Kevin is hideous—a fact not lost upon him. He has understood this to be true for much of his life—certainly his entire adult life. All the same, one must be discreet. Kevin may be hideous but he does go to some length, if not to hide it, then at least to lessen the blow, so to speak. So he’s unattractive—even terribly so—but should he stop living his life? Of course not. It’s just that Kevin has to think a little more than the rest of us about how he puts his best face forward.
For instance, when Kevin applied for his current position, an impeccable résumé got his club foot wedged in the door sight unseen, as it were. By the time he was seated across from the hiring manager, it was too late to turn him away on looks alone. After all, she had his glowing college transcripts right in front of her showing how he had distinguished himself at the University of Rhode Island (an English major) and then the University of Massachusetts as a graduate student—not quite Ivy League, but not quite as showy either, and it is in Kevin's interest not to show off too much. He even had a letter of introduction from a former professor of no mean reputation. The hiring manager, Connie, had to admit later to her colleagues on the hiring committee, as well as to her girlfriends at lunch later that day, that this last detail was rather charming, if in an old-fashioned way—“I mean, who has a letter of introduction these days, right?” But was it enough for her to overlook the pockmarks scattered like grapeshot across the convoluted terrain of his ashen cheeks? Sadly, no. If his impressive credentials were not enough to win out over the unfortunate details of his face, which also included an anemic caterpillar of hair deployed on a failed-if-ambitious mission to bolster his razor-thin lips, it may have been a quaint display of his charms and manners that earned Kevin entrée to a second interview—this time with the publisher himself.
You see, Connie was so startled by how hideous Kevin was; she nearly fell off of her chair when he appeared at her desk for his initial interview. She managed to regain her composure quickly, but her coffee cup remained rattled enough to spill out some of its brown contents across her otherwise neat desk in the direction of a stack of what may or may not have been important papers. In a paisley flash, Kevin’s pocket square was out of his breast pocket and in his palsied hand. He had the mess sopped up and the coffee-sodden handkerchief stashed out of sight before any real damage was done. Now Connie couldn’t just pass him over because of the unorganized greasy patches of prematurely gray hair littering his mostly bald head. She would just hand that task over to the publisher, Chick, and let him do the dirty deed she had failed to do but that she was confident he would have no problem executing. But a half-hour later, when Chick’s door swung open, the two men strolled out into the reception area like old friends! And it turns out that they were, to some degree, acquainted: The pair had belonged to the same fraternity in college. When Chick, with his arm around Kevin’s heavily stooped—hunched?—shoulders, escorted the prospect to the door, he even said, “Barring any nasty business dredged up in your background check—which is mandatory, I’m afraid—I don’t see why we won’t be seeing you again in these offices very soon.” Connie watched in horror as the two men jocularly performed what could only have been a secret handshake of some diabolical order. In any case, both men knew the proper routine of wagging fingers and knocked knuckles well enough to suggest a binding commonality. Aghast but undaunted, Connie figured that in the worst case she would be able to blame his non-selection for the position on a traitorous reference, even if her decision was heavily influenced by the maroon birthmark stretching across Kevin’s neck and around his jaw line in the shape of a threatening Cuba shaking its angry, red fist at Miami. After all, Chick had all but sanctioned the rejection with that damning clause: “Barring any nasty business…” Surely, a man as hideous as Kevin would have made some enemies along the way or might at the very least have some very poor credit.
To Connie's dismay, all four of his references testified enthusiastically to Kevin’s abilities to work independently as a self-starting go-getter or as a valued member of a team. He got along well with his colleagues and his finances were in sterling order. The background check revealed no evidence of a criminal past, let alone a nasty divorce, a child abandoned out of wedlock, nor even a hint of latent mental instability. In short, despite an inelegant corrective shoe on his right foot and a dangerously sloping forehead, Kevin was by all accounts an ideal hire. And despite her initial misgivings, it was his humor and warmth—not the three wrecked fingers that twisted his left hand into an awkward claw—that Connie eventually came to identify with the new translation manager for French Classics. And Kevin’s performance in that role repaid Chick’s impulse to hire him with little more than a complicated handshake and no more consideration for his wandering left eye which seemed always to luridly scan from top to bottom whoever was before it—man or woman, cat or dog. Even still, Chick arranged for Kevin to work from home, with the rare—quite rare, in fact—in-house meeting. Kevin was somewhat disappointed by this because he was hoping to increase his admittedly thin social circle by including one or two of his new colleagues; but easily rattled Connie was much relieved that she wouldn't be running into him in the lunch room.
Because he's so hideous, one assumed at first blush that Kevin was a monster, and it's easy to understand why. But his careful attention to his appearance and manner often rewarded him in situations outside of work where he might otherwise have been shunned. For instance, a self-deprecating joke about his leaky right eye won him a larger piece of pie and a smile every night from the pretty waitress at the diner. This is how it happened: Kevin frequented the same neighborhood diner every evening after work. At first it would appear that the waitress, Esmeralda, treated him rather coolly; though the truth was that she was afraid of the fit of shuddering phlegm-soaked coughing that occasionally wracked Kevin’s freakishly short body as he hunched over the evening edition of the newspaper. She would avoid his table and neglect to refill his coffee cup in the hope that he might leave sooner. She even took to giving him the most meager piece of pie in the greater hope that he might never return. But Kevin bore these slights, like his abnormally bulging eyes—Grave's disease—with heroic patience, even a smile. No matter how much he wanted a refill, rather than bother trying to catch the waitress’s attention with his unnervingly shrunken right hand, he would instead fold his newspaper and wait for the check that would invariably come within seconds of the gesture. He could, after all, enjoy coffee at home with some dignity. Nevertheless, he would return with his newspaper each evening after work for his cup of coffee and sorry piece of pie.
Hideous as he was, over time, Esmeralda could not stop herself from staring at Kevin. One night, while his cup languished empty on his table, she couldn’t help but notice that he often wiped his eye with a handkerchief. He was crying! Not that it made him more deserving of a top off, but even Esmeralda’s tightly knotted heart strings were somewhat loosened when she noticed him dabbing his eye the very next night and the night that followed. Why, he seemed to cry at his table every night. Despite the thick, yellow-green cast to his tears, they finally got to her, and one night the pretty waitress swallowed her disgust and worked up the courage to ask him if he was alright as she poured him an unprecedented second cup of coffee. “Are you...uh...Okay...um...hon?”
Gravely, Kevin looked up at her and said with a nod toward his child-size sliver of stale cherry pie that made Dickens's gruel seem generous by comparison and said through a noxious halitosis haze, “This piece of pie is nearly as unappetizing as I am.” From that evening on, he received the biggest piece of pie from the platter—and sometimes with an unbidden scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. So taken—not to mention chastened—was Esmeralda by his remark, she didn’t seem to notice that it wasn’t tears at all trailing down his cheek until detoured by a rather large and mottled mole along his jaw line, rather pus from a seemingly permanent and exaggerated case of pink eye. So, Kevin hadn’t told her what was really wrong, Esmeralda reasoned, but at least he hadn’t used his tears to make a pass at her—and that’s all that mattered. Let him play his grief close to his sunken, asthmatic chest; but he deserved a proper piece of pie, no matter how disgusting he was to look it. “And boy is he hideous!” she’d later tell the guys in the kitchen, who, truth be told, were not themselves the most attractive men in town. And that was the extent of Kevin’s social life. Otherwise, he stayed at home watching old movies. He preferred silent films to “talkies,” as the dialogue of the later often reminded him of the lack of pleasant conversation in his own lonely life.
Unlike his idol, silent-film star Lon Chaney—The Man of a Thousand Faces—Kevin doesn’t have the luxury of an additional 999 faces to fall back upon. He has just the one, such as it is, to make due with. No amount of movie makeup could begin to fill in the nooks and crannies of the Tora Bora landscape of his face. No hat or scarf, short of a billowing burqa, would have helped his cosmetic cause. So, with some discreet attention paid to the things he could control, Kevin did his best to live his life with a modicum of dignity, fully aware of the injustices he might endure while quite literally “rearing his ugly head” in public. Because he was so hideous, Kevin had to go to lengths other, more attractive—or less hideous, as the case may be—people didn’t have to in even the most innocuous situations. And though unfair, Kevin did what was necessary not to sway public opinion further against him. For instance, whereas another man might receive a friendly smile from a girl in return for his own, a grin from someone like Kevin with his alarmingly black and receding gum line, was received as though he had just opened his trench coat in front of the young lady. When he bared his crooked, yellow teeth to suggest “hello,” she would react as though he’d just exposed himself to her. In grocery stores he was seen as a potential shoplifter and on the street, husbands stepped defensively between Kevin and their wives; not to mention the cads who actually placed their wives between themselves and the perceived menace before them. It’s gotten so bad, that he swerves as far away from children as possible. One smile from Kevin and a parent suspected the worse. Just as in the case of Esmeralda, he picked his battles not lightly. Because he found himself attracted to her, he was patient and did not complain about the poor service, and over time had won her over, to some extent. Generally, he walked the streets with head down and collar up, avoiding eye contact.
Because he's so hideous, Kevin is also very careful not to present any extreme expression of emotion to the public. Even just a wide-eyed grin of delight upon encountering an acquaintance on the street could cause Kevin to be confused with some feral monster overcome with bloodlust, what with his pus-dripping, blood-red eyes and his gruesome teeth. Once when Kevin smilingly offered a hand to a young mother struggling to carry her baby stroller up the stairs from the subway platform into the station, she pulled the stroller away from him with such force that the toddler, who—let’s face it—really could have walked himself up the stairs, fell out of the stroller and bounced the three or four steps down to the platform. The child wasn’t hurt, not in his plush snow suit, but you wouldn’t have guessed that from his mother’s reaction, nor from the faces of anyone else standing nearby. The mother screamed, “Get away from my baby!” And a large man from the crowd reacted by grabbing Kevin (some might say ‘bravely’ while a generous few might suggest ‘unjustly’) by the shoulders from behind and pushing him up the stairs in search of a police officer. Why, you would have thought that Frankenstein’s monster himself had picked up the brat and hurled him down the steps to quell his frustrated rage. The situation was only resolved when it came out that the mother had been drinking and had overreacted. But did anyone apologize to poor Kevin for his maligned character? Sadly, again, no. The cop merely let him off with a warning that he didn’t want to see Kevin’s “ugly face around here again.” “Well, that’s rich,” thought Kevin at the time, “the monster banished from the underworld, rather than the other way around.” Still, since cabs were out of the question—no one would ever pick him up—he made a point to no longer stand out for his chivalry in the subway and to keep a lower profile in general. If he felt the urge to surrender his seat to a pregnant woman, he would simply abandon it without comment, as though his was the next stop, rather than risk further allegations. Besides, he wasn't looking for credit, just to do the right thing—to lead a full and honorable life. Not that many women took the bait in any case. Isn't leprosy contagious? Coincidently enough, the next week, Kevin was in the crowd beside the very man who had carried him off to the police officer watching rescue workers pull the mother's drunk and lifeless body off of the subway tracks after she had apparently stumbled off the edge. "I guess I should have dragged her kid away rather than you," said the man beside Kevin. "Sorry, man," he said as he started to extend his hand, then thinking better of it, put it in his pocket.
Sometimes after visiting the diner, Kevin would spend the evening at a library. His job allowed him access to all of the major university libraries in the city so that he might research new titles to bring out in English or to resurrect old ones. Truth be told, however, he enjoyed the kind of solitude to be found within the stacks. As a lonely man, the prospect of returning to an empty apartment with the whole night ahead of him was, to put it lightly, demoralizing. At least the library offered a sense of monastic purpose. On the one hand, he had work to do, on the other, it offered an opportunity to indulge a hobby--more like a vocation: to find potentially beautiful works of French literature that had suffered under the hands of poor translators. For hours, Kevin would pore over titles that had been translated into English until he found some of the worst cases. Then, he would bring them to Chick and recommend that that he commission a new translation. If Chick agreed, Kevin would supervise the translation like a mother hovering over a doctor who was performing a procedure on her beautiful daughter. Or if Chick turned down his proposal, Kevin would actually take up the project on his own time, painstakingly translating the book word for word, until he thought it was ready to be reintroduced to the English-speaking world—this time as the beautiful masterpiece it was. Sometimes things worked out in just the opposite manner: Kevin would learn of a new translation of a French masterpiece only to find that it already had been translated quite wonderfully in the past and was not at all well served by the new translation or by its gaudy new cover and binding. In these cases, Kevin took it upon himself to lobby Chick to purchase the license to reprint the better, original translation in competition with the flashier new title turned out by some flash-in-the-pan literary hotshot for some celebrity-backed book club. Of course, this approach was rarely successful, as Chick was in publishing to make money, not to compete with highly successful celebrities. So Kevin would find his own copies of these rare and wonderful translations with their unfashionable covers and typefaces. Now, he has quite a library of his own that very few are likely to see since he can never seem to convince anyone to visit his apartment.
Because he's so hideous, Kevin's life centers around work, the diner, and the library. For the most part, his social interactions are limited to work-related e-mail correspondence with his colleagues and receiving his coffee and a piece of cherry pie from Esmeralda at the diner. A typical day goes like this: Kevin works all day from home—with the rare visit to the office to meet with Chick. Next, he shambles a couple of blocks to the diner for his evening treat, hoping that Esmeralda will ask him what he would like to order, though she usually doesn't even bother to ask him now since he has ordered the same thing every night for the past several months. Then, he lurches off to the library, trying to convince himself that the solitary work before him is necessary, before staggering back home to his library and a quiet, dignified drink before turning in for the night. Truth be told, he'd rather take his night cap in a lively bar or pub, but experience has taught him that this isn't a wise course of action. Bartenders often use his limping gait as an easy excuse to refuse to serve him, and drunk men, emboldened by alcohol, find their own easy excuses to challenge him. Because Kevin's so hideous, the popular wisdom is that he must be looking for a fight or he's just come in from the street to steal their women. So, if he's lucky enough to get served at all and he even attempts to strike up a conversation with a young woman beside him at the bar, it isn't long before some hot-headed d'Artagnan tries to play hero. It's a lonely life, to be sure, but you'll never here Kevin complain.
In fact, you will absolutely never hear Kevin complain, no matter how shamefully he is mistreated. Despite the injustices and the loneliness, he always puts that one best face forward, such as it is. If one had the stomach to squint past the dermatological war zone of cysts and carbuncles that littered his face and the toxic tributaries of his perpetually draining eye, they would be well rewarded with the face of contented optimism. Some detractors might even claim that this striking optimism was even more hideous, if you can believe it, than the travesty of Kevin's convulsive body itself. Unfortunately, for most people, it served to lessen the guilt of their prejudice. To their mind, if they did not appear damned in Kevin's bulging, purulent eyes, then how could they be expected to see otherwise? Knock him down, and Kevin only apologized for his own clumsiness. Retreat from his approach, and he would admit to himself that he had mistaken you for someone else. No, nothing seemed to bother Kevin, though he could hardly be blamed if he felt otherwise. After a long, hard day, he always had his library, some Lon Chaney film, and a quiet, nonjudgemental bourbon to return to.
Overtime, Kevin learned to hide how he felt from others, even when it didn't involve a crowd chasing him out of town with torches and pitchforks, as it might be received in the wrong spirit and put someone in an awkward position. He just had to become more creative when it came to expressing himself. For instance, it was while considering embarking on a new translation of Edmond Eugène Alexis Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac that Kevin realized he was in love with Esmeralda, the pretty waitress from the diner. Despite a wonderful translation already existing in print, Chick had decided to commission a new edition. Kevin didn't believe he could do any more justice to the play than what had already been done by the previous translator. The play opens in Paris, 1640, in the theater of the Hôtel Burgundy. Members of the audience slowly arrive, representing a cross-section of Parisian society from pickpockets to nobility. Christian de Neuvillette arrives with Lignière, who he hopes will identify the young woman with whom he has fallen in love. Lignière recognizes her as Roxane, and tells Christian about her and Count De Guiche’s scheme to marry her off to the compliant Viscount Valvert. Meanwhile, Ragueneau and Le Bret are expecting Cyrano de Bergerac, who has banished the actor Montfleury from the stage for a month. After Lignière leaves, Christian learns of a plot against him and departs to try to warn him. The play “Clorise” begins with Montfleury’s entrance, and Cyrano disrupts the play, chases him off stage, and compensates the manager for the loss of admission fees. The crowd is about to disperse when big-nosed Cyrano lashes out at a busybody, then is confronted by Valvert and duels with him while composing a ballade, mortally wounding him as he ends the refrain. When the crowd has cleared the theater, Cyrano and Le Bret remain behind, and Cyrano confesses his love for Roxane.
Cyrano is written in verse, in rhyming couplets of 12 syllables per line, very close to the Alexandrine format, but the verses sometimes lack a caesura—a style to which this preexisting translation adheres admirably. The only changes in the version he finally turned in to Chick for publication was the addition of a single terminal caesura—an audible pause that disrupts a line of verse. The terminal caesura, very rare in Romance verse, interrupts the very end of a metrical line, and here was meant to represent the moment Esmeralda gave him a larger piece of cherry pie—when his heart skipped a beat, as it were, and he fell in love with the waitress. While the play's regular caesurae are of the medial sort—that is, appearing, as is more common, in the middle of the line—an astute reader will recognize the sudden jar to the text and will give pause to ponder such an aberration of form, when the rest of the play flows quite perfectly. Surely it couldn't have been an accident. Another lovelorn man might have dedicated the entire masterpiece to the object of his desire, but Kevin figured that would put Esmeralda in an awkward position—a position to he would never wish to subject the woman he loved to. So, he would just have to settle for her cherry pie. For good measure, however, Kevin did leave Esmeralda a copy of the new Cyrano, when it was finally published, as a tip. But even that subtle expression of love was misunderstood. "Hey, hon, you forgot your book," the pretty waitress called after him.
"No, my dear, that's your tip," Kevin responded, forgetting not to smile his grotesque smile.
"My tip?" Esmeralda looked confused. "You left me a book as a tip? What am I supposed to do with a book?"
"Well, you could read it," he said gently.
"Read it? I don't really like this kind of stuff. But thanks anyhow," she said, returning his Cyrano with a pretty smile, which Kevin, detecting annoyance in her voice, accepted with no betrayal of disappointment in exchange for his usual, two-dollar tip. "Thanks, hon." On the contrary, he was elated. She had never spoken so many words to him.
Kevin never did return to the diner—it would have been too much for even him to bear—which was just as well, because, strangely, neither did Esmeralda.