Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Launch party

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

Thursday, October 10, 2013


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

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Airport meetups

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

Friday, October 4, 2013

Restaurant Rendezvous

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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Totally Wired

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