The American Scholar

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Damon and Coriolanus were two middle-aged white men with busy schedules, but they tried to set up a lunch date once a month. They took turns buying. ¶ About once every five or six outings, Damon would arrive to find Coriolanus already sitting there with a third man, a man younger and more imposing than Damon and Coriolanus, a famous photojournalist with whom Damon and Coriolanus were acquainted.

“I forgot to tell you, I ran into this guy and invited him,” Coriolanus would say. The photojournalist was always on the verge of leaving for somewhere dangerous and exciting early the next morning. His life was urgent.

Damon didn’t mind. He liked how brash the photojournalist was, though the man’s manner made him nervous. Confidence and talent and worldliness unsettled Damon. Plus, he usually had some big, unimportant thing he’d planned to discuss with Coriolanus, always shunted aside by the photojournalist’s seismic appearance. But variety is nice.

This time the photojournalist said, referring to his own presence, “You don’t mind, do you?”

“No, it’s great!” said Damon. “I had a big breakup speech planned for Coriolanus, but we can do that later.”

“You have a secret undercover homosexual relationship,” said the photojournalist.

Well, now he had made Damon’s mild joke sound crass, laced with smirking homophobia. Damon, of course, had not intended this, nor did he tolerate such in his daily dealings. Or maybe the photojournalist had tapped into and revealed the inherent ugliness of Damon’s unconscious attitudes about everything in the universe. Either way, Damon didn’t like it. He supposed he had been passive-aggressively expressing disappointment over not getting to hang outthis wily photojournalist had managed to prod at something painful and unseemly, an undiscovered abscess of intolerance, no doubt.

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