That afternoon I found myself back in the company of the lovely Millie Williams, who was exuding her usual warmth and good cheer, taking the typing test I had dodged earlier in the week.
I guess I wasn’t ready to accept my fate quite yet.
The computer that was administering the test rattled and coughed like an air conditioner on its last legs. My fingers moved reluctantly over a keyboard that was covered with a thin film of grease, the spaces between its keys filled with crumbs of food and vestiges of the shattered dreams of the innumerable men and women who had sat there before me. To my left was a wheezing, balding man, his belly testing the limits of the faded blue business shirt attempting to contain it. He smelled faintly of whisky.
The stations to my right were blessedly empty.
My knuckles protested weakly against the repeated extensions and contractions of my thick fingers but I kept my focus on the lines of words on the screen. My hands felt like there were submerged in honey, they moved so slowly, and a nagging voice in the back of my mind was suggesting that maybe I should type a bit faster if I wanted to break the ten words per minute barrier. My fingers kept hitting two keys at once and sweat began to soak through my shirt.
When the five minute time limit was up I let my hands fall to my lap and frowned. I really thought I could do better than that.
I returned to Millie’s desk and we waited in silence for my results to be calculated and sent to her computer. A computer, by the way, that was remarkably silent and free of grime.
“Oh, this won’t do at all Mr. McDaniel,” she said, shaking her head as her eyes scanned the readout on her monitor.
“Your typing speed is, to be kind, lacking.”
I didn’t think that was being very kind at all. In fact, I was getting the strong impression that Mildred’s bedside manner had gone beyond ‘lacking’ several decades ago and was now hobnobbing with ‘non-existent.’
“What’s the number?” I asked.
“You averaged nineteen words per minute, Mr. McDaniel,” she said, her lip curling upward on one side. My heart fell, taking my face with it. “You are obviously a strong man Mr. McDaniel – perhaps you would be interested in the construction industry? Or would a security firm be more to your liking?”
“One bad score, out of all the tests I did, and you’re dismissing me?” My words came out clipped, my eyes were hard. I could feel my heartbeat increasing, my breathing growing more labored.
“These days, Mr. McDaniel, we require at least fifty words per minute for office workers – you are simply not nearly fast enough. If you care to practice and try the test again at a later date, you are welcome to do so - though I doubt it will help.”
“I’m welcome to do that, am I?” I stood up quickly, hands clenched into fists at my sides, the chair almost toppling over backward behind me. I glared down at that old crone and felt the urge to knock her on her back flow over me. Who gave this woman control over my future? What right did she have? She sat there, blinked up at me, and yawned lazily. She didn't even bother to cover her mouth. Shaking with rage, I hissed, “I hope you rot.”
I spun away, my vision blurred by waves of anger, and marched out of the building. The cool outside air, such a stark contrast to the stale, suffocating air of the interior, calmed my raging sea to more gentle swells and I gulped down lungful after lungful of it. My fellow pedestrians gave me a wide berth as I fought to regain control.
It wasn’t long before anger was replaced by embarrassment. I had behaved like a spoiled child and I knew it – Mildred’s attitude certainly contributed to my reaction but I was the one in charge of my response, so I had to take responsibility for it. I considered going back in to apologize but realized it wouldn’t change anything. That bridge was destroyed; it was time to move on to the next one.
I started walking, letting the rhythm of my body free up the clumps of thoughts littering my head. As they disentangled, question after question floated slowly around, circling each other like wary prize fighters. Could I be a capable coach? Did I want to be one? Would Alex even be interested in having me become his? How much do coaches make, anyway? Could I be in that testosterone filled environment and withstand the temptation to fight again?
The last question stuck with me as I began to cross the Burrard Street Bridge, traffic whizzing by on my right, the rays of the low-hanging sun reflecting off the waters of English Bay far below to my left. Intellectually speaking it was an easy one to answer – of course I could. Fighting again would only endanger my future outside the ring and no prize purse could make up for that.
My gut, my primal instinct, was having more difficultly arriving at an equally clear answer. There was a part of me that still had something to prove inside the ring, that felt like I could still walk away on top instead of in the obscure middle ground.
But the sweet science is a young man’s game and the hands of time were one opponent no one ever defeated. There was simply no getting around that one.
I arrived at Doug & Gary’s half an hour later, the question not fully answered but now accompanied by a new idea – it was only one fight. If I hated coaching, or Alex turned out to be a flop in the ring (not likely but I was grasping at excuses at that point) then I would have to explore other options. If it worked out well for both of us… well, I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.
I found Alex sparring with Mats “The Nightmare” Samuelsson in the near ring; from the looks of things Nightmare was faring little better than Bomber had. I stood outside the ring and waited for them to finish.
“Hello Nate,” Alex said as he stepped between the ropes a few minutes later, his breathing surprisingly steady. It was like he had just gone for a relaxing walk in the park. “How are you today?”
“I’m doing alright,” I told him. A deep breath, released slowly. “Can I interest you in a trip to Victoria next weekend?”