Sorcerer’s Apprentice

imagesI was shown forbidden magic. I was in my junior year of college. Had a job at a video game center on campus and a girlfriend. I was too cool clearly to live on campus anymore. I’d had one roommate with an addiction to pornography and another with a commitment to never taking a bath. My one decent roommate had graduated. That’s how I ended up moving into an off campus apartment with a wizard who appeared in the form of a defrocked 28-year-old high school science teacher named David.

Have you ever met someone for whom everything comes too easily? Women were mesmerized by him. He had a cool can-do confidence about him. What he lacked in moral fiber he made up for with a puckish grin that suggested he meant no actual harm and was only serving his own hedonistic gods. He wasn’t exactly evil. Just squarely centered in the middle of his own universe and uniquely fortified with tricks, schemes and good looks to get what he wanted in life with little to no actual effort. The modern equivalent might be Vince Vaughn in the movie “Swingers.” Or Vince Vaughn in “Wedding Crashers.” Sean Connery in the early James Bond films. Or George Clooney and John Mayer as themselves in real life.

David went into bars with a little sleight-of-hand magic and a lot of confidence. He came out with pretty young women ten years younger than him who happily joined him for a night of debauched fun in his bedroom. He was thoughtful enough to put a sock on his door so he wouldn’t be interrupted during the festivities. What a gentleman! He was son-of-a-bitch enough to put his used condom on my doorknob. I never thought it was all that amusing, but he got a great kick out of doing this. The underlying message was something like, hey, instead of going out with your girlfriend you should have gone to the bar with me.

I would curse and pound on his door a bit each time I got a used condom on my doorknob. He would yell as if genuinely offended, “Hey, can’t you see the sock on my doorknob!” Then there was some smirking laughter, his amused chortle with some light female laughter sprinkled in.

I was not about to break up with my girlfriend to be his full-time wing man. My girlfriend Stephanie worked at a Domino’s Pizza and a movie theater. I got free pizza and free movies as a bonus for going out with her. Why would I ever dump her? When she complained she was getting tired of working both jobs and going to school, I urged her to reconsider. “You just like the free pizza and movies,” she pointed out. She had seen right through me, of course.

I was self-centered, but I still had some moral codes. David worked hard on breaking them down. I wandered outside to see what he was up to once and found him underneath his car, taking apart the wheel and everything surrounding it. “Can you hand me a wrench?” he asked. I did. He kept pulling things out. Car parts littered the lawn that neither of us cared to mow.

“What are we doing?” I asked. I imagined something was broken. This was not the case. “We’re recalibrating my car’s speedometer,” David replied. “How did your car’s speedometer go bad?” I asked. “It’s not bad,” he replied. “It’s too accurate. I need it to be off by about ten miles an hour when I take it to a mechanic. That way he can certify the speedometer would read ten miles slower to anyone exceeding the speed limit by ten miles or so.”

The person who would be exceeding the speed limit was David. He’d gotten the ticket a few days back. As usual, he had a plan that fixed his problems without regard to any messy moral qualms most humans suffer. “Have you ever taken apart a car like this before?” I asked. “No,” he said casually. “But how hard can it be? Mechanics don’t appear especially bright to me.” I just shrugged.

I imagined him putting it all together and then finding one small part. “What do you think this part does, Kevin?” I would have no clue. He would casually throw out the part with the evening trash. The next day his brakes would fail, and he would drive off a cliff. But that didn’t happen. He put it all back together perfectly just as it had been, only now the speedometer read ten miles slower than the actual speed. Of course, he later beat the rap on the speeding ticket with proof from a mechanic of his car’s poor speedometer.

David had a huge fish tank in his bedroom. I saw him in there one day feeding his fish. He was dumping in small goldfish. “Why are you putting those fish in there?” I asked. “Just watch,” he said. His puffer fish quickly caught up one of the unfortunate goldfish and bit it in half. Then the other half was consumed. “Your fish eat other fish?” I asked. This seemed like a bizarre and unnecessarily cruel twist to me. “Why not?” he said. I couldn’t articulate why, but it just seemed wrong to me to own such horrible killing fish and take such pride and joy in their feeding. He liked to do a running commentary of the killing spree, but I quickly tired of that.

David was close to thirty years old. He’d been a science teacher at a local high school in Greensboro, North Carolina. He’d had a serious affair with a student. The affair had been discovered. He lost his job. She moved in with him. They got married on a whim. They got divorced when the thrill ended. I met her. She seemed like a nice enough person. She certainly deserved better than him and seemed to have discovered that for herself after much trial and error.

He had a dark side. Some anger boiling under the surface of a perpetually sunny face. He’d threatened his wife with a knife in her workplace at Chic-Fillet at the mall, convinced she was sleeping with someone else. He’d cut himself with the knife. Police were summoned. She refused to press charges.

I was forever caught between loathing and admiring him. Wanting to be just like him and nothing at all like him. You could be enchanted by him and disgusted by him in the same afternoon. He seemed to have nine lives and no conscience like an alley cat. But he moved through life with an easy convincing grace unburdened by any damage he did.

David eventually moved back into his parent’s home as his funds ran out. I helped him remove all his furniture and pack it away. He’d been living the high life, but he was going to have to figure out the hard way forward. No school wanted to hire him after he’d been fired for such a grievous offense, but he wasn’t worried. Something would come up.

I have no doubt something did. I wonder sometimes what happened to him. Did he ever find the moral compass he never seemed to have when I knew him? Does he have children? What does he teach them about how to behave in the world? Or is he still out there wooing women with magic and feeding fish to other fish.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice