I hoped he was joking, but humor comprehension was never my strong suit. I asked, "Did I take measurements that day, or a history?"
Still smiling, he said, "You don't remember me at all, do you?"
I said, "It's coming back to me. Definitely." Studying his nose in profile, I added, "I'm not a plastic surgeon. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Just the opposite! Thanks to you, I'm going to live with this nose of mine and see how it goes. I know a couple of guys who had nose jobsI'm not saying they were done upstairsbut I think they look pretty fake."
I stated for the recordshould anyone more senior be listening"We have some true artists in the department. You could come up and look at the before-and-after photos. They're quite reassuring."
He waved away the whole notion. "I could die on the table, and then what? My obituary would say Died suddenly after no illness whatsoever'? In pursuit of a more handsome face'? How would my old man feel? It's his nose I inherited."
"General anesthesia always carries a risk," I said, "and of course there's always swelling and ecchymoses, but I doubt whether the hospital has ever lost a rhinoplasty patient."
He smiled again. He tapped the back of my hand and said, "You're a serious one, aren't you?"
I confirmed that I was and always would be: a serious infant, a serious child, a serious teenager, a serious student, a serious adult.
"Not the worst quality in a human being," Ray allowed.
I said, "It would help me in all the arenas of my life if I were a touch more gregarious."
"Highly overrated," said Ray Russo. "Any doofus, any deejay or salesman, or waitress, can be gregarious, but they can't do what you do."
It sounded almost logical. He asked if a cup of coffee was enough for dinner. Didn't I want to move to a booth and have a burger? Or to a place where we could share a carafe of wine?
Excerpted from The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman Copyright© 2003 by Elinor Lipman. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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