Monday, December 1, 2014

Big Day

Calisto's at-a-glance Hawaiian Airlines wall calendar (a free handout from the company every new year) had October 15th circled several times, with the words BIG DAY" overlaid in red ink. But that morning, the bigness of the day just didn't seem as momentous as it once did . Far from the initial excitement booking the panel (with refreshments and info packets pprovided and time reserved a Q&A session at the end) at the 2014 Honolulu Business and Commerce Expo had generated, she instead spent that morning lying in bed going over all of the reasons why this entire enterprise had been ill-conceived from the start.
A dating site for people on their lunch breaks? What were they thinking? "Lunch Dates" had a nice ring to it, but the idea it had spawned from seemed half-baked and unimpressive at this point. The notion that people would be interested in meeting up in the middle of the day now made her feel embarrassed. Evening liaisons meant drinks and the romantic ardor of nightfall. It meant the window of time to find a meaningful connection was closing as each hour crept toward the inevitability of sleep, which causes people to make more impulsive decisions. They really hadn't thought this through.
She tried not to admit to herself that the way she and Monte had parted on their last meeting had anything to do with her lack of enthusiasm. His words had rung in her ears after they parted, and she had spent the night binging on Doritos and watching Adult Swim. Naomi had a dowdy pantsuit she never wore which Calisto positively swam in, and she pulled it on, checking to make sure it was as unflattering as possible, as if she had taken to heart Monte's condemnation of the previous day's attire.
Each bag of Doritos she had consumed was washed down with a mug of coffee, which she had told herself was for the purposes of keeping her alert as she crammed and reviewed her notes for their presentation. But her tendency for procrastination had instead evoked memories of those lost college semesters, where each all-night study session seemed to devolve into witching-hour shenanigans or fits of memory-erasing dozing. It turned out no amount of caffeine was enough to overcome her gift for avoidance of anything that brought on feelings of dread and failure.
Still, the stimulants (she had wiled away the hours with a bottomless cycle of junk food, then coffee, than cigarettes) had done their job. She was wired, full of nervous energy bordering on panic. But it was too much. She felt herself slipping into paranoia and delusions. So that morning instead of breakfast she poured out a shot of whiskey and slammed it, acting without thinking. The sourness felt good and the drink's sting seemed to have a cleansing effect on her fluttering stomach. She had another, then one more before realizing how insane this was. Calisto was no stranger to day drinking, at least in the early years, but dawn drinking? Rise and shine and chug. The pit into which she had poured so much coffee and Doritos started to churn and heave and she almost wanted to spew all of it out, as if it would purge her of regret and bitterness like some kind of emotional ipecac. But she gagged, staggered a bit and straightened out. Abusing herself in this way made her feel like any challenge that presented itself would be conquerable that day. Once the sickness passed, she didn't even feel drunk. The booze had merely taken the edge off of her self-induced anxiety and now imbued her with newfound courage. She pointed at her reflection in the mirror and said "It is ON," giggling girlishly.

Maybe if she had stayed home that day she would have merely passed out and this early-morning drunken episode would have come and gone with little more to show for it than a mild afternoon hangover. Instead she got to the Blaisdell Arena and immediately felt overwhelmed. People. People everywhere. Moving, talking, laughing, staring at her. A live musician was being blasted through the PA, calmly crooning "On the island, we do it island style..." and it was all that she could hear and the sound carouseled through her being like some foreign antibody. The resonance of the singer's voice and acoustic guitar filled her with nausea and loathing. At this point she couldn't even remember how she had gotten there.
Monte. Where was Monte? Clarity began to creep in somewhat. Their panel was
supposed to be reserved in the northeast wing. Northeast of what? she found herself thinking. Was direction relative, or did true North really exist? People on the other side of the world were upside down from her. The other side of the world was somewhere in Africa. She used to walk her fingers along the globe in her grade school classroom until she got there. The earth spins. That's how come people don't fall off of it. That and gravity. What the fuck was she doing, thinking, saying or feeling?
In the middle of it there was also excitement. Something would happen that day, and even if she'd made a complete fool of herself it was still an accomplishment. Think of all the sad people at home not making fools of themselves, what they were missing out on.
There was Monte and she bumbled over to him and folded him all up in a big clingy hug. Her business partner, friend, and probably something else. He pulled back from her and sniffed the air between them. "You smell like a frat boy," he said. "Are you OK?"
"I'm ready," she said. "We're on."
"We've got five minutes. God, I'm sorry I did this to you. This is too much pressure. We didn't lead up to it properly."
"I'm OK," she said. "If I lean too far to the left I'll barf, though. Don't let me lean."
He took her arm and placed it around his shoulders and walked her behind the partition where their stage was set up. Their audience was starting to fill out the rows of folding chairs in front of the stage. There was actually a couch backstage and he tried to get her to lay down in it. "No," she shook her head. "No lay downing. I'll start falling." They sat down together still clasped.
"Listen," he said. "This is kind of unnecessary. I found a guy who's willing to invest. You don't have to do this anymore."
"That's sweet," she said. "I'm still gonna do it, though. I don't know what else to do. After all this living, dreaming, breathing and working this is all I have."
"Calisto, you're shitfaced drunk," he said. "I can't let you do this. This has disaster written all over it."
"I'll be fine. Maybe you're right about disaster, but if it is then it's my disaster and it's too late to avoid it. Let me have it. I know exactly what to do. I stayed up all night practicing my lines. I have perfect pitch, posture and poise. I will never forgive you if you won't let me fuck this up exactly the way I want to. Let me play, coach. Put me in the game. I got this."
The announcer was introducing them. It was time to present. They looked at each other. Monte was backing down while trying to make it look like he wouldn't. She looked back at him with a determination that bordered on homocidal mania. She was up and the applause was starting. Monte said "Well, as long as I'm going against my better judgment," and took her face in both of his hands and kissed her on the open mouth. When he pulled away, she noticed that she'd stopped breathing and  felt sicker than ever. But then her breath came back to her and she knew she had to take the stage. The applause was dying down. His face urged her on. Her stomach guided her away from the nausea and into the empty blackness of her fears.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Operation Cockblock Rescue

"All right group, time to focus."
"That's still funny to you?" Monte said this to Dominic but Calisto could feel him eyeing her peripherally as he said it, like he was trying to shame the amusement out of her. Is this the best you could do, he seemed to imply. They had rented a conference room on the cheaper fringes of Seafood Square's outskirts, on the eve of the 2014 Hawaii Business And Commerce Expo, for the express purpose of surveying their users, but Calisto knew there was an ulterior motive to all this. This was about getting her and Dominic in a room together outside of work, and maybe getting to know some of his friends while she was at it. She was starting to wonder if the whole impetus for Lunch Dates wasn't an excuse to get closer to him. Of course she'd had all kinds of good motives for launching the dating site with Monte at the time (or so she'd told herself) but none of them seemed to matter anymore. Since he had volunteered to bring himself and his "wingman and wingma'ams" into the project to test-drive the beta version of the site, it was becoming impossible for her to envision some kind of entrepreneurial success that would be more rewarding than the smolder his eyes seemed to reserve only for her, as the question mark of his posture craned toward her lips, like they held some secret she was supposed to know already. 
"We are focused," Calisto said, clearing the daydreams out of her eyes. "It's just, we only reserved the room for one hour, so we should try to get through everything. Specifically, how satisfied would you say you are with the site?" "Honestly, compared to what we had going before, we not too impressed," said Leilani, a bookish-looking girl who could've been college-aged, or a lot younger. 
"I tried telling these guys about it already," said Dominic. "They weren't interested." 
"I'm interested if it tells us anything about whether you liked the site or not," said Monte.
"Let's hear them out," Calisto said. "Maybe there's some suggestion we could use." Monte fixed his sidelong gaze on her again, as if his patience was about to run out, and she hoped the lipsticked smile on her face (she'd dipped into Naomi's things to get dolled up for this, ostensibly to look impressive and professional, but really to try to be as sexy as possible for her co-worker) didn't betray too much of her inner smugness.
Dominic's wingman, Sebastian, spoke up. "Our system was designed to flatter strangers and kickstart conversations. It's not really comparable to this." His voice had a nervous shyness to it and it was difficult to picture this reserved, rotund youth having any sort of success with whatever gender he was after.
"I never thought it worked all that well, at least not the way you guys did," said Tina, who rounded out the foursome that made up the focus group. Calisto had tried to convince Monte that this group was an unlikely cross-section and that made them perfect as testers, but they were letting her down by conducting themselves more like an insular clique who seemed to hang together almost by default, as if unable to find anyone else. Both girls had shown up late and they had all wasted a bunch of time (in Monte's estimation, if not Calisto's) on introductions, catch-ups, gossip, and other unprofessional, non-business-related banter.
"Maybe we should actually tell them about it at some point," Dominic interrupted, perhaps taking notice of Monte's incessant watch-checking. "Tina is actually the one who came up with this tactic, so don't listen to her."
"I just said that one thing one time!" Tina protested.
"Basically, it's a reversal of your standard rescue cockblock," Dominic continued. "You know, someone chats you up and you want to retreat gracefully, so you signal your friend, and they come in and steal you away."
"Girls have been doing it for years," Sebastian said almost bitterly.
"So anyway, one night Tina got ditched by this other friend of ours who went home with some guy. And she said, you know what, I'll let her tell you."
Tina said "I said, 'This one guy rescued her from me.' It was just a dumb joke.'"
"But it worked!" said Leilani. "We tried it right away and it started working."
"So, the four of us go everywhere as a flock," Dominic said. "We pair off until one of us sees somebody we like. Then we go up to them and we say:"
"'Excuse me, can I ask for a favor?'" Sebastian responded to the prompt. "'This girl won't leave me alone, just talk to me until she gets the hint.'"
"That's an elegant ruse," Monte said. "So you're saying that works better than our site?"
"It accomplishes three things," Dominic replied. "One, it breaks the ice. Two, makes the other person feel important. Three, makes them feel superior to whoever we appear to be rejecting. And it was quick."
"Well, like you said," Calisto nodded to Sebastian, "This isn't really comparable. This is supposed to help you hook up with people quickly, while our site is supposed to connect you with someone who shares your taste."
"And your schedule," Monte added.
"What this thing supposed to do, anyway?" Leilani asked. "Is it like one Groupon for free food?"
"It's supposed to help you have lunch with people," Tina said.
"No, it's supposed to help you find people to have lunch with when you're already at the place where you go to eat," Dominic corrected them.
"Ohhhh, so like Tinder or Grinder, but for food?" Leilani asked.
"Yes," Calisto said, pretending she had heard of either of those things. "Precisely."
"So," Monte asked for the last time, "Operation Cockblock Rescue aside, how satisfied would each of you say you are with your experience using the site? Let's start with Tina."
"Meh," Tina said. "Average."
Leilani was next. "I dunno," she said. "I don't really use these kinda sites. I guess it works okay."
"I'm having a hard time finding new people on it," Sebastian said. "I went on two dates so far, and it keeps connecting me to the same people. I finally had to block them."
"Well, I for one have been very satisfied," Dominic said. "I found some good recommendations for places to eat, and I found one person from this site who I talk to almost every day. We haven't got together yet, but oh yeah, it's looking up."
"Thank you for your time, everybody," Calisto said. She and Monte shook hands with the four of them as they all left the conference room. Dominic left last, and looked her in the eye as the clasp of his hand lingered on hers. She heard herself thinking maintain eye contact and don't pass out.
"Don't worry about these guys," Dominic said. "You've got a good thing and it just needs to find its way to the right people."
Calisto just said "Thanks," quietly as Dominic rounded and walked out of the conference room door to join his friends. Monte was cleaning up their stuff, currently folding up a tripod for the mini camcorder he had brought to record their responses. Calisto went up to him to see if he needed any help but he was already putting it away half-finished.
"That went well," she said.
"Not bad for a huge waste of time. And a perfectly good conference room."
"Come on," she said. "It wasn't that bad."
"They didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. The site just needs more users. Thank you for wasting most of the one day I get with my kids."
"You didn't have to come to this," Calisto said. "This was all my idea."
"Maybe I didn't want to leave you alone with him," Monte said. "You probably would've gotten pounced if I wasn't here."
"Oh, don't make it about that," she said. "So he wants me to do well, what's the big deal?"
"Looks to me like you want him to do well. You want him to do well all over you."
"Don't be gross," she said.
"I'll show you the way you were looking at him sometime," Monte said, waving the camera case in the air. "Total eyefucks. But hey, if that's more important to you than this business."
"Stop," Calisto said. "You don't talk to me that way." He had been trying to leave and she was barricading him with her body.
Monte sighed. "I'm sorry. But you deserve better than that."
"You don't know anything about him. I'm starting to question whether you even know anything about me."
"Calisto, I just don't want you to make a mistake. This is a big thing we're doing and I'd prefer if we didn't blow it."
"Yeah, speaking of mistakes. That guy whose number you gave me? What the hell was that? Am I supposed to be forever grateful for that insult?"
"Just forget it," he said. "I should've known you wouldn't take that well."
"Tell you what. When I do fuck up my entire life and lose everything, than I'll let you swoop in and rescue me. Until then, we are strictly professional colleagues, and maybe we should keep it that way!"
"Fine!" Monte called after her as she was walking out. "And put those things away before you poke somebody's eye out!" The clack of her heels filled the empty hallway as angry tears beaded her eyelashes. She wasn't really upset at him, but found herself suddenly wanting his approval. In fact, she thought, he hadn't been this appealing since the night he was ignoring her at her place. They had the worst timing, these fleeting bouts of passion. Only under circumstances in which they absolutely could not be fulfilled did they seem to arise.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Calm your tits

They had agreed to meet at a Starbucks within walking distance of Seafood Square, ostensibly to discuss purchasing a booth at HBACE (which Marisa pronounced "H-Backy" as if this wasn't actually more cumbersome than just calling it by its full name), but when she got there it was clear that Monte had his own agenda. His laptop was open and when she tried to join him at his table he ushered her over to one behind him so they were sitting facing away from each other. "What is this," she said. "Shhh. It's market research. We're studying the clientele." "We're doing market research for Starbucks now?" "That couple over there," Monte motioned with an unsubtle flick of the elbow. "They met each other here thru our site." "No shit?" Calisto rubbernecked in the direction he had gestured and he tried again to shush her. "Discretion!" he hissed. "Can I at least sit at your table? I feel like we're secret agents or something." "Fine." She joined him again and they both attempted to watch this couple without being seen. "We need to become familiar with the types of weirdos who actually use the site," Monte said. "I've been tracking several of the most active accounts to no avail, but these two are the most promising ones so far." "Learned anything about them yet?" "Yeah, they're horrible people. I mean, they're meeting at a Starbucks. The girl over there gives her name as Gazelle Fujihara." "Gisele?" Calisto hoped she had heard incorrectly. She was pretty sure it had to be a given name -- a gazelle was about the last animal she'd think of in relation to this girl. More like a mouse or maybe a lobster. "Ga ga ga ga ga," said Monte. "The dude is supposedly named Blaine Makaiwi. Let's check out their profiles and then compare it to how they are in real life." They observed the couple while pretending not to, but Calisto failed to see how this was going to yield any useful data on their users. Blaine was dominating the conversation, going into great detail about a comic book he'd been reading, Gazelle doing her best to stay cordial. Calisto wondered if this had been their first meeting, or just the first one that Monte had decided to crash. He was furiously typing away the whole time as if every asinine word he was hearing was sending him off on another brainstorm. "This feels creepy," Calisto said. "No wonder people aren't signing up if this is what you're doing." "Do you have any better ideas?" He asked this with no hesitation, as if it was locked and ready to go the whole time. "I actually do," she said. "I wanted to talk to you about going offline temporarily." "That sounds like folding." "What I'm thinking is more like a re-launch. I think we should use HBACE to officially start over." Monte just stared back. "You know one interesting thing these two have in common? Neither of them have an online dating profile on any other site. I must've looked through all of them. We're the only service they use. Why do you think that is?" "How do you know they're not registered anywhere else? Maybe their profiles are locked. Maybe they're catfish on the other sites." "Then we are the only ones where they signed up as themselves. You don't think that's interesting? Now we just have to figure out why." "Why don't you go ask them? You've stalked them this far, and it sounds like they could use the company." Blaine had shifted the conversation into a play-by-play of the video game he had been playing the other night. According to his profile, he was ranked Bronze 2 on League of Legends, whatever that meant. "Don't knock the hustle," he said. "Anyway, I like the idea of taking the site down. As long as it comes back up at some point." "Marisa says we'll be able to increase our online profile tenfold. We were the victims of bad timing, that's all." "Put up a 'down for maintenance' sign and pray our users don't abandon us before we get back. I like it. But then what? We're going to the Expo and presenting a business that technically doesn't exist at the moment, how do we convince anybody to invest in it?" "It's not just about finding an investor, we have to make connections. Partnerships and networking and word-of-mouth and such." Calisto felt disgust with herself, spouting these half-remembered business cliches as if she understood them, but she hadn't thought about how it would look if they showed up at HBACE without a functioning website and it was making her reconsider the entire strategy. But then she thought, no, this is a typical jittery Monte misdirect, stay on message, especially after the next thing he said: "Word-of-mouth is only a good thing if you don't look like a joke to everybody. What good is them knowing our name if they can't take us seriously?" "Okay, calm your tits," Calisto said. His voice had been rising, perhaps involuntarily, to the point where Blaine had stopped talking and now he and Gazelle were looking in their direction, as if this drama that was unfolding was just the type of interesting turn of events that makes a good first date memorable. Was this Monte's plan all along, to cause a scene in front of their users to ensure they continued to use the site, just in case something weird happened again? Calisto rejected the idea, but it stayed in the back of her mind the rest of the time anyway. "You're thinking way too far ahead," she told him. "We can worry about what people think of us after they know who we are. For now, can we just focus on what's in front of us?" "Everything is always in front of us," Monte said. "I just prefer to take care of things before it's too late, that's all." He checked his phone for the time although he could have just looked at his laptop screen. "I have to get going," he said. "It's been nice seeing you." "I wanted to ask you something," Calisto said. "Is there any way you could hold down HBACE for me? I want us to be there, but I might not be able to make it." "If you can't be there, I can't be there," he said. "I can send Marisa, she's willing to fill in for me." "Marisa couldn't sell crack to a crackhead," Monte said, standing up. "Let's call this off." "No, wait! I'll be there." "Good. I'm the one who's blowing off a weekend with my kids, Jesus. If I can make it, you can." He left her sitting there, but turned back before he reached the door. "I almost forgot. Call this number." He handed her a card. "Eric told me your roommate's moving out and this guy can help you get set up." "What IS this?" The name on the card didn't seem to be for a real estate agent, but some kind of government agency. "He's a social worker that I know. He helps women in bad situations." "Monte, is this seriously the number for a battered woman's shelter? I can't call this." "Like I said, I know the guy, he'll get you in as a favor to me. It's not that bad, he's helped some of my friends. Eric told me you'd listen to me. You won't listen to them, just me. I'm just doing this for them. I told him you wouldn't listen to me either." "I'm sorry, it's just... you don't have to do this." "Give the guy a call," he said. "Good luck with everything." He left, and Calisto remained at the table being stared at by Blaine and Gazelle. When she returned their gaze, they looked back at each other and resumed as if nothing had distracted them.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fake informercial

Growth was slow. They couldn't have picked a worse time to get started. The launch party had been the first weekend of October, but although the site had technically gone "live" at that point (in that one could sign up for it and build a profile, but not much else) it would be several more weeks before it was functional in any meaningful sense. Then by the time it was, people apparently weren't flocking to yet another new social/dating thing despite their efforts to publicize as much as possible. Calisto had registered the @lunchdates Twitter handle right away, and set about following as many local people and businesses she could find, but found it difficult to attract much attention amidst all the noise, earning perhaps one followback for every 10 accounts she'd hit up. Both her and Monte went to work canvassing the neighborhood with their piles of photocopied ads, walking to different parking structures around town to stick their little leaflets under windshield wiper blades, until they got harassed by enough security workers to stop it. When this would happen, Calisto would typically turn and run the other way, with they guy still calling out "Excuse me... Excuse me!" Monte, on the other hand, would typically try to talk to the man and attempt to sell him on their concept, who would invariably tell Monte that he was not allowed to accept any solicitation.
It all felt fruitless. "What the hell are we doing," Calisto said as they met up one day after a lunch-hour canvassing session to smoke out their frustrations.
"Building our brand," said Monte. "This is how it works."
"What has given you the impression that any of this has worked?" Calisto said. "Everywhere I go I'm stepping on these things. People pick them up and drop them in the street without looking at them."
"That's good! I want people to see us every time they look down."
"We have to try something else. I'm tracking our numbers and I'm not seeing any results."
"It will come," Monte tried to reassure her. "It's just the time of year."
"You keep saying that, but if it's true why didn't we wait until the right time of year?"
"Is this what you want, or isn't it? We're doing what we can, did you really think it would happen the way you wanted it to?"
Calisto demurred. She was learning to know better than to rise to Monte's baiting at this point. In a way they were getting to know each other more intimately than if they were lovers. The dynamic was similar -- he was constantly trying to talk her out of dissatisfaction. "I didn't want it to happen in any particular way, I just wanted it to happen at all," she said. She hadn't yet told him that the reason she was feeling so much urgency and impatience for things to take off quicker was because Naomi was moving in with Eric in the first week of December. Part of the reason was because she knew it would bring up a discussion about her wanting to redirect the money she was currently sinking into the site to finding her own place, and with Monte already so keen to question her commitment to the whole idea it was a discussion she wanted to avoid.
Adding to her difficulties was the fact that Marisa was getting more and more reluctant to continue to funnel her the money that was, after all, rightfully hers. She had recommended parceling it out slowly at first, both to ensure Almonds could continue to keep some of its revenue and remain open and to keep Lunch Dates online long enough for it to establish some kind of presence in the online world. These things tended to grow best through word of mouth, although there had been times when Monte would mockingly suggest "Let's just Flappy Bird this thing," referring to the practice of paying off
fake consumers to bump their app up in the rankings. The reason this was a mocking suggestion was because there still wasn't an app, and this was most likely the real reason why their growth had stagnated.
They had spoken with several developers, and it had turned out that paying someone to create the app for them would be more costly than they initially thought. The funding situation they were getting through Almonds was getting dicey too. One minute Marisa would be reassuring, telling that Lunch Dates technically wasn't costing her business anything because it was being factored into their "technological" budget. But when Calisto would ask for more than she was getting (which didn't amount to much more than roughly the same salary she was getting at work), Marisa would grow concerned and act as if giving her more would cripple both of them financially.
"Your mother meant for this money to last," she had said. "It's what she was living on."
"This is exactly what she wanted me to use this money for," Calisto responded. "Can I just get whatever I'm gonna get today and be done with it?"
"Are you familiar with the parable of the Prodigal Son? This way, it keeps flowing. Your way, it's gone. Yes, some of it is tied up in Almonds and that's partly why I'm reluctant to give you more. But believe me, your mother didn't want you to throw this at some high-risk venture and end up with nothing. Or worse, owing somebody."
"Things just aren't moving," Calisto said. "I wish she was here."
"She would tell you the same thing I'm telling you. She and I went through this ourselves when we were starting. I know it's tough, but you have to give it time. Come the holiday season, I'll be able to spare a little more for you. But to do what you are asking would be a big legal procedure. Maile wanted it to be this way. I think she even wanted me looking out for you. Your idea is good, you just have to trust that it'll catch on."
Calisto was growing to regret agreeing to this and other arrangements she had made. Even at her job she was feeling new demands being placed on her. She had interviewed for the Loss Inspector position the week after the launch party, and perhaps still riding the buzz from the excitement of her new business had absolutely knocked it out of the park. Loss Inspection meant lost luggage, which meant she really only had substantial work when people called the Customer Service line to report  missing bags, but it required an exorbitant amount of followup, outbound calls and spreadsheet work when they did. Actually the airlines didn't even lose luggage all that often, which meant plenty of downtime. This new wide-open work schedule afforded her the chance to get to know Dominic a little better, since he sat at the cubicle right outside of her new office and would often come in to ask questions or escalate a caller to her or just stay and shoot the shit with her.
She was even beginning to think of Dominic as a silent partner in their operation. He was the only person at work who she'd told about Lunch Dates, and he had agreed to sign up (under the username "D3M0N1C_666" which she had to admit she'd found pretty hot) and to get as many of his friends to sign up as possible, which gave them an early surge in traffic. But getting people signed up to social media wasn't the same thing as getting them to use it, and even though he continued to assure her that his friends were actively using and promoting the site, their usage rates just weren't reflecting that.
"Why don't you guys put up more ads?" he'd asked her one day. His slouch pressed into her door frame, effectively blocking anyone from getting in or out.
"We're cutting back on the type of advertising we've been doing," she said. "The results aren't justifying the cost."
"Well shouldn't you guys be like advertising on TV anyway? You can buy time pretty cheap on Ol─ôlo."
"Great, so we just have to worry about production costs and hiring actor-models."
"You could do it yourselves and put it online for free. I've had this great idea for a fake infomercial that I've always wanted to use, but you can have it cause I'll never have anything to use it on."
"Thanks, but I can't just decide what to do. I have to run it by my partner."
"Why does he have a say? It's your mom's money you guys are using, right?" Calisto had been pondering this question more and more lately. It had been something that had gone so long unaddressed that to call it into question now would seem stranger than just staying the course, regardless of how strange the initial arrangement actually was.
"He's put in a lot of legwork on this thing. He doesn't have to help me. We came up with the concept together, so we're doing it together. Besides, I don't want to go it alone. And I like working with him." She often found herself in the position of having to defend Monte to Dominic, which was prone to happen after she'd spent so much time complaining about Monte to Dominic.
"Well I've heard your side of it, and it sure sounds like you came up with the idea on your own. To me, it sounds like he's taking credit. But to each your own."
There was a definite contrast between the two men, Calisto was thinking. Dominic was a younger fellow and could come across as both frustratingly overconfident and maddeningly insecure in a way that made her want to give him hugslaps. Monte, on the other hand, never made her feel like she had to build him up. He was himself sans apology, even if what "himself" meant was just another barrier against the world. "That fake informercial though, he might just go for it," she told him, wanting him to feel better while talking to her. "He likes cutesy things like that, sometimes."
"Did you ask him about that conference that's coming up?" Dominic was referring to the 2014 Hawaii Business & Commerce Expo, a trade show that came around after the holiday season. Calisto had mentioned this to Monte once, and he had balked because of the entrance fee. But that was before the situation had become as dire as it was now, and at this point she saw no reason not to spring for it, even if finding an additional investor turned out to be a pipe dream.
In fact, the only reservation she'd had about it at all was a petty, personal one, or so she told herself. It would be ridiculous to hold out based on this, she wanted to believe. There's too much at stake to let such a trivial matter get in the way, she attempted to reason. Yes, the 2014 Hawaii Business & Commerce Expo shouldn't be avoided at all costs just because there was an extremely high probability that James was going to be there.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I Beliebe in you


“What the shunck are you wearing?” Eric asked her that as soon as he saw her approaching.
Naomi made a groan sound. “Please don’t do that right now. You can’t just use that word the same way you use ‘fuck’ and say you invented a new word.” To Calisto she said “Thank you for letting us in. I’m so dumb I left my keys over at Eric’s again, and it’s been such a long, brutal day and I’m so done with it.”
Calisto held eye contact with both of them as she unlocked their door. “Sorry I locked you guys out. I was showing Monte the roof.”
“Where is he, we didn’t cockblock you guys, did we?” Eric laughed to no one and the girls entered in front of him.
“Don’t bother apologizing,” Naomi said. “I’m the one who’s always getting on your ass about leaving the door unlocked when you take out the trash. It’s really my fault.”
“That’s a good point,” Eric said, as if carrying on a dropped thread of conversation without missing a beat. “Should we lock Monte out?”
“Maybe he went home,” Calisto said. She had headed for the drinks and tried to pour out the last of the wine bottle Monte had brought. The scant few drops remaining formed a tiny puddle at the bottom of her glass which she gulped down immediately.
“Looks like you guys really got started without us. I’m so sorry we made you wait.” Calisto wasn’t hearing, wandering around the kitchen for more booze. Naomi followed and went sotto voce with her next few words: “This isn’t a crime scene, is it? What did the guy do?”
The bottle of vodka was going to be empty after the next shot. Was it okay to drink liquor after half a bottle of wine? Calisto couldn’t remember. They were cleaned out. “I’m going to the store,” she said. “I’ll be right back.” She would have made it out the door if Monte hadn’t chosen that moment to walk right in. It wasn’t that his physical frame couldn’t have been pushed aside, it was more that Calisto no longer felt any need to escape once the fact of his presence was established. To walk out now would seem rude, but it also would seem to grossly exaggerate the danger she had felt herself to be in just a moment earlier. Or, as an abstract topic of conversationthe man was overwhelming. As a matter of physical fact, he could be dealt with. The reality of who he was diminished the specter of his existence.

I beliebe in you

Was he tipsy or something? He just kind of stood there like his mind had gone blank.There was a moment where Calisto thought he might forget how to stand and just topple to the floor. That could happen when somebody was having an aneurysm, or was it a stroke? She’d heard it was one of those. The others looked back at him and Eric broke the silence with “Good to see you, Marshmallow Matey.” That didn’t necessarily break up the tension, which it was dawning on everybody occurred strictly between Monte and Calisto at this point, with the others only there to observe, but it did something.

Baldo,” Monte acknowledged Eric’s salutation. This was followed up by more empty space.
Move the jaws, thought Calisto. Carry this ball to another place. “There’s nothing to drink here,” she said. “I was just going out to get some.”
“Let me go,” said Monte. “I was just peeing off the roof when I noticed this glass was empty and I could have been peeing into it.” He gestured with his mug unenthusiastically as he said this.
Naomi walked up and snatched the mug away. “Thank you for not peeing in our glass.”
“Calisto, we should go to the store together,” Monte said. “We can talk about stuff.”
Naomi was vigorously rinsing the mug out at the kitchen sink, as if worried he actually had peed in it, and said “Actually, can Eric go with you? I need Calisto to help me cook something up for you boys.” Calisto glanced over at Naomi giving her a questioning look. Naomi looked back as if expecting her to go along.
“Yyyyeah,” Calisto said. “She sets toast on fire if I’m not around.”
Eric stood up. “I guess it’s settled, then! Men run the errand, women run the kitchen. Come on, let’s get out of the way.” Monte stared at Calisto, looking for some sign of protest. She looked away until the two males were gone.
Naomi, who had busied herself setting dishes on the kitchen counter, put everything down and turned to Calisto. “What the hell was that?”
“I don’t know what…”
Is he getting in your head? If I didn’t know any better I’d think you were falling for this guy.”
“It’s been a weird night. He didn’t do anything. All he did was cry in front of me. I was bad. I kind of jerked off in the bathroom while he was here.”
“Ugh, why?”
“I don’t know, I just knew that if I didn’t w
e’d get in trouble. My signals were getting all mixed and… he must not know how to take a hint or something. I’m probably just ovulating, it was nothing. It was any port in a storm or something. God, I don’t know, it’s just confusing right now. Like what are we? What are we doing, and what are we?”
Naomi backed off a bit. “I understand, it’s a confusing time. Just be careful. And call me next time. If you have to fingerblast yourself in order to keep your hands off a guy, you’re already in trouble.”
“Are we actually making anything?” Calisto asked. “I’m really hungry now.”
Naomi had already located a tube of cinnamon rolls from the fridge and set about twisting it until it popped open. “Tell me what happened,” she said, peeling off the outer wrapping and running her fingernails along the seam before finally forcing the package with a butterknife. “Was he hitting on you? Did you let yourself get sloppy drunk in front of him? Are you still sloppy drunk now?”
“Naomi, this is hard enough.” She began helping her by preheating the oven and peeling the individual rolls out. “
I just felt close to him for like, 30 seconds. It’s already passed me by.”
“You said he cried? He cried and you got so turned on you had to get yourself off?”
“Eww, no! It was the other way around. I came out and he showed me the site and we went on the roof and he just started crying.”
“Ooh, are you going to show us the site?”
“I don’t know, we should wait til everybody gets back.” The site suddenly felt beside the point for Calisto, despite being their ostensible reason for gathering that night. 
The moment of triumph had passed, only those who were involved with it could understand.“It’s not that big a deal,” she said, 180ing from her initial reaction that the site was going to be their ticket to fame and fortune.
“Let’s not get sidetracked,” Naomi suggested. “You may be trying to fuck this whole thing up in classic Calisto fashion, but I Beliebe in you.”
“Did you just say you Beliebe in me?” Calisto scoffed. They both laughed and she felt the way Naomi had made her feel many times before, like someone was looking out for her. Lately, she realized, she had been getting that same feeling from another source.
Eric and Monte came through the door just as the oven timer was going off. Naomi had showered during the interval and was now lounging in a robe and pajama pants. Calisto had taken the opportunity to pore over the site once more, luxuriating in the creation of a thing to call her own, which she couldn’t have made without someone’s help. The two roomies had both enjoyed just being roomies again for a while. Who knew how much longer that would last, after all. Calisto had to admit that sending them out for the liquor had been a good idea, maybe for all of them.
“Did you guys get lost or something?” Naomi asked.
“There’s a price war going on or something,” Eric said. ”We ended up going six blocks the other way to save a buck or two. It was totally worth it, apparently.” Monte wasunloading bottles out of a bag as Calisto put a hot pan of cinnamon buns on a dishtowel.
“That smells fantastic,” Monte said, pouring Coke and whiskey into a paper cup.
“I was going to say the same thing,” Calisto responded.
“You guys really went overboard,” Naomi said. “We don’t really get this tanked.”
“We do tonight,” Monte said.
 “Hope you guys like the feeling of your head getting smashed in tomorrow morning.” He tossed back his drink, made another one and handed it, of all people, to Eric.
He lifted his cup and toasted, “To all the shuncks we’ve not yet shuncked.”
“The meaning has to be apparent by its usage,” Naomi said, not being heard.
“So you figured out what it means?” Calisto asked. “Or are you just throwing it around still.”
“Its meaning should be apparent by now,” Eric said.
“Well, Monte came up with just about the perfect meaning before you guys got here. Go on, tell him
 what you called him.” Calisto motioned with her head. Monte looked back at her, a blank expression suddenly filling with apprehension and attempting to signal, through raised eyebrows and flashes of teeth, to drop the subject.
“This should be good,” Eric said. “What did you call me this time?”
Monte gritted at Calisto, took his second drink and responded, “I told her you were a douchey cunt. Dou, chey, cunt.”
Even Naomi wasn’t quite sure what would happen next. The two males just stared at each other, and in the meantime Monte picked up a hot bun and took a bite. Eric broke the silence with a fit of laughter, and everyone eased up.
“That’s awesome! Okay, that is the definition.
“Shouldn’t it be ‘Shunt’ if that’s what it means?” Naomi asked, as no one listened, as no one should.
Calisto and Naomi were cleaning up at the end of the night. Instead of getting tanked, they’d all imbibed one extra drink and felt exhausted, so Monte just left a liquor cabinet’s worth of alcohol in their kitchen, saying “Just bring it to work on Monday.” Eric excused himself next, saying he needed to go buy some floss and then floss his teeth. Half the cinnamon buns remained uneaten, so they’d been stashed in the microwave for quicker reheating the next morning.
“We should have company more often,” Naomi said, putting away the dishes they’d used.
“We never have people over anymore.”
“That turned out pretty fun,” Calisto admitted. “It was tough getting there, but we did eventually get chill.”
“Did you see Monte getting the staredown? I thought we’d be mopping up blood.”
“That was a 
nice moment. Not knowing who was going to blink first.”
Before they could go to bed Naomi made them sit on their couch together a little while longer, which meant she had something serious to discuss. Calisto knew what she was going to say and didn’t want to hear it, but also had nothing else to say herself, so she resorted to wondering about the potential for violence earlier in the night as if that topic required further investigation.
“Do you think Eric would be more likely to punch someone in the nose, or in the gut?” Naomi looked back at her, not having it. “Calisto.”
“In the junk?”
“Calisto, I’m sorry, but we have to do this.”
“Why? This isn’t fun, so we don’t have to do it. We’ll do it tomorrow and go to bed happy tonight. Please, 
Naomi, I just had a good night.”
“We have to do this. You’ll always have this night. I’m moving in with Eric.”
“You are.”
“This is how it has to go. I’m sorry but it just feels like we’re holding you back at this point. You’re free now.”
“So that’s it? You guys are getting married and that’s it?”
“Sure, we’re getting married. Eventually. But we have to do this first.”
“You practically live at his place now. Why not just stay there and this can be your vacation home? I’ll keep it nice for you.” Calisto knew her please were getting pathetic, but she barely saw her best friend as it was and this felt like the death knell for whatever friendship they still maintained, on a night where she felt closer to her than she had in quite some time.
“I’m sorry, Calisto. There’s a fine line between helping and enabling. We’ve been over this. We’ll still help you out while you’re looking for your next place. But you have to be looking. We can’t do it for you.”
Calisto lunged forward to embrace her friend. The two women hugged until the mood changed and Calisto pulled back. “Thanks for looking out for me, Naomi,” she said.
“Always,” said Naomi. “This is such an exciting time for you. No matter what happens next, you’re going to make it.”
Calisto laid up in bed that night sorting through the changes in her mind. It felt like she had come a longer way in this last night than she had the previous six months. For all the trouble she had given herself trying to make her life mean more than the sum of its failures and embarrassments, there was as much to be proud of in it as there was to point at and laugh. Even the ridiculous aspects of her life seemed too comical to actually cause her any pain. How could change be a bad thing if the fresh, joyful feeling of a new start was stirring her soul to such peaceful reflections?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Shortcut to intimacy



But there was a deeper question on her mind at that moment than scheming up ways to rekindle his old love. Was it the right time for this? In the moment, it didn’t seem to matter. They were just doing what they had always done. She didn’t notice any change in his usual phlegmatic self, despite the outpouring of some pretty upsetting personal history. He had described the events of his life as if they had happened to a friend of his, and not even a very close one.
Maybe she just still had difficulty reading him, after all this time. And of course she thought in passing that the question she was about to ask might open up some uncomfortable avenues among the already-twisted inroads they had made toward understanding one another. But the thing about an elephant in the room is that it is surprisingly easy to ignore – until someone mentions it.
“Why do Eric and Naomi keep telling me that you have a thing for me?” she asked. It was meant in the spirit of fun, and at no point was she expecting a real answer anyway. It had been a playful sort of evening, from the surreptitious self-pleasuring to the unveiling of the online vehicle they were both hitching their dreams to. Even the airing of sordid details from the past seemed to come more from a place of juicy gossip than living, breathing regret.
So when Monte just answered “Is that what they say?” and made a hurt-looking face, she didn’t know how to take it at first.
After enough time had passed that it became clear he wasn’t going to add on, she continued. “Just ever since you started helping me with the site. They’re like, ‘Oh, why would he team up with you for this, he must like you.’ They can’t imagine you’d have any other reason.”
“Do you think I like you?”
“I honestly can’t tell. You’re not the most heart-on-sleeve guy ever.”
“I don’t even know what I feel half the time,” he said, as if it had any application to the subject at hand. “And if I did, I wouldn’t trust those feelings anyway.”
That was when she felt it. The change was in the air long before it manifested itself in any sensory way. Calisto had never understood the expression “burst into tears” – as far as she could tell, it never happened. Tears would come unbidden, but they were always telegraphed well in advance. It was a slower process, more of a gradual release than a bursting. Purely physical reactions like throwing up or sneezing happened more spontaneously, yet nobody ever talked about “bursting into vomit”. People tended to give themselves over to emotion knowingly.
That was what she noticed Monte doing in the faint starlight. He must have realized what she was seeing, because he apologized before it even began. “Sorry, I’m crying a little.”
“It’s okay,” she said quietly.
“Goddammit,” he said. “Here it comes.” She looked away, for his sake more than for her own. No man, to her knowledge, enjoyed having a woman watching him cry. His breath was coming out all ragged and she knew he was shaking, without looking. She studied a streetlight, not thinking about anything else except for what she refused to acknowledge.

And then it was over. She felt the tremor pass as much as she heard it. They were both left wondering what the big deal was.

“Thanks for not being freaked out by my tears,” said Monte snuffling.

It wasn’t a question she would normally ask, but she could feel them connecting on a different level, as if openly weeping in front of someone was a shortcut to intimacy. “What was it about, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Oh, I’m just constantly holding back tears these days. Usually I’m better at it.” It was his standard non-answer, and she normally would’ve kept pressing, but the window of vulnerability seemed to have passed. So instead she decided to say something to make him feel like his behavior was normal.

“I do it all the time,” she said. “Everybody does, and the fact that we all pretend like we don’t only makes everybody feel like they’re crazy.”

“Okay, now you’re being freaked out,” Monte said.

“I’m not being freaked out, I’m being reassuring.”

“It was just a physical thing, it doesn’t need to be dissected.”

“All right then, forget it. All I’m saying is, it’s understandable.”

“No, I’m sorry. I appreciate what you’re doing, I’m just too much of an asshole to take it well,” Monte said after a quasi-thoughtful pause. “Or I’m just not used to it. Most people, they see you crying and everything becomes awkward. Except for my kids. Kids take everything in stride. My daughter saw me crying the other night, and she just said ‘Daddy, you’re crying.’ No hint of concern in the voice or anything, just matter-of-fact stating it. And it’s because she hasn’t been around long enough, she still assumes everything that happens is normal.”

“She doesn’t know that daddies aren’t supposed to cry,” Calisto said to herself.

“Yes! And maybe years later she’ll suddenly remember that and she’ll go, ‘Wow, I knew how fucked-up my dad was that long ago’. So yeah. Sorry for being such an asshole. I just don’t like crying in front of people. They’re always like, ‘Oh my god, are you okay?’”

Calisto recognized the exact situation he was referring to, and fighting the urge to laugh at the melodramatic face he was pulling as he did his impression of an over-concerned bystander. “It’s a human instinct,” she said. “People want to show they care.”

“Or they just want to seem like they care.”

“It’s the same thing,” Calisto said. “You appear to be sad, so I have to appear to take an interest. We’re all just following the same script. Look at you, what do you care if someone is sincere or not?”

“I care if you’re sincere,” Monte said.

His eyes were doing something funny as he said this, Calisto couldn’t tell whether it was on purpose, and she tried not to let it distract her. “You never answered my question.”

Her phone started buzzing so loud it seemed to wake them up, as if they’d forgotten other people exist in the world. Calisto read the text out loud.

“’Where RU guys?’” she said phonetically. “’We’re locked out.’ Dammit, they’re here.”

Monte laughed without looking at her. “You know what my son said to me the other day? We’re trying to potty-train him right now, so whenever he actually succeeds at it, we have to act like he just won the Super Bowl. We do the ‘Great job,’ high-five and everything. So the other day he walks in the room as I’m finishing up. He says, ‘You did it, Daddy! You’re a big boy!’”

“Wow, what a funny story,” Calisto said. “We need to go let them in.”

“Can’t they come up here?”

“We shouldn’t even be up here,” she said. “Come on, I’ll help you get up.” He was slumped over like he was nursing a chest wound and looked far too exhausted to get up on his own. Calisto hadn’t realized how long they had been on the ground until she heard the blood roaring in her own ears. The alcohol must have been part of it.

“You trust me?” he said to her outstretched hand. “I’m not going to read too much into this, am I?”

“Shut up,” she said, grabbing both of his hands and jerking upwards abruptly, annoyed. The man was a twig and popped to his feet so quickly that he stumbled forward a bit before getting his balance under him.
“Damn, you can really dead lift, girl,” he told her. “Now you sit down, let me try you.”

“Let go of my hands,” she said. “Let’s go.” She turned and walked and eventually he followed her.