Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Had a thought while reading the latest scary article about the presidential race in the Times. Apparently, a third of voters believe Romney has become more moderate since becoming the Republican nominee. If so many voters believe that this 65-year-old, experienced politician has significantly changed his political views in the last six months, why are the polls so close—basically even? “Flip-flopper” has long been a damning label in presidential politics. But the difference between Romney and, say, John Kerry is that Romney is an avowed flip-flopper. I think the American public, by and large, see him as a gleeful opportunist, happy to change his tune to suit his audience, from the liberal voters in Massachusetts to the hyper-conservative ones in the Republican primaries to the moderate undecideds who are the prize target now. It’s OK because he’s doing it callously, connivingly. Like a man. Like a good old, Machiavellian leader. Kerry, of course, got the label hung around his neck in spite of his meek protestations. Like a pussy. Americans will respect—maybe even adore—all sorts of equivocation as long as it’s carried off brazenly. With balls.

Fortunately, the Obama strategy has been to take him at his word for saying he was “severely conservative.” As opposed to any politician who might win, that’s a specific politician who can’t win.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Enterprise - 46

One December night, Melissa and I sat in the Indian restaurant around the corner from her place. She told me she had been depressed.

“For how long?”

“For a while. For quite a while.”

She’d started seeing a shrink, she said. I asked her if she’d talk to me about her sessions. No.

She’d been prescribed an antidepressant whose side effects included reduced libido.

“Are you on them now?”


Still, it was over. I knew it. Had been over for months. It was over more than ever. Going to end soon, soon, soon. Still, I was relieved. Maybe the malaise in our relationship hadn’t been my fault. And I allowed myself to be flattered by her confession. Didn’t it mean she wanted me to stay? To play the role of the supportive boyfriend? Could it be that all I had to do from here on out was be there for her?

I told her I’d do whatever she wanted. We’d do whatever she wanted. And that I understood. Hell, I’d felt that way too. Together, we’d get thr—

It was late at night on Valentine’s Day when she told me it was over. I lay in bed beside her, formulating my reply. Staring at that old, familiar ceiling in a whole new way. I wasn’t the least bit surprised. I was devastated. I was elated. I was hungry.

“I feel like I haven’t been myself around you,” I ventured meekly.

“What do you mean?”

“I haven’t been acting like me. The person you just broke up with isn’t me.”

I could tell she was annoyed by the way that she was quiet. Like a fool, I persisted.

“Let me show you who I am. Please.”

She took a drag off her cigarette. Women are so cool and cinematic when they’re breaking up with you.

“If you aren’t you, then who the fuck have I been with all this time?”

It was a strong question. Diamond-tipped. All the best questions have no answers. Or answers so obvious no one dares to speak them. This one hounded me into my pants and out the door.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Enterprise - 45

You could be among the dead. There’d never be shame in that. You could be among the lucky ones, standing one moment at the copy machine, thinking about lunch or sex or how you have to drive all the way to Rhode Island to see your in-laws this weekend—WHAM!, you’re pulverized out of existence. Now you’re a beloved memory. You’re perfect. You’re a face in a Pulitzer Prize–winning series of memorials in the paper, a sainted name projected onto the walls and rafters of Madison Square Garden during a performance by U2.

You could be among the survivors. Not among we survivors, who’d watched the towers fall on television. But those who’d scrambled out of the ash and debris, ties flailing over their shoulders, personal effects abandoned, heels snapping off. Those who’d gone down 82 floors in the smoke and the darkness just before the floors had gone down, too. They’d been suddenly conscripted in a one-day war. We were the folks back home.

You could also be a rescuer. Official or not. Anyone could walk past the barriers at 14th Street and volunteer for service. You got a shovel. A facemask, maybe. You could dig through the rubble all day, come back and do it all over again the next. The point was to find someone alive. No one did. But as long as there you were digging, you were alright. Many who did proclaimed that they had no choice, that the disaster site exerted a stronger pull than their families or their jobs. Such duty was obviously hazardous, possibly suicidal. (The maw at Ground Zero was smoldering with bones and hair, with glass, paper, rubber, steel, plaster and asbestos; with nylon, vinyl and formaldehyde; with polypropylene, polystyrene and a thousand more of man’s creations; the disintegrated elements of city. The smell of death and poison, sickly-sweet and acrid, hung over the entire island for weeks.) Who did this kind of work? Not us. Not me. We weren’t among the dead or wounded, the survivors, nor the saviors.

There were a few things that people like us could do. We could give blood, everybody said. My sister and I dutifully presented ourselves at the nearest donation center. A line of likeminded souls stretched out the door and around the corner of 67th Street and Second. Inside, perplexed staff members scrambled to manage the influx. We were turned away. Plus: no one needed any blood.

Here we were, some coworkers and I, traipsing through Chelsea on a sunny weekday. Kevin towed a Radio Flyer filled with provisions we’d earnestly assembled and purchased at a Duane Reade. Boxes of PowerBars, a case of Gatorade, Bounty paper towels, Advil, Slim Jims, M&Ms and Visine. We were told they needed Visine most of all.

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Enterprise - 44

It felt strange to return to work. But what was the alternative? Some reappeared on Thursday, others on Friday. Still others waited. The solemnity of their empty chairs and darkened screens had the effect of a reproach. What are you doing here? The world is burning. Think of the dead.

Conversation arose fitfully, all of it concerning the Event, its aftermath, and corollary concerns. The well-being of friends, of former coworkers. Of acquaintances. Everyone knew a victim—or a missing person, anyway—or knew someone who knew one, or knew someone who knew someone who knew one. The closer you were to such a person, the louder and more animated you had license to be as you told their story. The prouder you could be. This was understood to be a rule.

It occurred to me that I knew no one. I told myself that was a good thing.

I tried to do some work. Tinker with code, scrutinize error logs. To get the least bit done seemed to require enormous concentration. What was work? It now seemed absurd. Had civilization itself not just been uninvented?

We all thought they were coming for the rest of us. Wouldn’t they? We also thought we could never tell the same old jokes again. On both counts we were wrong.

We reprogrammed certain aspects of the Product’s algorithm in order to reflect the new reality. We made it—him, it really was a him now—in equal measures mournful, dignified, outraged and steadfast. All the proud, new American qualities.

In the news, authorities had yanked a Sikh off a commuter train, citing precaution. His turban, it appeared, had rattled the nerves of fellow passengers.

Messages arrived from out west, expressing bewildered sorrow and sympathy. Yet among them was the following note from Judy to the creative team, cc’ing Neil and Sam:


As I’m sure you’re aware, there remain several outstanding action items from our conference call on Thursday the 6th. I think we all need to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.


Upon reading it, Bob smacked the metal surface of his desk five times, hard, in quick succession. Soon a small group had gathered behind him to read the offending e-mail over his shoulder. There were howls of disgust and disbelief, of derisive laughter. The message was forwarded around the office, annotated in turn by each recipient with a suitably scathing remark. But once we all had seen it, a silence fell upon the room. We began the Enterprise anew.