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Stalking the Average Man


I told Kathy that I was one of the few among humanity, Nordic countries aside, who could
correctly pronounce Axelson when they first read it aloud. Spelling it was another wondrous event,
most notably when people transposed it from one document to another. As Robbie had discovered
after only one attempt, there are three syllables in my name, so I became Axe, it stuck, and I didn‘t
mind.
-How did you come to recognize his genius? | she said, -And Kate will do. |
-I didn‘t realize his ramblings were veins of professional gold until an encounter in the
London Press Club. | I sipped my drink, and sat forward to explain that as a part of the introduction
ritual a producer from France‘s O.R.T.F. asked me whom I worked with. Without thinking, I said
-Leblanc | as if his name was De Gaulle. Overhearing me, an Australian television cameraman
passing by with fists full of beer stutter-stepped, expertly tilted the mugs so that only foam
breached the rims, and said, -Fuckin‘-ell–didn‘t =ee go missin‘ in Biafra? Bin sixteen years since
the-bugger-an-me knocked some back. |
-He‘s missing wherever he is, | the CBC bureau chief would have said with affection had
Rob‘s expense reports never required his signature.
-Shoots crackin‘ stuff, though. You with =im? | the cameraman said, motioning a pint my way.
-Ya–John, | I said, mindlessly stretching my arm across the table.
-Tim, | he said, placing a pint in my hand instead of setting it down. -Tell =im the Aussie is at
the Imperial. |
-Will do, but Robbie has a hard time remembering Saturday. |
-No worries, mate. Nam, | he said turning away.
I told Kathy that no one forgets a combat assignment, and that abbreviating locations is not so
much slang as it is an earned turn of phrase, and respected as such. To use it otherwise is, at a
minimum, considered pretentious.
-No matter how hard they live afterwards? | Kathy-is-a-chatty-doll replied.
-There may be some gaps, | I said, failing to appreciate her insight.
I next told Kate-will-do that in the silence acknowledging the slaughter of illusions that
followed the utterance of =Nam‘, we overheard Tim say, -You‘ll never guess =oose in town, | to
which a cohort immediately replied, -Must be LeBlanc if he took me fuckin‘ beer already. |
-Recognition like that, | I said, to the woman who was eyeballing me like a diabetic at a
dessert buffet, -is the highest non-posthumous accolade you can get in this business. I paid
attention to everything he said after that lunch. |
-How did you learn to understand him? | Katerina-or-nothing said, shaking her head.
I explained that R.J. established contexts through historical events and geographical
references, like normal people would use Waterloo to reference a defeat. However, there were
rarely more than three people on the continent who understood his waypoints—all of them
colleagues who were familiar with a particular assignment. Even then, Robbie conjufuckgated so
many disparate elements of his travels that even close friends were often obliged to intuit his
meaning.
-Now that we‘ve shared enough experiences to have evolved our own Waterfuckin‘loos, | I
said, taking a sip of scotch, -there‘s a beautiful irony about translating his reality for local
reporters who consider working with him a trial by fire, while internationally vetted journalists
fight over his time. |
Staring as though I‘d vanish if she took her eyes off me, Katerina asked me why I called him
different names—or was it a quirk of all television crews, she quipped blandly.
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