[FYI: I know it’s Mean Week, but here’s something not mean. Bryan Charles’s memoir will be published by Open City Books in November. New York folks, Charles reads with Ed Park at the KGB Bar on Wednesday, 10/27. – JT]
Part of me dug this wild new scene. I liked getting up early, putting on a shirt and tie, taking a crowded 4/5 downtown. I liked walking down Wall Street in the cool city mornings in the rush-hour crowd, past the Stock Exchange and Federal Hall. I liked stopping for coffee at Biankee’s deli and sipping it at my desk in the still-quiet office as I flipped through the Journal. I liked roaming the streets on my lunch hour staring at the frenzied men and women in suits, knowing I’d pass for one of them if they glanced my way, which they never did.
Part of me dug this. But another part—barely a ripple then—feared this job was a trap that would overtake me completely.
I began to sweat heavily. It would start on the subway in the morning, a little underarm pinprick, a trickle. By the time I reached my desk sweat would be dripping down my sides and would have soaked through my T-shirt. I’d go into a stall in the men’s room and wipe my armpits with paper towels. This solved the problem for three or four minutes. Finally I started folding paper towels and leaving them bunched under my arms at all times. But even that didn’t stem the flow. I’d sit at my desk with my arms out and locked in strange uncomfortable positions to avoid staining my dress shirts. This would cause the damp towels to fall out and get lodged at my waist.
I went to Century 21 and bought several packs of new T-shirts. Every day I brought one or two to work with me in a laptop carrying case. I’d stop at various restrooms on my lunchtime walks—the Ranch 1 on Water Street was my favorite. I’d change into a new T-shirt and stuff the soiled one in my bag. Depending on the day I might need to change again in the afternoon. I used the restroom of the Au Bon Pain in the building lobby for this purpose. Before long all my T-shirts had huge yellow-brown stains under the arms and coffee-colored drip marks on the sides.
I researched the issue.
Excessive sweating was known medically as hyperhidrosis. Several heavy-duty antiperspirants were available, including one so badass it required a prescription. These were applied at night and worked by shrinking the pores under your arms as you slept. Another option was surgery. They could burn off a nerve in your spinal column somewhere, thereby shutting down the brain signal that triggered underarm sweat. The problem was a side effect called compensatory sweating, which meant you’d just start sweating more elsewhere—your ass, for instance.
I debated which was worse—wet pits or wet ass.
I would never have had elective nerve surgery but bone-dry pits and wet ass sounded like an absolute dream.
In the Monday morning status meetings I took useless notes and stared secretly at Samantha. She sat two cubicles down from me. We’d talked a few times. She was dating a rich creep who sent her roses at work with little cards that said things like You’re beautiful. He was funding a start-up at the moment, a magazine devoted to celebrity pets.
—Celebrity pets? I said. —Interesting.
She laughed. —Is it? The first cover is Renee Zellweger’s dog.
—I’ll be on the lookout for that.
—I’m sure you will. Can I ask you something?
—What do you do every day at lunch?
—What do I do?
—Yeah. You leave with that bag. What’s in there, a computer? What do you do, go somewhere and write?
—I just . . . I go and take care of things.
—Yeah? What things? Are you writing a novel?
I walked to my desk and sat for a minute. Then I stood and went to the men’s room. I walked behind the cubicles so Samantha wouldn’t see me. I wiped out my armpits and put some new paper towels up there. I sat on the toilet collecting my thoughts.