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My Dinner with the Law Offices of Andre, Finkelstein & Farrin

His Adam’s apple looks swollen. It pulsates violently whenever he swallows a dainty bite of his Dungeness crab cake, like his larynx is wrestling it into submission. It looks like he devoured a rodent alive and the Gerbil Jonah is fighting to be expulsed from a Kenneth Cole-clad whale. It’s distractingly large, to the point that I wonder if it was the product of puberty or if some false-chinned doctor in southern California designed it to compensate for a real or perceived virility deficiency. Just this morning I read an article in the paper about a local kinkster who died from injecting silicone into his genitals, so in that context, a reverse chondrolaryngoplasty doesn’t seem all that strange. This train of thought is interrupted by the glare of expectant eyes surrounding me. I must have missed something. 

“Excuse me?” I ask. 

“What is it that you do?” the man with the chinchilla throat asks slowly, as you would to a child or elderly patriarch with hearing issues.     

“Oh.” I say. “I sell heroin.” None of the lawyers at the table bother to pick their jaws up off the restaurant’s oak floorboards. Beatrice kicks me in the calf. I let the haze of discomfort sit just long enough before saying, “I’m kidding guys, I work at a tech start-up.” Their shoulders relax, and Kendra, the most human of Beatrice’s work colleagues, almost chuckles. 

“We’re designing an app. It’s a platform where people who need heroin can meet up with people who have extra heroin they’re looking to sell. Right now we’re calling it Smackster, but the boss wants to bring in a marketing consultant to work on the brand.” Molars are reintroduced to the company of the ground. Beatrice kicks me again, but much harder this time. In response my knee hits the table and the martini glasses do a gyrating club dance I’m not hip enough to know the name of.

“Such a joker,” Beatrice says, through a mouth clenched tight enough to turn the contents of a bratty kid’s Christmas stocking into diamonds. “Raymond is a painter.” This revelation doesn’t relieve anyone. In fact, they seem even more disgusted at the thought of a painter than an opiate-slinging tech bro. At least the latter would have some money to show for his unsavory profession.  

“Do you sell many paintings?” asks one of the men sitting at the table. His name is John, or William, or Bill, or Tom, or Something Like That.  “Well Bob,” I start, “one rarely gets into art to sell paintings. It’s just something you pick up when you can’t get into law school.” I move my leg back in anticipation of Beatrice’s pointed Jimmy Choo pump missile and narrowly avoid another bruise. JohnWillBillBob nods his head vacantly. 

“Raymond is being modest. A few of his works were just recently featured in an exhibit at the SAM.” Beatrice chimes in. The exhibit was more than three years ago, and only one of the paintings sold. The rest sit stacked against the wall of my studio, collecting dust. Beatrice brings up the SAM show, the pinnacle of my career (if you could call the smallest modicum of impact I’ve had on the Seattle art scene a career), every time the inevitable questions about my profession arise in these kinds of settings, because she thinks it validates me and my choices and therefore validates her and hers. The truth is I’ve stopped making choices entirely. 

“What are you working on now?” rings out from one of the meticulously groomed mouths at the table. I think back to my studio, where every day for the last two years I’ve been painting the same portrait of a young flannel-clad Ted Danson, looking over his shoulder while holding a dish towel. There are hundreds of canvasses immortalizing Ted’s mirthful grin in oil and watercolor, but I find the acrylics really capture the sunken quality of his eyes. Some of the paintings are from a very close-up perspective, like of his left ear, and the effect is something easily misinterpreted as “Modern.” It’s a perpetual study with no end product in mind. I suppose it’s supposed to say something about fatalism, but I’ll leave that up the critics who will never see them. 

“Funny you should ask,” I say. “Did you ever watch Cheers?” Beatrice changes the subject before anyone has a chance to respond. They’re going on about briefs and court filings and I sink back inside of myself; hypnotized once again by the rhythmic undulation of the giant Adam’s apple across from me.