JJ in the 21st Century (1989): The Michelin Man Goes Flat


JJ was wasted and on his way to cover a forum about sexual equality. He laughed and said aloud, “Why yes, ma’am, I do believe everyone should have an equal amount of sex. Keeps people happy. Reduces jealousy.” He was writing a story for the college paper. The forum was called, “Has the Glass Ceiling Cracked?” sponsored by the Northeast Colleges Coalition for Gender Equity (NoCoCoforGenE). He carried a press packet that he had meant to read before he was overtaken by liquid lunch and darts at the bar with Dominic. It was Tuesday afternoon.

JJ was happy, detached, insulated by beer and shots. He felt like the Michelin Man, insulated, the world bouncing off him as he beamed with good will. There was a nagging worry about how he might smell at close quarters. But, hey, just keep smiling that Michelin Man smile. Great traction in all weather. Steel belts. Good to go.

The transition from the expansive and sunny outdoors to the auditorium lobby was alarming. No good for the Michelin Man in here. Instantly, he felt crowded and corralled, too bulky. NoCoCoforGenE sparked a lot of interest, seemingly. There were many people, mostly women, and the vibe was earnest and eager. A famous Author was on the panel and that was the “She” to which many of the women milling in the lobby referred. He slunk to the periphery, allowing the crowd to move him aside, rejecting him as a virus in this host body. He ended up on the side of the roped area where the Author was signing books, pushed almost behind the table by the crush in front. A banner with her book title, The Goddess in the Workplace, fluttered against his back.   He tried to lean on it and almost fell, nothing solid behind. This was much too serious. Time to bail.

Then he saw Lila at the front of the line, talking to the Author. Actually, he heard her first. Some vague memory about Lila’s plans crept in. An event. With other women. Did he want to come? No. But here he was, on official business, with a press pass. Somewhere, under the churning gray sea in his head, beneath the white noise of the surf, a sober voice, the voice of reason, told him to turn away and leave before…

“Hey there,” JJ said, approaching the Author from behind. “I’m Jason from the Daily Campus.” The Author turned and there was a little panic in her eyes. But JJ was looking at Lila, smiling. He put his hand on the Author’s shoulder. “How you doin’? Can you answer a question?”

A person with a walkie-talkie and yellow “Event Staff” vest stepped over. “Sir, you’ll have to move into the line.”

“I’m not here to get my book signed. She is though.” JJ pointed to Lila. “Sign her book but answer my question. I need a quote for the paper, otherwise I’m fucked.”

“OK, that’s enough,” the guard said. Into his walkie-talkie he said, “Help needed at the book signing. There’s an intoxicated male.” The Author stood and managed to back away. “Hey” and “Who’s that guy” and “Attacking her” distinct from the rising noise of concern from the crowd of women.

“Just one question,” JJ shouted. “Do you hate men?”

The crowd quieted a bit. This was really the only question to ask after all and JJ beamed triumphantly. This was balls-out journalism!

“No,” the Author said. “But I strongly dislike drunken buffoonery.”

Everyone laughed and the momentary tension blew away. The smell! The smell of liquor had given him away! He looked toward Lila but she had turned away, fleeing without the signature, and now he stood deflated and floppy. “I don’t think I’ll be using that quote,” he muttered. Hands grasped both his arms and he allowed himself to be led to the exit.