Lynne Barrett writes:
“Links,” which was published in 2004, was written about the world of the web as it existed during the dot com boom and bust in 2000-2001. It borrows elements of the form of a website of the period, and has links indicated by underlines but not active. My goal was to offer the reader a single reading, a single path through the story, while imagining that there might be others. It was not written to be a hypertext story.
The story appears, in a somewhat revised form, in my 2011 story collection, Magpies, published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. Little did I know how many booms and busts would follow this one.
“Language this,” Avery said, the first day I worked at eBrightlights.com. Worked there, worded there. At my blank look, he said, “It doesn’t need much, just some polishing up, a couple of sweet phrases, you know. That’s your specialty, right?”
Even as I nodded he was turning away, my new boss, a high speed guy with short dark hair, a techno shirt woven in tiny-blue gray waffles. He made his way, stopping to offer a word or smile at other desks, to his corner of the big room we all shared. This was a democratic place, I’d been told already. The two founders, Avery and Thad, were 28, but that was part of their authority, their sheer youth, their lack of formality. They exhaled Success.
So I set to work—occasionally, furtively, using paper to make notes. The Stylus, the magazine where I’d worked for the past eight years, my whole career, had folded. After operating at an honorable loss for over a century, the intellectual bauble of one rich man after another, The Stylus vanished and with it my toehold in New York literary life. My friend since high school, Celie, had been trying to get me to quit, pointing out that in this boom even temps were making 30K while I was accepting so much less, stuck (her term) living in New Jersey with my brother. But I’d hung on, imagining myself to be climbing as I went from doing captions to listings of literary events to (unsigned) short reviews, plus editing the works of the regular contributors, many of them survivors from the 50’s who turned in stuff typed so pale you imagined their old ribbons, irreplaceable, on one final round of being hit hard by Smith Corona keys.
So I should have been grateful when the last owner was unable to snag another taker and let The Stylus sink. Articles appeared in tribute to Peter Alphonse Delisle, the hearty madman who’d been editor for the past 46 years, discoverer of geniuses he launched but rarely paid. The articles lamented the passing of an era, Delisle gone like other landmarks, but no one cared. Within a week, I was whisked into Silicon Alley’s warren by Celie, allowed to begin at a salary so rich my head spun, at eBrightlights.com. We covered “the evening’s things to do, with links to buy sport & concert tix at discounts & deals at restaurants,” in 16 cities with others clamoring to be listed.
They gave me a desk, a wonderful chair, a slick laptop so thin I kept lifting it up, unable to believe it really had anything inside, but when I commanded it to print, the printer chirped and produced. Wires crawled to us through holes in the walls, light streamed in through the arched tops of the tall windows of this 1800’s building packed with the future. It looked like the place where Bartleby scrivened. And this was what scrivening had come to.
My first task was a piece on megaplexes submitted by some teenage content provider out there, his writing rambling and misspelled, but I was used to that. I fixed, I ordered, I made it flow. I e-mailed it across the room.
Avery came by: “What is this, Mary Louise?” he said. He held his laptop, displaying my article, 750 words, more or less coherent, with a neat sidebar.
“No no,” he said. “You don’t want this. You have to BLOW IT UP. Spider your story. No one can read more than a paragraph anymore. Don’t make it linear. Forget linearity. You want to jump ‘em to a different page.” And he showed me how he wanted it fragmented, how to pick a phrase to hit, to make you leap off to get more info.
“Will anyone ever read the whole thing, then?”
“No—who knows? People don’t have time to plow through some long, dragged-out report—they want to be able to skip to just what interests them. That’s how the mind really works,” he said.
“The web mind. The modern mind. Anyway we want them to hop around, because each page carries advertising. See, that’s the goal, to get the eyeballs on as many pages as possible. There’s no preferred order. The pages are all equal in cyberspace.”
“Why do they call them pages, then?”
“Reverence for antiquity,” Avery said, and shot me a look. He had large dark eyes, with thick eyelashes, I couldn’t help but notice.
“Ah,” I said, and went on to language some more.
I learned how to do it swiftly, to think in target, link. I may be a Luddite but if I’m going to learn a technology, I’ll learn it right.
It cost $700. Violet gray, ergonomically correct, so comfy I kept catching myself making this nestling motion, rocking my butt. The seat was so wide I could sit in it cross-legged. There were sixteen of them in the room, the lowliest employee, me, seated as well as the Chief Operations Officer (Avery) and the CEO (Thad).
The fabric was synthetic velvet, soft and indestructible. The paint on the arms and base had the depth and luster of a new Italian car. The casters had been developed by N.A.S.A. Later, the chairs were cited as a sign of Avery’s extravagance, in the article in the Wall Street Journal, but actually Thad picked them.
That day–March 13, 2000– the stock hit 36 3/4, a new high, and Thad and Avery ordered in a spread from Hispanasia, lobster spring rolls with a chipotle dipping sauce, delicious little arepas, and amazing wasabi sorbet. If I worked there six months, I’d have options on a bit of stock myself. I rode the train home to New Jersey with a pleasant burn in my mouth, strange hopes.
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On the day I started, Thad and Avery were worth $6 million each. On paper.
Celie had described to me the period of the IPO, in February, when Thad and Avery went out, along with the Chief Financial Officer, an old guy who’d worked for Thad’s dad on Wall Street, to whip up the investors. Thad knew all these venture capitalists, had the social connections, and Avery was the idea man, the one who understood technology. They’d been roommates together at Wharton, but they’d quit to do this. Quitting B-school was itself considered a credential in the economy of dreams.
Just before the IPO Thad took Celie out on a $3,000 date (of course paid for by eBrightlights.com) with a reporter along, and this was written up in the Times’ Sunday Styles Section in a piece quivering with sarcastic envy. On the strength of it, the bankers raised the initial offering price by $2, to $18. The day of the IPO the stock went to $28 3/8, the following day to $32.
Under the friends and family clause, Celie was allowed to buy a bit of the stock in advance at the IPO price. She sold it fast and made her little sum; she was cagey about how much. She’d cashed out ahead of the peak, but she felt happy to have her safe pot in the bank, she said. She sold ads at a better established dot com, and she often said these later startups wouldn’t last. She also got to keep from the date the little tissuey Tuleh dress she’d worn, which hadn’t even figured into the total reported in the paper. She and Thad were broken up within a month–after a $3,000 date, she said, the usual ones are just plain drinking– but stayed friends.
Thad and Avery were only theoretical millionaires. They couldn’t sell their shares for 180 days, by law, and even then, really, they wouldn’t be able to sell too much without indicating they’d lost confidence in their venture, which would sink the value. They had, as well, the millions the IPO had raised, but that had to be spent on building the company. They were hiring a sales force and distribution experts and opening offices in Miami and L.A. Sometimes I’d visualize all of us as pumping one of those winged bicycles from old newsreels, something that can’t fly which, just for a moment, through faith and frantic effort, hovers.
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In April, though, the stock went down. The whole Nasdaq took a hit. Belt tightening. World tightening.
There was a bad day in May when we dropped below the IPO price, and Avery went around whistling, talking people up. Absolute confidence was necessary to float us. Thad had a hangover, Avery whispered, leave him alone. He’s just such a party guy. Thad was sitting at his desk, throwing darts at a newspaper cut-out of Allan Greenspan’s face. Celie told me, on the phone, that they’d broken up The next day, the stock was back up. But not as high as it had been in March.
And it went on like that, into the summer of the cows. Silly plaster cows were stuck all over New York, painted by artists or whoever according to different themes. There was even one by Pal’s Cabin, this huge restaurant that had grown from a little 1930’s hot dog stand, not far from our house in West Orange. eBrightlights.com lost some workers, people who jumped to other ventures. Thad’s dad was said to have cashed out, though Thad denied it. But we still had eyeballs. We sold lots of tickets, losing money on many of them, but we had to do that to get market share. And we had market share, supposedly, hordes of kids with disposable income searching for things to do. Backers came into the office and spoke to the boys at length, before loaning them another million.
And I was more necessary than before. I could take a piece and rewrite it to localize it for every city on the Net. I was part of the demand for content. The demand for profit. The demand for reality. Damned demand. I started working Saturdays, which Avery had been doing all along. Thad spent his weekends in the Hamptons, going to investors’ parties.
One hot Saturday afternoon, Avery invited me out to eat at a place he liked, Judy’s Sushi. For us to share, he ordered what he called the Dynamite Pleasure Blob, smoked eel on California rolls with some extra rich soy sauce, almost soy syrup, drizzled over it. I noticed on the little wine promotion tent on the table, the typo: “Spakling wines.”
“See this,” I said, laughing.
“You do that a lot?” he said.
“I guess,” I said. “There are mistakes everywhere. Billboards even.”
“Aggravating?” he said.
“Sometimes. Or amusing. Why?”
“Uh-huh,” he said. “I suspected it. Attention Surplus Disorder.”
“Oh dear,” I said. “What are the symptoms?”
“You can sit still for hours on end, working on something. I’ve seen that. You probably read whole books—”
“Well, once I’ve begun—”
“At a sitting—”
“When I get the chance—”
“Focus through distraction? Don’t need to get up and move? Keep on through interruptions, delays, sidetracks? Classic case: Attention Surplus Disorder. Principally afflicts women.”
“Sure. You’re stuck, Mary Louise. It’s old thinking. It’s well known that we guys with A.D.D. are the ones who are truly creative. My mind just bops from one thing to another. I have rapid ideation. Aren’t you jealous?”
I can’t help but laugh at him. “Well, what do they prescribe for my disorder?”
“Wine,” he said, “and sex.”
And so, yes, mmhmm, I did go home with him. That one time I saw the apartment he and Thad shared—on Grand Street, a studio cut out of what must have once been a big old apartment withplaster doodads stuck to the high ceiling. It was horribly hot and stark, just beds and computers, really. I knew it would rent for more than I could bear to imagine. We had the bottle of “spakling” wine, Italian champagne, quite good I thought, and inexpensive.
Avery described to me the places he’d looked at that he could theoretically afford someday, Upper East Side apartments with butler’s pantries. It was 6 months since the IPO, the stock down to 9 1/2, but still worth something. On schedule, the investment bankers were cashing him in for a little, Thad too of course, but they’d get nothing like what there’d have been at one time. Still, he was certain all would be well. The gloomy business guys in the New York Observer were always going on about a bubble and the scent of tulips and all, but they were old and didn’t understand what was happening with the Internet. “This is the Union Pacific Railroad,” he said. “This is the telegraph and the Atlantic Cable, this is STEAM for God’s sake.”
We sat on his bed with our feet out the window to catch a breeze. Me and the barefoot theoretical millionaire. The city outside was hushed, for once, so I imagined it holding its breath. Everyone was waiting for his kiss. We had sex and then we went outside for a while to let our sweat evaporate. When it got dark we finished the white wine and entangled our bodies again. Sleeping, he trembled like a dog.
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Attention Surplus Disorder
I can’t close a book once I start. Well, except when there’s a dangling modifier on the first page or something like that. That lets me stop. But otherwise I forge on even when I can tell how it’s going to come out.
Yes, I confess. I got through Bleak House. I can keep track of Russian characters with triple names.
Things I have noticed:
Each day, on my way to the train, I pause to be amused at the signs perpetually hanging one above the other in the window of an old pharmacy near the station:
Blood Glucose Monitors
I collect errors in its/it’s. No one knows which is which anymore. I’ve even more than once seen her’s. The apostrophe—people just take a stab at it these days, like a ritual that’s lost its meaning. Apostrophes meander with no relation to possession or contraction— indeed often they flourish over plurals, decorative and useless. I am elaborating a secret theory that this reflects our relationships, our confusion about whether, no matter how many connections we proliferate, we can ever count on belonging to each other.
Continuity may be humdrum, but I can’t let go of it. Can’t drop anyone from my Christmas card list. Can’t stop listening to Celie complaining about her boyfriend though she’s had the same complaints about one boyfriend or another for the past eight years. Can’t help but assume, when I’ve slept with someone, that the next day, and on some level ever after, we’ll be connected. In some way.
Attention is love. I believe that.
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Our House in West Orange
The house my brother and I share, bought, thank God, by my grandparents before World War II, is an ugly brick two bedroom on a steep road with, coming off that, a near vertical driveway that rises between cement walls into a garage so small it’s a major feat to get a car into it unscratched. The whole place is a geometry experiment, so many acute angles. We thrifty people who own our however-many cubic feet of New Jersey are both tempted to sell at some huge price to the city people before they wise up and terrified that we’ll never get our hands on anything like it again.
While real estate boomed, in the late 80’s, then dropped and boomed again, my grandmother Sottile, who we called Granny Lou, lived on there, much too spry to quit it despite my father’s pleas that she sell and move in with him and Mom out in their modern house in Livingston. She survived— bitching, always, about the taxes— with the house ever more ramshackle but gaining value.
My older brother Barry (for more on him, go to My Brother) lived with her. For security, that was the explanation, but in truth they were very close. When Granny Lou fell in the back yard (which, despite much clean fill, still tilted at a 40 degree angle away from the garage) and had to have her hip replaced, my brother waited on her tenderly. Granny Lou died of pneumonia that winter—but Barry and I think she just gave up once she had the hip replacement, when she looked at the terrain she’d have to relearn to negotiate. At that point I’d survived two years with Celie, sharing a tiny place with a metal door thick as the one on a bank vault, over in Brooklyn. As Celie moved up to Manhattan, I couldn’t follow, on my Stylus wages, so I joined my brother, enchanted with the idea of a real living room.
My father threatens to sell, but he’s willing to wait. In theory, Barry and I are fixing the place up, but of course, we don’t want to move when we are so thriftily housed. The property taxes, $700 a month, are cheaper than any rent we could hope to find.
My brother has the room that was, once upon a time, our father’s, with Dad’s old felt college football banners on the walls. I have the attic, the garret, Granny Lou called it, with ceilings that slant down to the kneewalls, and one dormer in the front. It’s cozy up there, where the house’s many angles meet. Neither of us wants to take over Granny Lou’s room, so we call it the guest room and leave it as is, with its white chenille bedspread and wedding photo of our grandparents on the dresser.
The house has a permanent smell of cream of tomato soup. On the couch, on every chair, there’s an afghan or shawl. I knit them. I’m in love with beautiful yarns, still full of lanolin, hand-dyed in colors that warm you just to touch them, fuschia, pimiento. I knit in the evenings in our living room. It has bookcases with glass doors, on either side of the fireplace, filled with bestsellers of the 50’s, Anya Seton and Francis Parkinson Keyes, and triple anthologies of mysteries with a freckling of mildew. Sometimes while I work I watch old movies where Cary Grant, millionaire businessman, drops everything in ardent pursuit of Doris Day or Ingrid Bergman. I have to wonder whether everyone knew this to be a fiction at the time, or whether sometime between then and now men changed. Because no one pursues women like that anymore. And in case you think I’m not the type, even my most beautiful friends, like Celie, say so. Men approach us—no, they don’t even approach—they simply allow themselves to be in our vicinity, exhibiting a mixture of fear and disdain. They never say what they want. Instead, at some point, often so late at night that we’re too tired to care anymore, we lurch together. And next day they panic.
If you don’t work together, of course, they can simply avoid you, not call, vanish. But Avery and I shared the office, that one big democratic room. That Sunday morning in August, he’d kissed me but said nothing significant before I left his apartment to take the train home. Thad had come in and was watching t.v., and that obviously constrained us, but I had a bad feeling. On that Monday, when I arrived at work, I took him in—the shiny white-purple under his eyes, like the insides of mussel shells, his hair glossy black, the blue veins of his arms— I was paying attention, and I could see the panic. The man’s mouth was dry, I could tell it across the room. I knew what I had to do. Nothing. Just be completely normal, or, okay, a little less in touch than usual. No bright little e-mails, no initiating conversations, just keeping it low key till he realized I wasn’t expecting a thing. That night I went home and launched into my well practiced post-man cure.
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I’m happy with a batch of Evening Star lilies from Fresh Fields, some ciabatta and roast garlic spread. Roast garlic floods my body with goodwill and the flowers decadently scent my room till they drive out memory. Then I play, obsessively, certain 80’s music. I believe I imprinted on it in high school, after my first disappointment (a guy who, no kidding, was named Jean-Loup), so that I need it when the dopamine of sex has left my body. I recommend the Motels’ “Total Control.” Or something by The Impersonators.
Used to go
with Edgar Allan Poe
But I left him for
Vincent Van Gogh
I been dating
I been kissing
All the boys I pick
why I like them so
They like to suffer— oh!
Van Gogh a Go Go
And they’ve got ego-go-go-go-go-go-go-go!
Van Gogh a Go Go
After a week or so, the panic flutter had died down, and Avery and I were back to normal, as if we’d never had that Dynamite Pleasure Blob evening. In September, when I’d been there six months, he gave me my stock options. And promoted me. Officially, I was Editor in Chief. No raise, though. Things were a little tight, he said, but the stock options would make up for that, eventually. They were cutting the work force by 22 percent, we’d be lean and nimble and headed for a great fourth quarter. Talking at his desk, figuring ways to update the site less but keep the home page fresh, we were all business.
And yet, I did feel our night should count, that we were connected. I suppose that’s why, as so many others left, I didn’t. Though, remember, I didn’t leave The Stylus either. It disappeared on me.
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As an editor, Edgar Allan Poe was known as “the Slasher” for his witty, merciless reviews. He made fortunes for the publishers of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, Graham’s Magazine, the Southern Literary Messenger, magazines he built, while he, barely paid, became bitter and and mouthed off when drunk till he was fired. By the mid-1840’s, impoverished and famous, Poe yearned to be his own boss. At least twice, he circulated the prospectus for a magazine of his own, called The Stylus, but he never received enough backing. He was still hoping to launch it when he died in Baltimore after his own especially bad night on the town.
Poe was reviled in an obituary by Rufus Griswold, whom he happened to have slashed all too accurately in reviews. One imagines Poe would view Griswold’s then becoming his literary executor (he bought this position by paying off Poe’s aunt) as some sort of macabre joke. While, for years, he denounced Poe as dissolute, Griswold profited by reissuing his works, and everyone on the literary scene, Stevenson, Kipling, Wilde, Conrad, Verne, Conan Doyle, Melville, stole from, excuse me, was inspired by him.
In 1899, the literati of New York City threw a banquet in Poe’s honor to recognize his genius, according to Peter Alphonse Delisle, retired Stylus editor, whom I visited now and then in the summer and fall. He was living with his daughter in Upper Montclair. I usually took him some flowers or fruit or a book. I know, I know, he hadn’t treated me all that well, but he was an old man, and we’d worked together for years. I couldn’t abandon him. He sat with his bad leg up—Peter Alphonse Delisle had that very literary ailment, gout—and held forth. Around him cartons overflowed with the early records of The Stylus, whose history he said he was writing. He read me letters from literary luminaries of the twentieth century, most of them begging to be paid for their contributions. He told me how, after the 1899 banquet, one Richard Pentreath Hodges, a devotee of Poe, obtained the backing of a railroad tycoon turned philanthropist and began The Stylus, with its tradition of editors who use their middle names.
Of course you’ve noticed the connection between my comfort anthem by The Impersonators and The Stylus. It’s possible that Edgar Allan Poe was enough to get me to sign up for eight years of low pay, I’ll concede. I’ve always had a thing for him.
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My brother hates waste. Barry can squeeze a quarter till the eagle screams, Granny Lou used to say, proudly. He understands our calling plan.
For the past thirteen years, Barry has been a substitute teacher in various Essex County schools. Barry is a large man and a patient one, and nothing the students do frightens him, so he is much in demand. But he has never wanted to move up and teach. The money he gets is enough for him to nurture his hobby. Barry collects old products, in their original packaging. When he was still in college, he developed a sideline, coming in after estate sales, getting paid to haul away all that remained in the kitchen and basement. Some things he sold at flea markets, and what didn’t sell he donated to charity for a tax deduction. But Barry kept the old boxes of Jell-o and Durkee spice tins, bygone comestibles, before others saw them as objects of value.
He built his collection, trading with others who specialized in the effluvia left behind by business on its march. It was a natural next step for him to get on eBay, and he’s done quite well there. For my birthday and Christmas he gives me perfect old perfume bottles, from My Sin to Joy; I have quite a display on the blue mirror tray on my dresser. Barry has put together, in our basement, a complete old time soda fountain he pulled out of a building in Newark, and now he’s slowly stocking it. Really, there’s no way my father is ever going to get him out of Granny Lou’s house.
In his trading, my brother wound up with two old cars, beaters he calls them, simple dented late 80’s sedans. I take whichever is at the bottom of the driveway in the morning over to the South Orange station, and drive it home at night. Barry by no means lacks generosity. He shares his old cars with me, and often he takes bags of clothes into school, things he’s rounded up after house sales, sweat pants and jeans and so on, and gives them away. He says a lot of poor kids skip school simply because they don’t have anything decent to wear. As I say, he hates waste.
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In November, the morning light angling into the office hit the dusty folds of Avery’s corduroy pants and his metallic whiskers. He hadn’t shaved. I was certain he’d been there overnight, but I didn’t mention it.
Thad was unable to wring any more money out of the backers. Thad’s dad was seen on Wall Street Week speaking of the virtues of bricks and mortar.
Early in December, Celie was laid off. From her supposedly secure, much bigger company. She had her eBrightlights IPO nest egg to live on, and unemployment, and told me she was out there vigorously finding something else, working her address book. She urged me to do the same.
Others followed this advice. As the staff drifted away, I kept working long hours, but no matter how early I came in, how late I left, Avery was there, working. We were intense, tired, neurons firing. Did you know that nerves have their own little exterior skeletons? Your head’s full of primitive creatures. As I got less sleep, I noticed the worsening of a symptom I have always had, seeing, when I read a word, the other words it can twist into. I found myself proofreading to make sure none of these had slipped by me.
Before Christmas, Avery told me to stop coming in on Saturdays, since we were reusing content more. Our site still had ads, but their quality had declined, from national companies to local ones.
January 18, a survey I’d written (Where Do You Go Out After a Break-Up?) was still featured on our home page, after two weeks. This was a new low. I looked at the site’s dancing figures and hot colors, its blue connections, and knew it false.
I hit the survey link, went to the b-board. There hadn’t been many responses. Above them, I noticed the banner from a hardware warehouse: Free Stud Finder.
Had to laugh.
Three days later, on a Sunday, from home, I checked the site to see if my survey had drawn further hits. And I got:
Error 404 Web site cannot be found. Please recheck URL and try again.
I drove like crazy to the station. On the way, I coated my throat, lips, nose with Vaseline, entering winter like a channel swimmer. Over my head I pulled a mohair smoke ring I had knitted. I stood up on the platform, waiting for the 12:02 in a wicked wind. As I pulled myself onto the train, I caught a glimpse of my reflected silhouette, in boots, long coat, shawl, and cowl, a lady outline from a hundred years ago or more. I could imagine that somehow time had spun back, undoing so much technology. The train was nearly empty as we crossed New Jersey towards the Manhattan skyline, a shadow insubstantial as chiffon against the tin sky. When I came out of Penn Station, I was hit with a spatter of freezing rain.
Other parts of the building hummed, but on our floor, it was quiet. I got inside to find Avery in the dark, curled up in his comfy seat, gray in the gray light, with his parka over him.
“What’s going on?” I said. “The site’s down.”
“They cut us off,” he said.
“The server. We couldn’t pay them. And, um, the creditors want their money, and nobody’ll lend us anything. I can’t even pay the electric bill.”
“Thad moved back in with Daddy. We sublet the apartment a while back. I, uh,” and he gave a sigh of such exhaustion, I could hear his lungs shake. “I’ve been living here,” he said.
“I knew it,” I said.
“Should have done it sooner.”
“When did you eat last?”
He just looked at me. Such thick lashes.
“You’re fired,” he said. “I guess. I mean, me too. The shares are worthless, and we have such debt… we’re broke.” He smiled sweetly. “It’s a relief to admit it.”
And so—what else?—I took him home.
I called Barry and he drove into the city, weather and all. While we waited for him, Avery gathered the clothes he’d stashed in the empty desks. On Avery’s advice, we took his laptop and my own. I gathered all my papers into a trash can and carried them out that way. Barry wanted to fit just one wonderful chair into his trunk. I’d told him how much I liked mine. He couldn’t close the lid on it, but he padded it with Avery’s towels, and used a bungee. “The vultures will be here any minute,” Avery said. He said it several times.
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Cyclamen whistled pink in the window. I’ll never get over how Avery looked, in all his pallid New York weariness, sitting in Granny Lou’s 50’s kitchen with its rose and gray wallpaper and, on the scalloped shelves, some of Barry’s finest vintage products on display, the Ipana toothpaste, the Royal Baking Powder, the furniture polish named Pride. Avery gazed around, at me, at Barry, at our little house, and in truth I was braced for some scorn, but he said, “I’ve stuck my parents with a second mortgage,” and put his head down. I thought he was crying and dreaded how he was going to feel next day, to know I’d seen that, but, in fact, he went to sleep. Barry carried him into the living room and put him on the couch, and I covered him with an afghan.
I crept down once in the night to check, but he hadn’t moved.
He slept into Monday. In the morning, I went out and bought roast garlic and ciabatta and the Times. When Avery got up and showered, at four that afternoon, Barry had just come home from a day with the fourth grade. We made a fire in the fireplace, and shared the bread and garlic and had pasta with some veal and roasted peppers Mom had frozen for us last week. Avery ate a lot and said little, just sat looking at the firelight on all the books and Granny Lou’s bill-paying desk with her old Remington in its case. We read the brief piece in the Times about the site shutting down and the stock being on the vergeof getting dropped by the Nasdaq since it went under a dollar, and Barry asked him about the chances that investors would come in now that things were at their worst, something he called the “Dead Cat Bounce,” but Avery said he had no answers. The Times article, of course, referred to their own story, “The $3,000 Date.” They said that Thad claimed to have introduced the apple martini to New York.
Avery laughed. He held my hand as we climbed up to my garret.
He told me he had indeed been in a panic, the Monday after our night together in August. The Friday before, the investment bankers sold some stock for Avery and Thad, as had been planned. A lot of what Avery realized went to pay off the credit cards he’d been living on for months, from before the time of the IPO. But then, that Sunday, he learned Thad had gone off and cashed more, and Thad made it clear he wanted to grab what he could and let the business fall. They’d had a huge fight. He’d been about to tell me, but when I was so remote, he figured I was one of those women who doesn’t want any strings attached to sex.
“I was trying to be cool,” I said.
“Cool?” he said. “Cold as Kelvin.”
“Kelvin’s the scale that starts at absolute zero. That’s what you were, minus 459.”
“Only a nerd knows that,” I said, fondly.
Then we lurched together.
He’s living here, down a theoretical 6 million. He clears a bit on the apartment sublet. Real estate continues strong– eBrightlights’ most valuable asset turns out to be the lease on the office. Avery has to go into the city from time to time, because of the bankruptcy proceedings, but mostly he hangs around our house. He starts books but doesn’t finish them. He paid for us to get a DSL connection and set up his computer on Granny Lou’s desk. Barry’s thrilled to be able to bid on eBay with split-second timing.
In fact, Barry is altogether enthralled with Avery, who he respects as a man with vision, sure to bounce back. He’s convinced items from the early days of eBrightlights.com will be collectibles. He got Avery to sign a piece of eBrightlights stationery (part of my haul) which he’s taped to the bottom of the one salvaged chair along with copies of the relevant articles, establishing provenance. Last week Barry took Avery over to Queens to pick up a never-opened case of 1960’s Aqua Velva, and on the way back over the Verrazano Bridge, where the proximity of New York and New Jersey is so clear, showed him the layout of the harbors and airports, the essential unity of the region, and offered Avery his theory about racism as a form of waste and all the money to be made investing in Newark, trying to get him interested in New Jersey real estate. Barry’s counting on something being left when they settle with creditors, to fund a new venture. Avery speaks of freelancing, building webpages, working from home. But then late at night he tells me that every new technology has had its bust before it took hold–did I know Fulton went broke and came back? Who knows what the future holds, but for now, we’re together.
Meanwhile, the coverage goes on. In February the Wall Street Journal, which is so hypocritical if you ask me, all those guys sitting on what they raked in because of those poor entrepreneurs at whom they’re scoffing now, ran a piece on the extravagance of the boom times, citing the eBrightlights chairs. It mentioned, in passing, as if it were more evidence of Thad and Avery’s over-ambition, that they’d hired me, “a top-tier literary editor,” quoting the great Peter Alphonse Delisle (reached in retirement in Upper Montclair) saying, inaccurately, that I’d been groomed as his heir—and next thing you know, I got this call from a software tycoon turned philanthropist who bought The Stylus’ name and logo and subscriber list, asking me to edit the revived magazine.
Yes, we have a web page, but you have to pay to get your hands on our full content. In print. We’re a glossy–thin, slick paper turns out to be cheaper than the heavy old version. With the blessing of my backer I’m jazzing up the Poe connection, with an article tracking the Dead Woman Fetish through the past hundred and sixty years, from Pre-Raphaelite beauties to today’s Goth girls. in the launch issue, May/June, just out. There’s a regular column on the money chase called The Gold Bug. At my insistence, we’re listing Peter Alphonse Delisle, who will be contributing reminiscences from The Stylus of yore, as Editor Emeritus—in fact, on the masthead, we’re listing all of the editors for the past 102 years, from Richard Pentreath Hodges and Edward Lydon Clare down to me, Mary Louise Sottile. I’ve hired a bright young graphic designer, some grateful out-of-work writers, and, yes, as Ad Director, my friend since high school, Celie, who was on the verge of moving in with her parents. She says, privately, that The Stylus will always lose money for its owner, but he knows what’s best for his tax return and I think we may catch on. According to the piece on us in the Times, well, accordingto me in the piece, people are yearning for ancestry, for continuity, for all the twists of a tale. Not that I believe the Web is dead. Thank you for checking out my new site, AttentionSurplus.com. Please enter your e-mail address below to receive future offers.
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