“It's very simple. If it jiggles, it's fat.”
— Arnold Schwarzenegger (1947– )
Adam Stewart McCall was born anxious. He was also born handsome.
As a young boy Adam was perhaps cute rather than handsome, but from the moment of his birth he was a good-looking human. As a result, from the youngest age Adam was always treated as something special; he was preternaturally the golden child.
The circumstances of Adam's conception and birth were somewhat unconventional. His father, Bernard McCall—a brilliant young scientist in the field of artificial intelligence—was undertaking his post-graduate research degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology near Boston when Adam was conceived. Bernard himself had been born and raised in Scotland, and had moved to America at the age of eighteen to attend MIT on a scholarship. As both of Bernard’s parents were deceased by this time, and he was an only child, Bernard had no ties to his birth country, and America was his adopted home.
Adam’s mother, Zoe Parker—a brash, loud, but also charismatic, soon-to-be actress—had cornered Bernard at MIT, seduced him, fallen pregnant, then a year later left their infant son to be raised solely in Bernard’s care. Zoe was from a well-to-do Boston family whom she despised. Zoe’s life goals were to be famous, to have as many extreme life experiences as she could possibly orchestrate, and to make her family suffer. Within her lifetime Zoe succeeded admirably on all three counts. Why Zoe had given Adam permanently into Bernard’s care was never entirely clear to Bernard—nor, in truth, was it entirely clear to Zoe either—but Zoe was sure that she couldn’t raise Adam herself; she had far too many other important things to do with her life.
Throughout the years following Adam’s birth, Bernard had found it easier to tell those who were curious about it that Adam’s mother had died in childbirth, rather than re-hashing over and over the painful truth that Zoe had abandoned them. As a consequence, Adam grew up believing that his mother was actually dead. Bernard—who’d never been very good at initiating difficult conversations, especially ones that involved actual emotion—was yet to find the right moment to tell Adam the truth about his mother’s identity.
It was in late 1998, when Adam was just six months old, that Bernard had accepted a too-good-to-refuse job offer from Ken Abercrombie and Abercrombie Industries—the world’s leading private artificial intelligence research company—and he and Adam had moved from Cambridge to Poughkeepsie in upstate New Eden. The generous salary package that came with Bernard’s new position included the services of a full-time, live-in housekeeper, Joelle Drinkwater, and Joelle had ably taken over the role of mother for Adam for the next four years.
Joelle, who was in her late fifties when she took the position with Bernard and Adam, had already raised four children of her own. The youngest, Harriet, was now 21, and she’d recently started cohabitating with her boyfriend in nearby Newburgh, leaving Joelle with an empty nest. Joelle’s late husband—and father of at least two of her children—Bernie Drinkwater, had spent much of the ‘80s in prison after being found guilty of aggravated assault and manslaughter. Soon after being paroled in 1992, Bernie had been shot dead by a security guard whilst attempting to burgle a jewelry store, leaving Joelle to permanently fend for herself and her brood on her own. Joelle was strong, capable, loyal, and generous; when it came to family, nothing was ever too much trouble for Joelle Drinkwater.
Adam’s relationship with Joelle quickly became a loving one. While Bernard clearly adored his son, his greater devotion to his work meant that the two did not spend a lot of one-on-one time together in the early years. Each day—come rain, hail, or shine—Joelle would wheel Adam in his pram (later they would walk together) to the nearby Poughkeepsie Mall where they would spend hours sitting in Joelle’s favorite coffee shop, The Big Cup. Joelle would drink bottomless cups of black coffee and smoke roll-your-own cigarettes; Adam would munch his way through a procession of apples, carrots, celery sticks, grapes, or anything else that Joelle proclaimed to be good for his health and growing bones.
Joelle’s main joy in life—apart from rearing children—was gossiping with her many friends and acquaintances who would come by The Big Cup each day to see her. She loved showing off Adam, the golden child, and everyone would swoon exuberantly over him.
In 1983, Joelle had become a minor celebrity in Poughkeepsie after being a big winner on The Price Is Right.Joelle continued to leverage her minor TV fame until her death in 2003 from atypical pneumonia; contracted after inhaling infected bird droppings blown into her lungs by The Big Cup’s unhygienic and outdated air conditioning system.
Adam’s anxiety as a young child manifested mostly in his ardent disinterest in sleep. Even Joelle, who had decades of experience under her belt of easing little humans off into the Land of Nod, failed to be able to do so consistently with Adam. Every night Bernard would come to check on Adam before retiring for the night—usually well after midnight—and Adam would invariably be lying on his back staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars, moons, and comets that Joelle had affixed to the ceiling above his crib. Adam’s insomnia was generally a quiet affair; he rarely cried or complained. Joelle used to say, however, that she could hear Adam thinking from across the room.
By the time he turned three, Adam's nervousness had resulted in him developing the habit of double and triple checking things—light switches, toilet seats, buttons, trouser zippers, door locks, fire extinguishers—just to be sure that everything was in order.
If Joelle was vacuuming, Adam would follow behind her making sure she didn’t vacuum up anything important, or knock over anything fragile; if Bernard was drinking hot tea, Adam would push his cup away from the edge of the desk and put a coaster under it; if Joelle was smoking a cigarette under the London plane tree in the back yard, when she finished Adam would take the garden hose and douse the smoldering butt to make sure it didn’t start a fire; if Bernard was going on a road trip, Adam would check that the car tires were properly inflated and in good condition, and that all the car lights were in proper working order. Adam just didn’t like to take risks when it came to safety, his own or other people’s.
By the time he was four, Adam had clearly taken over the role of ‘adult’ in the small McCall family. It was Bernard’s incompetence when it came to practical matters in the world that was the main factor behind Adam’s dawning realization that his father was actually not trust-worthy. Both Bernard and Adam vividly recall the moment this transition occurred.
The year was 2002. Bernard’s big product launch with Abercrombie Industries—Augmented Intelligence Plus (AI+) ©—had taken place the previous year. The launch had been accompanied by a significant flurry of activity and angst on Bernard’s part; Adam had never seen his father so nervous as the day he’d put on his best suit and tie, and had taken off to New Eden City to face the press with Ken Abercrombie. That’d been in March of 2001.
Just a few months later, of course, the whole world had stopped to watch in horror as the World Trade Center towers had come crashing to the ground, and the threat of terror had come a step closer to home for all Americans; both Bernard and Adam’s background anxiety levels had climbed a couple of notches higher that day.
At only four years of age, Adam wasn’t yet old enough to be Bernard’s confidante with respect to his work or his general dis-ease with life, and no one in Poughkeepsie or at Abercrombie Industries seemed to have stepped into that role either—Bernard didn’t have any friends that Adam knew of—so Bernard tended to keep all of his worries tightly bottled up inside himself.
It was in the evening of the first anniversary of the terror attacks in New Eden, with media coverage of the event at extreme levels, that Bernard had received a troubling phone call. As he hung up the phone Adam noticed that Bernard looked pale, like he’d seen a ghost.
“What’s the matter dad?” Adam asked, concerned.
“Just a little bit of bad news, son. Nothing for you to worry about. Why don’t you go and watch some more telly, there’s a good lad. I’ll be in the office catching up on some paper work.”
A few hours later, Adam stood in the doorway of Bernard’s office and gazed at his father hunched over his desk, hard at work. Papers were strewn in piles all around him, and Bernard would distractedly scratch his head from time to time, muttering constantly under his breath.
A few more hours later, as was his habit by this time Adam put himself to bed. Joelle was already firmly shut up in her room for the night watching her regular program of police dramas and murder mysteries. Before turning out his own light, Adam stopped by Bernard’s office to check on his father once more. Bernard hadn’t moved from his position hunched over his desk. The only change that Adam could discern during the intervening hours was the exponential growth of the piles of papers that were now scattered not only all over the desk, but were also spread out across most of the floor of the small office. Adam was surprised to see a cigarette burning in an ashtray situated adjacent to Bernard’s right hand; he’d never seen Bernard smoke before, that was Joelle’s domain.
The phone call Bernard had received earlier in the evening had come from Ken Abercrombie himself. Sales of AI+ were continuing to exceed all expectations, despite the small percentage of recipients who were developing adverse psychological issues as a result of their injections. The boosted brain activity that resulted from being exposed to the DNA-modified virus was continuing precisely as planned for the vast majority, but the next big drama associated with the product had just been confirmed. The Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus—and hence AI+—had now developed the ability to be passed directly from human to human by simple droplet spread, and Bernard knew full-well that this was very bad news.
Bernard was mortified, and he was now going over his research with a fine-tooth comb, looking for the possible issue that could have led to this disastrous event. Bernard just couldn’t believe that he’d overlooked something like this in his research; it wasn’t part of his makeup to leave loose ends or make mistakes.
It was in the early hours of the following morning that Adam was awoken by a loud crash coming from the direction of the living room. Adam opened one eye cautiously, then instantly sat bolt upright in bed as the flickering glow he spied out in the hallway alerted him to the fact that there was a serious problem. He coughed violently as the smoke and fumes hovering in the upper reaches of his bedroom entered his lungs, then he jumped off the bed and dropped to his hands and knees on the floor.
It was hot, very hot, but there was no fire in his bedroom at this moment, just smoke; that much was already clear to Adam after his mind quickly assessed the situation. The ominously pulsating orange glow, and the intense roar and occasional crackling and banging sounds out in the hallway, however, evoked intense fear in Adam. His heart was racing in his chest, he felt a gripping in his throat, and his eyes were bulging out of their sockets. Adam’s thoughts immediately went to Bernard and Joelle: They’re in danger, thought Adam. How am I going to make sure they’re safe? What should I do?
Without hesitating long enough to feel afraid, Adam grabbed a blanket from off his bed in case he needed it for smothering flames, and crawled into the hallway. From here he could make out that the rooms to his right—Bernard’s office, the living room, and the kitchen—were on fire, while those to his left—Joelle’s bedroom, the bathroom, and at the end of the hall, Bernard’s bedroom—were not. Adam briefly felt terror and dread start to rise up and grip him by the throat, but he quickly pushed them down, took a deep breath, and started crawling quickly along the corridor to his right.
The heat coming from Bernard’s office was unbearable. The whole room was ablaze; nothing could be alive in there. Adam prayed with all his might that Bernard wasn’t inside. Hugging the right-hand side of the hallway he crawled quickly past and into the living room. Here the room was partially on fire. The curtains and sideboard on the left side of the large room were blazing fiercely, and flames were starting to creep their way across the ceiling. To his great relief, Adam saw Bernard’s feet hanging over the end of the sofa to his right. He hurried forward and found Bernard sound asleep.
Adam shook Bernard’s shoulders roughly, and yelled into his face, “Wake up!! Dad, wake up!!, Please, dad, wake up!!”
Bernard stirred, and started to come around groggily; his conscious state obviously impaired by the poisonous gases circulating through the burning home. Adam shook Bernard another time, then, summoning all his strength, pulled him off the sofa and onto the floor beside him. For a moment father and son stared directly into each other’s eyes at close range. The horror of the situation finally registered in Bernard’s eyes, at which point Adam took charge and yelled into Bernard’s right ear:
“You’ve got to go out through the kitchen, dad. Call 911. I’m going to go back and get Joelle.”
With that, Adam turned and scurried on his hand and knees back down the burning corridor. Bernard cried out, begging Adam to stop, but his voice was drowned out by the roar of the fire, and the crash of something falling heavily to the floor in the adjacent office.
Adam had more trouble rousing Joelle, who was a heavy sleeper at the best of times, but she eventually came around and they climbed to safety through the bedroom window which Adam smashed using Joelle’s pink Himalayan rock salt lamp—her pride and joy, and the only remaining unsold item from her The Price Is Right bounty.
Fire brigade, ambulance, police, and news film crews descended on the blazing home. Adam was proclaimed the hero of the day. As a handsome young female ambulance officer fussed over Adam, placing an oxygen mask on his face and taking his vitals, Adam noticed an unfamiliar—but decidedly pleasant—sense of peace and calm was present inside of him.
In the moment of rescuing Bernard and Joelle, Adam had felt completely calm; he’d felt no fear whatsoever. Now, with mayhem and frenzied activity unfolding all around him, the sense of peace and calm that had gripped him in the intensity of the experience was still with him. This peace and calm—which Adam came to call the quietness—would revisit Adam often throughout his life. Whenever the quietness came Adam was grateful for it, but it wasn’t something he could call up consciously. When present, however, the quietness completely soothed away the fear and anxiety that Adam frequently felt the rest of the time. Fear and anxiety which Adam generally suppressed or denied was present, but which truthfully was an integral part of the usual background of his day-to-day experience.
While the structure of the Poughkeepsie home remained intact after the fire had been extinguished, the interior of the house was gutted, and nothing of value remained. The only personal possessions that Bernard and Adam now owned were the clothes they were wearing, and the few items that Bernard had in an overnight bag in his car.
Joelle was secretly happy to have lost all of her possession in the fire; she liked to clean her life out every so often. Perhaps on some unconscious level she was preparing for her immanent death.
Bernard didn’t hesitate for even a second about what to do next. He strapped Adam into the passenger seat of his second-hand Volkswagen Passat, and they drove through the early hours of the morning to New Eden. Bernard was done with Poughkeepsie. Bernard was done with Ken Abercrombie and Abercrombie Industries. He wanted to be where no one could find him, and he wanted everyone to just leave him alone.
Bernard and Adam moved into the below-street-level ground floor apartment of a tenement building on Eldridge Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Bernard had rented the apartment a few months before following a hunch that the day would soon come when they would have to make a quick exit from Poughkeepsie. Bernard just hadn’t imagined that the need would arise in such dramatic circumstances.
The LES apartment was small and dark after the large sunny house they’d occupied in Poughkeepsie, and with no furniture it felt sad. Adam was glad to be there, however, as he liked the feel and the excitement of the big city. On the first morning after their arrival in New Eden Adam met his future best friend, William Chu, and from that moment onwards he felt like he was home.
William had already turned five when Bernard and Adam moved into the building, so he was a full year older than Adam. Despite this the boys were exactly the same height and build when they met. William, who lived with his mother, Mrs Lola Chu, on the second floor, was so excited to finally have another boy to play with. He informed Adam that they were going to be friends, and that Adam was never allowed to leave. It was the start of a lifelong friendship, and for many years the boys were inseparable.
William and Adam would play on the steps in front of the apartment building whenever Mrs Chu allowed it, and soon the boys were having sleepovers in each other’s apartments. Family lines quickly blurred, and it was expected that wherever William was, Adam would be there too. Adam was pleased to see Bernard opening up a little to Mrs Chu, and even relaxing enough to be able to consider her a friend and confidante.
I was already living on the third floor of the Eldridge Street apartment building when Bernard and Adam arrived, and we all became very close. One day I told Adam that I was a hermaphrodite, and he was excited because he’d never even heard of a hermaphrodite before, let alone met one.
Sometimes it would be Dr Angelo Williams, the neurosurgeon, that Adam would meet on the front steps of the apartment building. Other times it was Angel, the cabaret singer. Adam loved both Angelo and Angel, but secretly he loved Angel more; when he was with Angel he would pretend that I was his mother. This made him feel very happy, and very safe.
Bernard was happy to see his son enjoying their new life in New Eden, and was grateful to Mrs Chu and I for our assistance in caring for Adam.
William and Adam were like two peas—an Asian pea and a Caucasian pea—in a pod. William was the more adventurous of the peas, always pushing the boundaries of parental control. Adam was the willing accomplice pea, occasionally feeling the need to warn William of his safety concerns, but more and more as time went on throwing caution to the wind and diving head-long after his older, braver friend anyway, never wanting to be left behind.
The boys loved to ride their bikes around the neighborhood together; they loved to climb things—trees, fences, buildings, bridges; they loved to explore new places and new neighborhoods; they loved to collect discarded treasures, found on the street or in vacant lots, which they stored in the Eldridge Street apartment building's basement furnace room. Later the boys built a clubhouse out of their treasure trove of wood, steel, wire and tin on the small square of concrete that passed for the apartment building's rear courtyard.
As the years went by, and the boys ground away at their parents’ limitations on their freedom, they were given the go-ahead to range further afield. Riding their bikes to the East River, William and Adam loved to explore this eclectic neighborhood with its riverside parks and outdoor recreational zones, as well as the hidden spaces that existed under FDR Drive and the Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn Bridges. Here the boys became endlessly fascinated by the shanty towns of New Eden City’s homeless population, and they would spend hours spying on the disenfranchised men and women. Initially they weren't brave enough to interact with them directly, but from the very beginning they were unable to take their eyes off the simple, alternative, off-the-grid lifestyles these hobos lived.
As the boys grew into their teens, they developed a complex game which they called Robin Hood. As the name would suggest, the game involved stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. William loved to try his hand at shop-lifting whenever he could; he was very good at it, and rarely got caught. Adam was less inclined to participate in the stealing-from-the-rich half of Robin Hood as his fear of authority kept him from doing so freely, but he was more than willing to distribute the spoils of William’s shoplifting to the homeless by the East River. Anonymous drop-offs would be made in the various shanty towns, and the boys would sit patiently waiting to see the expressions on the faces of the homeless as their gifts were discovered.
What they mostly saw initially was distrust, and sometimes even the most delicious cakes and sweets would be discarded out of deep-seated paranoia. As the years went by, however, and the generous gifts kept arriving without any reprisals, the faces more consistently expressed happiness, joy, and occasionally even gratitude.
As puberty hit, Adam’s testosterone levels rose precipitously and he started to be interested in, and physically attracted to, girls.
Advertising images that were imprinted in Adam’s twelve-year-old mind from magazines and television told him that he was more likely to be attractive to girls if he had a big, strong body. Images of muscular men had fascinated Adam from a very young age, and he now realized why: “That’s what I want to look like;” Adam started working out.
During the boys' treasure hunting tours of the LES, Adam started to keep his eyes peeled for discarded gym equipment—barbells, dumbbells, benches, free-weights—which he stored in their clubhouse. By the time his thirteenth birthday came around he’d collected enough gym equipment for his initial workouts to commence at home. Adam would spend hours poring over discarded Men’s Fitness, Flex, and other bodybuilding magazines to garner tips on how to use his scavenged gym equipment. Within a year, however, Adam realized that he needed more professional instruction, and he started hanging out at the local neighborhood gym, observing in person how other men worked out. The owner of Mike’s Gym noticed Adam hanging around, and offered him a job cleaning, and stacking weights. Adam wouldn’t be paid for the work, but in return he would be allowed to work out at the gym whenever he wanted; Adam jumped at the opportunity.
Adam quickly became addicted to his workouts. He felt enlivened and on a high whenever he was bench-pressing, bicep-curling, seated-rowing, dipping, squatting, or dead-lifting. He loved to be surrounded by other men who were as deeply engrossed in their workouts as he was. Most of all, however, Adam loved to notice—in the many large mirrors that lined the walls of the gym—the changes in his physical body as it quickly grew and filled out. He liked what he was seeing. He liked what he was seeing a lot!!
Adam picked up many important tips about bodybuilding from Mike and the other gym members, but the main tip they all stressed to him, over and over, was about his diet. Working out, he learned, was important, but to achieve any significant gains in muscle mass the most important thing was to put the right fuel, in the right amount, and at the right time, into his body; Adam became obsessed with his diet also.
William was unimpressed with his best friend’s new obsession. It caused the boys friendship to falter, but William found new interests of his own to fill the time that Adam was at the gym, and the boys continued to be close friends through this potentially rocky period.
Adam and William’s love of cycling and climbing transitioned in their later teens to more extreme versions of these pursuits. Mountain biking and abseiling in the northern Appalachian and Catskill mountains became a favorite weekend pursuit for the boys, and they even started camping overnight in the wilderness . . . much to Mrs Chu’s chagrin.
William continued to love pushing boundaries, and experiencing new things at every opportunity; he was fundamentally someone who was easily bored. Adam did enjoy the adrenaline rush he experienced from many of the exhilarating activities that William thrived on, but he found William’s obsession with the new to be exhausting. Eventually he told William to go off by himself to try his new adventures, and to come back and tell him all about them. Adam would then choose to join his friend on the adventure, or leave it to William alone. This new routine worked well, and the boys maintained their friendship into early adulthood, despite diverging differences in interests.
The main factor responsible for the distance that started to develop between William and Adam in their later teens, however, was Adam’s ever-increasing obsession with girls.
Adam was not fond of school. He wasn’t a good student, and he preferred to be outdoors, or doing something physical with his body. Adam didn’t feel the need for the company of his fellow students either; he had his small group of family and friends, and that was enough for him.
Adam struggled through elementary school, and his below average grades reflected his disinterest. It was soon after the move to high school, however, that Adam found a new reason for being at school: girls. Suddenly, there was something that interested him wherever he looked. Adam was particularly fascinated by the more mature girls, who had more developed breasts, and many of whom wore makeup. These girls stirred a carnal desire in Adam, and he started to find his manhood being aroused at every turn.
Adam’s first girlfriend was Stacey Frumar. Both Adam and Stacey were fourteen years old at the time; they were in the same form class at Seward Park High School. Stacey was slightly taller than Adam, and she was mature for her age. Adam loved her voice, which was soft and a little husky, as well as her waist-length golden hair and pale blue eyes, but most of all Adam loved the appearance of Stacey’s already well-rounded breasts.
The two would hold hands in the playground during class breaks, and write notes to each other during class. After a few weeks Adam plucked up the courage to kiss Stacey; his first kiss. Adam was, however, entirely underwhelmed by the experience. He’d been expecting to see stars, or fireworks, or feel something amazing. Instead, he found that Stacey tasted funny—like sour milk—and that her lips were dry and scratchy. It wasn’t something he wanted to repeat, so the brief relationship was abruptly ended.
Just days later, Stacey’s older sister, Gabi—who was almost sixteen—took hold of Adam’s arm as he walked home down Essex Street after school, and ushered him into Seward Park. Without a word, Gabi guided Adam onto a secluded bench, carefully placed her books on the seat beside her, rearranged her hair, then leaned forward with her eyes closed and her lips puckered. Adam wasn’t quite sure what was happening, but he was excited by the sight of Gabi’s breasts, which were large and round, and nicely displayed beneath a tight, pale pink turtleneck sweater.
Without thinking, Adam reached forward with both hands and squeezed Gabi’s breasts firmly. She screamed, startled, and slapped Adam sharply across the cheek. Gabi was only off balance for a moment, however, and the next thing she pounced, kissing Adam deeply and passionately, running her hands over his chest and shoulders, and dragging her long fingernails through his hair.
This time kissing felt amazing. What a relief, thought Adam momentarily as he responded to Gabi’s advances, and she even tastes good.
Adam’s body felt alive, aroused, electrified. For a brief moment his future flashed, fully formed, before his eyes—eyes, lips, brassieres, breasts, panties, lingerie, thighs, buttocks, and vulvas formed a roiling collage of sensual delights in Adam’s inner vision. It was terrifically exciting . . . and completely overwhelming. Terror started to rise in Adam, and he gasped and pulled back from Gabi’s grip. As he examined the flickering pornographic imagery he was seeing in his mind’s eye more closely, Adam realized that the terror he was experiencing actually felt quite pleasurable. In fact, it felt more like excitement than fear or terror.
Fear and excitement, Adam realized in that moment, are the same thing. Wow. Who would have thought?
The next weekend Gabi invited Adam to a house party that one of her girlfriends was hosting. The girl's parents were out of town for the weekend, and there, in the privacy of the parental bedroom, Adam saw the female form fully naked in the flesh for the first time; he was enthralled.
Gabi was experienced, and Adam didn’t need a lot of coaching. By now he possessed a large collection of porno magazines which he felt educated him about the female anatomy quite well, and he’d heard the guys at the gym describing their sexual conquests in great detail. It felt like his whole life had lead up to this moment, and that the point and meaning of his life—he realized with mounting excitement—was to make love to beautiful women. He loved everything about his first sexual encounter, including the intense terror/excitement he felt throughout; he was hooked.
Gabi was uninterested in dating Adam, and she didn’t want to be seen at school or on the street with a fourteen-year-old; she only wanted to have sex with him. The secret affair continued until Gabi moved away to college two years later. There were no tears or sad goodbyes when Gabi left, just a particularly energized final romp in the gymnasium storeroom after school was done on the final day of the school year.
By the time Adam turned sixteen he’d had dozens of girlfriends—he was popular amongst the girls of Seward Park High—but holding hands and kissing occasionally was as far as these other schoolyard liaisons progressed. Adam’s handsome but sweet face, his clean-cut look, and his mischievous brown eyes all worked in his favor. His rapidly developing muscular physique, however, was the thing that proved to be his greatest asset in the dating game. Not all the girls were turned on by his body, but the majority were. Adam also discovered that he could dress to show off his physique to maximal effect; tight blue jeans and a tight white t-shirt became his uniform.
Apart from Gabi Frumar, Adam had only one other regular sexual partner while he was in high school, Amanda Stitt. Adam enjoyed Amanda’s company even before they became involved sexually. She was loud, garrulous, and endlessly entertaining; there was never a dull moment when Amanda was around. In fact, it was Amanda’s scathing comments about Adam’s diminutive intellect that had first attracted his attention:
“Hey McCall. Why are your muscles getting so big? You trying to compensate for the vacuum between your ears, or the disappointment between your legs?”
“No Amanda, it just feels so good. Would you like to feel my pecs and biceps? Here, let me flex them for you.”
“Ewww. yuck!! I couldn’t think of anything more disgusting. But hey, if you come over here I can show you my right hook. I’m itching for a good punch-up; it’s been way too long, and I reckon you could go a few rounds with me. Wadda ya say, McCall?”
And so it went. Amanda putting Adam down; Adam puffing himself up. Both Amanda and Adam were well and truly inebriated when they finally managed to sidestep each other’s bravado and copulate like rabbits. As with Gabi, Amanda wasn’t keen to show any public affection towards Adam, which suited him fine. The intensity and frequency of their carnal couplings, however, rapidly accelerated, and by the time high school was over there wasn’t much left that they hadn’t experimented with sexually together.
Amanda moved to Indiana to attend college; Adam’s grades weren’t good enough for him to be accepted into even the most-lowly tertiary educational facilities, so he stayed on in New Eden, and the two-year affair with Amanda Stitt ended just as abruptly as his two years with Gabi Frumar had done.
Adam had always loved to be naked, even as a little boy. To him it not only felt good, it felt natural. In his early teens, Adam briefly became self-conscious about his body, and for a period he didn't feel comfortable being naked in front of others. As his teenage years progressed, however, and his body became more muscular, Adam would more and more frequently be discovered naked by one of us, and the embarrassment he had temporarily experienced ceased altogether. Eventually everyone at Eldridge Street came to accept that Adam was simply a nudist. He stopped worrying about what other people thought, and gave up on wearing clothes most of the time. When he found a full-length mirror discarded on the street Adam was very excited because for the first time he could examine his fully naked body in detail: which muscle groups looked right and which ones needed more work? How well defined were his muscles, and how much subcutaneous body fat was optimal for enhancing his physique? Adam was obsessed, and he was driven to achieve physical perfection.
The year he turned twenty, Mike convinced Adam that he should compete in his first bodybuilding competition. By this time Adam had attended a number of bodybuilding shows, and he was secretly addicted to the atmosphere he felt when he was at them. He loved seeing both men and women showing off their physical achievements, and strutting and posing to see who was the strongest, and the most aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Adam knew he was going to do well, but his workouts became significantly more energized as the date of the competition approached. He pumped, he dieted, he did extra cardio, he obsessed, he shaved his body, and he painted it with the strange orange pigment that was expected when lining up with one’s fellow competitors in this most bizarre display of physical human attainment at its most extreme. No one was surprised when Adam took out the title for novice bodybuilder in the New Eden Natural Bodybuilding Association competition that year.
Adam couldn't see at the time that it was his ever-present anxiety and fear—that he continued to choose to suppress, or at least not to acknowledge—that was actually the motivating force behind his desire to be big and strong. Fear, the natural response of the body to the threat of injury or death, and essentially the mechanism by which the self-preservation drive of the body achieved its goal, was actually the motivating force behind Adam's workouts and his ever-expanding physique, because if Adam was the biggest and the strongest one around, then he was safe from external threats.
It was on finishing high school, and being at a loose end vocationally, that I convinced Adam he should try his hand as a dancer. At first the idea didn’t sit well with him—it seemed too effeminate—but as soon as Adam arrived at the Chelsea Pier Dance Studio for his first lesson, he realized that it was a great idea. These dance babes are hot, hot, hot, thought Adam. Thank you, Angel O, great idea!!
Adam also discovered that he was a natural dancer. He was so effortlessly present in his physical body—not lost in his mind as most humans tend to be—that it felt like he might have been a dancer in a former life. Adam quickly learned all the dance styles that were on offer at Chelsea Pier, but he really found his groove when he was introduced to hip-hop. His principal dance instructor, Alice Hensman, wanted Adam to focus on ballet—she desperately wanted his strength for the difficult lifts—and Adam was happy to indulge her, but it was when he danced hip-hop that he really came alive.
Having connected with his innate capacity to dance, Adam discovered that the streets of lower Manhattan were full of opportunities to dance the street style that he now so loved. Adam found his African-American brothers and sisters gathered in parks and vacant lots, boombox on hand, showing off their moves. He learned a lot from these gatherings, and his own natural talent and creativity earned him respect.
It was at a dance class at Chelsea Pier that Adam spied the first true love of his life. Odette Novak was a superb dancer; her forte was ballet, but she was also mesmerizing to watch dance contemporary and lyric styles.
Odette was tall for a dancer, extraordinarily slender, and extremely fragile—more like a flamingo than a swan. She wore her long, dark hair pulled back into a tight bun, which accentuated her angular eastern European facial features. Her dark eyes were always heavily veiled in mascara, and she was rarely seen in public without a slash of blood-red lipstick on her lips; Adam was smitten.
Odette had just turned 21 when Adam first introduced himself to her. She smiled faintly, and excused herself without shaking the hand he offered. The following week Adam was better prepared, and he offered Odette a bottle of water and towel as she came off the floor after a strenuous dance session. This time she smiled more fully, accepted the gifts, but quickly averted her eyes. Odette was talented and beautiful, but she was also extremely shy. Because of her incredible poise and confidence on the dance floor, most people didn’t recognize how awkward Odette was out in the real world.
Adam continued to chip away at Odette’s cool façade, and a month later she agreed to join him for coffee after dance class. It was here that Adam had a chance to find out more about Odette and her difficult past. Her parents had emigrated from the Czech Republic when Odette and her brother were very young. While her father had managed to find work in America as a laborer, the low pay meant that the family had struggled to make ends meet. Then, her mother had died from breast cancer at only 39 years of age. Luckily for Odette her dancing ability had already been spotted by the right people, and she received a full scholarship to study at the prestigious Brooklyn Dance Academy. That was three years ago, and Odette had just graduated. She was now preparing for an audition with the New Eden Ballet—a position she wanted more than life itself.
Adam fell head-over-heels in love with Odette, and gave all of his free time and energy to her. She was so gentle and exquisitely beautiful, yet also so tender and fragile; all he wanted to do was look after and protect her. On some level, Adam also wanted to make love to her, but for the first time in years it wasn’t the only thing that Adam thought about upon meeting a pretty girl.
Adam took Odette out for a special romantic dinner the night she received the confirmation of her position with the New Eden Ballet; she was ecstatically happy. Then, just a week later she received the diagnosis: grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive brain tumor known in humans.
The tumor was too advanced and located too deep in the brain for surgery to even be possible. Radiotherapy shrank the cancer initially, but the effect was short lived. When Odette lost the hair from one side of her head she was devastated, and refused to continue treatment. With her health failing rapidly, Odette declined the chemotherapy that was offered as the last treatment option, and she died just four months after receiving the diagnosis.
Adam was devastated. He couldn’t believe that he’d found and fallen in love with the most perfect women in the world, then she’d been brutally ripped from him, all in the course of less than a year. The place in his heart where he secretly longed for his absent mother felt like the wound had been opened up and stabbed over and over again with a blunt knife; his heart was thoroughly broken.
And so, Adam’s story also arrives at the point in time where all of our stories intersect: July 4th, 2020.
Adam’s been dancing with me at The Garden Cabaret since he discovered his dancing ability a few years ago, and he loves the energy and life of the club. William is also performing at TGC for a few months—not in a dancing role, but as comic relief—while he’s back in New Eden between adventures.
It’s a year and a half since Odette’s death, and Adam has been struggling to stay positive. He’s still working out frenetically—now back in the make-shift backyard gym of his childhood again, given that public gyms have been closed for months due to COVID-19—and his body is looking amazing. His energized workouts, however, are mostly his way to avoid feeling the deep emotional pain that’s been haunting him since Odette’s death. Adam is yet to start dating, or even to have sex, since Odette's passing, but he now feels he’s ready for something new and exciting to come along that will take his mind off his lost love. He’s been trolling Tinder voraciously for the past few weeks, and he can feel the excitement building exponentially now that lockdown restrictions are lifting, and he can actually meet in person the women he’s interested in.
My new show at TGC—The Garden of Eden Spectacular: Part 1—premiers tonight, and the audience gives a rousing standing ovation at the conclusion of the show as the curtain comes down. I’m confident it will be my biggest hit so far. Adam has one of the lead roles, of course, and he is super excited because he gets to be virtually naked on stage for the whole show; he reflects that it’s pretty much the most exciting thing he can imagine doing . . . ever.
Adam, William, Alex Abercrombie and I say good night to the other cast members, and we leave the club together on our way to Bernard's Bookstore . . .