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."

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