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.

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