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."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lamer ways

His question had torn at her and they parted on a sour note that day. Calisto vowed to have a real answer for him when next they met. She regrouped in her cubicle and jotted down little notes, ideas, anything she could apply to this enterprise of hers which was slowly taking on a life of its own. It got to the point where she was even arguing with Monte in her dreams, still unable to find the extra twist that would spin her idea into gold.
She needn't bother. Monte came to her one day with his own contribution.
Normally when he approached he had some rehearsed-sounding rant or subject to get off his chest, mostly about people on the bus (some guy had left his glasses on the seat as he got off once, and Monte had watched, standing, as a man with an enormous rear had sat down in his place, oblivious) or people who annoyed him at work ("if I ever become one of these people who brushes their goddamn teeth at work, I hope somebody breaks my toothbrush in half and kills me with it"). On this day he was solemnly businesslike.
"I've been thinking about your dating site idea," he said. "I have a programmer friend who can whip up an app that does the thing you were talking about. Anyone who has it on their phone or device can find anyone else in the same vicinity."
"Oh, so first my idea isn't different enough, now you're stealing it?"
"Can I finish? Here's the difference: you have the option of making yourself invisible, but still being able to see other people."
"So kind of a spying app."
"This is the idea: you start texting somebody from across the room. If you like what they say back, you approach. If not, move on to someone else."
"And you think people will go for this?"
"Why not? People do speed-dating, don't they? This is just the 21st-Century spin on it."
"It sounds like such a passive-aggressive approach to dating. One step up from 'Do you like me' notes in the 4th grade, ugh." Calisto had never received one of those notes, nor did anyone she knew. Monte's idea was actually quite agreeable to her, but she didn't want to let him know how envious she was, not having come up with it on her own, after racking her brain all this time.
"Yes, passive-aggressive," Monte replied. "That's a good word for it. Face it, people talking to each other face-to-face is on the way out. This is going to be how everybody does these things going forward."
"Sure, it looks that way now, but you're assuming every generation after this will be just like this one. Or worse. Maybe in five years no one will own a cell phone or a device, maybe they're found to cause brain cancer or something."
"All the more reason we should move on this thing now."
"So how would it work, exactly? You put 'Hey I'm going someplace' and hope somebody meets you there?"
"I'm thinking more, you go somewhere and put out 'Hey, is anyone here?' Then if anybody else is signed in they get your message and they can reply."
"And then you fall in love with them. I can think of lamer ways to meet people, but not very many." Calisto was 27 that year, so she had grown up in a position to watch traditional methods of dating and courting gradually turn obsolete. By the time she turned prom age, it looked as though people simply did not ask each other out at all anymore. Maybe sitting around waiting for a boy to extend a formal invitation had been her mistake. If she'd wanted a date, she should've got together in a large group, waited until the out-of-her-leaguers had all paired off, and then found someone who would take her by default, even just to save face, like being picked last for the softball team, which she often was.
"People don't care how they meet anymore. I'm willing to bet that these days, meeting somebody outside of a social media setting is more unusual than meeting someone within one. Social situations are always inherently awkward. Everybody instinctively wants to avoid them. Why else would this technology have taken off in such a crazy way?" And he held up his iPhone and tapped it against his forehead for emphasis. "This is the direction of the human race. We can get with it, or we can miss it."
"Or we can exacerbate the whole problem. Look, I know it's a good idea, but there is something evil about it. What if people used it to stalk each other?"
"We can't control how people use something, we can only make it available." It was the tiresome old guns don't kill people argument. At the time, the ethical implications of their brainstorming session didn't truly bother her that much, but she would've felt remiss not to mention it. "Anyway, it's not substantially more invasive than anything people are doing already. Checking in on facebook, Instagramming everything."
"What about the restaurant angle? That was kind of the impetus behind this whole thing."
"That's the best part. So you know how my dad used to own a restaurant? I got in touch with some of his old business associates, and almost every single one of them said they'd be willing to sponsor us."
"Sponsor, like corporate sponsorship?"
"They love the idea. It'll drive up business for them, and their publicity will bring more people to the site, or the app or whatever it is. Of course, they won't pay for development or anything, but they'll put us on their promotional material and stuff. Right next to the Yelp and Twitter icons, probably."
"Whoa. You've really been fleshing this out."
"It was like you said: this idea is too good for someone else not to come up with eventually."
"Okay, now look." Calisto stubbed out a cig which had ashed down to its butt almost entirely of its own accord. "If you're serious about this, and I think you are, we have to be all in together. This isn't going to be worth doing unless we're pursuing it as a legitimate career goal."
"I agree."
"Then just answer me this: Why are you starting a business with me while you're still going through nursing school?"
He exhaled slowly, curving his posture. "My divorce settlement just got finalized. Let's just say that with student loan payments, at this rate I'll be out of debt by 2046. Nurses actually don't make that much compared to assholes like Eric."
"All right then," she said, suddenly guilty. Here she was thinking it was so imperative for her to be able to afford to move into a new home so lavish even she'd dubbed it a Dream Crib, while Monte was staring down a foreseeable future's worth of student loan interest and child support payments. The incongruity of the stakes involved for each of them made her own concerns feel superficial and petty. Maybe  Naomi had wanted her gone, but wasn't the romantic idea behind a marriage that you would tie yourself to a person come hell or high water, not just waiting it out until everything fell into place for you? They had been engaged going on three years by now, and what was a couple of extra months to search for a suitable place? If she had to force the issue, she could offer to help get her set up or even look for her own place, but those were never even floated as serious possibilities. Calisto would move out, Eric would move in, and that was the end. Calisto now felt as though she had been letting something important slip by her all this time, and now that she had ahold of it she was ready to claw herself up to the rightful place that was still within reach.
She got over her guilty pangs when the following thought occurred to her out of the blue: any reason to go into business for yourself was a good one. Comparing motives at this juncture wasn't going to be productive, especially if they were going to be working together. "We'll do this," she said. "But quickly. I want to get moving on this right away. What are you doing after work?"
"Whoa, don't know about right away. Where are we going to get the money to fund this?"
"Call your programmer friend, let me take care of the money."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Prom revisited

Monte would trace the origin of their nascent business venture to a later conversation. Thus far, Calisto had managed to avoid telling him anything about her romantic history, in particular the fallout from James and how that put her in the uncertain living situation she was currently in and how that made her unable to hate Eric. If the topic ever threatened to come up, she could find ways to talk around it, leaving out key information or changing facts just enough to keep from going into an involved explanation, as if there could be any other kind in this case. Once when it seemed she was going to spill everything she had been keeping back, she said "Oh shit," and made some excuse about some fictional meeting she needed to go to, and abruptly left him to run back into her office. Alone in the elevator, she was breathing hard, felt that she had worked herself up for no reason, or for at the very least silly reasons, and told herself that she was not helping things any by keeping such a useless secret and that the next time it came up, she would volunteer the truth and not try so hard to keep her past under wraps. After all, what was there to be afraid of?
The thing was, she knew that coming forward with the truth would have explained a lot about her, and she preferred to leave a little mystery. At one low point following the breakup, she had told Naomi, "It's like there isn't anything else to me besides this, and I don't want to let it go, because once I do, myself, as I know it, will be gone and there's no way to tell what, if anything, will take its place." A common enough sentiment at the end of a messy breakup, one that she saw through as banal even at the time, but this realization did not override the fear that had caused it. It was similar in her dealings with Monte. But she truly didn't want to admit to herself was that he was as close as she'd let herself get to another man since James.
It was her own fault that she was curious about his divorce, and always had been interested in the topic in general. Her own parents had divorced when she was too little to understand it, and her father became a non-presence in her life after that, and her mother certainly never took the time out to give her the blow by blow. She wondered how it had affected the kids (since she had no real memory of her parents being together, there had been nothing to compare it to their being separated), and whether it was truly any more or less devastating than an unmarital breakup.
So she asked him one day, "Have you seen anybody since your divorce?" It seemed a casual enough way to broach the topic.
"Do you count?"
"What? No. Maybe. That's not what I meant."
"We went out once. I would almost count that."
"Whatever. Besides me, then."
"I've talked to some people online, but never got anywhere."
"Is it hard, to try to see someone else after all that?"
"That's not the reason why. It's hard to find someone worth knowing, that's all. Have you ever looked at a dating site before?"
"No," she lied.
"It isn't pretty. My problem is I assume nobody looks as good as their profile picture, so I keep wasting all this time trying to get to know them. That way, if they turn out to be uglier in person, I can at least try  to make a friend out of them instead."
"Preemptive friend-zoning. I like."
"I don't want a serious relationship anyway. What about you, you seeing anybody?"
"No. Don't want to either, I totally could if I wanted to."
"I believe you, you're way too pretty and interesting to stay single for very long."
"Oh, stop." This sudden forwardness made her regret pursuing this course of conversation, but it was too late to turn back now. "You said one time, people are alone by choice? At the time, I didn't agree, but now I think you were right."
"Oh. I meant to tell you, actually, I've been thinking about that too and I now I think you're right."
"Why, what did I say?"
"You said, 'Some people are just lonely.'"
"I guess that may be right, but that doesn't make what you said not right."
"Look, all I meant was, these days it takes some effort to be alone."
"You said being alone was in our nature, how could that be if it takes so much effort?"
"Just because something is in our nature doesn't mean it doesn't take effort. But why am I still defending this view when I don't even agree with it anymore?"
The issue passed. They both remained silent until Monte seemed to remember something and said, "With the dating thing, what's really going wrong is we can never agree on a place to eat. Once they find out about my dietary choices, they back out."
"What choices?"
"I'm a vegetarian."
"Oh yeah, I forgot about that."
"For some reason, nobody really wants to meet for a date at Whole Foods."
"Hell, aren't there dating sites for vegetarian people?"
"If there is, I haven't found it. Turns out taste in food is a dealbreaker for a lot of people."
"I can see that."
"It's crazy, I actually found a dating site for people who want to meet up for gluten-free eating. But vegetarianism, that's too fringe."
"Why don't you start one?"
"I don't know, seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to get a date."
"This could be a good idea. Not for vegetarians strictly, but for anybody with any kind of taste. Meet up at your favorite place, even if it goes bad, you still got a meal you liked."
"I think you're putting undue importance on the eating aspect of dating."
"How is it unimportant? If you're dating someone, you're hoping for something long-term, right? And if you're with somebody long-term, what do you think you end up spending the majority of your time doing?"
"You know what Chris Rock says? In his stand-up special, he says 'You're gonna do a whole lot less fucking and a whole lot more eating.' Must be why most marriages go to shit."
"Monte, we have to do this. It's too good of an idea for someone else not to come up with it."
"I don't know, I agree with what you're saying, but there isn't much to it."
"What do you mean?"
"Like, the food thing. The problem with meeting people who like the same food is that, by and large, most people eat the same shit. Isn't that the whole idea behind fast food places?"
"Maybe, depends where you live. If you live in a town where there's only fast food and Zippy's then yeah, your choices are limited."
Calisto had a deeper motive to dreaming up ways to make more money. Ever since that night she had gotten stoned with Monte and hung out on the roof of her building, looking down on The Dream Crib, she had been plotting ways to earn enough to move out of Naomi's apartment (whereupon presumably, Eric would finally move in for good) without having to settle for the place in Kaimuki with the three girls, which had turned out to be too good to be true. Turned out one of the girls kept a gaggle of dogs -- big, mean old Dobermans who had the run of the place. The owner of the house was her uncle, so there was nothing could do. No wonder the rate had been so rock-bottom. Calisto didn't have anything in particular against dogs, but adding even more bitches to the mix had not been what she had in mind for the next place.
She tried to put what little knowledge she had of fashion and clothes to work, maybe look up some her mother's old business contacts to help her with odd assignments on the side. But her skills were rusty. Aside from the knitting, she couldn't really stitch anything together. Even that was going by the wayside, now that she didn't use it to exorcize the demons of her old relationship anymore. At one point she had been trying to knit a scarf, and gradually messed it up so badly it began to turn into a shawl. Instead of quitting, she just kept going, hoping against hope she could complete the shawl without making it look too obvious that it had started as something else.
"What are you working on?" Naomi asked one day.
She held up the woven yarn, turning it around to show both sides. "It's the hot accessory this season. Part shawl, part scarf. I call it a scawlf." Then she put it on to model it, a stringy orange wrap with a long tasseled end which she threw around the neck.
"Oh dear. I guess that's how fashion works. One brave person has to start the craze."
"It's not finished yet," she'd said, hurt. She removed the scawlf and resumed working on it. Of course she knew it was ugly, it was something she should've given up on long ago, but it was still hers. The fact that Naomi was no longer even bothering to humor her little project seemed to be a sign that she was growing more and more impatient for her roommate to find her own place so she and Eric could get married already. We get it, you're devastated. Build a bridge and get over it. In Calisto's mind, being the third wheel meant you were in the position for the couple to use you as their excuse for anything they had or hadn't done. Which made her feel like the child she had been, when her parents were doing the same thing.
The next idea she'd had was starting a social networking site. She was practically computer illiterate in spite of using devices and laptops and computers all the time, but she decided that the concept and idea behind a web site or application was more important than the nuts and bolts of programming language anyway. The initial idea she had was, create a way to meet other people with similar interests to you on the fly. People were always checking in at events and such, so why not take the next step and connect them to each other? If you were at a concert and you wanted to pull up all the information on the person sitting next to you, you'd just hit go.
That idea died on the vine. Why would anyone expose themselves to that? Some weirdo next to you turns and says "Hi, I see you're a Virgo." Privacy may have gone out the window of the average citizen's life long ago, but even post-Snowden people still retained an inborn hostility against anything that seemed to exploit their information.
Still, she couldn't let go of it entirely. She kept thinking about how she didn't have a date for prom night, and so she stayed home pretending to be above it, ambitious, adult, ahead of her years. The truth was, thinking about that night still made her want to cry. She'd had a brave face on at the time, but now she wished she had gone, date or no date. Who needed a date anyway? She could've just found a group of boys without dates and picked the cutest one and danced with him all night. Her mother had offered to make her a beautiful dress years before, and she should have given her the opportunity. And anyway, if her education was supposedly such a high priority, why had she flamed out in college so dramatically? It wasn't about that she could now admit. She had wanted to stick it to her mother, who had spoken of prom as if it was some sacred coming-of-age rite. I'm not like you, she'd wanted to impart.
But was there anything wrong with wanting to be like her mother? Those words of hers, the ones about not working for anyone but herself, made more and more sense to Calisto these days. It wasn't just her mother being smug about what she had accomplished. Calisto answered calls from disgruntled airline customers all day -- delayed flights, missed connections, grounded planes, ticket prices going up, even complaints about time spent taxiing -- and the only way she could get through it anymore was to pretend like she owned the company. Surely, this work was a pain in the ass, but if I was doing this work only for myself, maybe it'd be worth it. And then, if the work were her own, would she not take far more pride in it and put more effort into doing it the best way possible? So her mother's advice had been practical advice. Make your own work, make your own money and you will deliver your best product: yourself. It was all she could do not to tell her customers "This would not have happened if I were the one running things."
She admitted to herself that maybe she was pushing the idea of a dating site a little too hard on Monte. But lately she was coming to trust his advice more than anyone else's. They had no professional relationsh, so he had no need to mince words. While he was aware of her personal tragedies, he had no investment in her well-being, so he had no reason to tell her what she wanted to hear. And he just struck her as a blunt, straight-shooting person in general. So to hear him openly disparage her ideas was disheartening.
"Alright, maybe not restaurants," she said after some thought. "Maybe just public places, meetups. Even bars or coffee places, for Christ's sakes."
"No, the restaurant part is a good idea. That's not what's wrong with it. What's wrong with it is how is this drastically different from any other dating site? It's not."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lunch Dates

Still, she'd had to live somewhere, hadn't she? Maybe this duplex in Kaimuki with three other girls wouldn't be the worst place. There was the little matter that she hadn't lived with anybody else besides Naomi since they had both been in college, and didn't exactly relish the idea of getting acquainted with a whole set of girls' habits, idiosyncrasies and schedules, not knowing who was difficult to live with until it was too late, and generally getting used to sharing an enclosed space with multiple people all over again. An only child, and one whose single mother was constantly on the go at that, often leaving her alone until the very ends of some nights, Calisto enjoyed having a place to herself and wasn't sure how else to live.
She smoked and thought all of this over and her mind wandered to how she felt the need to profusely thank Naomi for introducing her to Monte. Had she really been all that grateful? Naomi didn't seem to have too high an opinion of the fellow herself, and the idea that she could think so little of him and yet still think him a good candidate to introduce to her best friend was unsettling. But it had always been that way, perhaps. Of the two of them, Naomi was the unequivocally "the pretty one." Even Calisto's mother had complimented her best friend to her on numerous occasions, making comments like "Your friend is so gorgeous," as if having made a best friend of such a lovely creature reflected well on Calisto, somehow. It was the kind of beauty that was a little too obvious, with its soft features and yellow-blond hair and straight, white teeth (and it had in fact helped her get her job as a field reporter on Channel 2 news) which almost made her look like she was constructed by a focus group ticking off a checklist of optimal attractiveness. But if it didn't show you anything you hadn't seen before, at the very least she certainly got your attention. Calisto was used to seeing heads turn in their direction when they would both enter a room, and getting little if any response when she was by herself.
In comparison, while you certainly couldn't call her unattractive (though her mother came close to intimating as much whenever she had the opportunity), Calisto had a much more conspicuous look about her, as if you had to search in order to notice the fullness of the lips and pleasingly heavy-lidded eyes with seemed to communicate in their own silent language.
This was another thing that had made her relationship with James, however unofficial, feel like such a validation. James and Calisto had been outwardly just as much of a mismatch as Naomi and Eric were. Even Naomi had been heard to comment "Yeah, I'd hit that," after seeing James for the first time. As a matter of fact, he was just the type of guy Calisto had always thought Naomi would end up with, which made it even more flattering and bewildering that he'd picked her instead. Or maybe he just picked the easier prey, like a lazy panther that didn't want to work too hard for its kill. He had the mean countenance of a charismatic iconoclast (she couldn't stop thinking of his last name as "Dean"), and other women set eyes on him wherever they went, they same way both men and women would find themselves casting stares at Naomi whenever she arrived. It certainly was a nice arrangement for Calisto -- that level of scrutiny would'be made her uncomfortable had she been its object, but she didn't mind being just left of the center of attention. 
All this went through her mind in the amount of time it took her to get through about four cigarettes, when out of nowhere she realized she didn't want anymore. She may never want to smoke again, she thought. A faint wave of nausea came over her, and she again regretted the vodka saimin. Even after she stopped smoking, she lingered up on the roof by herself for a few minutes. She wondered if the ocean was close enough to hear from the Dream Crib on a night like this, when everything else went quiet. Waves rolled up and down a rock wall all day and night there.
Finally she climbed down off the roof and got back inside. Their room had two twin beds in it, but she made a habit of falling asleep on the couch every night. However, tonight she felt like sleeping in a bedroom and headed that way. Naomi was out -- she never could stay awake once she got in bed, and nothing could rouse her. It was what made her easy to live with, and again the idea of acclimating herself to a stranger's sleeping patterns, or worse, living with someone who kept the same strange hours as herself was hateful. The slow pulse of her roommate's breathing give her a warm feeling of human compassion and she undressed and got into bed without brushing her teeth or anything. She had always wanted a sister -- the immutable nature of family relationships appealed to her -- and functionally she had one. She fell asleep thinking about what it would've been like to have this growing up.

After that night, whenever they'd see each other during smoke breaks, they would visit and take them together. At first this new arrangement had made her uncomfortable. Accustomed to smoking alone with her thoughts, she couldn't get the hang of having to keep up conversation and generally play the part of a person who socializes with others. She spent all day on the phone talking to strangers, most of whom treated her poorly, as an obstacle at best and an adversary at worst, so she cherished any time she could get to sit in silence.
She tried to change up her schedule, take her breaks on the quarter-hour instead of the top of the hour, and this sometimes worked but Monte would eventually find her again. She found that she didn't mind seeing him so much during these times, though. As long as she wasn't expecting to see him, she didn't mind.
They eventually learned a lot more about each other through these visits, none of them lasting longer than 15 minutes at a stretch, like that Monte had two children, a boy named Dane and a girl named Deanna, ages 6 and 4 respectively. Monte found out that her real name was Monica and that she had been smoking on-and-off since she first discovered the pack in her mother's purse before she could even ride a bike and that she had been studying to be a sign-language interpreter before she dropped out of school.
"Why'd you drop out?" he'd asked.
She shrugged. "Didn't seem worth it. My mom didn't support me because she had no regard for education. And all I did was party and fuck around on campus. I was wasting time and money."
"None of those are real answers. If you'd wanted to, you would've stayed and finished."
"All right, then I didn't want to." His way of not accepting her answers to his questions and spinning them until they fit his preconceptions caused her no end of annoyance. She pointed it out to him every time, but he never stopped. "But if I just say I didn't want to, you would've followed up with 'Why?'"
"I wouldn't have. Dropping out is exactly the thing you don't have to explain. School fucking sucks, your mom was spot on with that one."
"Well I happened to enjoy it, it's just that I couldn't hack it. Anyway, it worked out fine in the end."
"It was sure nice of your roommate to let you keep living with her after you crashed and burned out there, though."
"Yeah, that's kind of a vicious way to put it, but she was a lifesaver. Naomi is my rock. Don't know what I'd do without her."
"It still surprises me that you don't hate her fiancée more than you do."
"I hate him a little. I mean duh, I have to. But I can't hold her happiness against her."
It seemed like this was the same shit they discussed every time they were together. Some of the weightier subjects which had come up the night of their inaurgal stoned reverie remained unremarked upon, as if they both sensed a boundary they had been complicit in creating. She would ask after his kids or his ex or even his mother occasionally, but he seemed reticent to go into any detail about them, giving out only general information. Some people attempt to extract as much biography from you as they can without revealing anything too personal about themselves, and at the time she thought he was just one of those people.
When alternating the timing of her smoke breaks failed to afford her desired solitude, she tried alternating her locations. She would smoke in front of Squarehead's in front of the curtains that were drawn there by day. She went down to the corner in front of the courthouse, where folks waiting for jury duty to begin glanced at her from across the street while puffing on their own stoges. There was a beautiful little mini-garden next to a nail salon, bonsai trees and a hedge of azaleas cropped within an inch of their lives, though she never saw anyone work on it. It was a small piece of earthy comfort amongst all the concrete, glass and metal which she enjoyed staring at because it have her a wistful feeling. This became her regular spot for day on end when it proved isolated enough to preclude discovery, for the time being.
It didn't matter. Monte always found her. Apparently he kept no regular times of locations himself, but spent his breaks and lunches wandering the Square as if driven by a peripatetic urge to abandon all familiar surroundings. A day or two would go by where she would get to smoke and be alone with her thoughts, but sooner or later, there he was.
At times it almost seemed as if he was all over the place not to specifically track her down, but more to avoid some mystery person. One day they a group of fellow nurses and technicians who wore the signature turquoise scrubs of the surgical center he worked at milled past her.
"Why don't you take any breaks or lunches with them?" she had asked him when they were out of earshot.
"If they wanted me to, they'd ask me." he said.
"Why don't you think they want to?"
"Do you mean, why do I not think they want to, or why, do I think, do they not want to?"
"Isn't that the same thing?"
"No. Maybe I don't want them to want to."
"Before we started doing, I don't know, whatever this is right now, I don't remember ever seeing you with one of your coworkers. I'd see them, eating or walking with each other, and I'd see you. But not both together."
"What you see or don't see is not necessarily what is."
"Fine, but you know what I mean."
"You tend to be alone a lot yourself."
"I asked about you."
"But I didn't ask about you. If I see someone spending a lot of time alone, I assume it's by choice."
"It's never a choice. Nobody wants to be alone."
"But that's our natural state, isn't it? Okay, so humans are social animals. But they're also solitary animals. Being social makes certain things easier, but that doesn't mean it's in our nature."
"See that guy over there?" She motioned with her cigarette hand. The elderly gentleman was dressed in the drab gray tones of the cleaning crew who picked up debris and washed the glass doors and windows around the Square. At this moment he was seated at one of the tables with a cup of coffee. "I've seen that guy around here every day since I started this job. In all that time, I've never seen him with another person, not even one of the cleaning ladies. But you can tell, it isn't by choice. I don't know if it's a language barrier or if he just forgot how to be with others. You can see it in his face, though. That is not his natural state, nobody just looks like that. Some people may be solitary animals, that's true, but some people are just lonely." And she finally stopped for a drag.
All Monte had said was "Why don't you go and talk to him, then." Calisto didn't rise to the bait. In subsequent days she would come to regard this conversation between them as the origin of their idea for Lunch Dates.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Dream Crib

She finally broke her gaze from the pot of water, as though mindful of the adage that a watched one never boils, to open up the pantry to search for something extra to throw in the soup. As a child, she'd loved making it with black pepper, though it may just have been that it was the one seasoning they actually kept on hand. Her mother was fond of throwing it into her mouth as punishment for using curse words in her presence, and as a result she had developed the taste for it. Their current pantry held cinnamon, rock salt, not much else usable.
She tried the fridge. A bottle of Grey Goose which she had not noticed before was sitting there. The buzz from the weed was dwindling into a slow, silent hum, and she thought a little vodka might be just the thing for it. Stirring the noodles in with the seasoning, she popped the bottle and measured out a cup. "I will not get drunk tonight," she said out loud.
She started crying just as the noodles had reached their desired level of firmness and the flavoring in the soup had found its consistency. Everything was balanced out, just the way she liked it, little bubbles clinging to the edges of the noodles, steam circling upward from the bowl she poured the broth into. It was all perfect. She threw the cup of vodka in and mixed it around, and cried softly, almost unaware of herself.
The bolt to the door turned just then, and Naomi walked in the door, tapping on her phone, not looking up. Calisto sniffed and carried her bowl over to the couch.
"You turned the light on... Smells good in here," Naomi said.
"Do you want some? It's got vodka in it."
"Vodka? Jesus H., Calisto, you're fucking stoned!"
"I've been crying but I'm okay."
"Oh my god babe, I'm so sorry. What did that guy do to you?"
"Nothing. We got ice cream. He hates Eric."
"I won't abandon you like that again, honest to Christ I've been running guilt trips the whole night. I invited you out and ditched you. If I ever do that again you can unfriend me."
"It was nice. We have a scary amount of things in common. And this is so good, you now have to try some," she blew on a forkful of hot noodles and offered them up.
"Thanks. Okay, you got me, I kind of heard some things about the freak's life story and thought, Hey, he sounds kind of like you. Maybe that's what you need. But that was a mistake and now I feel awful."
"Don't, come on. I'm serious, he's a nice guy. Yeah he's strange, but I don't know anyone who isn't. Thank you. Thank you for introducing us. This is gonna sound dumb, but I feel like I turned some kind of page tonight."
"Yeah well, next time I leave you alone with some guy who has drugs, call me up."
Calisto smiled to herself and packed her mouth with another forkful of vodka saimin. She was smiling because the last time Naomi had left her alone with a guy who was holding, that guy was James and the drug was coke and they'd ended up fucking off and on for 10 or 11 months before he finally made a clean break from her. Calisto would never think of blaming Naomi for that outcome, but her friend tended to hold herself responsible for any disasters that may befall her. Although their relationship had never become defined enough for him to be considered her "boyfriend" it was the last intimate one she'd had and if she didn't think of him as that the alternative was to loathe herself and languish in shame. She'd thought of herself as free and open at the time, when was she really was was attached and lovesick. And she had never wanted to be one of those girls -- unable to distance herself from the emotions a man had made her feel, always deluding herself that this time, no this time when he breaks down in tears and begs her to come back and swears that his father never showed him how to be faithful so how could he learn it from scratch, this time he wouldn't turn around the next day and start cheating on her with the first fair-looking piece of ass he laid eyes on, he would control what he referred to as his "sickness", he would love only her.
Recalling the drama made her realize that perhaps Naomi had been on to something -- Monte couldn't have been different from James, and that had to have been taken into consideration. Afraid she'd made Monte out to be a shadier character than he actually was, she downplayed her uneasiness with the note they'd ended the night on and backpedaled. "He's probably the type of guy who would be good for me. Which might explain why we have no compatibility on that kind of ground whatsoever."
"You sure about that? I think he digs you." Naomi was calling this from the hallway bathroom, her toothbrush working though the garble.
"Then it's a one-way thing. Actually, he wouldn't stop talking about his failed marriage." It's wasn't true, and Calisto had no reason to lie about it. Yet the fallout from his previous relationship had hung in the background of their entire evening, like an unremarked-upon odor.
"Well, better luck with the next one." She emerged from the hallway in her robe, taking her hair down. "I think this is a good start for you. Besides, any experience is better than none, right?"
Calisto shrugged. Mixing vodka with two bags roast beef saimin noodle soup had not been a bad idea. The first few bites were savory, but the alcohol had meddled with the consistency of the broth and rendered the whole mess soggy and unappetizing. She put it aside, resolving to finish it later.
"Listen," Naomi went on, "I have to talk serious for a second. Eric's manager friend found this really cute duplex for you. It's in Kaimuki, you'd have to find a ride. But we would help you out with that until then. Three other girls live there, they all work super hard and none of them have pets. It's perfect."
"Can we not do this right now?"
"Look, I know you're holding out for that raise, or that promotion, whatever it is. But in your price range, this is as good as it will get right now."
"I had a couple more months, or thought I did."
"And you can always look around once you get established. Now we've carried you this far, and you know I hate to do this. But it's time to get realistic."
"I just remembered, I have to go smoke --" Calisto got up and opened her pack. "Twelve cigarettes in a row. Let's pick this up later, okay?"
"At least look at the place," Naomi stopped her on the way to the door and pressed a card into her hand. "You can check out the pics on Craigslist. It'll mean a lot to me if you look. It's the best place yet."
"Thanks," said Calisto, accepting the card without looking at it, making haste to get out the door, like a guilty shoplifter.
You weren't supposed to sneak onto the roof of their building via an old fire exit on their floor. If the manager saw her going up there she would catch hell for it; even a member of the maintenance crew who did repairs in the apartments had managed to get a former tenant evicted when they were caught using that stairway, which was a safety hazard that never got brought up to code. But it was late and she was alone, so the noise which commonly gave away would-be prowlers and trespassers could be kept to a minimum. This rooftop had always been Calisto's favorite spot to smoke, and she crouched near the edge lifting deadly toxins into her face and exhaling them out again.
She liked this particular roof for a specific reason, though. She could look down on the Dream Crib from up here. The pool on the roof of the Dream Crib was empty, but the lights to the pool were turned on, and the pale blue water in it rippled and undulated, reflecting back the higher lights of the city to their sources. This was where she had planned on living once Naomi and Eric got married. A modest enough building from the outside, but with luxurious 2 bed/2 bath rental units that each took up one half of an entire floor, in a plum location mere blocks from the ocean that was adjacent enough to the heart of downtown without being surrounded by its most congested areas (like the Seafood Square where she worked). She could've afforded it too, if she had been able to convince James, who was a commercial real estate developer, to move in there with her. The owner of the unit she wanted, on the 6th floor, was a friend of his family and would've pro-rated their rent and deposit. The idea that she stayed with him (or tried to) for so long because his salary would've made it possible for her to live in the Crib of her Dreams was one of the guilty, shameful thoughts that drove her to do things like smoke entire packs of smokes in a single night or sit in dark rooms neglecting her most basic desires. This was partly why it was important to convince herself that she had been in love; it seemed to justify the lengths she went to more so than rational concerns like living arrangements and financial solvency. You can question motives that are based in pragmatic reasoning more scrutinously than you can ones that stemmed from emotions and unaccountable human attractions. Matters of the heart have the advantage of being beyond debate.
The truth was, Calisto could've afforded it herself after her mother had died, at least initially. When she'd sold her clothing label to a friend who owned her own boutique she had kept an interest in the rival company as part of the deal, which had grown considerably in the years following and would cash out and be left to her daughter in the event of her death. True, the few tens of thousands that this investment was worth would only cover about half a years's rent at the Dream Crib (not counting the cost of utilities and the basic essentials of a comfortable life), but there were moments when Calisto had seriously contemplated quitting her job with the Hawaiian Airlines customer service center, moving into the place alone, and just living in lap of luxury, generally spending that time recuperating from the challenges of the past year and figuring out where she truly wanted to go next from there, until her inheritance was all used up. This was the stuff of idle fantasy of course, and even in her worst moments she knew this sort of life would soon lead to boredom and restlessness, and the pain of being evicted from her Dream Crib would far outweigh the quiet comfort of spending a few months there.
No, the Dream Crib was not a place you spent a few days in like a timeshare, it was a place where you went to retire. She knew on some level that she would be unable to drag her standard of living backward once she had experience such a radical upgrade. Anyplace she moved after that would seem poor and depressing in comparison. Another part of her fear of letting things finally end with James was that it had honest-to-God been the most stable and healthy relationship she'd yet experienced with a man (which was saying something in itself), and the thought of leaving that and ending up in something that didn't quite match it, or worse, simply repeated her old cycles of pining after boys who never seemed to return the same measure of affections was just too heartbreaking to face. It was the same way with the Dream Crib. She hadn't wanted to move there unless it was going to be a permanent move, and after James broke it off with her she lost all desire to live there at all. It was the kind of place you wanted to share.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


"Let's get me more smokes," he said. Perversely, the convenience stores nearby had long since closed, and they would have to stray seven blocks West from Seafood Square to find the nearest Seven-Eleven. Calisto was feeling a walk at that time anyway, and badly wanted to get a bottled water, the sugary-dairy confections having left a filmy residue all down her gullet. Anyway, the area was getting too crowded and noisy. The night suited a constitutional, and they pulled their drags with a palpable sense of relief at having escaped the site where they spent the majority of each day anyway.
Taxis were pulling up. Mopeds and weird little 2-seater rental convertibles that looked like bumper cars gone runaway went by, lending the night an ever more surreal air. No longer feeling the need to keep up the chatter, they walked as if not even together, like they just happen to be moving in the same direction, at the same pace.
Calisto was in one of her stoned zoning-out moments where her thoughts and impressions were so loud and vivid they threatened to drown out the actual world. She was thinking, I need to get out of that apartment but I don't know how.
A bike flew by, barely able to maintain its trajectory along the sidewalk with the two of them walking abreast. Calisto jumped, instinctively, toward Monte, as the bike swerved around a lamppost.
"Hey!" Monte shouted after it. "Fucking crackhead," he muttered as the cyclist disappeared down the way. "Go smoke a dealer's dick. You ok?"
"Yeah," she said. Then Monte laughed like a jackass. "What?"
"We had this crazy dude we were treating for his hypertension, the other week. One of those guys you see walking down the street jabbering at himself the whole time. But highly articulate, at that. He was talking about how he hates this town and all the rude people in it, then somehow he got on the subject of people on bikes. He said, 'The Bible says the Apocalypse will come on a horse, but here in Town it will come on a bike.'"
"Super serious about it too. Looked at me dead in the eye. Don't know how I didn't just shit myself, whether from fear or mirth."
"So what are you gonna do now that you're giving up your ritual?"
"I thinking I'll try your way. Just not let myself have anything I want. Sounds fun."
"Well, you can see how much good it's done for me."
Her phone buzzed, and she snatched it from her bag like she was swatting at a fly. "'Sorry babe, we were an hour early," she read verbatim. "'Be home later, don't wait up.'"
"You called it. Why did you say you needed to get out of her hair earlier?"
"Cause I do. Too much sitting around, nothing going on. You'll see how it is, if you try it my way." She had neglected to mention the parts of her routine that involved smoking every last cigarette she had left and spinning Adele's 21 over and over again -- glaring exceptions to her rule of deprivation.
They walked out of left the Seven-Eleven, Monte packing the flip-top box against his palm and Calisto chugging her Dasani. "Lead the way," he said, making a gentlemanly gesture with his wrist, once he'd lit the first cigarette, its orange ember tracing circular patterns in the night air. Ambulance sirens screamed in the distance as they headed back in the direction that they came. It seemed that sirens were always going off in Town, no matter what time of the day or night. "That's that guy on the bike," Monte insisted. "Got hit by a car. There were no survivors. The driver died too."
Calisto smiled politely, his banter feeling suddenly too morbid for her. "What about you, who do you stay with during a divorce?"
"Staying at my mom's place right now. My pops kicked it a couple years back, and ever since then she's been saying I can crash there."
"I'm sorry. I lost my mom back in April." Somehow it came back around to death no matter where they started from.
"Ouch. OK, so your roommate has no right to be fed up with you at this point, right? Not while you're still grieving."
"She's not fed up with me. She's engaged and in love and probably stressing out over everything, and I'm moping around when it's time for me to be happy for her."
"My dad, when he was passing, he said to me, 'Take care of her,' and I didn't. And she was leveled, mind you, I just wasn't equipped for any of it. And then one day my wife leaves me and she takes me in, not even looking for an apology, as if I never turned my back on her."
"Right, so in that same way, I don't hold anything against Naomi if she is getting a little impatient with me right now."
"It's your time of need! When she loses someone she loves, then she'll understand."
"I don't know if I even understand."
They left it at that. The rest of the way home, they mostly didn't talk about loss or death or the role of the comforting survivor. They didnt talk about much of anything, really. Just lapsed into a pot-induced stupor with their individual thoughts circling. Anyway, there came a certain point with a new acquaintance where no matter how well you were getting on together, the effort of remaining pleasant company no longer seemed worth it. Calisto thought to herself: I got out, I met someone new, I did my part. The night can be over now, and her mind it already was.
At one point she asked him what his father had done for a living, and he responded that he owned a restaurant she had never heard of which no longer existed. "Did he ever want you to do the same thing?" she asked, but this line of questioning didn't lead anywhere. Monte didn't seem keen on discussing what kind of impact the loss of his old man had had on him. Unfortunately, she felt the need to keep pressing, and followed up with this question next: "How did he go?"
"Painfully. Slowly. Long enough to still give me nightmares. He cried and kept saying he wish he had the strength to end it himself, and we kept telling him we'd help if it were legal. Finally one day he just checked out. Stopped acknowledging us, or maybe it just got to his brain. A few days later he was gone."
This came out in a barrage, with no opportunity for interruption, yet replying to such a morbid disclosure immediately felt like a bad idea. After a long silence, she responded, "I meant, what did he die of."
"Oh. Liver failure."
That exchange had somehow seemed to cast the night into relief, exposing everything that had gone on before as a series of misbegotten attempts at salvaging a lousy setup. A simple misunderstanding maybe, but one that read at the time as a serious incompatibility between them. How could Naomi have left her alone with this creep? Or, why did she think the thing she needed to lift her spirits was a stoned walkabout with a stranger who she could never possibly relate to on any level?
They'd had a pleasant enough parting at the door of her building (Calisto had simply turned and said "This is me," and he said to her "We had a good time, didn't we?" and she nodded and he had turned around and said "See you on Monday"), but by the time she got up to their studio she was only too relieved to be by herself again. Moving through the door of 16B slowly and soundlessly -- she had walked in on Naomi and Eric fucking on more than one occasion, and her strategy was to lock herself in the bathroom until it was over, which she was prepared to do tonight -- she flicked on the lights and headed for the fridge. The pit of her stomach yawned with hunger, and it was a hell of a time to not have anything to eat. She didnt feel like cooking eggs or microwaving frozen breakfast sandwiches. Finally she settled on making two bags of saimin, roast beef flavor. 
She stared at the water on the hot plate, waiting for it to boil. She never made saimin. The older single ladies at her work made it in a microwave. She found it depressing, for no particular reason. This had been a food she would often make for herself as a kid, when her mother wasn't around because she was attending to some aspect of her business. It was the only thing she knew how to make besides PBJs. At the time, it had been fun. Self-reliance has about it an air of power, as low-scale as it is, and every young child craves the rush of sneaking sweets when she's not supposed to know where they're hidden, or staying up past bedtime during whispery, flashlight-waving sleepovers. Feeling grown-up, however, soon gives way to feeling grown-out, and even the power trip of determining one's own fate soon becomes burdensome, as any post-collegiate job-seeker will tell you.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Double-barrel tragedy

'He got each of them a dark chocolate-red velvet cupcake and a caramel ice cream sundae. Calisto didn't even know that they served ice cream sundaes there. If the intention was to give the impromptu date some kind of official feel, it was working. Monte had played it smart. She had felt like her mouth was hot-glued shut ever since the weed had run out, and he had taken her to familiar surroundings (thus taking the pressure off of the interaction, as if implicitly saying: we can just be ourselves here) and bought her something sweet and cold. They had broken the ice by getting stoned together, and now they could ignore each other for a few moments and focus on their desserts, which they both attacked with gusto, sitting at a two-chair table near an open-air restaurant.
"This is so fucking good," Calisto said.
Monte nodded. "I am really, really high."
She suppressed a giggle, as if the cop might reappear at any moment and piece together what had happened. "This was a good idea," she said. "Thanks for the treat."
"You know what's sad? This has been my after-hours ritual every day for the last month, and up until now I've been doing it all alone."
"This is your idea of sad? That's your real problem right there."
"If you were by yourself right now, you'd see it. It's just craven indulgence. But I'm giving it up after tonight. I have to re-learn how to be alone again."
"I don't like hearing that."
"It doesn't give me much hope. It says, once something is over it stays that way."
"But that's how things are."
"It's like this. I picture myself, going through life, little pieces falling off of me, some important, some not. Like I'm a boat in a storm and shit keeps falling overboard. And all I can do is keep moving forward, because that's all there is to do. And eventually there will be nothing left and my life will have amounted to this, this trail of debris that went missing. Irretrievable."
Monte laughed in a way that attempted to convey incredulity and empathy at the same time. "We can't return, we can only look. Behind from where we came. You don't know that song?"
"No. You know what's really sad? My ritual these days is the opposite of yours. Instead of indulging, I deprive. I don't eat, I stay awake, not because I'm not hungry or tired, but just to see how much I can go without, or how little I can survive on."
"You have an eating disorder."
She waved a spoon of ice cream and pointedly stuck it in her mouth. "Look. It's not an eating disorder, it's a fulfillment disorder. I won't let myself enjoy anything, I sit in a dark room, I try not to think about anything nice. I hate knitting, so I sit around knitting in the dark!"
"Nice hat, by the way. I meant to point it out before."
She took off the aquamarine wool-knit cap she'd been wearing and set it down on the table. "This is the disorder. No wonder we got ditched."
"Eric is a dick, so I'm fine with it."
"She said he was your friend."
"I can't stand him. You can?"
"It's different with us." This was tricky territory for Calisto to navigate, even now. She had been convinced that it was never truly possible to fully approve of your boyfriend's best friend; the best relationship you could hope for was a friendly rivalry, since you would always be in competition with each other. But after her double-barrel tragedy of losing her mother and being dumped by James, Eric had been there for her, right there with Naomi, as much as if he'd been her best friend all along. They'd stay in with her when things were rough, bring her little presents and treats (no boy had ever bought her flowers before; even while consciously thinking she should not attach this much meaning to it, she could not keep her eyes from welling up gratefully at the gesture), and now they had brought her out and introduced her to this guy -- not her type at all, but she couldn't remember the last time she got on so well with someone after having just met them. Maybe, she thought, we don't know our own type as well as we think we do. "Eric has been really sweet to me, but I think it's because he knows he has to win me over if I'm gonna let him marry my roommate."
"Fuck him. Your roommate seems nice, I don't want to say anything bad about her, but why the fuck is she with a piece of shit like that?"
"What do you find so hateful about him, exactly?"
"I don't know, I just want to punch his fucking face every time I see him. It's an irrational hate, but so what? Nobody said hate had to make any sense."
She wouldn't have said so out loud, but she knew where he was coming from. The first time Naomi had brought him around was privately one of the few serious tests of their friendship. She knew what kind of guy would be right for her -- tall, piercing eyes, a smile that radiated warmth and humor, and most of all, dressed to kill. So seeing her with this stoic, withdrawn, shorter-than-her, hair already thinning, eyesore of a person felt not only wrong, but traitorous. She remembered feeling like the mother whose little girl had brought home the baddest boy she could find, specifically because she knew she would hate him. It had taken a lot of effort from both of them to bring her around. "I know you have reasons. Are you an anesthesiologist too?"
"I'm training to be a male nurse. I have to say male. Everybody says it."
"I don't know what he's like to work with, but I think you're being unfair."
"What he's like to work with is, he's there and I have to work with him. That's bad enough. If he wasn't, I wouldn't care."
"Well, he brought us out tonight. And then he left us alone, you have to give him that."
"Tell him thanks for me later."
They ate in silence, their sundaes already sinking into puddles of ice milk at the bottom of their paper cups. The sun had long since gone down, but the heat of its rays would linger well into the night. Young people shuffled past their table, dressed in pastels and whites that glimmered faintly in the dark. Tourists checking out the nightlife, gabbing on cell phones to arrange meet ups or just making a racket for no apparent reason, as if even the prospect of future intoxication was enough to facilitate wild behavior. In this impending party atmosphere, Calisto now felt nervous and out of place. All the good will from the joint and the treats was fading, and she now felt abandoned with a guy she hardly knew, in the last place she wanted to be. Monte caught her clutching her coat around her, though it was not for he reason he thought.
"Cold? You downed that ice cream pretty fast."
"The wind is starting to get to me. I'm too fucked up to be here. Can we leave?"
He got up, pushing his chair back and gathering up all the trash. "I'll walk you home. Where do you live?"
"It's ok. It's just a few blocks." She said this even though she wanted the company.
"Come on, I'm not your roommate."
"Kaka'ako. What about you?"
"I live down Kalihi side."
"That's the opposite direction! Don't bother, I'll be fine."
"Please, there's a bus that goes through there all hours. There pretty much has to be. Motherfuckers use public transit as their mobile homes out there. Come on, we're doing this."
They got up from their table and immediately went for their cigarettes. A passing dude with either too much or not enough facial hair, it was hard to tell, stopped and asked Monte for one. This time, he pulled out the pack he'd been smoking out of earlier and found it truly was empty. He looked over at Calisto with a shrug as half-beard walked off. Calisto held his gaze, then produced her pack and pulled out two of her own.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kill your own mother

They sat together in the silence between them letting the music and voices fill the air for them. The singer had just made her dedication of the final song to "two lovebirds I know who are finally tying the knot" when Monte spoke up.
"You can take out your phone, it's ok."
Calisto was mortified in her transparency, having not even unconsciously registered that she had been fingering the outer pocket of her bad all this time. "I hate when people do that. It's rude."
"Etiquette is cultural. And the culture we're in says it's ok."
She took it out. "I'm not like this," she said. "Just a nervous habit."
Monte took out his, and at that moment she realized he may have been condoning shunning one another in favor of electronics just so he didn't feel bad. "And what do you have to be nervous about?" he asked, not looking up.
She shrugged, scrolling through her Twitter feed. "This situation, it's an awkward one." Then she backtracked. "I mean, it's not really, I'm just a nervous person."
"Does meeting new people make you feel awkward?"
"No, not most of the time."
"Of course, we've seen each other around. Maybe that's what makes it awkward."
Calisto shoved her phone back into her bag. "Want to go for a smoke?"
They stepped into the night and lit up on the street corner, pedestrians and vehicles slowing down and passing by. Calisto could only produce sparks out of her lighter, until Monte cupped his hands around hers keeping the wind out, and drew in a deep breath, making her cherry glow.
After getting his lit, Monte said "I don't know what they told you about me, but I'm not looking for anything right now. I'm going through a divorce, but that doesn't mean I'm ready to move on just yet." He paused. "I mean, they told me you were single, so I'm not sure what they told you about me."
"Is that what you think this is?"
"I don't know. Does it feel like a set up to you?"
"It doesn't feel like anything to me."
"I'll keep you company tonight, don't worry. You seem nice, I'm into that. It's just the timing."
"It's not me, it's you?"
"Sorry. It's coming out wrong. What I'm trying to say is, I'm not actually like this. Haven't been myself for some time."
"It's ok. Whoever you are, I can handle it. You can't be at your best all the time."
A stranger stopped while passing them and asked if he could bum a cigarette. Calisto looked at Monte, and Monte reached in his pocket and produced an empty pack.
"Last one," he said.
The stranger left, and Monte replaced the pack. When the guy was out of sight, Monte pulled out a fresher pack and put a new cigarette between his lips, flicking the old butt away.
"Nice tactic," Calisto said.
"Works every time." He flicked his lighter.
"Now give me one. Buy my silence."
He obliged and they smoked for a while in silence. "Did you want to go back in after this?"
He shook his head. "I was thinking, do you like chocolate?"
"I'm listening."
"There's a cupcake place down the street that's still open. They have this dark chocolate-red velvet combo that you'll kill your own mother for."
"Sounds alright."
Of course Calisto knew about Devil's Food, the bakery downstairs from where they both worked, though she was more partial to the carrot cake variety. She did not relish the idea of straying too close to her workplace, but she seized the opportunity to get away from the coffeehouse, the noise of the Chinatown crowd and guitar chords following them into the night. After a few blocks they found themselves in a darker part of town, and uneasiness set in. They were approaching the square, and passers by were gradually dwindling to the roving homeless and the odd bicyclist. After flicking his next butt into a nearby puddle, Monte pulled the empty pack of cigarettes out, as if he didn't want to wait to be approached by another stranger to pull his little "last one" trick. This time, he opened the box, reached down behind the foil, and pulled out a little joint, wrapped in a crutch made from a rolled-up flap torn from a matchbook. They stopped at a crosswalk and Monte started lighting it up, taking deep puffs.
"Hurry up, hit it," he said, passing the j as the lights changed and the walk signal man came on.
"What the fuck, I can't hit this. We're going by where I work, someone might see me."
He gagged on his hit, speaking through the coughs. "It's where I work too. Hit it."
She took the weed and inhaled it like she was preparing to stick her head underwater. When she passed it back, Monte took it in his fingertips, then jammed it into his other fist.
"Fuck, a cop. Be cool."
There was indeed a police car rolling up to the next street corner in the right-turn lane, which they were already approaching. It stopped at the corner, as the light was red, and Calisto held her breath as tightly as she could, which was difficult with the lungful of weed smoke tickling her throat. She gagged, and Monte looked over at her. At this point the cop was rolling passed them, and she stared it down a Monte stared straight ahead. When it was gone, she let go of the cloud and unleashed a torrent of coughs as Monte dropped the live roach back into his free hand, waving the hand that had palmed it around in pain.
"Ahhhhh!" he said. "Fucking pig."
Calisto hadn't stopped coughing, and they were interspersed with the sort of giggles that come on not from imbibing cannabis but from getting away with something naughty in front of an authority figure. Before she had finished up, he was passing it to her again. When she could get her breath back, she managed "That was a bad idea," and immediately downed another hit.
"Like I said, I'm not like this." He said this is a choked voice, spewing his own smoke out and allowing himself a rather more polite series of coughs. "You're getting the shit end of me, and I apologize," in his regular voice. "Somebody left me and took all the good parts with her."
She no longer made any attempt to inhale or hold her smoke in -- it was too potent, and it'd been too long since she'd gotten high -- and she puffed on it like a stogie before passing it back to Monte to polish it off. "I don't see how this is your shit end. Nobody has smoked me out in forever. I mean, Naomi used to, but that was before she got with Eric."
"Wanna go say hi to them?" Squarehead's was on the other side of the Square as Devil's Food. Calisto reflected on the pointlessness of letting them run off for pulled pork and then going somewhere so close to where they were going to be. The area of the Square they were in was empty save for a few stragglers finally clocking out from their overtime and one of the security guards who hung around there all day.
Weirdly, the weed didnt kick in until they entered the cupcake place. The lighting was bright, the aroma of baked goods was strong, cloying, it made the air in the place stick to their clothes, and the thought of transacting a business arrangement that would result in a cupcake being place in her hand was too overwhelming to contemplate. Luckily, Monte ordered for her.