?”
I looked at him blandly, and somehow heard myself asking, “Does Stan have an office?”
My boss inhaled sharply, and waved his hand dismissively in the air. “Oh, Todd, don’t be silly! Of course he does! I mean, he is Stan, after all! But here, don’t worry about that…” Gently, as though I was a child, he guided me to the swivel chair I was to be figuratively chained to for the rest of my existence and, gently, pushed me down into it. At this point, I think I was completely immobile.
I looked down at the sterile desk in front of me for quite awhile before I realized that curious faces were peeking over the cubicle walls at me, and my boss was still standing there beside me, waiting for me to say something. No doubt he wanted some sort of reassurance that he wasn’t pouring my life, not so much drop-by-drop but rather in one huge waterfall, down the drain. I slowly turned to look up at his large face leering down at me, and froze.
My gaze must have been more hollow and lifeless than I had imagined, because instantly, that ridiculous fake smile fled from his face and he looked as though he had tears in his eyes. “Look, Todd,” he muttered, “I’m sorry. I really am. You were good while it lasted. Remember those days, kiddo. Your glory days.” Without another word, he turned to leave the cubicle.
He was gone. I vaguely remember wondering, in that moment, whether I should do something dramatic for the benefit of those staring at me, like run all the way to the studio and onto the set, ruining Stan’s perfect weather predictions and shouting that I wanted my job back.
But at that moment, somebody called, “Hey, everybody! It’s showtime!” At this cue, all of the workers in the cubicles dashed to a large flat-screen television set in the upper right-hand corner of the room, where they settled down in chairs they had brought along from their offices with the intent of watching today’s broadcast of the morning local news. I didn’t move to where they were sitting, but stood listlessly watching the television from where I stood, reeling through the initial reports of recent crime and political events. When the world’s most popular weather report came on, for the first time without me, showcasing instead a grinning bow-tied Stan in front of the large map with which I had familiarized myself over my twenty-five year career, my step faltered and, afraid I might fall, I retreated into my cubicle and covered my ears so I wouldn’t have to hear his obnoxious voice.
I showed up on Jane’s doorstep, cello in hand, ready as always for our weekly lessons. Too much had happened in the past week for me to be very excited about our meeting, although I thought that perhaps her presence would brighten my spirits. Maybe she would compliment my sweater-vest! Today I was wearing a charcoal-gray sweater-vest over a plain white shirt—sophisticated, yet simple.
But all hopes of such a kindly meeting were dashed to the ground when she opened the door and stood in the threshold, revealing an “I love Stan” pin on the lapel of her neat suit-jacket. She obviously looked uncomfortable at the sight of me—said she was sorry, but that the cello lesson scheduled for the hour before mine was running over, and she couldn’t find it in her heart to deprive such a promising candidate of practice time for my sake…
“But can’t your student practice on his own time?” I burst, impatient and pushing my way past her into her living room with my cello.
Stan sat there on her sofa, a cello placed squarely between his legs. “Salutations, Todd!” he exclaimed, waving his hand with the bow in it at me. “Long time no see, buddy! What’ve you been up to at the job? Haven’t seen you recently!”
I looked first at him, my mouth probably gaping wide open, and then back at her, the woman I had loved, who had walked up behind me.
“Honestly, Todd, you should hear him play that Bach piece you and I have been working on for ages!” she exclaimed. “I just showed it to him last week, and already, he plays like a pro!”
“Oh no, darling, you flatter me,” Stan laughed, playing a few beautiful notes to accent his statement.
Darling. Darling. This time, I did not look at her. Feeling a sudden rush to get out of there as soon as possible, I picked up my cello and muttered something to Ms. Jane Lichtmann about how I didn’t believe I wanted to continue with cello lessons—wasn’t my thing, you know, false calling—and dashed out of the room before either of the two could say another word.
A small man in a sweater-vest scurried along the sidewalk of the suburban road, his arms wrapped tightly about his chest. He looked down at his feet as he walked, avoiding the curious eyes of passerby and revealing to the sky a small, shiny bald spot forming in the center of his head. Curled forward like the upper half of a question mark, he bumped into people without stopping or even glancing up to regard them, and consequently a sea of contemptuous stares followed him as he turned off Main Street into one of the narrower, quieter residential streets of the town. He continued his half-scurry, half-jog a few more feet, then slowly straightened himself out and began to walk at a slower pace, noting as he looked cautiously about him that there weren’t any other people on this road.
Stan saw a pebble on the sidewalk in front of him and stopped to kick it with his foot. He watched as it skittered off the sidewalk into the dirt, then sighed as he felt the wind soothing him and cooling his hot skin and burning blood. Slowly, he turned his gaze from the dirt below to the rolling clouds above. The weather was beautiful today; the clouds, which were of the cumulus variety, crawled slowly across the sky like giant cotton wads, at lengths separating and forming new shapes and varieties. As a child, he remembered sitting in the lawn with his father and looking up into the clouds, trying hard to see representations of human objects in the great heavenly bodies. This one was a hat, he had speculated; his father, asking which one and shading his eyes to see it more clearly, would squint and then shake his head, arguing that he thought it resembled an umbrella, more than a hat, in any case. In all those twenty years, Todd had changed a great deal, but looking up at the clouds on this fine day, he noticed that they were much the same as they had always been. It was a neat idea, and one that could be expanded, actually; great kingdoms, and great men with them (like his father), rose and fell like the ebb and flow of the tidal waves. As far as anybody knew, the ebb and flow of tidal waves had begun pretty much as far back as when the earth was created, and would without doubt continue until it ended. The rising and falling of great kingdoms and leaders, a somewhat younger phenomenon, had existed not since the creation of the earth, but since the formation rather of men. But unlike the tides, could anyone say for how long this motion was destined to continue?
Looking at his feet, Stan noticed a thick root poking out from the hard-packed dirt and followed it with his eyes back to its source, the trunk of a sturdy oak tree. Following the trunk upward with his eyes, Todd observed the many branches of the great tree, resembling the gnarled shriveling fingers of an ancient woman stretched out to the sky, as if in supplication to the god of the clouds for rain. He walked over to the tree and brushed his fingers against the rough trunk, thinking idly as he did how small he was in comparison.
His thoughts backtracked, as though they had noticed something unusual in one of the dark corridors of his mind as they strolled by. A supplication for rain? Was it about to rain? Todd sensed that it was in the tingling of his skin, and looked up at the clouds in expectation. There was as yet no obvious sign from them, but all of a sudden the sky seemed, almost imperceptibly, to be growing a little darker.
Rutherford sat nervously in the reception room of the weather station, at the side of Stan’s boss. Neither one wanted to look particularly anxious, but both of them shot what they thought were inconspicuous glances at the entrance to the reception room from the street when he thought the other wasn’t looking. Silence pervaded in the room. Even the receptionist kept busy shuffling her paperwork, taking care not to look over at them.
Stan’s friend finally cleared his throat. “He isn’t normally late for work.”
“Oh no,” the boss cut in abruptly, “Never. You know Todd.” He looked down at his substantial lap, then added as an afterthought, “It could be anything, you know. A bad cough, a fever, perhaps a terrible case of the flu…”
“He would have called,” Rutherford cut him off, his gaze wandering in the direction of the door, this time openly.
More silence. Then the boss murmured, as though hesitant to admit what he was about to say, “Well, you know, I suppose he could be upset about his recent demotion…”
The words hung in the dead air, reverberating in the ears of both men and slicing into Rutherford’s stomach with as much acuity as a sharp knife. He knew as well as the next employee of the weather station about Todd’s demotion—who didn’t?—but, of course, Todd’s lateness to work wouldn’t have anything to do with that. Wouldn’t, couldn’t…his mind teased him with “buts” and “perhaps,” but he shushed the little nagging voice harshly, as though scolding a child.
At that moment, Stan Larson entered the room, just on time for the weather report he was due to forecast in about a half-hour regarding the forthcoming rain. Rutherford, whose heart had beat faster at the sound of the door opening, swallowed the words that had been on the tip of his tongue. As they oozed down his throat, a distant voice somewhere in his mind reminded him to stand for Stan. He and the boss stood at the exact moment, and each nodded briefly to the fine weatherman.
Stan smiled his dashing smile at them and started to walk into the hallway that led to the recording studio. His steps slowed before he reached the door, though, and to Rutherford’s dismay, he turned to look at them.
“Ahem. Pardon,” he interrupted their silent prayers politely, “but why are you both just standing here? Don’t we have a weather report to air?”
“We’re waiting for Todd,” both men exclaimed, at almost the same moment, both of them with more fervor in the statement than they had intended. They looked at each other, somewhat surprised.
Stan momentarily actually appeared confused. He then checked his wristwatch, confirming the time he saw there by glancing at the wall clock. “Ah. Yes, he is a little late, isn’t he? Unusual, for Todd.” So saying, he stepped to the other side of the boss. “In that case, I’ll wait with you,” he continued. “We can’t have a weather forecast without Todd.”
Momentarily, the growing knot of anxiety in Rutherford’s stomach lessened its grip on him, as he absorbed what Stan had said. Although he hated himself at the same time for thinking so, he couldn’t help but notice what a considerate man Stan seemed to be. All three men sat back down. Rutherford picked up a magazine and tried to browse it, though his eyes weren’t reading the words and his hands were shaking. The boss started to, as casually as he could, give the receptionist instructions to phone into the recording studio in his absence, in preparation for the coming forecast. Stan remained silent.
At ten minutes of the scheduled forecast, the boss stood up again. Rutherford regarded him nervously. Stan, one leg crossed over the other, looked perfectly calm, and looked up at the boss with the same cool reserve one might expect of someone waiting to hear a lecture on calligraphy techniques. “Well, haven’t we been silly!” the boss exclaimed. “If Todd is late, that’s his business, and he’ll be reprimanded accordingly. Why should we all sit here waiting to welcome him with open arms? Late is late; it’s not something to be commended!”
“Todd is never late,” Rutherford said icily.
The boss brushed his comment aside. “Always a first time, Rutherford, always a first time! We have a show to put on! So let’s go. This forecast can’t get off the ground without Stan.”
Rutherford’s knot of anxiety unfurled at this moment into a burst of boiling fury, and he jumped to his feet. “This forecast can’t get off the ground without TODD, you idiot, TODD! Who has been with you since this operation started? Who knows more about the weather than any other man around?” He pointed at Stan. “Including him! He’s good at what he’s been taught to do, but Todd never had to be taught! He was giving 100%-accurate weather reports back in elementary school, to any sop classmates who would stop to listen to him!”
The boss turned his back to Rutherford. “Stop acting like a child, Rutherford. I’m not going to fight with you as though we’re college boys again.”
“He’s given EVERYTHING to this weather station,” Rutherford shouted. “And this is what you do to him in return? You know as well as I do what neither one of us want to speak aloud. You know how much pride and stock he takes in this job, because he HAS nothing else. You know as well as I that his not being here right now means a lot more than a simple flu!”
Throughout this explosion, Stan remained calm, viewing them both with the unattached air of a spectator at the zoo. Now, he turned his ear to the door. “Gentlemen!” he exclaimed, louder than he had intended.
“What?” Rutherford hissed with as much venom as possible, whirling on him.
Stan pointed to the door. “Listen.” He did not heed Rutherford’s tone. At his one word, both the boss, whose face had grown red in fury, and Rutherford’s eyes turned toward the doorway. Outside, they heard someone wiping his feet on the welcome mat in the entryway. They watched, captivated, as the door latch was turned by somebody about to enter the room. The receptionist, too, craned her neck to see.
A moment later, Todd Strasser, formerly known as the World’s Best Weatherman, stood in the doorway.
Rutherford laughed aloud and bounded over to him, wrapping him in a generous hug and exclaiming, “Todd, you’re here! You’re back!”
Todd shook himself free and marched toward the boss anxiously. “I came back as quickly as I could,” he reported breathlessly. “What are you all doing sitting around here?” He shot a glare Stan’s way. “The storm of storms is coming, we’ve never seen anything like it! This is one that our kids will be telling our grandkids about,” he cried uncharacteristically, as he did not usually talk about kids. “Let’s see some action here, let’s get this weather report going! People need to be warned, schools need to close, cars need to get off the road. I’ll be in the office, and I expect to see that weather report exactly…” Todd checked his watch, and his eyes bulged. “Goodness, we’re two minutes past time! Places! Places!” It might have been unsurprising that Todd would demonstrate such intolerance of being off-schedule, except for the fact that he had conveniently forgotten his own tardiness was the cause of this delay that so peturbed him.
Rutherford seemed to have been overcome with a bout of uncontrollable laughter. Tears forming at his eyes, he burst out, “And the weather stops for no one, of course!” He then collapsed into one of the waiting chairs, slapping his knee and laughing as though he had just told the joke of the ages.
Still flabbergasted, the boss quickly shook his head to rid himself of his cloudiness. Clearing his throat, he responded gruffly, “We’re late because you are, Todd.”
Now it was Todd’s turn to look confused. “But sir, I’m just an office worker, in the back. You don’t need me for the show.”
“What are you talking about, Todd? I promoted you to co-weatherman with Stan just an hour ago,” the boss replied as perfunctorily as he could.
Todd raised his hand in protest. He replied, “No, no, my dear superior. Stan has overcome me, square and fair. He has beaten me at my own game. He is a man to be admired, through and through. Few understand the beauty and the grace of the weather as he does.” He began to walk away to the hallway. “It is time that I, too, take my place at this news station. We all must help in the effort to bring news of the weather to those who do not have the fortune to be able to determine the weather for themselves.” He turned back to face his boss and Rutherford, somewhat overcome with emotion by the words he was speaking. “We must remember that the weather, and not us, is the ultimate purpose of our program. We, all of us pitiful, mortal human beings, must work together to ensure that the legacy of the weather rightfully lives on forever not only externally, but in the hearts and minds of those who live on this planet.” He turned around again, and as he started to walk down the hallway, cried out, “Onward to our sacred duty! Onward to report the weather!”
After he left, the secretary looked over her glasses at the other two men. “I guess he likes his job?”
Rutherford glanced at the boss. “Well, you see, he’s actually been…”
“He’s getting his job back, Rutherford,” said the boss. “I think he and Stan would make a good team.” He gestured to the hallway. “Come on, let’s get this show on the road.”
Nodding, Rutherford joined the boss at his side. Together, they walked off down the hallway to carry on the noble task of interpreting that timeless mystery, the weather.