Flakes

by F.

This is the first bit—chapter 1 of 10—of a novel I’ve been working on for a while (my fourth, technically, though I haven’t tried to sell the first three and probably won’t try to sell this one). It’s merely a sketch at this point. I would need substantial work were it ever to be publishable.

Early reviewers seem to have targeted the problems and have offered some helpful suggestions, viz:

“You should take a writing class. They have them at the community college”
“There are too many words.”
“Probably you should get involved in a writing group”
“I think you should abandon it.”
“You won’t have much of an audience for this.”
“I don’t care about skateparks.”
“It was funny when he farted.”

And that was just my mom. Others haven’t held back.

This is a rather long post—around 9,000 words, 9,472 of which should probably be cut, in order to punch it up. Tightening it. I think that’s what it’s called.

Fitz was sitting at his desk in his cubicle drawing a smiley-face on his thumbnail with a Sharpie and waiting for lunch.

When he was confident his thumbnail was smiling, rather than grinning, simpering, or smirking, he put his thumb over his head, above the beige cubicle wall, making sure it was visible to Paige, who sat in the next cubicle. She was slightly younger than Fitz—late twenties, maybe—and was a fundamentalist Christian. But they got along.

He waited to hear Paige laugh, which she usually did. It was a running gag, the thumbnail-face. The sort of marginally funny thing you do in an office to make the day go faster. To get a little laughter going. Because administering pension benefit plans didn’t entail a lot of yucks, most days.

But when an e-mail notification popped up on his monitor, only the thumbnail continued to smile. The Subject line contained all capital letters. The red exclamation mark was there, too. The whole panic-inducing business. It was from his boss, Kristina, the Evil Oompa Loompa.

“FITZ PLEASE COME 2 MY OFFICE IMMED. WHEN YOU RETURN. THX.”

Return? He’d been there all morning. And why the caps? Kristina had never really gotten that whole caps-means-you’re-shouting convention in e-mail. Or maybe she was shouting.

Kristina’s office was in a corner, toward the back of the big room in which they all sat, on the fourth floor. Their building was in downtown Seattle, close to the waterfront. A late 19th century office building that had been renovated in the 70’s, when Historical Preservation was faddish. Exposed sand-blasted brick. Raw wooden beams with rusty bolts. Blue HVAC ducts snaking across the ceiling. That sort of thing.

Fitz walked to Kristina’s office, trying not to make eye-contact with anyone. When Fitz knocked tentatively on the door-frame, she looked up at him.

Fitz looked out her window, toward Puget Sound, then he smiled as naturally as he could. “Hey, Kristina.”

She raised head and her eyebrows. “Oh. Fitz.” She made a motion with her hand indicating he should close the door, which he did, and then he sat down.

He asked her what was up.

And then he saw it. On her desk. A black 11 x 14 portfolio with handles on the top. His portfolio. With drawings in it. His drawings. His “medical illustrations.”

“I think we have a problem, Fitz.” As she said it, she turned the portfolio toward him and opened it.

There it was.

A colored pencil drawing on cold-press whiteboard. A woman giving a man a blowjob. Fitz flushed. He felt acute embarrassment and found himself squinting, as if bracing for an electric shock.

God, how amateurish.

The man’s penis was too small. It looked like a thumb. Professor Milius had said he should be careful not to make things too equine, and had stressed that penis size was not related to pleasure, that it made no difference, that many women preferred a small penis, almost like they preferred a small handbag. All those things that were probably false but circulated through human culture like an urban legend. But he’d gone to the other extreme, giving the man three thumbs.

“Are these yours?” she asked. His name was right there on the front of the portfolio. Fitz O’Meara.

“Yes.”

“You know we have a zero tolerance policy for pornography here.”

He quickly thought about whether anything was cached in his browser. His history list. His list of favorites. His “My Pictures” folder. All clear.

“I know—but that’s not—I mean—really pornography.”

He shouldn’t have said “really.”

“Yeah?”

“You know I used to do art, right?”

“You have a degree in art and a minor in applied math. From Reed College. Where Steve Jobs went. I’m familiar with your resume´. I hired you, remember?”

“I do medical illustrations. I mean, I’m starting to. These are practice drawings. I’m trying to do some moonlighting. That’s what this stuff is. All those in there.” And he hoped she hadn’t looked at the other ones.

She squinted at him, grimaced. “Fitz, this is just really not appropriate to have in the workplace.”

“OK. But they were in the portfolio, on my desk. How did they get to you?”

“I mean—”

As she broke off she waggled her head a little, like a bobble-head sports doll. She was shaped like a dumpling, short blonde hair and self-consciously funky glasses, blue anodized aluminum cat-eyes that were too small and only fattened her. He could hear her breathe as she bobbled.

She said, “I mean,” again and lifted up the top illustration, the thumb-penis one.

Underneath it was a full-on Kama-Sutra thing, with the man sitting in a kind of chair shape and the woman sitting down on the chair. Somehow, the couple depicted were supposed to be doing it, but it wasn’t clear to Fitz how he actually got his lingam or whatever it was called inside her yoni. Seemed like it would break off or something, or at least get kinked. Fitz had sort of faked the drawing in that regard, smudged it over with the tortillon.

“Is this supposed to be you or something?” Kristina said, looking him right in the eye.

Me? He shook his head.

It looked nothing like him. The man in the picture was dark and Mediterranean-looking. Like a gay underwear model. Fitz was nothing like that. His eyes were light blue, his hair sandy. He was tall and moderately athletic. But not like that.

Fitz could feel his eye sockets warming. He looked like shit when he got flustered. Looked like he’d been crying. His thin Irish skin. He’d have to walk out of here and go back to his cubicle and everyone would think he’d been fired.

She wouldn’t fire me for this. Would she?

“I know we are a small shop, but we still have HR policies,” Kristina said.

He wondered why she kept going. He got the point. He got the point as soon as he saw she had the drawings. When he opened his mouth to say “Uh-huh,” he burped his banana muffin from breakfast, the one his girlfriend, Window, had made, and didn’t manage to say anything at all intelligible.

Kristina wrinkled her nose. “Stephen from IT will have to check your desktop machine, too, as per the policy.”

“OK.”

She looked at him with her cloudy blue eyes. She wore too much foundation. She was all cakey. He studied her make-up application intently, knowing he was trying to distract himself from what he was really worried about: that she would lift up the Kama- Sutra illustration.

“I’m going to keep this in my office until the end of the day,” Kristina said, tapping a long, French-polished nail on the portoflio handle. “Then you can get it.”

“OK. Is that—do we need to talk about anything else?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Like—”

“Like your promotion to Senior Benefits Manager?” She looked at him and smiled.

And as she smiled, she did it—lifted the Kama-Sutra drawing and made a disgusted face at him. She’d obviously looked through all seven of the drawings in there, which were in no particular order.

The drawing now on display was gauzy, soft, the blending was nice. It was a drawing of a woman with wheat colored hair, shown from the waist up. Her head was tilted back, her hair dangling. She had her hand on her left breast, rubbing in something that looked like cake icing or suntan lotion.

Liquids are so hard to get right.

But it wasn’t bad. It was pretty good, in fact. In front of the topless woman was a man holding his probably too big penis at about nipple-level. That was no thumb, that thing there. Uh-uh. A last little bit of icing was flying from its tip to her chest. And even though he thought it was a pretty good rendering of a hard-to-depict liquid, he still wanted to reach across the desk and erase the whole drawing.

Kristine looked from the drawing to him, from the drawing to him, from the drawing to him, then turned her head away while maintaining eye-contact. Like he was crazy or he smelled.

His throat was dry. “I understand,” he croaked. “It’s the only”—he coughed—”illustration job I could get at the moment…?” He looked at the portfolio, then out the window at a ferry moving across the water. He wanted to be on its deck. “I should probably get back to work. I need to finish the—uh—the Summary Plan Description for NetGen…?”

She closed the portfolio and pushed it across the desk like an anathema, then stared at the laptop in front of her, pointedly ignoring him.

Fitz got up and walked out, shutting the door behind him, as if shutting the door could contain the embarrassment he’d felt in there. Keep it from oozing out.

As he walked back his desk, he did look like he’d been crying. His eye sockets were red, as were his cheeks. He was all splotchy. A couple of heads popped up over cubicle walls, because it was lunchtime and people were ready to be distracted by something besides pension benefit plans.


“What’s wrong?”

Fitz leaned back in his chair and looked up. Paige’s cherubic blonde head hovered above the cubicle wall.

“Have you been—crying?” she asked.

He looked at his monitor as if there was something interesting displayed there. “Uh—”

“Is it about the promotion? You didn’t get it?”

“It’s—”

“Oh my gosh, that’s so unfair! You’ve been a Level 62 for, like, years.” Paige looked genuinely indignant.

“No. I mean, I don’t know. About that. She…” Fitz looked at her. “It’s nothing.”

“Somebody called for you,” Paige said, pointing at a pink message slip on his desk. Fitz picked it up. Panos Stathakopolous. They were supposed to have lunch at High Performance Burrito in three minutes. He’d be late. He hated being late.

“My friend Panos,” Fitz said, waiving the slip of paper. “Lunch.”

“Your friend the psychiatrist? The one I met?”

“Yeah.” And he almost invited Paige to come along. As a buffer. Because Panos was going to ask him what was going on with Professor Milius and Fitz’ Plan to Save his Soul.

Fitz looked down at his thumbnail, licked his index finger, and rubbed out the smiley-face.


When Fitz entered High Performance Burrito he didn’t see Panos. A clutch of mommies stood at the salsa bar, tittering about their babies and blocking the view.

But after a moment Fitz saw his friend, in a booth on the left side of the narrow room, under a picture of a guy holding a marlin in Cabo. Or somewhere down there.

“Sorry I’m late.”

Fitz slid into the booth. Turquoise vinyl. The chips and salsa were already there and Panos pushed the basket of greasy yellow triangles toward him.

“It’s all good.” Panos smiled. He had a big, friendly, reassuringly ugly face. Like Coppola, only Greek, with curly black hair.

“So?” Panos said. He seemed excited.

“So?” Fitz glanced at the mommies. They were dispersing.

“How’re you doing, FitzWilliam O’Meara?”

“Are you asking me that as my former psychiatrist, or my current friend?”

“I was only your psychiatrist for three weeks.”

“Four.”

“And there was nothing wrong with you.”

“That you could find.”

Panos smiled. “I’ve got something going on.” Panos drummed his fingers on the table. “It’s kick-ass!”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Panos said, picking up two menus from the holder next to the wall and handing one to Fitz. “It’s is going to be sick. Totally sick.” And he sliced the air with his hand, fingers like together, like a salute. He was trying to appear street. But Panos’ street talk and mannerisms, like most of his thoughts and tastes, were past their sell-by date. It was street talk from the days of Yo! MTV Raps.

“Yeah? So what’s up?”

“I got my thing going!” Panos clenched his fist into the universal “I made it!” signal.

“What thing?”

“The thing I’ve been dreaming about, T.”

“The jazz club?” Fitz asked.

“No!”

“The website?”

“No, T! Come on. What’s my passion?”

There were so many to choose from. Focus was not one of Panos’ strong suits.

“Skatepark!” Panos said, touching Fitz’ hand.

Fitz waited for more, then, when nothing came, said, “Oh. Yeah. Of course.”

“Skatepark!
You know?Panos grinned.

“You want to go to one?”

“I’m gonna build one.”

Fitz pulled back a little. “Cool.”

And Panos launched. He was in pitch-mode, obviously. His presentation had a rehearsed quality that made him sound like a motivational speaker.

“It’s like, Fitz, there are no real vert parks around here, you know? I mean, in the early to mid eighties, vert was it. I mean, Bowman, Duane Peters, Steve Olson, Lance Mountain, LaMar, Tony Hawk when he was this, like, skinny little shit. He looked like he was on chemo or something, you know?”

“Sort of,” Fitz said.

Fitz had never really followed skateboarding much. He’d had a board like many people, but he did mostly street skating. Vert was over by the time he got into it. Panos was older. He was 39. So he probably caught the tail end of that scene.

“The industry got totally overcooked. It was totally 80’s, you know, with the Flashdance sweatshirts and like Vision Streetware, and all that shit. Like, rising sun bandanas, Hosoi’s deck. You know?” He squinted at Fitz.

“I think so. Isn’t he in prison?”

“Hosoi?”

“Yeah. Drugs or something.”

“And there was that other guy,” Fitz said. “Gator something.”

“Gator Rogowski.”

“Yeah.”

“He clubbed his girlfriend and then raped her for three hours.”

“Something like that. He’s in jail.”

“Good,” Fitz said.

“But anyway—”

“Anyway—”

“Anyway, so like after the industry went to shit, then the smaller businesses started to appear. You know, not these, like Visions, and not even like Powell Peralta, which made the transition pretty well, actually. But like the decks got smaller, from ten inches to eight and a half, double kicktail, and that whole thing. And then those flatland tricks—”

Fitz was doing his best to keep up but then a waiter appeared—whippet-thin and wearing a black stretchy t-shirt—and Fitz ordered what he always ordered. A bean and cheese burrito. Panos asked what the specials were and after he was told that there were none ordered a bowl of chile.

“Flatland stuff,” Fitz said, to restart conversation after the waiter left.

“Yeah”—Panos shook a packet of Splenda in front of him, even though he was only drinking water—”so there was this… I mean, there was flatland freestyle before, a lot of Europeans, like Dutch and Fins and stuff, people that can’t go outside in the winter. They would do these insane acrobatic things on the board.”

“How does—”

“—got sort of blended into vert skating, some of it, so you didn’t have to have, like, a huge ramp or a pool in your backyard. I mean, there had always been street skating, but this was—it was pretty new.”

“How does—”

“—Tony Hawk or someone like that? He blended both into this just, just, sick, wicked style. 960’s and stuff, made the McTwist look like nothing, you know? And, I mean, it was a good thing. It was more democratic, because now any kid could get a stick and do this stuff.” He smiled. “Or try to.”

“Yeah—but, How does this fit into your business. Your park?” Fitz asked.

“Wh—are you OK?” Panos pulled back, as if he had just noticed that Fitz was still at the table.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean…” Panos pointed to his own eyes. “Splotchy.”

“I looked like I’ve been crying, right?”

“Sort of. Have you?”

“No. It’s just—it’s nothing. ”

“OK, picture this. A 2,000 square foot steel storage warehouse, next to the tracks. Huge ceiling. Used to have, like, cranes running up and down it, moving steel and shit. Right? And it’s sort of open air, now, because the walls are blown out. And inside is the most wicked, kick-ass, sick, sick, sickest park you’ve ever seen. We’ve got ramps with, like, three feet of vert, channels—old school stuff. And there there are bars for grinding, acid drops, banks—all that shit. You know? And it’s a totally safe environment. You can drop off your kids and everything will be cool. It’s not, like, Disney Land or something, like a colorful, plastic police state, but it’s the next best thing.”

Panos sat back in his chair, raised his eyebrows, opened his hands—a look that said, “Huh? Huh? Pretty cool.” To whom had he been pitching this?

“Sounds cool,” Fitz said. “How do you pay for it?”

“I’m trying to get investors. I just met with a guy. An angel.”

Panos had to know Fitz didn’t have any money to invest in something like this. He barely had money to pay his rent and service his student loans. “Do you have any?”

Panos leaned forward. “Not yet. But I will.” He paused. “No question. This is a money maker.” He paused again, this time looking Fitz in the eye. “Huge.”

“What about insurance? It can’t be easy to insure something like that. I mean, you would have a huge exposure.”

“I’ll get it.”

“How many employees would you have?”

“I don’t know.” Panos scratched his beard. “As many as it takes.”

“That’s non-trivial. The benefits and stuff.”

“You can help me with the benefits. And, anyway, I know how this works. I mean, I have employees now. At the Center for Dynamic Living.”

Fitz stared blankly at Panos.

“My office,” Panos said.

“You mean your receptionist?”

“Yeah.”

Fitz nodded.

“There’s this shop,” Panos said, “up on Broadway, on top of the hill, by where you guys live. Called—”

“I’ve seen it, Fitz said. “The snowboard shop?”

“He’s going to come in, I think.”

“Has he ever run a skatepark?”

“No.”

“Hm.”

“But how hard can it be, you know? I mean, I got through that seven-year hazing known affectionately as medical school.”

“Yeah, but—I mean, investors are going to be looking for what they call scar tissue.”
Panos squinted, looked at him.

“I mean, you know, a team that has experience, or that has learned from experience. If you’re wondering how I know this, I look at these investment newsletters. At work.”

“And?”

“Banks and private investors, like private equity funds? They look at the management team first. Cash flow predictions are actually less important than—I mean, the banks and stuff? They don’t so much give a shit about convertible assets. They want a good management team. The team is more important than the idea.”

“OK.”

“And, generally, entrepreneurs that succeed have based their venture on their experience, rather than going off and trying to do some new random thing. You know?”

“OK.” There was maybe a little bit of hostility coming from the other side of the table. Maybe.

“A spin out will usually be more successful than a new venture, with an inexperienced team.”

“OK.”

“You probably know this, but, like Herbert Simon? He pretty much showed that a good business idea, one that exploits a new niche, crosses two domains. Creativity is combinatorial. Entrepreneurs have to have the ability to see new patterns that are exploitable. What’s the pattern here?”

“Kids want to skate. It rains in Seattle. They need to skate under a roof. The end.”

“What about timing?” Fitz said.

“What about it?”

“Why, like, now?”

“Because I want to do it now.”

“Timing is generally critical. There’s this guy at the University of Illinois. Agarwal. He has a couple papers on this.” Fitz had never actually read the papers. But he’d read a summary in the Financial Times.

“It’ll be OK. This idea is timeless.”

“I mean, the other thing is, you’re a late entrant, I think. This is a me-too business plan.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, if you look at the mortality rate for new businesses—basically, you have to be there when the adoption curve is just starting up. At the bottom of the hockey stick. The inflection point. Whatever you want to call it. If you come late to the party, you are fucked.”

“OK.”

“The best time to get into a new market is when others are not there, you know? It’s pretty common sensical.”

“And your—”

From next to them: “Who had the bean and cheese?”

Fitz indicated he did. After the waiter put the plates down, they both ate in silence for a few moments. The conversational momentum had dissipated.

“It’s good,” Fitz said after a while, knowing he was being a buzzkill. He couldn’t help it though.

“Uh-huh.” Panos swallowed some chili. “How’s Window?”

“Window’s good,” Fitz said, looking outside at the accreting line of patrons. Fitz and Panos had just slipped in before the real rush, which usually hit around 1:00 PM.

Silence.

Chewing.

“An investor,” Fitz said, “is going to look at, like, free cash-flow characteristics. They’re going to want gross margins of at least 35 percent. And annual growth potential of 20 percent. That’s”—with his mouth full—”huge.

“How do you know all this?” Panos said with his mouth full of chili.

“Just stuff I’ve read,” Fitz said, then, after cutting off another piece of burrito: “And what about barriers to entry?”

“What about them?”

“Are there any?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, suppose someone else wants to do the same business—like, next door. Can they?”

“Sure,” Panos said.

“That’s bad.”

“Maybe if you look at it from that viewpoint. Pessimistically. But in another way, hey, if a guy goes in next door, then that means more parks, right? More parks good. Less parks bad.” Panos smiled.

But Fitz could see it wasn’t a real smile. It wasn’t a Duchesne smile. Panos’ eyebrows were wrong. In a real smile, the skin between the upper eyebrow and the eyelid comes down slightly. Fitz had learned that in a how-to book on portrait drawing. The orbicularis oculi and the pars lateralis. Those were the muscles.
Panos burped chili, then asked about Fitz’ thing. How his thing was going.

“What thing is that?”

“The drawing thing. With Professor Milius.”

“Yeah. That.” He let his air out through his nose. “I think that’s not going to happen.”

What? Why?”

“Timing. I need to focus on my promotion. This drawing thing—trying to get that going is dissipating my energies. Today’s May 1st. In six days, I’ll know if I’ll get the promotion. When the next calendar year starts, I’ll reassess my plan. But now, I have to make Kristina—the woman I work for—happy. Make her look good to her boss.”

“What about all that stuff—all that stuff about how your job is destroying your soul and you want to draw again. About how you’ve lost your imagination and want it back. About how you have to try again to be an artist or you’ll die. What about all that?”

Artist?

“Yeah.”

“I do not want to be an artist. That is the last thing I want to be. An illustrator. I want to be an illustrator. Artists are flakes and I’m not a flake.”

“Whatever—semantics,” Calchas said, shrugging.

“It’s important. And, anyway, weren’t we stoned when I said that originally?”

“Yeah. Sure. So what? That’s your true self coming out.”

“Well, you have to grow up some time. I guess.”

“40 is the new 30,” Panos said, smiling.

“I’m still trying to implement ‘30 is the new 20.’”

Panos shook his head. “Fitz, don’t go down that same old path.” He burped. “You want to hear a piece of wisdom from Kevin Costner?”

Fitz looked toward the Salsa bar. “I don’t want to end up living in a trailer in Sequim, making macrame plant holders out of hemp, trying to borrow money from my children, like my mom.”

“Do you want to hear what my man Kevin says or not?”

“You serious?”

“Totally,” Panos said.

“OK.”

“My boy Kevin, he said somewhere that, when people run into difficulty, the first thing they jettison is their dreams. But that should be the last thing they jettison.” Panos gave him a smug look.
Fitz held back a giggle. “Says the guy who made Waterworld.”

I set that thing up with Milius because I thought you wanted to do that. She a friend. She was my mentor during my residency.”

“I know. You’ve told me that, like, 17 times. But drawing illustrations for a sex manual—I’m not sure if that’s what I should be doing. Scientific illustration—that’s really where I want to end up. Drawing animals. Animals with fur. Not that there’s much of a market for that.”

“It’s a book on erotic mental health. It is scientific illustration. Milius is a Ph.D. and M.D.”

“OK.”

“Did she give you the gig?”

“No. Not yet. She wanted me to do some samples first. My portfolio was—it wasn’t highly relevant to erotic mental health.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“Call her. Tell her I can’t do it now.”

What?” Panos looked shocked. Shocked and slightly pissed off.

“Yeah. I need to aggressively pursue the status quo at the moment. Get my loans paid off. Finally. You know. Be an adult. I tried living my childish fantasies once and it didn’t exactly work out. As you know. I think we talked about that during my first appointment.”

“Did something happen at work? Is that why you’re all splotchy?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know.” He looked intently at Fitz’ brow. “You know, Window is totally behind you on this—you getting your artist thing back on. She wants the old you back. The you she met at the drawing class.”

“I know. That’s another danger sign.”

Panos sighed and shook his head.

Fitz looked at his watch. “I need to get back. I have an SPD to do.”

Panos looked puzzled.

“It’s a Summary Plan Description. It’s this long, boring document that no employee ever reads but that outlines the details of how their 401(k) or whatever is structured. I have to get one done by the end of the week.”

“Which is tomorrow.”

“Shit. That’s right.”

“And the four of us are going out. To the club. Remember?”

“I think we may need to reschedule. I think Window has something. Some work thing. But I’ll let you know tonight.”

“It’s all good,” Panos said without much conviction, looking into his chili.


At the apartment, Fitz was sitting on the couch in the living room wearing only his boxers, looking out the window into the overgrown courtyard when Window appeared in the doorway. She had on a short t-shirt and small, pale yellow panties that presented to the viewer an iconic green image of Che Guevarra. She was holding a container of honey, the kind of container that looks like a bear.

“Maybe we should try this?” she said, smiling and holding it up. She looked a little like Kirsten Dunst—especially in her undies—but with straight teeth and a more aethletic body.

Fitz looked at the container. “Too sticky.”

“But we can take a shower afterward.” She snapped opened the honey container and examined it.

“Have you ever tried to get honey out of your hair?” Fitz asked. “Your body hair?”

Window looked at the honey again, then at him. “Don’t you think it would be fun?” She started reading a recipe for Banana Nut Bran Muffins printed on the honey container.

Fitz stared out the window, which was open a crack. The neighbor’s cat, Kepler, a big tabby Tom, was prowling around through the grass in the courtyard, near the fountain that didn’t work. Fitz and Kepler used to talk more. But lately, they hadn’t connected.

“Hey, Kepler,” Fitz said. He missed their talks.

Outside, Kepler turned at looked at him. Blinked. Then went back to what he was doing. And Fitz noticed there was some guy out there, too. In a suit. Someone Fitz had never seen. Searching for something in the grass.

“Who’s that dude?” Fitz asked Window.

Window leaned into the room and looked through the sheer curtains. “Oh. That’s the new building manager.”

“In a suit? What happened to Crossed-eyed Larry?”

“He and his wife moved to Arizona.”

“Shit. That means we have a real building manager now, not some old alcoholic who can barely see the checks, let alone count them up.”

“So?”

“So… I don’t know. But he looks a little too upscale for this place.”
Their apartment building—Reed Court—was old and decrepit, built in the 40’s to look like a group of bungalows arranged in a U shape around a central courtyard. Window and Fitz had fixed their unit up until it was pretty close to being a really cool apartment.

They’d torn out the old, stained rug and found a fir floor underneath, which they’d stripped and finished themselves with an environmentally friendly hardwax. They’d sponge-painted the living room a soft yellow, the bedroom a sort of sienna, and the kitchen a celedon that was close to the color of Window’s eyes. They’d done the trim, made curtains, and Fitz had even set sea-glass backsplash around the pedestal sink in the bathroom.

Crossed-eyed Larry was the sort of manager who either didn’t notice or, if he noticed, didn’t care what you did to your place. He embodied a sort of negligent libertarianism—too lazy to get all authoritarian on your ass. It was nice. They way the world should be, Fitz felt.

As he watches Kepler try to catch a dragonfly between his paws, Fitz heard Window walk back down the hallway and then from the kitchen came the sound of her opening cupboards, putting packages of textured soy protein and dried morel mushrooms on the counter, moving cans of organic black beans around.

“What about chocolate syrup?” Window said from the kitchen.

“What’s it sweetened with?” Fitz called back.

There was a pause. “Corn syrup.”

“That would probably be better. But still. Same problem.”

Fitz heard more rummaging, then “Got it.”

In a moment she was back in the doorway holding a jar with a bright blue label. Smiling. “Agave. This stuff is so cool.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” She raised her eyebrows lasciviously.

“I wonder if it’s any less sticky. It’s from cactuses or something?”

“Yup.” She walked over to the couch and stood in front of him. Her nipples were visible through the little t-shirt. “From agave cactus plants,” she read from the side of the jar. “It’s certified organic. It’s 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than cane sugar. It dissolves easily. It’s ideal for low-carb sweetening. It may be suitable for diabetics. It has a low glycemic index. And, most importantly, it doesn’t crystallize.”

“Probably still sticky.”

“Lets try it. I’ll put some on you. Then you do me.” She moved her hips from side to side. Sort of dancing.

“Don’t we have anything with NutraSweet? Or Splenda? Those aren’t sticky.”

“Those poisons are completely unnatural.”

“I think there are some Splenda packets in the drawer with the tea bags” Fitz said. “I took them from work. Why don’t we use that? We can sprinkle that on each other. It’s just as sweet. Maybe even more so.”

“That’s doesn’t sound as fun.”

“But it’s substantially more convenient.”

“And those artificial sweeteners are bad for you.”

“That’s not the scientific consensus.”

“ There was a talk about this at work. About the effect of unnatural sweeteners on kids.”

“Is that what Tarik said?”

“No.” Window unscrewed the top of the agave bottle. “Someone else. Some nutritionist from the Bastyr Institute. The Co-Op started a new lunchtime lecture series. I was working as a cherker over by the bakery section. But I heard the main points.”

“We’ll be OK if we just use it for sex, don’t you think?”

Window considered the idea.

Smiling. “OK.”


Afterward, around 7:00, they ate dinner. Window decided to make some sort sort weird quinuo dish that looked like tabouli. But with red chunks. Beets, it seemed. For some reason, quinuo was the latest thing at the Puget Organic Co-Op, where Window worked. They’d probably had gotten a huge shipment of it or something, Fitz thought, looking at the mixture.

“How was your day?” she asked.

“It wasn’t too good. I have to work tonight. Proofread this SPD document.”

“Not again.”

“Yeah.”

“Your mom called again, by the way,” Window said.

“Great.”

“You should call her back tonight.”

“OK,” he said, knowing he wouldn’t.

“So what happened today?” Window asked, as he looked down into his quinuo-beet mixture. Beets were just so… sweet. And gross looking.

“I took my drawings—the ones for Professor Milius—to work. I wanted to show them to Panos at lunch, get some feedback before I showed Milius. It was stupid.”

“How many do you have now?”

“Seven,” Fitz said.

“Did you finish the one with the…” She showed him her asymmetrical smile, and her eyes narrowed a little.

“Oh yeah. That one was a big hit.”

Window laughed. “I love that one.”

“The liquids need work.”

“It’s still sexy.”

He didn’t find it particularly so. “It’s OK.”

“So what happened?”

“I’m not sure,” Fitz said. “Someone must have seen the portfolio on my desk. I’m not sure why people think that if you draw something, they can just, you know, open up your book or portfolio and, like, look at it.”
They were eating in the kitchen, like they usually did. They had a little table shoved up against the wall and two chairs from Cost Plus Imports that were painted cerulean blue.

“That’s because they’re interested,” Window said. “They like to see art. Most people can’t draw they way you can.”

“Or they’re just nosy.”

“Who found them?”

“I don’t know. Probably that Paige girl. She’s like some major fundamentalist or something.”

“Hmm.”

“Someone gave them to Kristine and she’s like, ‘We need to talk immediately’ and stuff.” He paused. “I need to kiss her ass for a while. I mean, more than usual. I’m going in early tomorrow. Get some face time with her and apologize. She and I are supposed to go to that Employee Beneifts Association of North America conference in Las Vegas. Which I want to go to.”

“Don’t worry so much.”

He poked at his plate of quinoa-beet mush. It had little flecks of green in it, he now could see. Mint. Minty Metamucil with Beets. Window’s latest thing was fiber, the more the better. In the morning sometimes their bedroom smelled like a landfill. They put out enough natural gas to heat all the apartments at Reed Court.

“How much fiber is in this?” he asked.

“Oh, maybe 155 grams or something?” Window said.

“Is that a lot, relative to the USRDA?”

“I don’t know.”

They ate silently, then after a bit, Window looked at him. “Are we going to that opening on Friday?”

“Tomorrow,” Fitz said. “Tomorrow’s Friday. Can you believe that? Already.”

“Are we?”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure there’s much point.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“I thought this guy was your idol? What’s his name? Pierre?”

“Guy. Guy de Montmorency. Yeah, he’s pretty much my idol. He draws fur better than anyone since—since Durer. Amazing fur. What did you think of those drawings I showed from the Cornell Book of Cats?”

Amazing!” Window said.

“I know.”

“Where’s his show?”

“It’s over at the Henry Museum. It’s a group show on current and past scientific illustration.”

“Let’s go.”

“I don’t know. I’m thinking about putting the drawing thing on hold for a while.”

“No way?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“I think it’s not the right time to make any major life changes. Introducing a new variable. My job isn’t that bad, really. I mean, I’m lucky to have it. I enjoy it, actually. The 401(k) is really, really good, and we have Primera for health coverage. I think I don’t realize how much I really actually like doing what I’m doing.”
He looked at Window and she seemed suddenly sad. Her shoulders sagged a little and there was a tiny furrow in between her wheat-colored eyebrows.

“If we go,” Fitz said, “that means we have to cancel on Panos and Susan. Is that OK?”
Window thought about it. “Yeah. They’re sort of boring anyway. Panos talks too much and Susan doesn’t talk enough. Anyway, I think this is more important.”

“Let’s think about it,” Fitz said. “Let’s see how we feel tomorrow after work.”
Window said OK.

“I love you,” Fitz said.

“I love you, wiener.”


The next morning, Fitz walked past the receptionist at work, opened the doors to the Mercier-Balin office, smelled that familiar and generic office smell—toner, copy paper, plastic, bad coffee—and realized something was wrong.

Busted.

That’s the word that kept repeating, with reverb, in Fitz’ mind the moment he walked into the cubicles on the way to his desk.

But why?

Actually, it was more like bust-ed. Sing-songy. Lilting. The first syllable stressed, its pitch higher than the second. Panos had told Fitz that, around the world, in every culture, when someone does the cultural equivalent of missing a free-throw or an easy pop fly, audiences react by singing the name note. Like F sharp or something. Lose-er. Like fans used to do to Daryl Strawberry: Dar-yl. And the first syllable of bust-ed was most definitely that note, and he heard it over and over as he walked to his desk.

Why busted?

Janet Hume was the first to catch his eye as he made his way to his desk on the far side of the big room. She was like most of the woman he worked with: middle-aged, menapausal, fat, and she drank too much. She was prone to emotional outbursts, which didn’t work too well in that sort of office, where all 42 of them sat more or less in one big, long room through which sound carried. All Janet did in response to Fitz’ greeting was raise her eyebrows. That was the first danger sign, causing the first moment of real panic.

Fitz got to his desk, sat down, and pushed the power button on his computer. He could see out the window from there, and it was a cold, foggy morning. Moist. It was moist.

Looking out the window, Fitz couldn’t even see West Seattle, a spur of land that extended form the south and ended just at the edge of the tall window on his right, where the pigeons sat and rested, waiting to dive-bomb tourists walking down Alaska Way to get greasy fish and chips at Ivars’s Acres of Clams.

After a moment, the log in screen came up on his monitor. He hit CTRL+ALT+DELETE, typed in his user name and password, and the machine began to churn. And churn. And churn.

But this wasn’t unusual. These cheap-ass machines never worked. Sometimes you would wait a minute to get past the log in screen and sometimes you would be at your desktop in an instant.

He waited. And waited. And then a dialogue box popped up: the system couldn’t log him in.

Thinking he typed his name wrong, he tried again. The same dialogue box popped up. Strange. He did it again, being extra careful this time, because he knew from painful experience that if you typed in your user name and password wrong more than, like, seven times, the system would think it was an attack of some sort, a brute-force attack, and would freeze your account. Carefully, key by key, hunting and pecking, he typed in T-h-e-r-s-i-t-e-s-J and then 1414TTjjJJ.

Fuck.

Bust-ed.

No, there was no way he was truly busted. That was just the usual work anxiety, coming from a knowledge that you didn’t give a damn about your job and thought you were supposed to be doing something else. Something better. Something more suited to your “talents.” It was your little inner voice, making you feel guilty for staying in a job you thought was stupid, a job that you had to do mechanically, by emotional remote-control, like a space alien learning how to, say, do The Wave at a sporting event.

Why am I doing this, again?

When you felt like that, workplace dynamics became incomprehensible. Weird things happened everyday, and yet you felt no emotional response. People got into arguments about why the company wouldn’t buy them a new microwave, about how they no longer had free soda, about how the ambient temperature was set too low. And it just seemed entirely trivial.

Someone was laughing. He turned to his left and looked at the nubby beige fabric covering his cubicle’s divider. He heard Paige over there. He looked at the fabric some more, glanced at his Far Side calendar for a moment, then turned back to his screen and tried his password again.

Nothing. He’d have to get Stephen the IT guy, whom Fitz suspected was a charlatan.

Fitz swung around in his chair and poked his head out from his cubicle. Stephen actually had an office, a real, bona-fide office with walls and a solid door, way down at the other end of the floor. But even this far away Fitz could see it was dark. The Levelor blind over the tall, thin window next to the office door was closed.

Fitz twisted his chair the other way, toward Kristine’s office. The door was closed but through the glass he could see the back of a head. A head of large, blow-dried, frosted hair. A head of hair set between two shelves of shoulder. A pink jacket with 80’s-style shoulder pads.
Cathy Tickle.

She was the HR person for the office, whose large hair, shoulder pads, and orange, tanning-bed colored skin showed that she was of the generation weaned on The Facts of Life. They never called her Cathy or Cath or Cat. It was always her full name, slurred together: Cathytickle.

And then through the window in her office Kristine looked his way. And made eye contact with him. Her mouth was moving. Then Cathy Tickle nodded and turned around, looking at him, too, and smiled. And that’s when he knew. Fitz smiled back, sickly, looked down at the footrest beneath his desk, waiting. And then he heard the click of Kristine’s door opening.

He was going to join the Wax Museum of the Fired. He would become one of the disappered. He would be the next topic that Janet Hume and Paige Culbert would talk about as the smell of etiolated broccoli wafted out of the little white microwave, inside which Janet heated up her Lean Cuisine, with which she tortured herself everyday, giving herself only 345 calories from waking until she got home. Then, after 300 calories of scotch, 800 of mashed potatotes, 600 of baked Lay’s potato chips, and 700 of non-fat ice-cream, she was ready to starve herself the next morning. Fitz looked over at Janet but she was on the phone.

The footsteps were approaching.

From behind him he heard: “Hey, Fitz.” No mistaking that voice. It was Cathytickle.

He turned, trying to look relaxed. But he could feel his face getting hot, his eye-sockets reddening.
“Hey, Cathy Tickle.” He looked past her hips and saw bulbous Kristine standing in the doorway of her office. Waiting. He was being summoned.

“Can we talk to you for a moment?” Then Cathy Tickle looked at his screen, on which the log-in window was still displayed. “Unless you’re too busy.”

“No, no, not at all.” He smiled and his stomach rumbled a little.
In addition to the quinua last night, he’d had one of Window’s three-bran cookies this morning (oat, wheat, and rye bran) and he felt like a little alien was going to pop-out of his chest, hiss at him, and run away down the hall.

They walked into Kristine’s office and sat down at her blonde, faux-bird’s eye maple desk, which had a rounded end so that it looked like a sort of squat thermometer. This was supposed to make it feel more like a meeting table. On the desk, in front of Kristine, he could see his Mid-Year Performance Review.

“Fitz,” Kristina said after a few uncomfortable moments, “we wanted to talk to you about your performance review.”

Cathy Tickle was nodding earnestly, furrowing her brow a little and tightening her lips, which disappeared into the surrounding tan color.

Performance Review?
Danger Will Robinson. Danger. Danger. The yearly review period was over. Finished six weeks ago. He said only, “OK.”

“Cathy and I—well, we’re concerned about your FY Commitments.”
He looked at the three pages in front of Kristina, each with the Mercier-Balin logo at the top, the tables and boxes below. “OK.”

“Specifically, the Execution Plan and Accountabilities,” Kristina said.

“OK.”

“Fitz,” Cathy Tickle said, “We’re not sure that you are on track to execute on your accountabilities. “Over here”—she pointed to the columns on the right side of the top sheet—”under the Employee Assessment, it says that—well, you have three Needs Improvement‘s. That’s your own self-assessment. That’s what you said, not us.” She gave him a concerned look, like he’d decided to invest his 401(k) in Hatian penny stocks.

“Uh-huh.” He looked left, out the window at the ferries, then back to the sheets on the desk.

“I mean,” Cathy Tickle continued, “you say here that here—let me look at this.”

Kristine pushed the pages acros the desk. Cathy Tickle read for a few moments, then said, “Your Commitment was to ‘Improve Compliance Documents and HR Policy Materials for NetGen, Juergens, Fasbinder Intermodal, and Solutions.net.’ But it says here that you are not on track on those. Can you tell us a little more what that’s about?”

“Sure.”

He shifted in his chair. Stomach cramps were coming on fast. Piercing. The kind of pain in his stomach that generally made him think he had appendicitis. But he could never remember which side the appendix was on.

“Two of those clients,” he said, “Solutions.net and NetGeer, they are like, gone. Out of business. So, I put down that, you know, I was not on track for my execution plan because, well, they are gone. How can I execute for a customer that doesn’t exist? You know?” He looked at Cathy Tickle and raised his eyebrows.

“You know?”

But all she said was: “Hmmm.” She pursed her orange lips.

“Fitz,” Kristina said, “Why didn’t you discuss with your manager putting down some new commitments?”

My manager? You’re my manager.

“Well… I don’t know,” Fitz said. “I was going to, but I didn’t get around to it yet. We just finished the last review cycle.”

“Right. Right.” Kristine nodded and adjusted her glasses.

She had a different pair for each day of the week. She was a woman who dreamed of having a “funky” boutique somewhere. It would contain all sorts of dumb little knick-knacks, like ceramic wind-chimes and raku dog dishes and round rocks with “Imagine” and “Peace” laser-etched into them.

“I mean,” Fitz said, “as part of Project Open, I wanted to be as, you know, honest as possible. That’s one of our new Core Values, right? Openness?”

“Transparency,” Cathy Tickle corrected.

“Transparency,” he said, looking at same creepy sunflowers in a vase on Kristina’s bookcase.

“And,” Kristina said, “we are concerned about your Career and Professional Development Plan.”

“Concerned how?”

Kristina looked at the pages in front of her. “All you say is ‘Continue to provide breakthrough levels of customer service to clients. Continue to work in a collaborative mode with others in the office. Continue to engage deeply with the clients I support.’”

“Uh-huh. That’s what we always say. I mean, that’s what everyone says, more or less. What else could I say?”

“What about tying your Career and Professional Development Plan into the 12 Core Values of Mercier-Balin?”

“Yes,” Cathy Tickle said, “we don’t see you pushing out the values to the customer. Generating the right kind of Customer Experience.”

Piercing pain.

Gas. It had to be. Fucking rye bran, it was a killer. Oat and wheat were more benign, but rye was somehow sharper. Like eating metal filings off the floor of a machine shop. He could feel a big bubble of gas moving downward toward freedom.

He said only: “OK.”

“And your Strengths and Weaknesses,” Cathy Tickle said, “you put down as a weakness, you put down Motivation. I mean—” She raised one eyebrow and glanced over at Kristina, who looked back, and did her bobble-head thing.

“Well,” he said, slumping over a little, mostly due to the stomach-ache, “I wanted to be honest, you know. Transparent. I mean, I thought that was what we were supposed to do. I didn’t mean I didn’t like my job or anything.” He wasn’t a very good liar.

“Uh-huh,” Kristina said.

“I just—you know, I’ve been doing the same job for eight years here. And the org is very flat. I mean, we all report to you, Kristina.” He nodded at her, which was all he could do now because his arms were folded over his stomach trying to dampen the sounds from within.

“It’s not like there’s—” Better not say it.

“Not like there’s what?” Cathy Tickle asked.

“Strike that,” Fitz said.

And with that he felt some of the effluvia escape. He tried to hold it in, but it just didn’t work. It never did. Fitz questioned whether you could ever hold in a fart. Anecdotal reports suggested you could. But it didn’t make sense. Did the gas just dissipate?

Impossible. It was escaping, it was just that it was escaping in such minute quantities that the smell concentration was low, hence, no one noticed. Fitz tightened as much as he could, trying to let it escape slowly. And then he watched for a disgust response from either of them.

“OK,” Kristina said.

“Do you feel good about these development activities?” Cathy Tickle asked.

“Um, yeah, I guess so.”

“You say, under Career Development, ‘Attend the usual conferences. Attend the usual trainings by the accounting firms and law firms. Watch a video from Employee Benefits Training Association or something.’”
Kristina looked at him. Hard. “Or something?”

“Yeah, you know.” He looked from one to the other.

They hadn’t smelled it.

“No, I don’t know,” Kristin said, adjusting her glasses. Today’s glasses were blow-fly green, round, James Joyce-style glasses, but in punched aluminum rather than plastic. They made Kristina’s face look like a volleyball.

The “or something” had been in an earlier draft and he had forgot cut it out. Or he had cut it out, and Microsoft Word had magically inserted it back in. Or something.

Had he had a cool boss, someone with whom he could just level, he would have said, “Oh, you know. Same old bullshit. I’ve been doing this for eight years. I know exactly what I’m doing, I’ve seen all the patterns before. We all go to the same EBTA seminar in January, then we go to the Price Waterhouse seminar, then we go to the one by Malanka & Fester on the changes to the tax code. It’s the same thing, year after year.”

But what he said was: “Typo.”

Kristine took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. “I guess, Fitz, I just don’t sense much, um, enthusiasm for Mercier-Balin. You know?”

What was he supposed to say to that? It was a paycheck, not a calling.

Cathy Tickle was nodding enthusiastically.

“And based on some other things that have come up”—she glanced knowingly at Cathy Tickle—”I’m wondering if you should perhaps reassess your career path at Mercier-Balin.”

He didn’t get it at first. “OK.”

“Maybe try to determine whether there is a good fit between Mercier-Balin and you.” Both Kristina and Cathy Tickle were nodding. In unison.

Then he got it.

Fuck.

Student loans, his underfunded 401(k), medical insurance, rent under the new management company, the fact that his mom probably kept calling him because she wanted money again—these thoughts arced through his mind like welding sparks and were seventeen times as scary.

“You’re firing me?”

“We think it’s time for you to consider other opportunities,” Cathy Tickle said, smiling. She’d just gotten her teeth bleached. Obviously.

“So, like, two weeks?”

“Or less. Transition your clients to Paige,” Kristina said.

“We think,” Cathy Tickle said, “that it would be wise if your relationship with Merciar-Balin transitioned no later than two weeks from today.”

He looked at Kristine: “Because of the pictures, the drawings?”

“What drawings are those?”

“You know. The medical illustrations.”

Kristina gave a nose-laugh. “Medical…? Oh, I’d forgetten all about those… illustrations.” She paused, staring at him. “This has nothing to do with that, Fitz. This is about your performance aginst your Fiscal Year Accountabilities.” She tapped her nail on the desk. Tap. Tap. Tap.

With each tap, a new anxious thought. Window’s paycheck from the Co-Op. Basically nothing. Had they paid cash for the Volvo? Or did he put that on the card?

Now his stomach was rumbling and another gas bubble was tunneling out of solitary confinement in his stomach, nudging its way through the green stuff in his small intestine, then into the large, then down into old Mr. Rectum, and Fitz was about to say something when, before he could get the first syllable out, he felt something down there. Almost as if something non-gaseous escaped.


Fitz was sitting on the toilet in the men’s bathroom, having just come from Kristine’s office. He looked between his knees at his boxers. They were seafoam blue and patterned with little cartoon igloos. Next to each igloo was a sign that said “North Pole This Way.” Kind of funny. Window had gotten them for him somewhere.

But now they were stained. How long had it been since he had shit himself? Fucking fiber. He should never have had the three-bran cookie for breakfast. He knew that stuff tore him up inside. Which was worse—a colonoscopy at 65 or shitting your pants at 33?

As a percentage of body weight, he and Window probably ate more fiber than Pandas. Or koalas. Or termites even.

Kristine and Cathy Tickle probably hadn’t noticed. He’d gotten out of there right after it happened, bowing and scraping, then walking, almost running, to the toilet, which was outside the office, down the hall near the law firm on the same the floor. One men’s bathroom for the whole floor and Fitz was now hiding in it, trying to figure out what to do.

He’d walked a little funny on his way out of the office, because he’d felt something back there. Something wasn’t right. But couldn’t imagine that it had actually happened. He always feared it would, given how many vegetables Window was feeding him. He couldn’t really digest them, no matter how many Bean-O he ate.

He popped them like Tic-Tacs.

Now what? He’d cleaned himself up, but what was he supposed to do with the boxers?

He couldn’t just flush his boxers. He imagined the following scenario: he walks back into the office, sits down at what is soon to be not his desk, and after a few minutes a thin film of water starts to seep under the front door of the office. Then someone comes in from the hallway and says, “We have to call facilities!”

And then facilities comes—some fat guy with a big ring of keys and a quilted vest that has on it the name of the building management company. And then after pulling out the boxers, the facilities guy comes back in to their office and says that some lunatic tried to flush his boxers down the toilet. Some lunatic with the initials T.J. And the facilities guy knows the initials because Fitz for some reason always marked his boxers with a Sharpie.

He had to toss them.

Fitz reached down and started to untie his shoes, hoping no one would come into the stall next to him, because that guy would have to be wondering why the fuck the guy next to him had his shoes off in the stall. So Fitz took his shoes off, paying careful attention to the shadow line from the fluorescents above, because that gave a good indication of the site line from the adjacent stalls onto the floor of his stall.

After removing his shoes Fitz slowly pulled his pants completely off, pushed them forward, and extricated the soiled boxers from their chino integument. He balled them up, making sure the shart stain was in the absolute middle of the mass of igloo-printed fabric.

And then he heard the door open.

He quickly pulled his shoes back from the front edge of the stall. He heard the footsteps move toward the urinal.

Good.

Then a zipper sound, then peeing. The bubbling sound of a stream of pee going into the water in the bottom of the urinal, into the little pool at the bottom of which the pink deodorizer hockey-puck lay. Fitz waited. Waited. Waited. Then came the final burst, the one before the shake, and then the zipping sound. The feet walked over to the sink, and Fitz heard the sink turn on. Then the paper towel dispenser. Two towels. Then the aluminum lid on the waste basked swung in. Then out with a clap. Then the door opened.

Good.

All clear.

Fitz put his pants back on, then his shoes, then got up, buckled, flushed, and picked up the wad of boxers that he’d put on the toilet paper dispenser. He opened the door and walked out toward the sink, toward the waste basket, next to which someone was standing.

Huh? What about the sound of the door?

Fitz turned toward the figure. It was Stephen, the IT guy. He wore black skater shorts and a black shirt, on the front of which it said, in white Courier, “No I Won’t Fix Your Home Computer.”

Maybe he’ll go away if I don’t look at him.

“Hey, Fitz,” Stephen said. He had a toothbrush in his mouth, was brushing the back teeth, leaning against the wall by the dome-topped trash can. “What’s up?”

Stephen looked at the ball of underwear in Fitz hand.

“Hey, Stephen.”

That was the only trash can in the bathroom, the one next to Stephen. So Fitz lay the little ball of cloth on the counter. And it began to expand, slowly. Fitz washed his hands as the ball kept growing in size.

“Everything cool?” Stephen said, looking at the underwear on the counter.

“Oh. Totally.”

Fitz grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser, wiped his hands, and then put the towel over his underwear, picked up his boxers, walked toward Stephen, and put the package into the trash.


“Are you having an affair?” Window asked, as he pulled back the covers on his side of the bed. It was shortly before 10:00 PM, their usual bedtime.

“An affair?” Fitz said.

“Yeah.” She was squinting a little. Just her head was visible above the top of the sheet. Her wavy hair was all spread out on the pillow.

“No. Of course not. Why?”
She looked toward the dresser, at the pants he’d just removed. Without underwear in them.

“Where’d your underwear go?”

“I threw them away,” Fitz said.

“Why?”

He had actually also come home and taken a shower, which was sort of unusual, since he usually showered before work. But Window hadn’t thought anything of that. He’d called her after the underwear episode and told her he had to work late, that they’d have to skip both the Guy de Montmorency show and dinner with Panos and Susan. Instead of working late, he’d merely wandered around downtown, trying to think of what to do now.

“Oh.” He got under the covers, looked up at the ceiling. “I sharted myself.”

“Oh. My. God.”

“Yeah. In my boss’s office. Just… just totally sharted. Yeah.”

“Which ones?” Window asked.

“Hmm?”

“Which underwear did you throw away?”

“The ones with the igloos.”

“Oh my god—I loved those.”

“I know. But I just couldn’t really look at those igloos again, after… you know.”

“Uh-huh.”

He turned off the light and thought about his 401(k) and COBRA coverage, how expensive that would be. Something like $800 a month. How did anyone afford healthcare in this country?

“Call your mom,” Window said sleepily, her head turned the other way. “She called again. She sounds worried. About something.” Then she pushed he feet over toward his, snuggling them under his calves for warmth.

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