A special structure built on the upper part of a ship’s main mast. Serves as a high vantage point for lookouts as they continually scan the surrounding waters.
“That was the door, right?”
“Go ahead, then. What’s he look like?”
I loved my mom, but we had our philosophical disagreements. (Mom here referring to the woman who raised me past four and not the bitch-who-must-not-be-named.)
Our biggest debate, which we had off and on from the time I was a little kid until only weeks before she died, revolved around physical appearances.
Her idea was that — barring cases of romantic encounters and other highly specific situations — looks shouldn’t have been a factor in how we judged others. I argued that they should.
She brought up the basic arguments. It was rude, it was mean, it was unfair. People didn’t get choose whether to be attractive or not, and there were no end to the examples she could provide of ugly people who were smart, kind, or generous, and vice versa. A society found on my ideology, she claimed, was doomed to fail. The good could be shunned and the evil rewarded due on a system that refused to look at deeds, only putting value in appearances.
All of that was a mischaracterization of what I really meant, of course. I never said that actions shouldn’t matter, or even that they shouldn’t be the most important factor when judging someone. But looks, I was willing to admit, mattered too.
Faces, bodies, styles. In that fraction of a second after meeting new people, the human brain went ahead and made hundreds of decisions, valuations. So many important questions about who and what a person was, answered without fuss, without words. You could know close to everything about someone. Who was important, who was fit, who was rich, who was real. Easy.
Was it a perfect system? No, but I never claimed that it was. Anyone who relied solely on looks were going to be duped by people like me, who knew how to squeeze themselves into the appropriate boxes for personal gain. But for the most part, generalities worked. I didn’t get why people couldn’t admit that. Everyone already did it subconsciously; to me, it always seemed worse to walk around pretending like it wasn’t happening.
Losing access to those generalities had been among the worst aspects of going blind. In the place of working eyes, I had Led to describe the world for me, but he couldn’t get people right. Not in the way I needed. He would have sided with Mom on the physical appearance argument, which made trying to extract accurate info out of him next to impossible. Knowing how I felt, he constantly sugarcoated the way people looked, ignoring or downplaying physical flaws whenever possible. When I started relying on him to describe people for me, the ugly stopped existing. So did the average.
He wasn’t lying to me, per se. He just wasn’t able to be as honest as I was.
I had started to ask him, every few months or so, if I had changed in any noticeable way since being able to see myself. His answer was always no, and despite not having much reason to trust him on it, I did.
My own face was one of the few I could still picture perfectly. Long strawberry blonde hair, sable-colored eyes, an appropriately dainty nose. I wasn’t someone who anyone would think to call hot, but I was cute, and extremely so. It worked, for my purposes. Hallie Nordhoff, Whirtuoso, Melly Williams, short and blonde and skinny and crippled and blind as a bat, sitting and smiling and playing, all for you. Save her. Send her money.
Thinking about it made me wonder why we’d waited so long to try and go public with it. In my strongest form, I was a sympathy-generating machine.
Even Led, knowing me for me, still couldn’t help but buy into it. That was more him than me, though. It was his personality. He couldn’t help but want to take responsibility for problems that weren’t his, to play the humble hero, the caretaker. He’d deny it if accused, but deep down, he loved the feeling of people relying on him. Me included.
Kind of fucked up, when you drilled down to it. And it cost us a lot of money, the shit he thought was his fault. But I couldn’t pretend like some equally fucked up part of me didn’t enjoy it. There was something disturbingly attractive about that specific brand of misguided sincerity. It never went so far as to feel demeaning, which probably helped.
There was one average-looking person in the world Led painted for me, himself. Which was an absolute crock of shit. I looked good, but Led looked good. Confidence issues and personal traumas aside, he was a supermodel. Tanned and tall, with about as much muscle as you could stuff onto a guy before it started to get unappealing. Dark brown eyes, short curly hair, the works.
The shoulders, fuck. It was ridiculous. He was a professional sound-mixer with an American history fetish. He had no business, strutting around with those.
And I didn’t mind if he wanted to stay humble about it. I knew what he looked like. But when he was describing other people… lord. It was like listening to a tale told by a lying, incompetent storyteller.
Three seconds after Tup had tumbled out of the bathroom and greeted us, he grabbed his stomach and ran back in, cheerfully muttering something about having eaten too many boiled peanuts. He sounded young, but that wasn’t enough for me.
With Nate also having left us, I asked Led again, wanting to know what Tup looked like.
“C’mon. Go. He’ll be out again, soon enough.”
“Thinking about what? Just do it. Think later.”
“…Smaller guy, five-foot six, maybe a little less. Middle-Eastern. Twenty to twenty-four, business casual. Face looks normal, nose might be a teency big. His hair…”
He trailed off. I gave him a few seconds before pushing.
“What about it? Bald?”
“That’s what I was thinking about, how to say it. But I don’t think I saw it right. I only got that quick glimpse, and it’s so… I don’t know. I missaw.”
“Every time you feel like you have to double-check something, your first guess always ends up being right. Just say it.”
“…Um. Okay, look. I’m tired, so if this is wrong-”
“Fine, fine. Okay. It’s a black bowl cut.”
“…How hard was that?”
“No, that’s not all. So, it’s a black bowl cut, but in the middle, there’s a medium-sized, perfectly circular bald spot. I’m ninety-nine percent sure that it’s not natural, it’s too small and too centralized, and the rest of it, hairline included, is super thick. And in the middle of the little intentionally-created lake of baldness, there’s one leftover patch of hair, an island inside the lake. But it’s not a patch. It’s a cube.”
“A cube. He has a cube of hair, like, a miniature, raised, three-dimensional cube of hair, about the size of a Rubik’s Cube, sitting inside of a fake bald spot, all surrounded by the sides of a long black bowl cut.”
“You’re… fucking with me?”
Led’s typical idea of a joke was a bad history pun. He was definitely not fucking with me, but tiredness combined with the sheer implausibility of what he was describing made it difficult for me to accept that.
“I’m not. I… know this guy, thinking back. He’s… yeah, yeah, I remember. I was scrolling through whatever streaming service a while ago looking for a documentary, and it showed a still of him, from a comedy special. He had a few of them, I think.”
Led and I weren’t too up on the lives of celebrities who weren’t us. Between video production and all the secret traveling to play for old rich douchebags, we didn’t manage to secure much free time for ourselves. What we did get was split between our hobbies and the occasional boring visit to a statue of a dead dog; neither of us had much interest in wasting more of it keeping up with pop culture or the news. We were fairly insulated from the world, in that sense.
“Were they good? Is he funny?”
“I didn’t watch it, beyond looking at the picture for a few seconds. Again, because of the hair. But…”
He was interrupted by his own yawning.
“…But, if he’s here… I figure he’d have to be pretty good. Or famous, at least. Probably really, really famous.”
A muffled shout came from the direction I’d heard Tup go towards.
“I’m good, I promise!”
He could hear us?
“I thought the door was closed,” I whisper-hissed.
“It’s a thin door, guys! Here, just a sec!”
A few seconds later, I heard a toilet flushing, followed by running water. He opened the door soon after, footsteps stopping directly in front of where we were sitting.
“Sorry about that. I stopped at a gas station on the way here and got this giant can of boiled peanuts. Delicious, but not the most agreeable to my stomach, you know?”
Neither of us said anything. After he took a second to realize that we were on separate sleeping schedules, he lowered his voice.
“…Sorry if I freaked you out with that. Got my ears modded last year and I still can’t help but use it to eavesdrop. You pay that much for something, it’s tough to resist wanting to play around with it.”
“Didn’t realize ear mods were on the market yet,” said Led.
Eye mods weren’t, as I’d come to accept. Fifteen years, according to the most stupidly optimistic estimates, before science could reliably scoop my eyeballs out and replace them with metal whatever-the-fucks.
I heard Tup sit down.
“They’re not. It’s going to start showing up real soon, I’ve heard. Had to pay a pretty penny for mine. Totally worth it, though.”
“…Were you deaf?”
“Me? Nah. I mean, not really. I’ve been going to live comedy shows on a near-daily basis since I was fourteen, and that ended up causing some significant hearing damage over time, but I wasn’t anywhere close to deaf. Just some tinnitus, difficulty in picking apart certain words. But a little after I got big, it got bad enough to where it was going to negatively affect my career. So I was quick to want to shell out for the procedure, when I heard just how effective it was.”
“Tinnitus is ringing, right? That messed you up that bad?”
“No, actually. The other bit. I was having trouble making out what people were saying to me. I’m famous for having most of my sets consist of crowdwork, so that made things tough. Gotta be able to hear what people are saying the first time to avoid timing fuck-ups.”
“Whenever you interact with the audience. I’m sort of special in that I do much more crowdwork than most professional comedians are willing to, which basically became my gimmick. It’s fun stuff. In most artistic mediums, if someone in the audience starts acting like an asshole, you can’t really do anything. But in comedy? If you know what you’re doing, heck, you can wring out an entire set just by emphasizing how much of a prick they are. It’s amazing. To me, that’s the always been the main appeal.”
I heard a cup being picked up, followed by loud crunching.
“Ice,” Led whispered, noticing my surprise at the noise. “He’s chewing ice”.
“Hey, I can still hear you!”
“…So you just pick up on everything, then? I feel like you’d go nuts.”
“Oh, it’s one-hundred percent adjustable. My ears are basically one ultra hearing aid now. I can set it to go anywhere from deaf to human elephant. All from my phone, too. That’s convenience.”
“…I suppose, yeah.”
I yawned. I was content to let Led do all the talking. I was lucky to have not said anything too character-breaking that Tup might’ve heard while listening in on us from the bathroom, and I was content to let him do the work from that point on.
“Jeez, look at me, all hyped up on coffee and boiled peanuts. Rambling on about comedy and my robo-stereocilia before even getting a chance to properly introduce myself. Sorry about that. In the last few years, it’s become really rare for me to meet people that don’t already know me, so I guess I’ve lost some practice on the social basics.”
Another sip, another few ice crunches.
“…Well, as I said, I’m Tup Warre, or TRW, which is how they usually advertise me. I’ve been doing standup since I was fourteen, but I only hit it big in the last four years or so. It’s nice to meet you, for real.”
Led formally introduced us both by name. Tup already must have known who we were, but hearing my name seemed to shake him up, even if he was already expecting it. It wouldn’t have surprised me to find out that he’d spent the conversation staring at me like I was a zoo animal.
I heard him take a long breathe, during which I thought about his initials. TRW had five syllables. From Tup Warre, which had two.
“…I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but I read that article they put out about you. I mean, everyone did, but that was good stuff. You’re both… really cool people, to open up about all that. Hope me saying that doesn’t come off as weird.”
“Not at all,” The Doll said.