I recently saw a commercial for one of those compilation CDs. This one was titled Women and Song, featuring the likes of Sarah McLachlan and Nelly Furtado. I didn’t really pay attention until I heard Toni Braxton’s soulful ballad “Un-break My Heart.”

Instead of conjuring up some bad breakup memory, “Un-break My Heart” reminded me of an assistant I once had, M. He never spoke of music, but would scream with delight whenever this song came on. He was really into it and, on different occasions, had commented, “This song is so good, even you couldn’t ruin it.” I’m still not quite sure what he meant by that.

M was an interesting person who came from a family of sixteen. Even more peculiar were his really long, yet manicured, pinkie nails. He lived in West L.A., but often housesat for famous male directors and artists in the Hollywood Hills. He was never late to work and always had a story to share from the night before. Conversations would start like this: “So, last night I was hanging out with Betty White when …”

Once, he secretly took a picture of my backside, and after developing the photo, he left it on my desk with my phone messages and a note: “I know you’ve always wanted to see what it really looks like.” (The truth was that I did.) M was always blunt about stuff. One morning, he said to me, “You look like you got a lot of rest last night.” I answered, “Really? Why?” and he replied, “Because your face is puffy today.” He always loved to point out that I was four years older than him. This really got on my nerves after a while.

Sometimes M and I would carpool together. On one such occasion, he was stopped for running a red light. The police officer informed M that there was a warrant out for someone with his same name. While this news freaked me out a bit, M calmly told the officer that the date of birth on his license was an error and that he was actually five years older (one year older than me!). Satisfied with his explanation, the officer let us go. I was ready to lay into him about the age thing when, right on cue, “Un-break My Heart” came on his car’s radio and he was instantly absorbed in the song.

Soon after that incident, he came into work and asked if he could leave early for a photo shoot. Of course, I said it was OK. I had no idea that he modeled, and he informed me that it would be his first time. A few days later, he brought in his pictures and to my shock/horror they were nude photos (à la Mapplethorpe) of himself. He was really proud of his work, as he very well should have been. He said that when he dropped his pants for the photo shoot, the photographer was “really impressed and exclaimed, ‘Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!’” I smiled politely and nodded as I reviewed the photos. It was a little awkward, to say the least. I mean, what do you say after seeing your assistant’s penis?

The office radio was on and, with perfect timing, “Un-break My Heart” started to play. Leaving his pictures spread across my desk, M ran to turn up the volume, and started singing along with the chorus. While he was lost in the song, I casually walked by his desk, left the photos there, and escaped for an early lunch. Running through my head was this saying of his: “The perfect egg roll is all about the quality of the pork and not just the seasoning.” Suddenly, I felt like Chinese.