The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder:
Gear exchange was a chaotic and inefficient and lengthy and primitive process. Over the years there had been several sensible, even elegant, proposals for a more orderly exchange, but each had been ignored. As they did every year after the lottery, the men now roamed hallways with helmets, shoulder pads, and uniforms, searching for the men who required their gear, as well as for the roaming men who had the gear that they required. The cumbersome burden of the equipment was essential to the rite, as was the notion of quest, as was the act of bestowal, as was the inebriated sociability among fellow wanderers. “I hate to say it about my own kid,” Nate told Vince in the stairwell, “but he’s about the sickliest little thing I’ve ever seen.” In the fifth-floor hallway, Robert, having received downstairs the pristine Jeff Bostic gear from Randy, bestowed his Harry Carson gear upon Nate. “Carson,” Nate said, wiping his palms on his pants. Robert could hardly expect Nate to notice the mended chinstrap. In fact, if Nate noticed the chinstrap, it would probably mean Robert had not repaired it well. And he had repaired it well. When Robert was a child, his father had told him that there is never a need to draw attention to one’s own accomplishments. People notice a job done well, his father had said, but in Robert’s experience that had not been true. What people notice is tardiness, failure, moth damage. Robert’s father had been a corporate whistleblower who was pilloried in the press. He now lived alone in rural Illinois, where he sat erectly in a folding chair, listening to police scanners. He carted around an oxygen tank, but still had the power to humiliate Robert.