Friday, December 20, 2013

Fancy plans

"What did you say?" She was woozy after flushing the toilet to allay suspicion and washing her hands, and didn't quite have all of her sense of hearing back.
"I said get your laptop ready. We're going live now."
It came back to her. He was here to do a business thing, and they were business partners. "Oh really?" She could hardly conceal her disinterest. Instead of calming her down, her little solo episode in the bathroom had actually made her feel more ready. She felt she had crossed some kind of line. Once you were comfortable enough around someone to go get yourself off and act like nothing had happened, you could no longer be just friends, it seemed. "Oh really?" she said again, differently, seeing if Monte would pick up on any change in her demeanor. She hadn't moved from the bathroom door since emerging from it.
"Yes, really. Come on, you're gonna miss it."
This was too much. Is this what she had been anticipating all night? Suddenly there was too much going on. The moment was already getting away from her. She became overwhelmed with the need to be alone, in order to properly take this all in. Had she been blind all this time to the fact that her life was changing before her eyes? Or maybe this was no different than what she had been through earlier, before she ever made any decisions to do anything with her mother's fortune. The difference was, she had imposed these life changes on herself, instead of letting them happen to her. And the fact of the matter was, there was no way she would have set these events in motion if those previous, traumatic experiences had not taken their toll and fundamentally destroyed her world.
So she decided that making her own fate was what mattered, not living up to someone else's legacy or wrangling some kind of monetary gain out of this effort. And just then it occurred to her that this was probably not ever going to make her rich, and for that moment, she didn't mind.
She had turned off her music and opened a browser window. Here it comes.
"And we are.... live," Monte said.
She refreshed her page, and took a good look at for the first time.
It was pretty. The guy that Monte had been paying to create this page was as good as advertised. Making the most of a simple, thoroughly modern design, the site consisted of a small list of links and a log-in bar at the top, all laid out in a neat, organized fashion in tasteful whites, pinks and goldenrod yellows. An evocative graphic adorned the upper left-hand corner of the page, showing the title of the Web site over a sunset beach vista. A couple sat together at a table, unaware of any photographer, shown mostly in silhouette, as birds flew by in the distance and palm trees swayed in the wind behind their heads. It was a beautiful shot in its own right while immediately conveying the site's purpose.
"Oh Monte," she said.
"What do you think? It's not really how he described it, but it's close enough. I had this old engagement photo I wanted to use, but he said this would work better."
"It's perfect," Calisto said. Then she added, "I can't believe you did it!"
She glided across the floor and hugged him around the neck from behind, and he said "Whoa, hey," at a loss for words. It was the first time either one of them had touched the other, and the sudden contact made her draw back almost instantly. She couldn't help herself. Doing an about-face with respect to her previous position, she was now convinced this thing was going to make them both rich, how could it not? Grandiose ideas went racing through her head, ideas of expansion, registering new sites all over the mainland, flooding the marketplace with their brand. Making her own fate with this gentleman, who apparently would not only do anything for her, but would exceed her wildest expectations in the process.
"It's pretty cool, isn't it?" Then he raised his mug of wine and said, "Clink it!" Calisto went over to the kitchen counter and came back with her mug (and the remains of the wine bottle), and they clinked them together. "World domination," he said, as if reading her mind.
"Fancy plans," Calisto said. "And pants to match." They both drank and refilled. "So what's next?" she asked.
"Well, I'm already signed up. You should be next, and then when the two lollygaggers show up, we should get them registered. Hell, you should create a separate account for every e-mail address you have. That's what I'm doing."
"Yeah, I know. I meant, what's next tonight." She had moved up beside him, peering down at his face expectantly, the Web site reflected in his glasses. "Let me ask you something," she said. "How can someone who's in a band have no interest in music?"
He put the laptop aside and looked back at her, finally. "Where do you go to smoke around here?"
"We're not supposed to, but I could take you up to the roof."
"Up on the roof. Will you take me there if I tell you about the void that music has left in my life?"
It was too intriguing to not say yes. They left the apartment and clambered up the decrepit fire exit. City lights formed straight-line constellations below them. Cars turned their yellows or reds in their direction, the echoes of their cranked-up sound systems barely reaching them. The city looked like theirs from the taking, lying in wait like the calm before being taken by storm.
They had carried their mugs up with them too, brimmed and sitting at their feet in the darkness, their cherries the only extant light source. Calisto no longer wanted to hear whatever rehearsed answer he had to his question anymore and instead pointed with her cigarette hand and said "See that?"
"That dog?"
"No, that's not a dog. That building down there, with the swimming pool on the roof?"
"That's where I'm moving, once we make a million dollars."
"You haven't found a place yet?" He was aware that her living situation was becoming precarious, as it seemed to come up every time they talked.
"I found it, I just can't afford it."
"You might want to find a place you can afford then. Is that why you wanted to do this?"
"I wanted to do this for all kinds of reasons. What are you gonna do with all your money?"
"First I'm gonna pour everything we make back into the site. We need to be going big."
"What about something fun?"
He drank, seeming to wave her question off. "I don't need a lot. The money is not important to me. What is important is making something that's bigger than myself. It kind of goes back to that music thing, what you were asking me. Music used to be the biggest thing in my life. I met my wife through the band. Ex-wife, I mean. We met at a show. After that we went to every show together. We thought we were soulmates. I mean we agreed on everything, and I have fairly bizarre tastes, not to brag or anything."
He stopped there, but continued to fix his gaze ahead as if he were still continuing his monologue in his head. She toyed with the idea of placing her hand on his, or on his knee. She wasn't feeling lascivious anymore, just in the mood for a friendly gesture. She didn't know how it would be interpreted though. "What happened then?" she asked in a voice too small for what she was feeling.
"It was my fault," he said. "I fucked around on her. She knows, but doesn't really, at this point. I mean, she has no proof. Anyway, by then we were pretty much already over. Turns out besides the music, we didn't really have that much in common. You ever have someone introduce you to someone else, and it goes badly, and that in turn makes you resent the person who introduced you? It was like that with me and music. It doesn't trigger the same things anymore. Once she was gone, that was gone too, that being the thing that made us seem right for each other in the first place. Do you get what my point is in saying all this?"
"No." She had some idea, but thought it best not to presume.
"My point is, I wanted to do something bigger than myself, and that's always a mistake because nothing is bigger than me. Life is just the process of figuring that out. We are born with everything we will ever need but we trick ourselves into thinking there's something more outside of us. That's why every goal you reach takes you farther away from the target."
That was not at all the point Calisto had thought he'd been making, and by this time she was feeling very good about her decision not to make out with him earlier just because she was in heat and he was there. It didn't mean he had no shot in hell, but for a start he would definitely have to stop spouting so much bullshit before she would let that happen. "I don't believe you," she said.
"What don't you believe?"
"That you really think that. If you did, then why do anything? Why not go live in some Zen monastery and eat dust for the rest of your life? I mean do you really not see the fallacy in your thinking?"
"Because," he said, "if I did that then I wouldn't be creating Lunch Dates with you. You're basically the last thing keeping me from dropping out of society."
"Then I hope this doesn't fail, because I'd hate for you to actually go through with dropping out of society only to find that it leaves you feeling as empty as anything else." She knew he was being insincere, but she bought the line anyway. If it was a lie, at least it was a pretty one. "You never answered my question."
"I was never going to," he said.
"What happened with you and your wife?"
"It's a fairly typical story, I guess. I was the opening act for this girl, we hooked up, and then one day I accidentally called her my wife's name. Turns out she's total crazypants and the first thing she does is call up my wife and tell her we're fucking. In front of me she pulls that shit, before I can stop her."
"What's your wife's name?" Calisto asked him.
"What name did you call this girl by mistake?"
"My wife you mean? Her name was Lise."
"Just Lise. Why does it matter?"
"It could have been accidental. Or you could have told her you were saying something else. What did this girl expect anyway, were you not ever supposed to say your wife's name around her?"
He didn't evince much interest in discussing the subject further. "Well, it just goes to show you. I liked this girl because she helped me with my music. That was a mistake. I don't even like playing music anymore since that mess."
This gave Calisto an idea. She liked to fancy herself a mender, despite all signs pointing to the strong possibility she had no ability to remedy even the simplest of her problems. But focusing on helping others had always appealed to her for the distraction it afforded from the help she herself needed. When her mother would be working through an especially rough time, during those days when the business was on the verge of going under and even Marisa had a difficult time buying into the dream, that was when Calisto could sense it was her time to step up and provide a little spark or show of support to keep them all going. So from that time forward, she vowed to help Monte rediscover his love for music. It seemed like the only thing she could do to repay him. She had no idea how to go about doing this, and was sure as hell not going to let a thing like that get in the way.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Launch party

Monte looked different than she had ever seen him. Part of it was the shirt and tie, which she had never seen him wore and suited him even though he committed the error of a sport jacket and jeans to go with it; Maile would've been appalled. But there was something else different in his appearance. He was a guy who tended to avoid eye contact completely, even when you were talking to him one on one you could watch his gaze shift nervously from your forehead to your mouth to your breasts (she gave him a pass on this, being used to her 36Cs pulling an inordinate amount of attention from both sexes. In fact, she knew her particular bustline was one of the few advantages she'd had over the likes of Naomi, who referred to herself as a "proud member of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee") But there was a new focus in his entire visage tonight. Even his normally crooked jaw seemed to settle into a straight, firm line. If he had indeed been cutting other people down, it seemed to be building him up. Perhaps this was the strangeness that Eric had been telling her about -- not smugness, confidence and determination. At least that's what she was willing to assume. In his left hand he was throttling a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon while his right was hauling a laptop bag.
"Whoa," he said, giving her the once-over. "Who are you all dressed up for tonight?"
"I could ask you the same question," she said, feeling her inner temperature rise without reddening her skin outwardly. "I mean, it's a special night, right?"
"Let's fucking hope so," he said, letting himself in. "I like your digs, not bad at all. I don't know what your problem is with this place." She had a habit of complaining about some aspect of their apartment -- the mess or the location or the neighbors -- whenever conversational fuel was running low.
"We don't have too many guests," she said. Monte had unloaded the laptop and switched it on, then placed the wine on the kitchen counter. "My usual problem is being alone. Were your kids okay?"
"They just want to hear the same ghost stories every night. I don't even need to be there, I just pop in a recording of me reading to them. Where's Katie Couric and Mr. Wonderful?"
"He just called me," she said. "Wanna sit down?" She remained on her feet as well, but without tilting in any particular direction, rather like a weather vane in low winds. Monte had already taken off his jacket -- it was obviously way too hot of a night for him to be wearing that, which made his effort all the sweeter -- and laid it neatly across the top of the couch before setting himself down on the cushions, still carrying the open laptop as it booted up. She hesitated for a moment before joining him on the couch.
"You ready for this?" he said without turning toward her. "How does it feel? What did he call you for?"
She decided to address the latter question. "To warn me about you. I heard you zinged him pretty good about his hair falling out."
"Which time? There were a couple of zingers."
"I don't know, something about how it's good he cut it all off because it's all falling out anyway."
"Yeah, that one was okay. He should've told you about the one where I said even the cancer patient we were operating on had more hair than him." Monte couldn't finish the sentence without breaking into a fit of the giggles.
"That's so mean! See, so he thinks this business is going to your head or something." She took the opportunity to look into him, while he was staring at the screen. His eyes normally went unnoticed behind their spectacles, but tonight with the new intensity and fire (yes, it was fire) behind them they positively popped. Deep-set, a chocolatey shade of brown, they seemed to plead and beckon to her for the first time, and she realized that she was indeed inching closer to him on the couch, as he continued to look away. Maybe he was becoming belligerent, and maybe she was starting to like that. "Is it true?" she asked.
"Yeah, the guy still had more hair than him."
"No, I mean, is it true you're being a total dick to everyone because of what we've got going together?"
He just said, "What we've got is too good to excuse any of my behavior."
She didn't understand. "Can you do something for me?" she asked. "Can you try to keep from lashing out at him when he's over here tonight? Not because I care about his feelings, but because I don't want to be put in the position of having to defend you to him?"
He turned his head to look at her for a moment, as if trying to decide if she was serious, then turned back to the laptop. "I wouldn't ask you to defend me to anybody."
She got up and walked toward the kitchen counter, too exasperated to pursue this point any further. She picked up the wine bottle he had brought over, got a corkscrew out of one of the drawers and popped it.
"Hey, don't pop the Cristal just yet," he said halfheartedly.
She held up the bottle and examined it. "This isn't Cristal, you cheap ass." She poured some into a coffee mug because it was one of the only clean cups they had. Monte had his back turned toward her, sunk into the couch, absorbed in whatever it was he was doing.
She took a gulp. "What are you doing?"
"Guess the party's starting early. I'll take one, hostess."
She made a noise that told him of her annoyance but obeyed. Bringing his mug over, she looked over his shoulder at a web page showing a bunch of numbers and percentages. He took this mug as she said "What is this shit?"
"Fantasy basketball," he said. Already she was groaning as he attempted to follow up with, "I'm logged into Skype and my guy is gonna give us a call when we're ready to go live. Til then, let me focus on something actually important."
"It's sooooo boring," she said, and she went to her own computer to fire up Pandora. She realized she had no idea what, if anything, Monte listened to. "What music do you like?" she asked him.
"The same shit everybody else likes."
She went through her playlists, "I've got Drake, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Pitbull, Taylor Swift, fun., Broadway stuff, Mumford & Sons, Disney songs, Rihanna, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga.... a lot of this stuff is from when I was younger. I don't really listen to most of it anymore."
"I really don't care." She felt uncertain about proceeding with this, but put on Taylor Swift anyway. When were Naomi and Eric going to get here? It was getting past 9:00 and she had already started drinking, pouring out her next round as the small computer speakers blasted a thin female voice saying the words "Trouble, trouble, trouble." Her thoughts went to Eric's words earlier about Monte having a thing for her. If he did, he sure betrayed no indication of it tonight, obsessing over his little box scores, demanding she serve him like she was some kind of barmaid, and not acting like he cared about what they were even supposed to be celebrating. Even the extra effort he had put into his appearance was striking a false note. It was probably more to impress her roommates (Eric was an honorary roommate) than her.
"You know what I think?" she said out loud without having actually thought anything at all. Her mood was turning playful, she was swaying back and forth to the pop songs, and waving her drink above her head. "You wouldn't really be needling Eric so much if you hated him, you would just be ignoring him or talking behind his back. The fact that you care enough to say these things to his face shows that you think more highly of him than you say. I think your little barbs come from a place of real affection."
"He's a douchey cunt," said Monte, still refusing to look up. "How's that for affection."
"You LIKE him," she giggled. "Anyway, that could be taken as a compliment. He's not just a cunt, he's a douchey one. Which means he's at least a little cleaner than a regular cunt." God, what was wrong with her? Was all it took a little alcohol and teenybopper music to turn her into one of those flirtatious airheads she so despised from her younger years?
"This hate-equals-love theory is bullshit," he said, without emotion. "Not everything means the opposite of what it means."
"All I'm saying is, you're going to the trouble of trying to come up with creative insults for him. Doesn't that mean you're going to some effort?"
"I do this in my sleep," he said. She just could not engage him tonight. You'd think somebody with a real crush on her would at least be taking the hint. Despite her efforts, she could not raise so much as a spark between them. It was too bad, because as a man Monte had a lot going for him. He listened to her, he was able to make her believe that he cared what happened to her, and he hadn't asked her to be anything but a smoking buddy and business partner to her. Compared to Dominic, in whose presence she felt like a live wire, his company only brought a mood of benign friendliness out of her. Of course, she had got the same charge out of James, who had managed to be both the worst and the best man she'd had. It was as of her heart was out to sabotage her head, or vice versa.
Thinking of these past and potential lovers was making her lightheaded. She thought about something James had told her after they had spent a night together, that time he said "You love like a hurricane." She remembered his bedroom that morning, clothes strewn across the floor of a prissily neat apartment, bedclothes rumpled and bunched up at the foot of the bed, exposing the blank mattress, as if even the bed itself had to be naked for this. She recalled the sweet sourness of the stifling air they breathed in afterward, the sudden silence which took over even as the discordant harmony of their final cries still reverberated off the walls, and how right it all felt.
She was going to get herself in trouble. The rhythms of the music were getting bumpier, and unconsciously she found herself gyrating right along. Under the skirt her thighs were rubbing together as she bent one knee, then the other. The wine was loosening her tongue and her hips, and she could sense that nothing good was going to come of this. She felt like a cat in need of a scratching post. She knew that Monte would probably not turn her down if she went up to him and began pushing her tongue past his teeth, but that this wouldn't be fair to him and would just lead to a lot of regret and guilt afterwards, and anyway, Naomi and Eric were expected anytime now, and they were supposed to be launching a business together, and this would only complicate things, she wasn't even into him, Jesus, he just happened to be there, she'd done plenty of making out and sleeping with boys she didn't really like and had resolved never to do so again.
So she put down her drink and said "I have to go to the bathroom."
She closed the door behind her and thought. Had it been so long since she was alone in a room with a man? Had she forgotten what this felt like, and therefore no longer knew how to conduct herself in this situation? The boy in the other room was oblivious, and when confronted with the obliviousness of a man it had been her custom to turn on the forwardness.
"Not tonight," she said quietly. "Not tonight."
She pulled down her skirt, as if she was really going to use the facilities just then. She felt herself up, and found that she was primed. God. There was only one thing to do.
The music had switched to a sparse, grinding drum track with laid-back female vocals singing something about "You can call me Queen Bee..." and gradually the music swelled and throbbed until it seemed to gain some sense of purpose. Calisto went at it furiously at first, hoping the sounds drowned her ragged breath, and finding no carrot at the end of the stick, made herself slow down, envying boys their simple onanistic methods. Just grab and go, essentially. If only she could have helped herself to Naomi's vibrator, which never got used, she was sure, unless one of them wasn't home. It was the sense of impending shame that eventually drove her over the edge. Not that she was any stranger to masturbating while somebody was in the next, or even the same, room -- she remembered getting herself off at age 11 while sitting in front of the TV with her mom, her favorite blanket bunched around her -- but of all the times, even in her wildest days, with a boy who allegedly liked her just a thin wall away, this had to have been unprecedented. She used to tell boys there was nothing she wouldn't try, and wondered now whether she had ever meant it. Certainly, for the right man, there was no debauchery too sick to lower herself to, and what if that man had been James? She came to the memory of his chin scruff chafing her collarbone, her lungs compressed beneath his weight, her heels dug into the small of his back. The Heavens parted and she felt herself borne up into them, a brief moment where the living and the dead shared communion.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


What if they had a launch party and nobody came?
After finishing picking up all the shit and dropping it in the bedroom, Calisto had vacuumed the rugs and swept the pieces of linoleum that stuck out from under them. They had a keyboard duster, one of those little aerosol cans with a nozzle thinner than a coffee straw, and she had taken this to every surface that had visible edges or corners. They didn't have a mop, and she had to content herself with wetting paper towels and wiping the floors on her hands and knees, along with wiping down the fridge, the doors, even parts of the wall that had been pre-stained prior to their move in.
By the time she gave up and decided it wasn't going to get any cleaner, it was 8:00 and she was still alone. Naomi had texted back that she might need to work late tonight, depending on how long the traffic jam caused by this freeway accident lasted, but congratulations, darling! Monte said he had his kids that night, and needed to get them to bed at his mom's before doing anything else. Eric would arrive when Naomi did. Monte's programmer was going to by communicating with them on Skype when things really got underway. Those were all the participants of their launch party, and she briefly considered rescheduling. She had felt a temptation to invite Dominic, but that would have complicated things, somehow. Anyway, she knew that Monte wouldn't have appreciated it.
She talked about him to Monte sparingly, always in hushed tones, never referring to him as Weird Sexual Chemistry Boy out loud, but letting on enough about the incredibly strained awkwardness of their every interaction that the effect came across.
One time they had seen him walking by. "Shit," said Calisto, and made to hide herself behind a bush.
"What?" Monte said.
"Nothing," she said, still crouching.
"Who do you see? Who is it?" Monte whispered. "Why are you hiding?"
"Just shut up!" she hissed back at him. "Act normal. I'll tell you later." The bush was a foot-and-a-half shorter than her and providing inadequate cover, so she scrambled behind Monte instead. He was wearing a long white lab coat over his scrubs and she was able to thin herself into invisibility behind his girth. Dominic passed by, wearing headphones and not looking in their direction, and as he made his way past them she rotated around Monte's white lab coat. She hadn't been paying attention, but the cigarette still burning in her fingers had been forgotten in her rush to conceal herself, and it had been burning a hole in the back of her coat, where it hung just below the waist.
Dominic was gone and she exhaled, taking a drag and suddenly noticing that she had burned monte's coat. "Oh god, sorry," she said.
"I burned your coat." She pointed to the hem on his left side.
"You burned it? Oh Christ, do you realize this isn't mine? I have to put this back at the end of the day!"
"Now you have to tell me what the hell was that. Were you hiding from those cops over there?"
"No, it was just some guy I work with. I don't want him to know I smoke."
"Because I told him I didn't!" This was true, when they had once gotten into a conversation where Dominic was telling her how he hated smokers, and then stopped himself and added "You don't smoke, do you?" and the question had made her lose her mind or forget who she was or something and she'd answered "Nope."
Monte was never one to let anything go and pressed the issue. "That's it? What's it to him if you want to smoke?" Then he paused for a moment as if giving the matter further consideration and said "Fuck him. He owes me a new lab coat."
"Look, I just didn't feel like explaining it to him later," she said. "I wasn't expecting to see him this time of the day."
"What is he your boss or something? Or your office crush? Does he have a thing for you?"
"Just drop it," she said. "I don't have to go into it, so I won't."
"Which guy was he?" Monte was the kind of person, who, when faced with an impasse, tried to go an alternate but related route. "At least tell me that, so I can look out for him for you."
"It doesn't matter. Just please forget it."
"If it matters enough for you to almost set me on fire, I want to know."
"Fine. He was wearing the purple jacket."
"That fucker with the fake blond hair? Shit, I see that guy around here all the time. That's your big secret crush? I honestly think you can do better."
Calisto had, strangely, agreed with him even at the time. The reason she knew Monte was right is because she already had done better, at least in her mind. James was unquestionably a bigger catch than this guy, and anybody else she dated after that would amount to a lowering of her standard. The trouble was, it wasn't a matter of doing better or not doing better. Something in her wanted this boy in a way that defied notions of goodness or badness. It just simply was. Actually, the very irrationality of this wanton desire was what made her resistant to the idea of ever pursuing it. She had learned not to trust what she thought she wanted. Mentally she added this to her catalogue of reasons not to get with the boy, which ran like this:
1) They worked together. Fucking your co-workers was a bad idea for any number of reasons.
2) He was out of her league (which may seemed to contradict her belief that she could do "better" but really, anybody who caused the kinds of stirrings he did within her was ipso facto "out of her league")
3) It would go against her devotion to be Not Looking For Anything Right Now, to Learn How To Be Happy Alone, etc.
4) Maybe he has a girlfriend/will laugh in my face/thinks I'm gross, etc.
Calisto reviewed all of this information in much less time than it takes to actually explain it and revisited her anxiety about the party they were supposed to be having that night. With the place fixed up, she decided to actually spend some time on her appearance. She didn't know whether there was any direct relationship between looking decent and feeling decent, but decided not to take a chance. After a quick, lukewarm shower she sat around in a bathrobe trying to figure out what to wear that would match the sense of occasion she was still feeling.
Anything she wore to work was immediately out of the question. It had been a casual Friday, so she wanted to put on something a bit nicer than her standard issue skinny jeans and cartoon character t-shirt. Unfortunately, her wardrobe seemed to divide neatly into just that sort of dichotomy. Her two costumes consisted of Severe Professional Lady on one hand and Teenage Wallflower on the other, with very little in between. She eyed a green sundress which was intended to be worn to the beach (which she hadn't done since she bought it), and a glittery pair of dark stretch pants meant to be worn when she went clubbing (ditto). Her scan of her side of the closet lingered on a bright white maiden-style dress which she had worn exactly once, months ago, when she had refused to wear black for an occasion where that color choice was generally expected. Even as a tribute, that was also out of the question.
With a sigh, she gave up and decided it was another night for raiding Naomi's wardrobe. Naomi was much taller and noticeably slimmer than Calisto, but her side of the closet had the advantage of being stuffed to the gills. Because she wore a lot of pantsuits and skirt suits for her job, Naomi had all kinds of things she never wore, and Calisto laid out a pile of possibilities on the foot of her bed.
She felt jumpy all at once, and the apartment seemed silent, at least compared to the world outside. So she walked over to their clock radio and flipped it on, scanning for a song she could abide. She recalled a music video from her youth by some forgotten young pop starlet, where the singer's head stood still as an endless array of different fashions and styles superimposed and rearranged themselves on her body. The song was crap and she thought so even then, but the idea of reinventing oneself at the rate of 24 frames per second had stayed with her, and she looked for something to suit the mood, finally settling on the classic rock station, playing an 80s ballad she always recognized but didn't know who made it.
She cranked it up and sang along as she held things up on her in front of the mirror. "Forever young, I want to be forever young. Do you really want to live forever..."
She ultimately settled on a long floral print skirt and a navy blue camisole that fit her like a dream and had been an old standby going back to their college days. Something was missing, still. She rummaged among the pile of things she had created in their bedroom while cleaning up, and put on the scawlf. It added a sense of something offbeat, an ineffable quality, not-quite-hidden but not on full display either. Then she pulled her damp hair back in front of the mirror, and kept it that way, examining the reflection.
Something about what she saw there was weird. Then she had a heart-freezing moment, and ran to go looking for Naomi's glasses. Black horn rims, where the hell did she keep them? And why did Naomi bother keeping glasses around when she wore contacts 364 days of the year? They finally turned up on the bathroom sink. She put them on and stared at the mirror. Maybe it was the slight out-of-focus effect the prescription lenses had on her vision or just the unconventional (for her) fashion choices, but the thought landed on her as if from out of the sky and stuck in an uncomfortably close part of her mind:
Jesus. I look just like Her.
Marisa used to always call her a "dead ringer" for Maile, but Calisto had never seen it or considered it a flattering comparison. Her mother's looks were unbearably arch, to put it kindly, befitting a woman who would name her clothing line "Haughty", but not representative of the type of personality Calisto felt she exuded. She went looking for a photo of her mother to prove she was not going crazy but while going through her bedside drawer she stopped at a picture of James instead, the only one of him she had in her possession.
She was still staring at it when the sound of her phone ringing, plugged into the charger on the kitchen counter, broke her out of this reverie. She flicked off the clock radio and walked into the other room to answer it, an action that felt decidedly retro.
It was Eric's number, but in keeping with the throwback vibe that was suddenly pervading, she answered the phone as if she hadn't seen. "Hello?"
"Hey, so I came up with the dirtiest word ever. Wanna hear it?" His phone calls, or his interactions in general, often started with this kind of in media res non sequitur, if indeed a conversation can begin with one. Calisto didn't happen to be in the mood to play along, so she continued pretending to be old-fashioned instead.
"Hello, who is this?" she asked.
"So the way I see it, short "u" is the dirtiest vowel sound, so we start with that. All the best curse words have it. Then along the same lines there's the hard "c" sound. Put those two together and you're already halfway there. Are you following?"
"I think so?" Calisto said. "Who are you again?"
"It's cute that you keep doing that," he said. "So to balance out the other sounds, we put in the letter n and a "sh", which is an underused phoneme, especially in profanity, so it might still have some power to shock. Put them together and what have you got?"
"I don't know," Calisto said. "Cushion?"
"You've got... shunck. Sounds dirty, right? Now it just needs a definition."
Calisto gave up on her resistance to playing along. "Hmmm, I don't think it sounds dirty enough. Shunck just sounds like a bow-and-arrow sound effect, like in a cartoon. You know, shunck."
"Whatever," Eric said, not swayed. "Just expect to hear it come up in conversation from now on, while I try to wrangle some meaning out of it. Anyway, we're gonna be late and I'm bored, that's why this call."
"That's okay," Calisto said. "We never set a strict time, so really you can't be late."
There was a pause, the kind that either preceded closing things out and hanging up, or an oncoming topic which one party was hesitant to bring up. It turned out to be the latter. "So, have you seen Monte lately?" Eric asked finally.
"He's doing something with his kids tonight. No idea when he'll be here."
"Well, I gotta tell you, he's been acting weird at work lately. Like he's got something he needs to get off his chest, all the time. Have you noticed this? Is he being smug or weirdly cruel around everybody or just us?"
"What, you mean more than his usual smugness?"
"That's what I mean. You know what he said to me the other day? He saw that I shaved my head, and he came right up to me and said, 'Nice haircut, I'm glad to see you gave in. It's gonna happen anyway, so why wait for Father Time to finish the job? Nip that thing in the bud.'"
"Ouch," Calisto said, suppressing laughter, not least of all because Eric could hit the pitch and cadences of Monte's oddball voice dead on. Not that Eric was ever insecure about his receding hairline, but this did sound like an exaggerated version of Monte.
"Yeah, he was all snotty about it, though. Like he was only halfway kidding. You haven't noticed anything like this?"
"No, he's always been a perfect gentleman around me," Calisto said.
"Well, that's probably because he's always had the major-league hots for you."
"Why do you guys keep saying that?" She meant him and Naomi, who seemed to attribute everything the guy did for her to some imaginary schoolboy crush she swore he had.
"But anyway, it's not just me either. I took a walk to the break room once and there was a receptionist in there on the fucking verge of tears, being consoled by a friend. I overheard her saying that Monte had called her kid ugly."
"So what?"
"Her kid was there. She'd had to bring her to work that day, and your boy had walked right up to her and said 'Eww, you're ugly.' In front of her mother. Then he laughed and walked away!'"
"Okay," Calisto said, "I get it, he's a dick. But what is your point, telling me all this?"
"Callus, this is a guy who had said maybe 8 words total since the time he started working there, four months ago, and now he can't shut up or let someone say anything ever, without retorting with his own little brand of wit, which comes off more like bile. That tells me he either thinks he's got nothing to lose or he's just stopped caring what anybody thinks."
She hated when he called her that. "Didn't you used to hang out when he first started there?"
"We went to Squarehead's once, and I never repeated that mistake with him. But at least back then he acted like he had some consideration for others. My point is, and I'm sorry to do this on the night that you launch, but this business of yours? I think he might be pinning a little too much hope on it, and I think you should tell him that just because he has a side thing now doesn't give him license to shit on everybody else."
A knock rang out on the door. Calisto had listened to all she was going to anyway. "I have to go," she said. "I think he's here."
"Tell him," Eric told her. "Tell him that giving your money to other people doesn't make him Zuckerberg!"
"Okay, good-bye," she said, annoyingly, and put the phone down. She drew a deep breath, banished the sound of Eric's voice from her mind, wished she had done her makeup, and opened the door.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Airport meetups

In time and in spite of the inauspicious beginning, Calisto would come to find Monte an agreeable match as a business partner. He didn't seem to mind doing the heavy lifting of organizing and executing the plans they would make, and he seemed to defer to her judgement whenever they reached a point of contention. She would think of herself as the "brains" and Monte as the "muscle" behind their operations, and couldn't help but wonder if this connoted some kind of reverse-sexism on her part.
Over the weeks to come, she would find herself wishing she had taken more of an active interest in her mother's business. She didn't know anything about formulating a business model or projecting gains vs. losses. There was Marisa to ask for advice, but every time they would meet she would try to convince her to come and work for her instead, as if Calisto didn't have her own irons in the fire. She and Monte would get together at random times of the day and discuss a marketing strategy for when the site finally went live. One of the first things they decided was that they would have a launch party to celebrate when it did, and a good piece of the initial budget immediately went towards planning that. She would ask him how the site was coming along, whether the programmer Monte had hired was making progress on it, and he would always say "Slowly but surely." When she pressed him for details, he would always say something about an "algorithm", trying his best either to not sound like he knew what he was talking about, or to confine discussion to areas where Calisto would have too little knowledge to understand, or too little inclination to care. Apparently his general point was that every dating site had its own algorithm for deciding who to connect you with, and they were attempting to come up with one that would stay true to the initial idea behind the site. Food, locations, availability. Spartan criteria by the standards of most, yet somehow creating something that would take all of those things into account and generate the most optimal connection turned out to require a more sophisticated coding work than they had anticipated. Monte called his guy a "perfectionist." On more than one occasion, Calisto had flat-out asked him if he was sandbagging the job in order to collect as much pay as possible for as little work as it took. Their idea didn't sound so complicated to her, after all. Monte would vouch for his guy even harder and get defensive, as if she was accusing him of complicity in the scam.
Thus, one of the first things Calisto had learned about starting up a business was how much prodding a manager needed to do to keep her workers (or worker) going. She felt like the only one who appreciated the scope of her own vision, who saw the potential in the idea, and believed in its potential. In retrospect it was insulting that Monte had been the one questioning her dedication. If anyone was determined to see this thing through, it was her. Of course, she was open to the idea that it may not all proceed the way she wanted it to. That was the second entreprenurial lesson she learned. It was all about compromise. Maybe an alleged programmer she didn't know and a self-proclaimed "Chief Operating Officer" putting himself through nursing school weren't the perfect team for this task, but they were what she had, and you worked with what you had.
While this was going on, and perhaps because the process was taking longer than expected, she became aware of the need for a fallback, and applied for the Loss Inspector position that Dominic had told her about. She had been passed over for other promotions in the past, but didn't see the harm in trying out for this one. Although the thought had occurred, she put out of her mind the idea that she wanted this particular position because it would allow her to work much more closely to Dominic than before (his desk would be right outside her office, if she got it), along with its adjoining thought that he had been interested in whether she was applying for it for the very same reason. No, it was about the pay raise and the escape from the call center floor, and at least consciously, she would not allow herself to acknowledge any other motives.
Moments after turning in her application, she encountered Dominic on the call center floor.
"Hey," she said to him. "I just dropped off my application. For that opening that you told me about."
"Sweet," he said. "On to bigger and better things. You're growing up so fast."
"I don't know, maybe someone else will get it."
"It'll be you, I can't see it going to anybody else."
"Well, thanks. Too bad it's not your decision or I'd be... in there!" She made a corny dramatic gesture and gave him a smile as she said this.
"If it was up to me, I'd keep you here. What am I going to do if you leave the floor? It's gonna suck not having you here anymore."
It was classic Weird Sexual Chemistry Boy. Calisto resisted the urge to remind him that if she did get the position she would actually be situated closer to him than before.
Days came and went, and Monte's news about the ongoing process of paying a programmer to design a site and an app for them grew scant. But one day out of nowhere, he came up to her and said "The site will be ready tomorrow."
"Really?" She was unprepared to take these words at face value, not even having considered how she would feel when she heard these words. "What about the algorithms?"
"We've moved up the timetable. Of course, it'll just be a test version, but we can finally see what it looks like and start working out the bugs in it. And also, I just have to warn you, my guy is going to be expecting his first payment by then."
"It's not a problem. Shit, this is exciting. I gotta tell Naomi." She started texting her.
"So what do you say, launch party tomorrow, your guy's place? What time?"
"Right after work. I want to get this thing on right now."
She got through the rest of the day and the next one constantly dwelling on what it would feel like to have finally achieved what they were talking about. And what would be the next step? She and her COO had alluded to a promotional push of some kind once the site became active, but her instinct had been to allow it to grow through word of mouth for some time. Monte had been adamant that they secure as much advertising as possible from the getgo, not only for themselves, but for other clients who would want to advertise with them.
"These things run on advertising," he insisted. "It's the only way we're gonna get anywhere with this idea."
She agreed, but she felt that the strength of the idea spoke for itself and that they were not yet to the stage where they could begin courting advertising contracts right away. Billboards were illegal in Hawaii, but if they hadn't been, Monte would have wanted to buy several of them to start with. He came to her one day with a binder full of computer-generated mockups.
"I have a friend who does graphic design," he said. "He just doodled these for me."
Calisto flipped through the pages, encased in clear plastic. They had a logo emblazoned on them, a plate with a big red heart on it, and a fork and knife sitting on either end. The graphics were excessively pixelated and had a throwback quality to them -- Calisto suspected that Monte that actually designed them himself. The words LUNCH DATES loomed over the emblem, in a blocky font that matched the 80s-video game aesthetic of the logo.
"It's an expanded thumbnail," he explained to her. We'll make stickers, flyers, t-shirts, whatever will get the word out."
She turned another page, passing alternate designs with slogans declaring "EAT WITH SOMEBODY SPECIAL... TODAY" and "FIND ROMANCE... ON YOUR BREAK". Continuing with the 8-bit motif, the heads of a boy and a girl met for a kiss over a round table in a small cafe-style eatery.
"This is all really... something," Calisto said.
"You don't like it?"
"It's just... wow, you're really taking the idea to different places, or something? I don't know! I just feel weird about it right now. I'll get used to it."
"This is good work," he said, snatching the binder back. His defensiveness contributed to her suspicion that he had done this himself. "You want this thing to succeed, right? This is how it's gonna do that. We are gonna plaster all of town with this stuff. Everybody will know what we do."
"It just looks a little misleading, that's all. People might think we're a video game. You didn't even put the actual web site in there."
"It has one of those scanner-code thingies, where your smartphone takes you there. It's just a mockup, you're not gonna come up with something better."
"Look, I'm sorry. I appreciate all this, it's a good start. We'll work on it more." She actually was sorry, sorry she had reacted to his presentation with so much criticism and hostility. He was taking liberties, surely, and she wished he would consult with her about these things so it would feel like more of a team effort. But at the same time he was going to extra mile for her, and proving his dedication to the idea. Being excluded from this type of planning had made her feel like someone else was taking control of her idea and running with it, that was all. But still, she never expected he would do so much for her, and it was both flattering and irritating. She just wanted a more equal partnership.
Her feelings on how they worked together so far were hopelessly conflicted. At one point, he tried to get her roommate involved: "She's some kind of reporter or something, right? Get her to do a story on is." She explained that journalism didn't work this way, and your reputation would suffer if you just did stories on friends and family as favors.
"If we're newsworthy, someone will do a story on us," she had assured him.
"I saw a story the other day," he said. "Someone made a web site for people who want to meet up at airports. You have a layover in Bumfuck Nowhere, nothing to do until your flight boards. So you can meet some random person for drinks while you're there. It's basically our idea, but with airports. According to this story, Honolulu ranks #5 in the world, hottest meetup place for travelers. #5, how the hell do you figure. I have never seen a mother fucker at the airport I wanted to meet."
When she got home that night, Calisto frantically started cleaning up the place. They never usually had anybody over except for Eric, and he didn't seem to mind the way they live and even contributed to it, in his own way. They left shit laying around everywhere. A trail of shoes (and no telling whose was whose) started the chaos, marking a path from the door to their one bedroom. Everything from rubber slippers to heels to high-top sneakers mingled with the trash, books, magazines, towels, and empty boxes strewn about the floor. The scant amount of furniture they owned was itself covered in blankets, clothes, bras and food containers. Calisto's knitting stuff sat in the middle of their corduroy couch and this was the first thing she picked up, removing it as if it were a secret object of shame. Her laptop was sitting next to it and she went to plug it into its charger.
This was what happened when one roommate was never around and the other one refused to give a fuck, she thought. The big armfuls of debris she carted into the bedroom seemed to replenish themselves every time she re-entered. Some of the stuff had been laying around for so long they had developed a fine layer of dust, like day-old stubble on the chin of a man. She worked quickly, tirelessly, but seemingly to no avail. There was just too much shit. She worked up a sweat carrying stuff from one room to another, some of which she wouldn't have ever attempted to move on her own under normal circumstances.
Soon she was out of breath. After that, she felt like she was hyperventilating. She sank to the floor, laying supine among the wreckage that remained. This was happening. She was taking her mother's legacy and parlaying it into something for herself. She hadn't anticipated the momentousness of the occasion would hit her until later on, if ever, but now it was all she could feel. When she was little, her mother had taken her to Waimea Canyon, on the island of Kauai. A photograph of her from that day had survived, showing her gripping the railing with both hands, hair whipped into a frenzy by the high winds that kept making her feel like they were going to carry her off into the abyss. This photo had been a treasured keepsake of hers for years (they didn't go on very many other trips) and even now she still had it, somewhere amongst all of this other crap. She remembered being lifted to stand on top of the lower rail, still holding on for dear life to the higher one, and looking down over the edge of the cliff. It was breathtaking, and not unlike this moment she was having now. She was at the edge of a cliff now, and there was no going back.
Here I am, Mumma, she thought, Catch me.
It was an odd moment for a number of reasons, but it soothed her. She never called her mother "Mumma" during her life, but had begun doing so in her mind ever since she had passed. And then just like that, it was over. Although the moment had been dazzling and terrifying (and in some some, would always leave it's impression on her), it was already receding into the distance, and giving way to a sense of profound tranquility. She went from being just on the verge of a panic attack to laying still in silent repose between one breath and the next. The thought that flooded her mind was that this was what she was supposed to be doing, and that it would be alright if it failed or even just made things more difficult for some time, those were just setbacks and ultimately amounted to nothing. She was put on the earth just for this, not for creating a dating site per se, but for doing something that would entail risk but also promise reward, for that was the defining feature of doing anything worthwhile in this life. She had unwittingly found the thing that had always eluded her when she went searching for it in girlfriends or party life or the arms of sympathetic lovers and that was a sense of belonging and purpose, a taste of a life that had meaning. It didn't last, but it only made the thirst for the next taste that much more tantalizing. She did not believe that the dead could contact the living, of course, but she would always attribute this sensation to some kind of visitation from her mother's essence or life force, even if it had been nothing more than a part of her mother that had lived on through her and lain dormant right up until that moment. This time she wept, it felt like, in total control of herself. I will cry this many tears and no more. Just enough to achieve the release. Then back to work.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Restaurant Rendezvous

Then, for some reason, they spent a bunch of time talking about what she thought of as all kinds of irrelevant shit. Calisto regretted telling him about her dream to become a couples therapist almost immediately, as he saw it as an opportunity to lecture about the ins and outs of marriage and family.
"The whole idea behind marriage is predicated on that fact that you have no idea what it's actually going to be like. You think you do, but it's impossible. And if anyone did, they would never do it," he said.
"What about people who get remarried? If it's so awful, why do it again?"
"You're assuming people have decent memories, or sound judgement to begin with. If they did, they wouldn't have got married in the first place. The thing is, love fucks you up. It makes it seem like a good idea. That's because love has about as much to do with marriage as a toaster has to do with time travel."
"You think people don't marry for love?"
"They might think they do, but for the most part they marry for stability and security. That's the reason it exists. Love is free, but it's fleeting. Marriage is expensive AND it's final. Even divorce doesn't set you free from it, trust me. So they're polar opposites, and people still get them mixed up."
"I disagree. Nobody would get married if they weren't in love. There is no reason to otherwise anymore, not in the modern world. It gets such a bad rap these days, why else would you do it?"
"True, it hasn't gone totally obsolete yet. It takes a long time for an institution this ingrained to die out. But don't worry, it'll happen. We might even see it in our lifetimes."
"How can you be so cynical about relationships yet still want to start a dating site with me?"
"The reason I want to start this site is because I AM cynical about relationships. It's a racket. Just like your marriage counselor dream. There will always be unhappy couples, because sooner or later that's what every couple becomes, so there will always be business for that line of work. The only difference between this and that is we'll be facilitating the beginning of the cycle, instead of the ending."
"There will always be lonely people," Calisto echoed his logic. She had wanted to project the idea that she still disagreed, but in truth she was feeling more sympathetic to his point of view than to her own, not because his rhetoric was in any way convincing (he seemed to think speaking in generalities made him sound wise), but because her own experience had been leading her to the same conclusions.
"Let me ask you this," he said, a little while after conversation had trailed off and they had been sitting in silence, staring past each other. "You remember the Hair Club For Men?"
"That commercial with the guy who was like, 'I'm the president, and I'm also a member?' The point of it was supposed to be that you know it works cause the guy who runs it uses it too."
"Would you ever use this thing that we're making? Do you believe in it that much?"
"I have to say no, but that's only because I'm trying not to meet anybody right now."
"What if you were trying to meet anybody?"
"Yeah, then I would. Why not."
"Then I'm sorry, I thought this was a racket for you too. I didn't know you believed in it so much."
"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe in it. What about you?"
"What, would I use it? I might. That was the reason we came up with the idea, right?"
"What if it wasn't your idea?"
"Then I don't know. If it's not my idea, or your idea, I'd probably think it sounded pretty dumb. You know, I was wrong about you. I thought the whole reason you came up with this thing was because you wanted to use it for yourself."
"There is no whole reason. It just sounded good at the time." She had not taken kindly to him calling their idea dumb. Even if it was silly and poorly-thought-out in some respects, she had wanted him to at least consider it objectively a good idea, or at least objectively an idea that could potentially create some kind of foundation for something successful.
"Why are you doing this, then?" he asked.
"Why does it matter?"
"I have to know that this isn't just a whim for you. We can't get all deep into this, and then you just decide to pull the plug. I mean you're assuming all the risk, right? It's your money we're using to start up. So you're the one who has to be dedicated to this."
She felt a little insulted, with him questioning her dedication and accusing her of whimsy when he was the one who seemed to decide from one moment to the next how important it was to him. But she decided to answer honestly, bypassing any number of sarcastic responses she could have used instead. "You know how my mom died? Before she did I told her I would only work for myself."
Monte seemed chastised for that moment, but his attitude remained glib. "But that's not the whole reason, right?"
"No, there's also the fact that my roommate is on the verge of kicking me out of our place, and I have somewhere I want to move, but I can't afford it." She had never thought of this before as the catalyst for anything, but it seemed to dovetail with her ambition to "work for herself".
"Is there anything else?"
"I don't know, maybe I will want to meet somebody someday. Is that good enough for you?"
"I'm sorry. It's just that it might get hard, and we might want to quit before we give it a real chance."
"I am all in with this thing. And we are doing it. You're gonna have to decide when it's time to quit, because I won't."
He finally stopped belaboring the point with her. Calisto ended up feeling like he had been unconvinced of the idea up until that point, and that she had had to talk him into it. He seemed to want her to supply the confidence for the both of them, and the burden of it hadn't seemed fair. If he wanted to work with her in the first place, he should have been willing to take her at her word. 
At one point they realized they had no idea what to call their little project. This part of the night turned out to be, to her mind, the only constructive part of their abortive brainstorming session.
"I like 'Restaurant Rendevous,'" Monte said. "It's got all the important information in there.
"Yeah, it's also too long," said Calisto. "We should find something simpler."
"It's also alliterative, if you were wondering."
"It's also a fucking mouthful. Try saying it out loud, 'Res-Tau-Rant-Ren-Dez-Vous.' The average person will lost interest before you get halfway through."
"What do you think it should be called?" He seemingly would not ask for her opinion until after she had shot his down, and she felt like she had just caught on to this.
"Oh, I don't know. It could just be called 'Meetups'."
"Meet ups? Why not not call it anything? Or, how about spell it like 'Meatups', so that way it's still about food?"
"Gross. I know it's vague, I just haven't thought of anything better yet."
"Name is important, branding and all that shit. You mean you haven't put any thought into what to call it?"
"No, of course I've put any thought into it. Just don't feel like I found it yet."
"Okay, let's look at the popular sites out there. eHarmony, OKCupid, plentyoffish... What do they all have in common?"
"Nothing. I guess they're all pretty dumb though."
"Exactly. It doesn't have to be super clever, just clever enough to catch."
"You know, I met with my mom's benefactor today, the lady with the money? She called our idea 'Impromptu lunch dates.'"
"So let's drop 'impromptu' since you don't want any vocabulary words, and call it Lunch Dates."
"It's misleading. It makes it sound like it only works at lunchtime."
"It's perfect. It gets across the idea that this is the quicker, more efficient way of dating. Lunch is the one meal of the day nobody gives a shit about. Breakfast is this big important thing, dinner is an after-hours ritual where you get to take your time, unwind. Lunch, you take it on the run. The idea will be that you can find love just *that* quick." And he executed a little finger snap on the penultimate word.
"We can target office drones, business professionals," Calisto said. "Seafood Square people who don't think they have time for dating. Now you can meet someone in the middle of your work day!" Her voice took on a cheesy, bassy commercial announcer's timbre on this latter statement. They both started laughing.
"You remember when I said your idea wasn't different enough, that it was missing a little something extra? I think we just found it." He reached out to her and they shook each other's hands. As if they had done all the work they were going to do that night, they proceeded to relax and spend the rest of the evening chatting amiably. She would remember finding it strange that he hadn't taken the opportunity to spit more bile in Eric's direction when she had mentioned earlier that he was essentially the reason she would have to move out sooner than later. Maybe even hate takes a day off. Or it's just not worth it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Totally Wired

Calisto could not blast through the doors of the sushi place quickly enough, for fear that her tears and shoulder-shaking sobs would be visible even from behind. In a way this encounter had shaken her up even more than the earlier one with Dominic. For the first time she wondered if she would actually be able to go through with visiting her Aunty on a semi-regular basis, if this is what it did to her. She wondered if it were possible to collect her money in a lump sum and thus not have to deal with seeing or speaking to her again. But that would probably involve some kind of legal counsel to clear through the various trademarks and copyrights surrounding her mother's old designs, and the thought of involving yet another third party in this process already felt like too much to consider.
This was what she knew: this venture had to be a success. Out of nowhere, she knew that as surely as  she lived and breathed. Her mother had not lived long enough to see what had become of the remnants of her old store, and Calisto questioned whether it ever would have fallen into such a state of disrepair had she been around to keep it afloat. Somehow, the idea of her mother's legacy crashing and burning hit her harder even then the knowledge that she was truly dead, never to return. She could only imagine the pain she would feel if she were to piss away her inheritance, the one thing her mother worked all her life for and left to her, on something that failed like seemingly everything else she had ever put her mind to in her lifetime.
Halfway through her walk back to the office, her melodramatic mood seemed to pass. It helped that it was a beautiful day outside, just breezy enough to keep the sun's rays from feeling lethal at midday. She decided that it would not be the end of the world if she and Monte failed. They could always try something else if this didn't work out. It seemed strange that she was already thinking of him as a partner on any future business endeavors she might have, but the idea of working with him, on anything, was appealing to her. Although at 31 he was four years older than her and had been through more life experiences (marriage and kids), he seemed to regard her as a peer, or at least recognize that he was just as much of a mess, even now, than she had ever been. The few older people she associated with over the years always seemed to cop a condescending attitude about life, a sort of "wait-til-you-see" mentality that registered to her as bitterness and resignation. Strangely, her mother had never been one of those people. Her attitude had been more along the lines of "Just hope and pray this doesn't happen to you." Which was what made her final advice so contradictory.
She floated through the remainder if her workday in a thoughtless daze and then met up with Monte at a small coffee bar nearby called Totally Wired. They had planned earlier to convene and check on each other's progress. He had finished work an hour earlier and was waiting at a table for her, a laptop on front of him, when she walked in.
"Aye, Calypso!" he called to her. He liked to pretend to mispronounce her name this way, and sometimes he liked to do it in this weird pseudo-preachery voice. She could tell it was an allusion to something but had no idea what, and wondered why he persisted in this little inside joke that she would obviously never get, as if after a while it would just click one day.
"Sorry to keep you waiting." He'd changed out of his work clothes and she saw him out of those turquoise scrubs for the first time. He had changed into what looked like workout gear (striped tank top, basketball shorts, sporty sneakers) but there was no indication that he had gotten any exercise whatsoever. The clothes looks pristine, like they'd never been sweated in. Plus, it was hard to picture a smoker as chain- as he was having much physical tolerance or endurance anyway. Maybe this was just what he wore to get comfortable.
"You want to get anything?" He had stood up as soon as he saw her.
"No, I don't like coffee."
"Come up with me anyway. At least check out the menu." They were the only people in the place besides the baristas and a few headphones-wearing sulkers spread out on the various pieces of antique furniture.
"Can I help you?" A youngster with two mismatched hairstyles on either side of his head came up to the counter.
"Yeah, I'll have a cappuccino and a green herbal tea bag."
He didn't look at them, but punched something into the register and reached under the counter. "And her?" As he asked he plopped an eighth of weed on the counter, wrapped in tinfoil. Calisto looked in every direction, all at once.
"Jesus," she said. 
Monte slipped a few bills to the two-different-haircuts kid and said "Get her a Vanilla Bean," as he pocketed the eighth. The kid placed two paper cups on the counter and walked away from it, without saying anything. A girl came from the other end and took the cups, presumably to make their orders in. Monte and Calisto sat back down.
"I thought you were done with that stuff," she said to him. "You were gonna try my ritual for a change."
"I am done. It's for my mom." She didn't know how seriously to take him, especially since he started rolling up a joint right there in their table. But for all she knew, he could be telling the truth, it wasn't like he talked much about his mom or anybody else.
"So," she began as he sprinkled little green flakes all over a white piece of paper, "I got a line on our funding. It'll be less than I expected, at least to start, but it should be enough to get us moving. We should act soon, though. I think it might be disappearing."
Maybe it was the concentration on the fat j he was rolling, but Monte didn't seem to react or even hear her words at all. In fact, in the two-and-a-half hours they'd ultimately kill that night, he didn't seem very interested in talking shop with her at all. They would always come back around to the topic, but in the meantime he seemed more interested in just sitting and shooting the shit. She wondered how she could ever have thought he'd be a serious person to do business with. On the brighter side, it was the first time she ever saw him so loosened up and carefree. He normally walked and carried himself like the force of gravity was abnormally strong for him. He had a way of sitting down fast, essentially dropping himself into his seat, which made him exhale sharply and startled her every time. Tonight, he was actually relaxed and well, just present. She had guessed that his normal intense manner was just the burden his personality took on during working hours.
Unfortunately, she would come to find out that this seeming casualness would typify their entire working partnership. He only took it seriously when doing so suited him. Whenever it seemed like their plans were getting somewhere, he'd change the subject or just lose interest.
Once he was finished with the joint he tucked it behind his ear, and what followed was a typical sequence.
"Did you talk to your programmer friend?"
"You said you knew a guy, and he would -"
"Just kidding, I know who you're talking about. Relax, have an espresso with me." Their drinks had just arrived, two-haircuts having dumped them on their table without saying anything and walked away. "You look all tense, your eyes are doing this twitch thing."
She picked up her Vanilla Bean. "This isn't espresso," she said. "Anyway, how is it supposed to relax me?"
"Just, take it easy. He said he'll work for us on a per diem basis. He works full time in IT though, so it may take him a while."
"How hard can it be anyway? Maybe we can find somebody else."
"Whoever we find, they're not going to be better than this guy, trust me. Anyway, what's the hurry? We got our whole lives ahead of us." He took a noisy coffee-sip, blowing into his cup as it went down.
"I don't get you. Earlier you acted like this was all urgent and important. Now it's like you don't care."
"I do care. I care at all. I just have other things going on."
"Like buying weed for your mom? What is that about?"
"I was just kidding. It's actually for my mom's dog. Anyway, that's not what I was talking about. Here's what I want to know: if you could do anything you want for a living, what would it be?"
"Jesus, what are you, my guidance counselor?"
"No, for real. Tell me yours."
Calisto hadn't ever told anybody this, probably because no one had ever asked. Her mother assumed she would want to be a fashion designer too, and Naomi had about as much curiosity about other people's ambitions as she had empathy for guys like Monte. So in a way it was flattering to be asked this for the first time, to feel like someone was truly interested. At the same time, it was also frustrating he was trying to make this into the subject in the midst of what was supposed to be a career planning session, and the answer had grown against its own will into a closely guarded secret. After a while she said "I don't know if I still want to anymore, but when I was younger I wanted to be a marriage counselor."
"Holy shit, why?"
"People in relationships are interesting to me. I like seeing how they bond or fracture as a couple. Everyone I know comes from a broken home and I wanted to help people like them. Hell, I don't know, you asked."
"I just wasn't expecting such a good answer. I've never heard anyone say they wanted to do that before. Here's a case in point: my thing was, I always wanted to be a musician."
"You mean like Yo-Yo Ma or like a real musician?"
"Like a real one. A pop group. I wanted to be in a boy band when I was a kid. It looked like fun. I am in a band now, or we have been off-and-on in a band together for the like the last 15 years. We're called Trick Questionz." He pronounced the last syllable in a way that left no doubt it ended with a z and not an s.
She had never heard of them. "What do you play?"
"I guess we're like fusion-rap, or not really rap, more like talky-folk, like Dylan style vocals? "Subterranean Homesick Blues"-style? But really diverse, funky backing music like The Roots."
"Yeah, but I mean what do you play?"
"See, that's why we never really got very far as a band. Our roles weren't clearly defined. I did some guitar and vocals, and my two friends, who are both lawyers now, by the way, played keyboards and drums. But then I wanted us to have some basslines so I switched to that, and the drummer took over guitar because the keyboard guy couldn't play, so he moved to drums. Then one of us got a turntable --it was the fucking 90s, ok? So we took turns fiddling with that. And someone else wanted to incorporate horns, probably just because he couldn't play them and by then we sounded like total shit.
"Now, whenever we get together to jam some old stuff, we spend more time figuring out who does what and on whose song and how does this go again to work on any real practice time. We have to keep starting from scratch. We didn't want to define what we were at the beginning. We wanted it to be democratic and free. But that just turned into chaos. We were too free."
"Why do I feel like I know where you're going with this?" Calisto realized suddenly.
"Let's define our roles first, before we do anything with the business."
"And you have some ideas what those roles should be, I'm guessing."
"You can be Chief Financial Officer. I can be Chief Operating Officer."
"Does it have to be so, well, official?"
"Trick Questionz," he said. "Chaos."
"All right, fine," she said. She would regret this, along with a lot of other things she agreed to.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Family talent

The young girl disappeared to the back of the otherwise empty store. A singer's voice said "It's easier to drink on a broken stomach/than drink on an empty heart" over the store's PA system. Calisto used the opportunity to survey the changes Marisa had made to the store which once been so familiar to her and which she had not set foot in going on 11 years by this point. She felt like she could recognize the designs her mother had had a hand in and tell them apart from the creations that were pure Almonds. In fact, the old tank tops her mother had designed in the loud, day-glo beach colors which spelled the name of her company in large, plain black block letters like:
on the front of them (and which Calisto had always personally found hopelessly tacky, despite selling well among her age group) had been afforded a prominent position near the front of the store, almost as if they were intended to be the first things you saw when you walked in. So her mother's hand in the operations was still visible even if her once-overwhelming personal touch had weathered away like footprints in sand near the shore.
Marisa emerged from the back, a large, multiethnic woman with a style that seemed equally informed by antique stores as by specialty clothiers. She opened her arms and Calisto walked into them.
"My baby, you're looking so fine today!"
"Hi Aunty." People who knew you as a little kid never seem to be able to shake that first impression no matter how much growing up you've done since then. It was the case with her and Marisa.
"Tell me you've come to work for me. I really need that family talent right now." The younger girl was off in some other corner of the store doing inventory or whatever. Maybe she just did the retail.
"Well, this is more than just a social call, if that's what you mean."
"You look hungry. I'm closing the store down for the next hour and getting you something to eat." Calisto tried to protest that she had already eaten but her Aunty clearly had interpreted her visit as a catch-up opportunity. It was problematic, having to accept her largesse after not having asked for it, while at the same time having an even more consequential subject on her mind.
They went to the place where her mother used to take her for sushi all the time. Calisto never cared for it, but wanted to play the part of the gracious guest long enough to conceal what she had really come for properly. 
"So how have you been keeping, dear child?"
"Oh, you know. Good days and bad days and all that." She never much felt like talking about the toll that recent and semi-recent events were taking on her, and didn't find any such talks productive. Pain was painful and loss was devastating, what else was new? Still, she recognized the necessity of participating in these kinds of discussions in order to appear at least mostly human.
"I still cry every day. I can't imagine what it must be like for you. Maile was a beautiful soul. Seeing the way her light shines on through you makes me so happy."
"Yeah, I'd like to talk about that. My mom asked a small favor of me before the end."
"You know you can come and work for me any time. Like I was saying, your skills are badly needed right now."
"That is not what she asked." Calisto barely knew how to contain her impatience at this woman's ceaseless need to hear only what she wanted. "She told me I should never work for anybody but myself."
"You would be working for yourself, entirely! Same as the arrangement she and I had. Design in your spare time, earn your share. Independence with stability, the best of both worlds."
"Aunty, I don't have a designing bone in my body. You know that, my mother ought to have told you enough times how woeful I was at everything she tried to teach me. Do you know what I made the other day when I was trying to knit a scarf? I made a shawl, but with a little scarfy tail on one end."
"See, now that's the kind ideas we need around here. Outside the box, refreshing."
"The point is, I don't think she meant for me to just follow in her footsteps. I think she wanted me to strike out on my own."
"You certainly can enter the game without my help, but why would you want to? And why would I let you when I owe your mother so much? The least I can do to honor her memory is get you started on your own path."
"Thank you. The thing is, I've been working on this idea for a dating site with this..." She had difficulty with the phrasing and eventually just settled on "new friend of mine."
"Oh." Her eyes widened as she tucked a bite of sushi inside of one cheek to continue speaking. "A new beau, I hope?"
"He's just some guy who wants to start a business with me."
"And tell me about the dating site, what's the idea behind it? You were always so smart and so good at coming up with clever things."
"Basically, the idea behind the site is that anybody can meet up with anybody else at any time. It's supposed to accelerate the whole process by connecting you with people who share the same taste in food. You could literally just show up, at a place like this, and connect with someone else who happens to be eating there, of you're both using the same service."
"Ooh, so you could have impromptu lunch dates then."
"Yeah, but it doesn't have to be lunch. Honestly, I got the idea from thinking about how I never went to prom because I didn't have a date. If this had existed back then, I could've hooked up with another dateless person and who knows, maybe we would've even had a fun night."
Marisa looked at Calisto as if attempting to recall a younger version of her. "I distinctly remember you saying prom was stupid and grades were all that mattered."
"Of course I would say that, no one wants to admit that not having a date makes you feel like a loser. This is supposed to be a solution to that. Anyway, I'm gonna need to get into some of my mom's cash flow to get us started."
"Ah, I see. Now you know that it's not just as simple as all that, don't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"The cash flow you speak of is built into the store itself. So how much I can give you depends on how well the store is doing at any given time."
"Okay, so how are things right now?"
"Baby, I'm so sorry. We've been in the red for quite some time. I've actually been looking at some less costly locations in case we have to move." Marisa's face registered that she read Calisto's expression of worry, and she reassured, "Don't worry, it's not as bad as that just yet. But if things keep going the way they've been... But holiday season is around the corner, too."
Calisto felt that she needed to do some reassuring of her own. "It's fine, I don't need that much. We don't really know how much this will cost yet. I just need to know it will be there."
"Oh, I would never let anything happen to your mother's money. I would pay it to you out of my own pocket if I had to. The situation is just precarious now, but we've lived through worse times together, your mother and I. I have a good feeling that the best days are still ahead."
"That's great. So you would be able to cut me a check if I walk in tomorrow and ask for it?"
"Anything you ask. I owe my livelihood to Maile, and she owes her inspiration to you."
"Mom didn't exactly make me feel so inspiring most of the time."
"Oh, you were all she ever cared about. She once told me that this business, no matter how successful it ever got, meant nothing to her without you there to benefit from it. The fact that she was supporting you for its own sake was the only reason she poured so much of herself into it."
"I guess you're right. But it's funny you say that, seeing as how she got out of the business right when I actually needed her support the most."
"Oh, she never got out. She left the day-to-day running of the store to me, but she still did a lot of stuff behind the scenes, right up to the end, you'd be surprised. And she never stopped supporting you."
"Yeah, but the point is, I couldn't feel it at the time. And now it's too late." Calisto was falling into the very pattern of self-pity which she set out to avoid when she began this meeting. It occurred that now that her mother was gone, it would be best for her to see as little of this woman as possible. Marisa hero-worshipped her mother and credited her for everything that had ever gone well for her. Maybe Calisto was too harsh on her mother, but hadn't she earned that right? Being an only child, this was her sole insight into what it would be like to be in a rivalry with a sibling.
"Children always learn everything too late. I know I did." Marisa had none of her own.
"I have to get back to the office," Calisto said without consulting a timepiece of clock of any kind. "Thanks for lunch." She hadn't eaten a thing.
"Feel free to take anything you want off the rack. It's all yours."
"I don't have time to shop right now, but I'll come back." The likelihood of her taking Marisa up on this offer was minimal. Black skirts and plain blouses were pretty much all she ever wore to work, and her idea of dressing up for an evening out was putting on the newer hoodie. Being raised around fashion for so many years had put her off the idea. It was curious to her that Marisa seemed to believe that a predeliction for clothing was genetic, or at least passed down through the influence of an elder. "And I'll call ahead next time. Bye!"

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Calisto tap-tap-tapped the "up" button on the elevator like speed or frequency would make a difference to its arrival time. She had way overstayed her 15-minute morning break making grandiose new dating app plans with Monte and she prayed nobody in the call center would make note of her absence. Actually, they had done this kind of thing before, and she got the impression that the allotted 15 minutes (which she was allowed, but not required to take once at 10:30 AM and again at 3:30 PM each day) was more of a general guideline than a strict rule. But still, if management was willing to essentially give their employees 30 minutes of PTO a day (or 2.5 hours a week), she should be willing to hold up her end and not flagrantly abuse the privilege, and all the while conspiring to start her own company to boot.
As she emerged from the elevator on the 14th floor, she nearly collided heads with the last co-worker she would want to cause a workplace accident with. Elevator etiquette was a maddening thing anyway, an unwritten set of rules involving doors held open, who gets on and off first, should you let the people headed to Immigration know that it's not their floor yet, etc. Nearly running somebody down was an everyday occurrence. But she hated it the most when the other person was Dominic Brodsky.
A tall, rail-thin, smiley-eyed near-stranger, Dominic was the boy that Calisto had, knowingly or not, carried a torch for ever since she started working at the Hawaiian Airlines call center. She was still going around with (and thus hopelessly pining after) James at the time when she started, but even then she felt unnerved and self-conscious around him in a way that signaled to her when she liked a boy. The very first time she saw him was in the kitchenette. She came in that morning and had crouched down to put her lunch in the fridge, but other people's lunches were stacked up nearly front-to-back, and she had to shift some of them around to make room. At the same time, she had left the freezer door open, as she planned to leave her water bottle in there last.
Dominic walked in and they said nothing to each other while still noticing and somehow acknowledging each other just the same. He stood next to her, opening cupboards above as if looking for something, then, seeming to find it, bent down to fill his mug with water from the sink.
Calisto had finally found space for her lunch and, hoping the boy wasn't watching her, stood up too quickly. "Ow!" Her head bumped up against the freezer door as she rose and she recoiled from it in shame and horror.
The boy either didn't notice or covered up that he did. As soon as he was done with the sink, he shut the water off and turned to leave. "Ow!" In that movement, he had walked directly into one of the cupboard doors he had left open. As far as first meetings go, this one seemed almost too cute, like something that would happen in a dopey romantic comedy to shorthandedly convey that the two leads were perfectly matched. To this day even, she had doubts as to whether that was a feat of true clumsiness on his part or if he had contrived his own embarrassment to let her save face.
So when she and James had finally sputtered out, and Naomi had been trying to lift her spirits with "other fish in the sea"-type talk and prodded her to think of anyone else in either of their peer groups who may pique her interest one day, she thought of this boy right away, and told her "There is this one boy at work who I have weird sexual chemistry with." And from that time on, Naomi (and Calisto too, at least in her mind) would refer to Dominic as "Weird Sexual Chemistry Boy".
None of this meant that Calisto held Dominic in any special regard as a person, nor that she even found him particularly attractive. It simply meant that any time they had any sort of one-on-one interaction at all, some other force took over. Neither one could talk to the other without getting flustered, speaking too quickly, or becoming anxious for the conversation to be over. It could be excruciating at times. The electricity between them could turn palpable, to the point where she would wander away in a sort of daze, unable to understand or explain how she had been made to feel that way. It was distinct from other times when she'd had crushes on boys in that this was less romantic and more downright dirty. Perhaps it was just a more mature version of the unrequited schoolgirl puppy love she fell victim to when she was younger. Emotion, as she knew it, did not even seem to enter the picture. It may have been all in her head or it could have arisen merely as the result of hormones or pheromones or chemicals passing between them but as far as she could tell she and Dominic had always wanted to fuck each other's brains out, for reasons neither one of them could articulate or even fully recognize.
Not that their banter together was flirtatious or even particularly friendly. Mostly they just nodded hello and then endured the awkwardness for however long it would last. Knocking heads together would have been par for the course in this case, actually. As it was, Dominic just about jumped back to avoid smashing foreheads with her; they were at practically the same level despite their height difference, with the way the carriage of his head tilted acutely downward.
"Whoa!" he said, avoiding her just in time and letting her pass. "My bad."
"Sorry," Calisto said, and hurried past him. Great, just what she needed.
"Hey," he called after her as she made a beeline for the office door. "So are you gonna apply for that opening?"
"What?" She stopped with her hand on the door handle, not hearing.
"The Loss Inspector position. Did you see it got posted?"
"No. When did that happen?"
"Today. You know how last time you said the next promotion you don't get, you're leaving?"
"Yeah." She had said this, but last time it had been a promotion to Scheduling that she was passed over for and her breakup had been fresher. It was possible, therefore that these words had been a "heat of the moment" way and not in a vacuum.
"Well, you should find out about it."
"Sure, I'll check it out. Thanks." She let herself into the office. Dominic had missed the elevator that had borne her up, which ostensibly he had been about to board prior to her arrival, and had to wait around for the next one.

Calisto could still feel herself pulsing from that encounter by the elevator doors when she went on her lunch break, praying it wouldn't repeat. Something always felt unfinished about their little run-intos, as if there was some connection which was supposed to have been made and was now left dangling. Surely the uncomfortably overwrought nature of their every hallway hello couldn't have been all in her own head, could it? She'd had enough experience falling into futile he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not circles with boys to know that this kind of overanalysis was exactly the type of thing that wasted the time of everyone involved and would probably even sabotage any spark, imaginary or not, that may exist between them.
But, she thought, the overanalysis part was what made it fun. The uncertainty, the ambiguity so rich and deep it seemed to effectively form a solid barrier through which neither one of them could talk. In many ways it was much more enjoyable to keep these impressions unspoken, because once they could be found to exist anywhere outside of herself they would succumb to the paling effect of mundane reality. She didn't want to know whether he felt the same way. Letting her imagination get carried away with her was far preferable to knowing the truth about the situation.
These reveries swirled within her as she left Seafood Square that afternoon and headed to Almonds on Ward. She often took long, aimless walks during her hourlong lunches that would find her standing outside the clothing store owned by Marisa Almond, her mother's former associate who had purchased Haughty. Her mother never employed more than six or so other people in all the time that she ran her business, and of them all only Marisa had been there since the beginning. Thus, her mother had decided to sell her business to her protege, who had launched her own product line under the auspices of Haughty (and who continued to sell their products, which still moved well) years before. In fact, the selloff had been more of a merger, and Almonds would retain exclusive retail rights to all of her mother's brand merchandise, the cost of which would continue to generate revenue for its retired founder. Marisa would subsist on the sales of her mother's established brand (while hopefully bringing crucial attention and exposure to her own brand) and those sales would support her mother basically until the end of days -- it had been a sweetheart deal that both of them benefited greatly from.
Calisto didn't find out all of this until later. Marisa had been a college freshman when she first met her, who then quickly dropped out to work for her mother. She stayed over at her house during much of that time, pulling all-nighters and constantly running errands while they tried to get her mother's dreams off the ground. Though much younger, Calisto had thought of her as a second mother back then and even called her "Aunty" to this day. 
But on those days she would stroll to Almonds following her mother's death, she wouldn't go inside. She wanted a reminder that her mother lived on in some way, through her life's work, without being confronted with it directly. In fact, when Marisa had approached her at her mother's funeral to explain that she would inherit retail sales rights would lapse to her, she remembered dreading their next meeting. Making her mother's death about money had not been something she savored or looked forward to.
Still, as she entered the store on this day to the chime of an actual tiny bell attached to the push bar and a Spoon song playing through the store's speakers, she reflected that she had waited for just the right time to finally have this discussion. Now that she had a plan as to what she was actually going to do with this money, she felt less greedy about coming in to ask for it and thought that surely this must have been what her mother wanted. At least this beat the original plan she had formulated when she found out about the money, which was to use it to develop a debilitating heroin habit and then finance an expensive rehabilitation program upon rock-bottoming.
A young girl wearing glasses and way-too-straight hair greeted her as she walked in. "Hi, welcome to Almonds! Looking for anything special?"
Calisto shook her head. "Actually, is Marisa here today?"
"Oh, do you have an appointment with her?"
"No, not unless you count a standing appointment. She knew my mother, Maile Belter?"
The girl changed the way she was looking at her, and said "I'll see if she's available."