An Unparalleled Offer
by Eloy Fernández Porta
translated by Rachel Price
When you happen to find yourself enjoying a midweek meal alone in a restaurant, doesn't it comfort you to know you could be joined by someone if you wished? The pleasure of a naked lunch, is it not the carefree pleasure of indifference, of not needing a thing? When, during the course of your career, you receive a modest but considerable offer, an offer that merits some contemplation and negligible sacrifice, is it not better to lower the hand and, with a lazy motion, let it drop? You read this and know well I'm trying to sell you something; you don't yet know what, but undeniably something demands your appraisal: how much better to refuse, to withhold, indeed to ignore the sovereign gesture! It concerns just this, my friend (I still don't know you): the not doing and not realizing, this triple NO, the more pleasurable still if you don't think of it-which is what I, right now, wish to offer you. You have a home, you enjoy affection, respect, the YES with which life has embraced you; all very fine things no one intends to change. Understand that for the NO we've found an adequate material form, a form that would be tangible if you noticed it. But you won't. And you'll do well not to.
For what I offer doesn't demand your attention, won't make you speak of your virtues, and you won't recommend it to your friends. It would be pointless if you did. If you were to do so, and you won't, you'd have to introduce a new twist as you chatted with your friends; they know you, and they'd situate this new development within the map of your interests. They would come to value your criteria, perhaps a bit more or slightly less; they would ask questions, they might call to clarify details or settle accounts. Your friends pay you heed, and you, my friend (I don't know who you are) would rise to the occasion, or not; with your advice, perhaps he would do your friend a favor; on his insistence, one of them would take note of a previously overlooked attribute of yours. Evaluations, considerations, correspondences: in short, friends. A friend who didn't pay you attention wouldn't be a friend. He'd be on the outs. As would be (remember, friend, that none of this will come to pass) a friend who paid excessive attention to your latest idea, who dwelled with too much energy and deliberation on an essentially pointless comment of yours, practically a NO in the conversation. A friend who cultivated a careful, pointed interest in you; intense without being flattering, excessive but not meek. You couldn't respond in kind: the ante would be too high, and you wouldn't offer to see it. No one would. A friend like this hasn't been-hasn't, himself-understood. We offer him to you. Our new form of NO doesn't keep company with escort girls or with the semi-professionals you might hire to attend a party (these women don't know you.) You know such situations, no matter how infused with tolerance and empathy, are always overrun with nothingness; an operatic nothingness, one might say. In contrast, our friend (the one we offer you) displays an exceptional lack of sycophancy. His interest in you, in what you say routinely and in what you invent in the spur of the moment, is constant and honest: you don't request this honesty, haven't demanded this constancy, and the ways in which you may enjoy the excess vary. Beyond being your friend, he has a job of some manual nature, dignified and secure, only a few notches below the post you occupy. He hasn't any possibilities for advancement, save those you provide him; in that instance, he may rise moderately, in such a way as to never quite reach the level you've attained. He's neither a buffoon nor a courtesan; in truth, his virtues are considerable, and would perhaps even merit some attention were it not for a certain obstinacy, a stubbornness about his insignificant opinions. It's safe to say that this excessive interest, this boundless generosity will awaken your refined taste for passivity. An old friend and member of a group this other shall never be a part of will feel a vague curiosity about his goings-on; another will recognize in the new friend's work an image he himself cultivated in his youth, and will make pointed jokes to that effect; always there will be a third who won't speak to him. Occasionally the friend will give rise to fleeting conversations less about him per se than about a certain type or set of types more generally. Not wholly aggressive, these marginal conversations will strengthen the group-not so much through exclusion or via the collective denigration of a common enemy, but rather in using the discussion of a single person as a meandering means to more quotidian observations.
The friend's position will always be that of the would-be suitor ready to ingratiate himself through initiation rites others have been spared and which, in the end, bring him no closer to the bosom of the group. The friend's phone calls and emails reveal an uncanny sense of timing beyond the merely habitual-he doesn't make a predictable weekly call, for example, but adapts to your own emotional cycles, demanding attention when others don't or choosing the right moment to appear insistent. You, who will call him but rarely, will find it almost pleasant to describe his persistence; your superiors will note the desire issuing towards you in a constant, diaphanous flow, while your female friends will detect in you the kind of man greeted with deference by elegant and vaguely brilliant individuals-the indigent artist perhaps, or the mobster who values your friendship as an escape from his own lifestyle. With your wife, the friend will be considerate in a way that relieves her of the clumsy intimacy of your other friends. You will almost never have to call him, as we've already said. And after all, what is (basically) one moment of concerned attention in exchange for a sea of availability? You'll obtain from his sporadic calls an unparalleled satisfaction in the form of obsequiousness, queries, wise reflections on and fresh reminders of your own success. At times you'll think that he knows you better than your closest kin; you'll feel safe, then, protected by this risk-free intimacy. If neglecting the friend affords the giddy satisfaction of an emotional wealth squandered rashly, so much more rewarding will be his lean moments. Indeed, this will prove the most stimulating element of it all: the extent to which the friend's veiled suggestions, his timid demands for an attention symmetrical to that which he provides, take on the dimensions of a small crisis. If you love drama, you'll enjoy witnessing the patent, pitiful, collapse of an upright man; if you are, by chance, moralistic, you'll amuse yourself proffering some lame excuse, fully aware that it will break him; if you're strategic, you'll excuse your behavior by chalking it up to worries and distractions the friend will then hurry to alleviate; you may at one point suggest to him an ideal mate, and his proud refusal will serve you in obtaining your own goals. Herein open the game's infinite possibilities.
Enjoying the friend we offer is no fantasy: it is, rather, social life at its purest. In contrast with more orgasmic, radical and ephemeral pleasures, this is the pleasure of neglect, that much more valuable for your merely dim awareness of it. Understand, dear friend, that in order to call attention to this magnificent NO, regulator of emotional life and inexhaustible source of stability (and private store of primal passions), we have spoken to you of a figure whose principal strength is his subservience, and we offer for your consideration that which can only be enjoyed in its rejection. This paradox, friend, is our guarantee of authenticity, and serves to indicate (as you've already seen) that which must never be done with our product: pay it attention. This is why our notice appeals not to your belief, but to your experience: you'll know how to forget the friend, as you'll know how to propel him into the limbo of the unreturned phone call, his own calls to you filled with words of unwavering loyalty, a language of friendship that will strike you (should you care to think of it) as a lone raccoon's yelp in the darkness. Only one thing must be avoided (perhaps, indeed, you ought take note of this): should you at any point, overwhelmed by an emotional crisis or by daily exhaustion, in a moment of weakness or finding yourself alone, feel tempted to run to the friend and treat him with the trust and mutual dependence you've never accorded him, he'll stare at you blankly as he would a tree in the night, for but a fleeting moment, and then (this is the truth of the NO: the truth of the advertisement, if you will, my friend) he'll disappear.