I met Antoine on the downtown-6 train. He opened up the conversation by asking me about the book I was reading. He was interested in the lettering on the spine—he said it looked medieval French or something like that. I was reading a hardcover copy of Penn Jillette’s God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist.
I asked Antoine if he had heard of Penn Jillette. But he hadn’t. I mentioned Penn & Teller. He didn’t know the duo either. Antoine was 17 and riding the train in the middle of a school day.
I brought up how Penn was a libertarian and an atheist, and how that’s what a lot of the stories in the book were about. Antoine asked me if I was an atheist. I told him I was.
“I don’t know,” he said, regarding religion and god. “It seems like a lot of bullshit to me.”
I agreed. That’s what it is. I told him that the more he reads and thinks about religion, the clearer the bullshit will become.
Then Antoine asked me what kind of a kid I was when I was his age. And that was a hard question for me to answer, because I never really think about the kid I used to be. Sure, I take nostalgic trips back in my mind, but I’m never the 17-year-old I used to be—how could I be?—I’m always the person I am now. I’m the mind of a 30-year-old man magically transported back in time to a 17-year-old Saint Mary’s high school Student Council President—and I’m banging the entire (female) student body, of course.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I was kind of a jock—I worked out a lot… But I was also an artsy type… I got along with a lot of different people.”
I asked him if he worked out—the whole time conscious of the fact that I was a 30-year-old, bearded dude talking to a handsome 17-year-old kid. It could easily look like some kind of foreplay.
Yeah, he worked out. Antoine was 6’ 2″. The heaviest he had gotten so far was 182 pounds. That’s when he was lifting a lot. But he lost a lot of weight a while back because he had to do “this wilderness survival program.”
“Oh,” I said.
It turns out Antoine really wanted to talk to me about rehab. Hang around an (ex-)addict long enough, and he—no matter how young or old he is—will find a way to tell you how long he’s been clean and/or sober. Whether you ask him about it or not.
It was the afternoon, and Antoine was supposed to be in school. He was heading there now, only four hours late. The handsome kid was fucking up again, but during his fucking-up he had reached out to me. I was happy to be there for him between stops on the subway.
When we reached his stop, we shook hands and exchanged names. I wished him the best, and he left the train car, taller than I’d ever be.
The doors closed. The train started rolling again, and I thought about what had just happened: that little moment of human connection that makes you ask, Who am I? Am I anything like the kid I used to be—whoever that kid was?
I took a moment, then turned back to God No! I couldn’t read the book. Instead I thought about Antoine:
1. He’s taller than me and universally handsome.
2. He was cutting class.
3. He went through a hardcore wilderness survival program.
4. He’s already been in and out of rehab.
5. He had his whole life ahead of him.
Turns out that kid Antoine wasn’t reaching out to me—that motherfucker was just bragging:
“Yeah, Lou, you keep reading that atheist magician’s book. Hope it turns out well for you. I’m gonna go make some high school girls crazy wet—with my existence alone.”
Wherever you are, Antoine…FUCK YOU! (And enjoy your life! Please!)