Monday, December 20, 2010

The Enterprise - 22

It occurred to me one day in early December that I hadn't seen Brett in a while. Normally he was hyper-present: banging away on his guitar, stomping around the office to peer over people's shoulders, boots up on the conference table barking at the staticky entities on the other end of the phone. Today he was gone and I tried to remember the last day I saw him. I could not.

I swiveled around to Steve, the recently hired quality assurance manager.

"Have you seen Brett? Where's Brett?"

Steve craned his neck over his partition and scanned the environs like a periscope.

"I dunno."

"You dunno? You work for him."

Steve shrugged. "Dunno where he is."

"Has he been gone for a while?"

"I dunno," he frowned. "Can't remember."

"Don't you think that's weird?" I asked.


"The fact that he was here and now he's gone."

He shrugged again. "Don't ask me, man. I'm just sitting here trying to write a fucking test plan."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know."

David rolled over between us.

"Is this a conversation I should participate in?" he inquired eagerly.

"Maybe," replied Steve. "I dunno, man. I think it's over."

David scrutinized Steve's face and mine in turn as we sat in silence. I rolled back and forth a little. I liked the sound the casters made against the wood. Finally we broke off and returned to work.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Enterprise - 21

On the street I discreetly observed the vagrants and the crazies, those who operated out of bounds. I was fascinated by their brusque, discombobulated intrusions upon the cozy realm in which the rest of us were coddled. It was difficult not to perceive within their batty declamations the stark ring of truth.

As I left the gym one day I realized I needed a quart of milk. On a corner a block away I spotted the reassuring neon glow of a deli. But as I approached I detected a hulking shadow by the doorway.


People walked by him in a slight arc, as though magnetically repelled. Without a glance.

I asked myself a craven little question: Do I really need milk? I turned around at the edge of the sidewalk, back across the street.

"DON'T GO MY BROTHER!" the man pleaded after me. "I'M YOUR LONG LOST LITTLE BROTHER!"

Still other strange things happened on the street and underground. I was at Union Square, waiting for the uptown 6, late on a scotch-soaked night. A man walked down onto the platform, a stocky white guy in his thirties. He wore workboots, a hooded sweatshirt under his denim jacket. His jeans were faded and frayed from honest work outdoors. He was in a state of extreme agitation.

"Fucking COCKSUCKERS!" he raged. "Fucking douchebag son-of-a-bitch COCKSUCKERS!"

He slammed the standing subway map with his elbow. It rang like a dull gong.

"Internet rich-kid MOTHERFUCKERS!" He glared around, red-cheeked and a little out of breath. "You fucking hipster motherfucking CUNTS!"

I turned my head and gazed tensely at the trash between the tracks. I hoped he would not kill me. But I thought he might. Why not? In time he wandered out of sight, his curses reverberating down the tiled walls.

On my way to work one morning, my reverie was interrupted by a deranged woman at 110th and Malcolm X.

"They lie! They lie! They lie!" she howled. "They lie in circles on the street!"

One day I was on a train. A fairly crowded train. It was reaching peak velocity between stops, the point at which it sways uneasily on the tracks. A somnolent man was leaning on a window when it suddenly popped out and disappeared into the blackness. The roar of wheels and wind filled the car as he flailed, his head and torso dangling in the dark. He caught his balance and – petrified, ashen – backed away from the awful, noisy hole. He gazed around at us with a curious smile. Almost apologetical. A few smiled back, nodding gently. No one said a word. He stepped gingerly through the throng, like a man returned from outer space. Then he took a spot at a handrail and waited for his stop like everybody else.

Me, I got home and filled my shaker up with salt. I watched as the crystals formed their conical pile at the bottom and the powder escaped vaporously at the top.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Enterprise - 20

Brett lurched across the floor one morning, grabbed an empty chair, swiveled it around and sat facing me.

"Sex," he stated.



"What about it?"

"Exactly! What about it?"


"I type in 'sex.' How does the application respond?"

"I see."

"I see?"

"No, I see. The application, let's see, I mean, uh..."

"What does it say when someone says 'sex'?"


"Because that's the first goddamn thing everyone's gonna say to it."


"It might not be the sort of thing you pick up in Judy's fucking usability testing. But trust me."

"I suppose you're right."

"Faced with a blank screen. A keyboard. People are gonna type S-E fucking X."

"People are predictable. We're in the business of predicting people."

"It's the first and the last thing on everyone's goddamned mind." He gave a sly smile. "You know what's everything in between, of course."

"In between sex?"


"Death. Wow."

"Death is the other thing."

"Yeah. I don't know how we sh–"

"We got death covered already."

"We do?"

"Someone says, 'I want to kill myself.' What do we say? In your opinion."

"Don't do it? There's so much to live for?"

Brett closed his eyes and shook his head.

"Please type your zip code and I will provide you with the phone number for the nearest suicide prevention hotline?"

He shook his head a little harder. "Nope."

"Then what?"



"Someone says they want to kill themselves. We say nothing."

"We change the subject? We present the home screen?"

"Nope. Nope. Nothing."

"We say nothing? In other words, we don't say anything?"

"Precisely," he stated, satisfied.

"Blank screen?"

"Empty space."

"Wouldn't that constitute a tacit endorsement?"

Brett shrugged. "Lawyers told us."


"They examined the question and determined that in order to fully protect ourselves from any conceivable liability, we should go dark."

I pondered this a moment.

"So forget about death. Sex."

"Right, so–"

"So what does it say?"

"What does it say?"

"The application. I came over, I sat down. I said 'sex.' What do you say?"

"That's very interesting."

"Really? Interesting."

"What an interesting thing to say."

Brett thought it over for a little while.

"I like it."

And so I began writing my first domain. The Sex domain.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Enterprise - 19

There was a bodega on our corner, run by Yemeni brothers. Each morning they fried up a giant, tangled pile of bacon on the griddle and the thick, rich smell would pour out in a steam plume from the vent to 105th.

Jeff the Happy Homeless Guy stood on the corner all day, every day, like it was his job. I never did see him more than half a block away on either side. He was perpetually drifting past the bodega door, on his way to nowhere. He'd signal me cheerily, eyes alight, flashing a chipped-tooth grin. Then his face would fall. He'd mumble something to indicate he was in need, always as though it were an unexpected and exceptional circumstance. Can ya help me out? It was important to him – maybe important to me, important to us – that this transaction not become as rote as the exacting of a toll. So it became a little ritual: the bright greeting, the solemn appeal, the inevitable donation, the warm parting of ways. At the end he usually asked after my sister and told me to tell her something I couldn't quite understand.

A conversation I overheard between a man and a woman in their thirties, walking down Seventh Street in the Slope:

Woman: "'Singin' in the Rain' was in 'A Clockwork Orange'?"

Man: "Yes it was."

Woman: "I had no idea!"

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Enterprise - 18

Outside of work I drifted around Manhattan in endlessly overlapping figures. The gym on the Upper East. The bar in Gramercy for shooting pool. The Park, the Village. Trying not to let the antenna of my StarTAC poke me in the balls.

I lived in Spanish Harlem with my sister Sue and our friend Sean. Every day I'd walk home from the 6 at Lex and 103rd: down the sidewalk blown by wisps of trash; past the garden cantina with the plastic chairs, the tires in a pile, the knee-high grass and weeds. The liquor store on the corner with the yellow sign and the bulletproof booth. I once bought a bottle of wine I'd noticed in the window, vintage 1972. For twenty-eight years it had rested in its spot in the display while the hood lived and died beyond the glass: babes paraded in prams by proud and hopeful moms turned into truant youth, dealers and gangstas, some to be felled by rivals for turf, some by brothers in arms for a trifle – a slight, a rumor, an accusation. A girl. The man who once screamed and strained for his mother's breast now lay on the corner in a gently expanding pool of blood. Through it all the stupid bottle of French wine looked on. I took it home. It was piss.

For many years before I moved I'd ride the Metro-North down. My sister already lived here. But a Connecticut boy never really needs a reason to see the City. It exerted a magnificent gravitational pull, out of the woods and down the coastline, through the dollhouse towns of Fairfield Country, behind a jumble of graffiti'd warehouses and finally: Grand Central Station. I was always fascinated by the stretch of elevated track between 125th Street and the plunge under Park Avenue. I recognized that this was, objectively, a bad area. You could tell from the overgrown lots, the cracked windows, the peeled-paint signs. But in the late sun shining from the west it sparkled like a jewel. This was the paradoxical result of decades of violence and neglect: glass everywhere, crushed nearly to powder, from car accidents, break-ins, discarded bottles. It gave the impression that the streets of this city were paved not with gold but with diamonds.

It would be crazy to live here, I thought to myself, gazing out the train. I tried to imagine how different my life would be, how strange and wonderful and awful it would be, if I lived right there in that scintillating ghetto.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Enterprise - 17

My friend Mike from back in Connecticut had a big idea of his own. I went down to his apartment, a creaky industrial loft in Chinatown, after work one Tuesday. The space was spare, with splintering floors, a computer, a hammock strung from wall to wall. Several sixteen-millimeter Russian windup cameras were stacked in a corner. He had an angle on them from some ex-pat named Boris. He bought them cheap, fiddled with the insides so they'd work a little better, sell them to NYU film students. This wasn't the big idea.

There were four of us in at first, besides Mike. There was Adam, from back home too. There was Jim, one of our circle in the city. There was Evan, a bleary-eyed doctor friend of Mike's. We gathered in folding chairs in a circle around nothing. As Mike began his pitch, a dull, rapid pounding emanated from beyond the ceiling. Though it was rhythmic it was not musical. It was relentless and oppressive, the beating heart of a great mechanical beast.

"What is that?" I interrupted.

"That's the sweatshop. The sewing machines."

"When does it stop?"

"Never. Well, sometimes. But mostly never."

Gradually, haltingly, Mike outlined his plan. It seemed sensible. He wanted to build an online interface too – a video player, specifically, tricked up with features and controls – through which people might learn languages. We asked him what we imagined to be wise and diligent questions: What's the business model? What's the exit strategy? He offered few answers.

"I'm going to need some money," he declared.

We each pledged thousands of dollars in exchange for shares in this vaporous endeavor. We did it automatically, dutifully. Not one of us considered not buying in. Certainly not if the next guy was. It would have seemed contrary to the spirit of the gathering. It would have seemed rude.

I was certain the enterprise was doomed.

We made plans to meet again and parted under the robotic throbbing of the machines.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Enterprise - Prologue

Tom begged me not to write this book.

"I dunno, man," he said, grimacing, squirming on his barstool.

"What? Why? Why not?"

He shook his head. "It's just that–"

He looked up for a moment, jiggling the warm remains of his martini.

"Never mind," he said. He took his penultimate sip. "Never mind. Forget it."

He always did this.

"What? What? What?" I pleaded.

Now he smiled, a little warily. Preparing to explain it after all. He always did this, too.

"I wouldn't do it."

"I know you wouldn't fucking do it. Why shouldn't I do it?"

"I dunno, man."

His left leg was fidgeting and he appeared distracted. It was a source of great distress to me that he was not supportive.

"You won't look bad," I assured.

He put his hand up. "Don't care about that. Not the point. Not the point."

"What is the point?"

"I dunno man." He sucked a breath in through his teeth. "Just doesn't seem like a good idea. That's all."

I peered into the watery remains of my Johnny Black on the rocks, a goddamn familiar sight if ever there was one. I felt Tom's approbation press against the walls of my body: my chest, my shoulders. It had all the more authority for being inchoate, unexplained. Unjustified. It existed beyond justification. Beyond words.

"I wouldn't do it," he repeated.

"I know you wouldn't do it."

He spun towards me and adopted a reasoning posture, hand extended to the side. Then, haltingly: "What do you expect to gain from– What's the point of– Is it that important to you to–"

"I'm not out to fuck people. It is not my intention to fuck people."

His expression broke a little bit. "Really?"


"Then what is the point?" he asked.

"It's all I got, man."

He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. "Explain."

"Some people are programmers. Some people are project managers. Some people are this or that, biz dev, VP, blahdee blahdee blah."


"And I'm not any of those things."


"So this is all I got. All I've got is my story. And the inclination to tell it. This is what I have."

My mouth was dry. I had a feeling I had waited my entire life to speak those words. They hung gravely in the air between us as I drank the icy water from my glass.

"All right," Tom said. "I changed my mind."

"You changed your mind?"



"I think you should write it."