We Move Like We’re Suspended in Amber

He wondered again at the bewildering gullibility of people. How baffling it was that even the most cunning and clever people would frequently see only what they wanted to see, and would rarely look beyond the thinnest of facades. Or they would ignore reality, dismissing it as the facade. And then, when their whole world fell to pieces and they were on their knees slitting their bellies or cutting their throats, or cast out into the freezing world, they would tear their topknots or rend their clothes and bewail their karma, blaming gods or luck or their lords or husbands or vassals—anything or anyone—but never themselves.

“Say what?” My brother looks up from his computer, a Warcraft raid frozen on its monitor. “I didn’t catch that, dude.”

I shift my ass on the living room couch in my brother’s San Clemente apartment. His fiancée clanks some dishes in the kitchen, preparing for her own birthday party.

“Just a quote that jumped out at random. It’s from that book you bought for me.”

“The samurai one?”

“Yep.” I close the novel and put it away before trudging down the hall to the bathroom. It’s time to get pretty before all the beautiful young people show up.

“How are you liking that?”

“Oh, it’s epic, of course.” I switch on the bathroom light and try not to be surprised at what I know will be looking at me in the mirror, but there it is, waiting for me.

“Ugh.” I can’t contain myself. The vision is definitely strange; it looks like I’ve lost fifteen pounds and grown two inches. That can’t be right. I’d hit a plateau of somewhere between 220 and 225, holding steady there for months. I should be looking at a fat man.

“Hey bro?”

“Yeah?” I hear him get up and mosey over.

“Is this, like, some kind of skinny mirror? I know I don’t usually look this good.”

“God, I hope not,” he replies, patting his own belly. “I’d hate to find out I was chubbier than I’d thought.”

“Totally.” I turn around, checking out my own flabby profile. “Dude, I think it is a skinny mirror.”

“Well, don’t tell her that,” he says, jerking his head toward the kitchen. “I don’t think that’s a revelation worth sharing on a day like this.” He claps me on the shoulder with a smirk and leaves to play more video games.

“I see,” I say to my reflection. I give it another grimace before going through the manly beautification rituals a SoCal birthday party demands, but without the usual exuberant vigor, because I sense a deep treachery growing within my soul.

Yeah, I’m not really looking forward to my next doctor’s appointment. My torso jiggles with flab, strange growths are coagulating on my right forearm, my feet are crusted with fungi, and my chronic halitosis is acting up again. I know there will be massive hell to pay—in many corporeal, financial, and shame-ridden guilt-tripping ways—once I finally slouch into some low-rent Kaiser affiliate for my bi-decade physical, but I haven’t even thought about finding a doctor in these wretched days of health care reform.

Going to the dentist for the first time in nine years was bad enough; the ditzy blonde hygenist was shocked at my resting-rate blood pressure, and another office assistant transparently batted her eyes at me while trying to upsell a tooth-whitening session. It was a halfway decent attempt, so I humored her with a polite smile before letting them shoot my mouth full of narcotics and wheel out the hardware. I don’t remember much after that, but it’s not important right now.

Anyway—yeah, it takes a lot to look at my own reflection without involuntary eruptions of self-loathing, but body issues are not the problem. No, I’ve been bald for ten years now (Rogaine manufacturers can go fuck themselves for all the horrible shit they foist on less-confident men), and I bike enough to keep the blood pumping and ward off heart attacks until I’m at least forty. Theoretically.

So as you might imagine, a five-day respite from the SoCal body-nazi ethos was absolutely welcome when it hit. The beautiful people had all hid inside their boxes last week while a relentless shit-rain of precipitation pounded Paradise, letting up just enough for me to drive like a fiend through all of Los Angeles without hitting any traffic, just to get to that party.

And what a scene it is when things get going. Beautiful women of all races stomp around the apartment in ecstatic glee, their boyfriends and husbands smiling smugly and trying to not get too drunk. I end up preternaturally engrossed in conversation with a guy who used to play in a band with me—about the history of his family chemical company—and in between leering at women who aren’t our wives, it occurs to me that this old buddy of mine is an extremely fit man.

“Dude,” I ask him, interrupting his story of gainful employment, “you gotta see this mirror that they have here. It’s, like, a total skinny mirror, you know?”

He agrees and we go check it out, but my old friend is slightly surprised at his reflection.

“Damn, I look gooood,” he purrs, pouting and frugging at his own reflection. “We gotta get the others in to see this shit, yo.”

So we do—packing the tiny bathroom like clowns in a punch-buggy—and inevitably the parade of people have a wide range of opinions about said mirror. It never changes, but everyone sees something different.

“Eww, it makes me have a giraffe neck,” says one girl.

“Like totally,” says her friend. “My arms are so not this long.”

“I kinda like it,” says another guy with a thick surfer-afro. “Makes my hair even more righteous than before, you know?”

“I guess,” says my brother, arriving at the end of the line. “Hey, why is everyone so, like, into this all of a sudden?”

“Come on, bro,” I say, smiling at my own moderately-prettier self, “it’s showing us what we want to see. What’s not to love?”

He shrugs. “You know what the funniest thing is, man? There wasn’t even supposed to be a mirror here. It was, like, originally set up to be a window.”

I look around and, sure enough, the bathroom has no windows.

“Must get pretty rank and steamy, then,” says my old band buddy, elbowing my brother in the gut. They laugh like they’re eleven again, and soon everyone gets bored with the new shiny object and goes back to the party.

Except me. I sit there for hours into the night, gazing into the mirror and only rarely surrendering the bathroom to desperate girls wanting to pee their hangovers away. Eventually everyone goes home, and my hosts crash into bed, but I remain awake, fascinated by the devilishly skinny mirror and its false promises of truth and beauty.

I stay there hoping desperately that it will show me the truth. I stay there a long, long time.