20 November 2010
Friday, Omaha, NE, 6:07 P.M. CST
Lately, any time I see my reflection, I feel compelled to give it a quick once over, checking off that everything is OK as I go. Quick, but systematic. I then consider my breathing and focus on it, hone in on it, abdominally. Slow, abdominal breathing can arrest panic attacks, can prevent them. Diaphragmatic breathing — it’s all in the diaphragm. Think about your tie, I tell myself. Don’t think about your head… Six breaths per minute… Think about your tie and your abdominal breathing… This is the particular kinesthetic mantra I have been (and will continue) repeating to myself — over and over again — and which I’ll do out of necessity.
Truthfully, hindsight being what it is and all, I don’t think I fully appreciated, until recently, how much my life had been speeding along an irrevocably-changing course toward a destination enveloped only in oblivion. I hadn’t realized much of anything in the way of change until the day I’d finally concluded that jumping out of our tenth-floor bedroom window seemed like an altogether reasonable and infinitely more appealing alternative to soldiering on through my altogether banal personal day-to-day routine, a routine that approximated a basic mix — equal parts existence, survival and muscle memory — death, precipitated by boredom.
It wasn’t a [quote] “simple boredom thing” or a “depression-thing” I was experiencing during this eye-opening personal revelation, either — the latter part, the depression part, came later, along with other undesirable emotions like regret, remorse and scathing sense of self remonstrance. Initially, what it was was a [quote] “indescribable- unfathomably-excruciating-and-concrete-physical-pain-thing” — the kind of pain that drives previously sane and rational individuals to go to great measures in which to alleviate it; the kind of pain a person isn’t even completely sure could actually exist outside of medical textbooks because it so accurately simulates a very real and very tangible railroad spike being driven through your eye socket into the center of your skull; the pain is there, it’s real, despite any hard physical evidence. It’s the kind of pain — real or imagined — that, at last, prompts one’s (debatably) irrational contemplation of the (unquestionably) enviable relief that only a one-hundred-foot free fall to the pavement below could bring, even if that connotes unpleasant preemptive machinations on your part — pharaohs once proclaimed death comes on swift wings, and I’m starting to believe that maybe I can fly.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about how exactly to describe my situation and I think the summation provided by the aforestated is about as accurate and honest a description as anyone could provide.
In various chronic pain-sufferers’ support circles, this recurring phenomenon, this affliction, is known as a cluster headache, or, as in my case, cluster headaches, plural. Perhaps, more appropriately, others have simply dubbed them “suicide headaches.”
There is no cure, and there is no relief. I know because I’ve personally done a lot of homework on the subject. There aren’t enough pharmaceuticals on the planet to alleviate a cluster headache — I’ve probably been prescribed every last one of them. There just isn’t much warning before one of them sinks its malevolently barbed grapnels into you.
I suppose all of this is more or less by now my deposition, my disposition, my life.
[Blend in with Ashley’s changes.]
In which case then, the change I noticed in Ashley was nearly just as abrupt as the change I noticed in myself. I began paying more attention. I somehow hadn’t even realized anything was different, oddly enough, until things in her life started becoming positively this or positively that with more and more regularity. By which I mean positively — not in the sense that she’d previously been, more often than not, an unsure or indecisive person — or that she was, at the time, experiencing generally a greater number of epiphanies than she had at any other time in her life before — but positively in a different sense entirely. It was in the way she started to adverbify what had always been, until then for her, ordinary, everyday verbs, clauses and participles. It was this trend, in particular, that prompted my own recognition that something about her — more substantial than just her vocabulary — had unquestionably changed.
For example, after enduring especially long and arduous days at the Furlong and Associates Real Estate offices, she’d burst through our condo’s front door and dramatically flop down on the sofa, proclaiming herself not simply “tired,” or “completely spent,” but positively exhausted. She could no longer ever feel merely “hungry” or even hungry’s more intense hyperbolic articulation, “starving” — she was all of a sudden, it seemed, almost always positively famished. I think initially I thought this slight change in her everyday verbiage was cute and kind of endearing until I realized she wasn’t simply being facetious.
She even began adverbifying already concrete adjectives: a new pair of diamond earrings was positively stunning, and the crème brûlée, positively marvelous.
Right now she’s positively luxuriating on our Stickley Santa Fe sofa, chattering away on her iPhone to someone I think is most likely her best friend-slash-office assistant, Meredith Tomlin, whom, I’m unsure how Ashley can even hear with the television blaring at such an unnecessarily ear-splitting volume.
But anyway, more to the point, things weren’t ever positively this or that to Ashley until six months before we packed up our things in New York and relocated to Nebraska, long after I’d introduced her to my core group of New York friends who’d attended Columbia University with me as well, friends who were from families more well off than any she’d ever known, which intimidated her, at first. That’s actually where Ashley and I first met — Columbia — specifically, the MBA program there at the Columbia Business School. After finishing my undergraduate collegiate work right up in Harlem, I’d decided to stick around for a couple more years to attend grad school because, well, that’s pretty much the path my family’d always expected me — practically groomed me — to follow. My family is from the East Coast — Old Money, relocated to Omaha for the opportunity to make an even more obnoxious amount of new money in the financial trading industry.
However, Ashley’s family, the Van Zandts, have always lived in the Midwest. She, herself, was an academic wünderkind, fresh out of the Big Ten from the University of Iowa, not to mention that she was our MBA class’s top applicant. Most of my MBA cohort’d already heard of her — and consequently, by the nature of such a pristine preceding reputation, we’d formed exaggerated opinions and also spread rumors about her — both good and bad, of course — though nobody really even knew who she was yet. My friends and I began making assumptions about the department’s shiny new academic golden child before we’d even sat down and talked amongst ourselves about exactly which ball-busting professors and graduate seminars were the ones that brought with them levels of difficulty that were in no way ever to be fucked- and/or trifled- with, and whether or not tweed was still as recherché as ever — a pastime most graduate students, Ivy League or not, are typically wont to engage in.
Before she’d even set foot in our first Managerial Economics class; before she’d even stepped off the plane in Newark, Ashley Van Zandt was already both well known and controversial, whether she’d liked it or not — which, in NYC, is actually kind of a big deal — a fact she came to privately savor underneath that doe-eyed, sycophant posturing she’d so finely honed in Iowa City — honed by telling professors and administrators exactly what they wanted to hear at all times, and in return, those in positions of power and authority gave her exactly what she wanted to see: a dogged, unwavering 4.0 GPA, though she’d likely have earned it anyway. The girl’s mind was a razor. She was a natural academic, wholly blue around her middle-class Midwestern collar but also expertly knowing how to play the game — a quality of which I can’t help but think the MBA selection committee was keenly aware.
Not surprisingly, Ashley was also a fast learner when it came to Fitting in with Old Money 101, as she took to my well-bred, cosmopolitan friends like a fish to water. We spent each of our Columbia summers’ final remaining weekends nearly always in a state of full tilt boogie: sailing with friends out of the Sewanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club, lounging around with people we only barely knew from campus and their wealthy families on a North Shore enclave called Centre Island. Or we’d light out early on Friday afternoons to places like the Brookvilles, Lattingtown and Mill Neck to spend the weekend drinking, fucking and just living like a bunch of spoiled rich kids entitled to whatever the world was willing to offer us, and taking what it wasn’t if we wanted it bad enough.
On rainy weekends, we’d all sit around in fully decked out private home theaters and watch movies like the 2001 Johnny Depp film, Blow, and laugh hysterically — both at how Depp as George Jung used to sell naïve Ivy League kids like us fucken bags of sticks ‘n’ stones-grade schwag weed at a Humbolt County premium, and also at how guys like George Jung would one day be calling people like us “boss.” After burning the candle at both ends for back-to-back(-to- back) days, we’d still somehow manage to wake up as soon as dawn cracked over the Atlantic on Monday mornings and head back to the city so we’d be able to make our 9:00 a.m. course, Power and Influence (and always only just in time). One of us would quickly skim the assigned chapters on “Diagnosing Power and Dependence” or “Formal Authority, Reputation, and Performance” as we drove the 106 across the Queensboro Bridge, taking the Grand Central Parkway detour to avoid the tolls on the 495 and 295 back to Harlem — whoever’d skimmed the chapters would read aloud so everyone else in the car could hear the material too — such are the lives of young overachievers.
Some of our friends — Ashley’s and my — even had the means to rent out their own places in Sands Point, and we’d ultimately do exactly the same things there.
Sometimes we’d skip all those other places entirely and head for the Catskills where we’d stay at the Villa at Saugerties for a bed and breakfast weekend. It was mid-2000s New York City and the only thing we knew was that we’d go pretty much anywhere that wasn’t the Hamptons — which, I concede, were probably still the spot if you were over 40, but there was no way we’d be caught dead there. We were too young, too moneyed and so fucking utterly individuated from our parents (or so we thought) that we began staking the Catskills and Centre Island as the new Mecca for all the young and hip new sophisticates and socialites — individuals — who were trendier, more beautiful and wealthier than their parents and every generation that came before them — and if we, ourselves, weren’t yet, then we certainly would be — the compounding interest on our respective familial trust funds and our future nepotistically-secured jobs all but assured us of that.
So there’s no surprise ending here — it all worked out the way we’d always assumed it would — was there ever even a realistic alternative? Ashley and I found that, by the end of our two years in New York, after graduation, we couldn’t stand the thought of parting ways from each other. We didn’t have anything concrete planned out but it didn’t matter either — nothing during the time we’d spent together in New York even hinted at a possible scenario where things wouldn’t only get better for us. So we got engaged. We packed our things and headed back to the Great Plains, where we were both originally from, despite the disbelief our New York friends held, along with their notion we’d quickly flee back East.
Though my parents both grew up in Connecticut, met at Yale, and got married in New Haven, I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska where my parents still lived, so that’s where we pointed the GPS. Victor Deramore, my father, a chief executive at TD Ameritrade, and long-time friend of CEO, J. Joseph Ricketts, had already made a few calls to a few powerful friends of his, and before we’d even finished moving in to our brand new Riverfront condo, he’d secured me a position at the prestigious investment brokerage, Bartleby, Barney, Barney & Company, a firm primarily concerned with asset management and institutional securities — the latter business sector being the one I was truly interested in, a sector that involved providing other institutions with various fiscal services such as capital raising and financial advisory services, including (but not limited to) mergers and acquisitions advisory, restructurings, real estate and project finance, as well as a little corporate lending for good measure.
B.B.B. & Co. was like a “mom-and-pop Morgan Stanley” that still made its executives billions (yes, plural — but that was never really a secret). To be perfectly honest, since I’m being perfectly honest here, I had no interest in starting off as a clerk and working my way up from the bottom of anywhere like some of my former classmates were doing in New York — I wanted to start somewhere near the top — was that so unreasonable? I mean, I figured I was at least entitled to that after busting my ass for six years in the Ivy League and completely acing my Series 7 exam. I mean, a clerk? seriously? are you fucking kidding me?
So yes, my landing a job at B.B.B. & Co. was absolutely a prototypical case-study in corporate nepotism at its very finest. Sue me. This was 2005, and I was 100 percent committed to working on my own personal Maslovian self-actualization and fulfillment stratagem — something that, when I told others of, I always conveniently neglected to mention it was a phrase I’d pilfered from Ashley.
On the flip side, Ashley was making some seriously lucrative moves on her own, the old-fashioned way: the tried and true system of social networking. A few of her Real Estate Finance professors at Columbia called in some favors, and before she knew it, she was interning at the Lund Company which lasted for all of six months before she secured (however improbably it seemed at the time) an associate broker position with commercial rival, Furlong and Associates, and parlaying herself shortly thereafter into yet another promotion in a decisive, yet controversial, executive coup d’état to Senior Site Selection and Acquisitions Broker in early 2008, audaciously climbing the corporate ladder with a fearless sense of ambition, determination and gusto the partners at Furlong had never seen before in someone so young.
The girl had real guts and she wasn’t remotely scared to rock the boat. Simply ruthless. That’s what the Furlong brass’s always said about her.
And in case I didn’t mention this before, my wife is stunning, absolutely stunning — a perfect 10, seriously. Blondish (for maximum appeal), tallish (5’8 or ‘9 depending on the day, ‘10 with heels), long, slender legs and a runner’s tightly-defined upper body; each abdominal muscle only just visible when she takes her shirt off, which, consequently, is to say nothing at all yet of her perfect breasts — perfect in overall size, shape, suppleness. She looks almost as if she’d been painstakingly engineered in a lab for the sole purpose of incomparable and universal beauty; this, a fact I tend to relish, albeit somewhat unabashedly, since she hasn’t spent a single cent on plastic surgery in her life. Ever.
In fact, last year, long before the headaches’d started, Ashley and I were having dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills steakhouse, CUT, during one of my (unfortunately) not infrequent business trips — on which Ashley joins me, when and if her schedule permits — and this wiry and vigorous-looking older gentleman literally walked up to us while we were eating and just started talking to the two of us as if we were all old friends. The man was supposedly a plastic surgeon who’d earned a great deal of notoriety in LA, though (and, this detail shouldn’t come as any real surprise), I’d admittedly never heard of him.
So anyway, he (this supposedly well-known plastic surgeon) made this deliberate, totally calculated point of altering his original camber through the restaurant to arrive at our table, specifically for the purpose of telling Ashley — and here he was just really candid, in fact — that he was, and, here I’m quoting: “typically not in the business of telling people things like this, but —” and then he did this sort of histrionic pause in the middle of his sentence because he (allegedly) “wanted to be 100 percent certain he was making himself clear,” like unequivocally so — I think he was really pausing for dramatic effect, but, anyway, here I’m quoting again: “there was absolutely nothing even [he] could do for her that would, or could, make her any more beautiful than she presently was, sitting before him” and then, turning toward me, he more or less (though without nearly the enthusiasm he’d just five seconds ago shown Ashley) said, “you are a very lucky man,” to which both of us, Ashley and I — each of us finding ourselves feeling more than a little embarrassed by this point — said, “thank you,” and then, unsure of what else we could possibly add to the wholly awkward situation at that point, utterly discomposed and blushing, we simply resumed eating. Ashley said the situation was positively awkward. That’s when it struck me that she’d been saying it more than an average amount.
Though, aside from her grammar tic, it’s perhaps a gross understatement to say that, in 2006, Ashley and I were getting into our respective professions at precisely the worst possible time where the near future was concerned in the American financial and real estate sectors.
I mean, just flash forward two years.
As if the national-turned-global economic situation hadn’t deteriorated enough in 2008 (i.e. the ubiquitous public uproar and brewing maelstrom of civic opprobrium) following the comprehensive — or perhaps, more accurately, teetering-on-the-verge-of-paralyzing — media blitz that ultimately exposed the $65,000,000,000.00 mega- ponzi-scandal, masterminded and executed, by one Bernard Lawrence Madoff, a scandal that, for all intents and purposes, simply erased the investment portfolios of countless investors. Thousands of portfolios that had, at one time, held considerable numbers of investment shares essentially ceased to exist once the money’d left investors’ hands.
The very same media outlets also exposed the alleged (media outlets always use the term “alleged,” even in the face of concrete evidence, which I think is silly) use of private luxury jets to conduct various shady American banking CEOs cross-country, using fuel that’d been, more likely than not, purchased with taxpayer-remunerated government bailout money (while, working-class citizens helplessly watched their retirement accounts tank in the affectless face of near all-time high rates of unemployment) — these utterly gut-wrenching events were compounded yet again by a nightmarish, and ultimately all too realistic scenario, that forecasted the inevitable collapse of the once-believed-invincible American automotive industry. In light of all this upheaval, Americans could hardly at all be blamed for their newly-developed pessimism and ever-more cynical day-to-day dispositions, especially where their country’s financial and banking systems were concerned.
So thus, in the wake of the whole devastating and widespread financial collapse that seemed to have, somehow, left me, personally, relatively unscathed, I, Sawyer Deramore, know that I was, above all else, lucky — very, very lucky — that is, with respect to my own personal financial security. This, a fortuitous contingency I can only truly rationalize by the simple happenstance of my location, my job, and some combination of the two. And by my own admission, it’s — more often than not — simply better to be lucky than good.
My location, Omaha, Nebraska, the city where I was born and raised — is a westward-sprawling metropolitan area, home to nearly 900,000 people, five Fortune 500 companies and the second richest man in the world, Warren Buffet. In 2008, it was also one of only a handful of cities less affected by the national economic crisis — though certainly, no city could be said to be considered wholly unaffected — Omaha had more hopeful looking unemployment and depreciation numbers. With all of the capital that seemingly just meanders around the city at any given time, Omaha presents a truly fantastic opportunity for the young and ambitious to thrive considerably, if they can get past the glaring absence of readily apparent and assumed glamour and the extremely harsh winters.
However prior to my fairly recent tenure heading up the Investment Securities Department at B.B.B. and Co. where, in the wake of the whole 2008 meltdown, I found myself breathing a fairly significant sigh of relief when my fantastically well-paying position, did not, as so many others’ would, turn up under the ever-sharpened edge of the always- lurking budget-cutting axe, which really made its presence felt following an abrupt and decisive internal corporate restructuring that higher-ups casually termed “reshuffling
After shit hit the pecuniary fan nationally in 2008, corporate brass at Bartleby, Barney, Barney and Co. issued a press release to its investors with whippet-like speed — a press release one Albus J. Bartleby personally requested be written almost entirely by me, lickety-split!, or even sooner, if possible — a document I very simply titled: “Committed. Capable. Competent.” I felt like the periods after each word intimated a sense of professional confidence and concrete decision making.
It was an expeditiously-timed effort originally conceived to mollify a brand new, yet substantial, catalog of fears amassed by our (Bartleby, Barney, Barney and Co.’s) investors — the press release itself stated that we (B.B.B. and Co.) would not, under any circumstances whatsoever, ever become yet another Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers or Merrill Lynch — the primest examples of financial-juggernaut-clusterfuckups that’ve occurred on an historically monumental scale — instances where those company’s leaders emerged as virtuosos in (and of) misappropriation, disorganization and deceit. That just wasn’t going to be us at Bartleby, Barney, Barney and Co. That was the promise I made our investors.
At the time I wrote the press release, I didn’t truly realize that I was, in fact, prejudicially and comprehensively lying to them.
Back at the condo, it’s been maybe 15 minutes and I’m still futzing around with my tie. The deep breathing has helped. My heart rate is back down to a normal resting rate somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 beats per minute, about one solid thump every second like clockwork, a precision I can appreciate.
Ashley’s slender figure materializes at my side and, as always, I’m always struck at how much better she makes me look. She stands on her tiptoes and playfully bites my earlobe, her gaze never leaving our mirrored reflection.
“I’ve got a surprise for you,” she says.
“Yeah, in the living room. Come see.” She takes my hand and begins pulling me away from the mirror, I resist for a split
second to take myself in one more time, confirming the symmetry of my shirt, tie, dress pants — the whole ensemble. I’m five-by-five, good to go.
A smallish amassment of white powder, parsed into evenly-spaced rows, sits atop our Nuevo Roma coffee table’s black marble surface, the sight of which, perhaps even just a week or so ago, would have produced a Pavlovian-like slavering effect over me, but tonight, it only makes my stomach drop and almost triples my heart rate, which Ashley immediately recongnizes.
“Jesus, babe, you look like a ghost. Everything okay?” Ashley says.
Perspiration bursts from the pores above my brows and the only thing I can say is, “Yeah, no, I’m good,” and then, “I think I just need to sit down — got lightheaded all of a sudden.” Which wasn’t true, but it was the first thing that came to mind that seemed believable to tell her. The look she gave me intimated she knew I wasn’t telling her the truth, not the whole truth anyway.
“You want some water? You haven’t been this pale since, like, February,” she says, poking a little fun at the difficulty I have in maintaining darker pigmentary coloration in the winter.
I nod in acquiescence and lean back into the sofa, stare at the ceiling. I swallow a 10mg tablet of Benzedrine with my spit because I think half of my feeling weird is from coming down from my last Benzedrine a few hours ago. I close my eyes and think about the other half, the meeting I had with Mr. Bartleby Monday afternoon I haven’t told her about yet.
Everyone at the firm was wrapping up what they were working on for the day. The clock read 4:47 and even at prestigious investing firms, the last 10 minutes, give or take, of each work day is ostensibly a wash, 15 minutes on Fridays. I’d just opened up my fantasy football page and was trying to figure out who I’d be starting this Sunday and who’d be sitting the bench. I’d just logged-in to my Yahoo! Sports account when I received an alert of an incoming Push-To-Talk message.
“Deramore?” Albus J. Bartleby said, using his latest Motorola Droid’s Push-To- Talk feature as an intercom.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Bartleby?” I said, responding into my iPhone, unsure of what he could possibly want right now, but also a little nervous that maybe I really did know.
“I’m gonna go ahead and need a — God willing — brief face-to-face with you in my office before five o’clock. Which basically means right now since my overall desire to stay here at the office after five is, frankly, pretty damn low.”
“Can do, sir,” I said, still unable to judge his tone.
“Shit on fire, son — that’s what I like to hear! That’s a winning can-do attitude right there, Deramore, I tell you what.”
“I’ll be up in less than two minutes, Mr. Bartleby.”
A minute-and-a-half later, I saw Albus J. Bartleby minimize the window on his PC containing his minesweeper game which he was, in fact, just putting the screws to (to put it mildly) right as I gave a quick courtesy knock and, subsequently, walked through the CEO’s open office door.
“Have a seat, son.”
“Thank you Mr. Bartleby.”
“Listen — Sawyer, is it?”
“Yes, sir — Sawyer Deramore,” I said. “That’s me.”
“Right. Victor’s son. Sawyer, as you are, I’m sure, aware, we drug test randomly here at Bartleby and Co.,” Albus J. Bartleby said, looking over the top of his bifocals at a smallish stack of documents that I concluded must be important, as well as the reason I was at that moment sitting in the Chief Executive Officer’s office.
“Yes. That is to say, yes, I am aware,” I said, “—of the policy,” I added, shifting my weight in the ridiculously plush office chair, which, upon closer inspection, placed my seated height at a multiple-inch disadvantage to that of Mr. Bartleby’s, clearly by design.
“And judging by these Internal Negotiations and Acquisitions Net Exchange reports, you are one helluva broker and a real asset to us,” A. J. Bartleby said without looking up.
“Thank you Mr. Bartleby, sir.”
“Which is why I have to wonder out loud — if you’ll permit me to speak plainly — just what in the fuck are you doing with co–caine all mixed up in your piss test?” His gaze over his bifocals was then fully locked on to me.
“I— I’m sorry, sir. It was a complete error in judgment on my part.”
“Well shit, son — you’re goddamn right it was! It’s not like we don’t give our employees who do the kind of heavy profit making you do ample fucking warning before we make ‘em piss in a cup!”
“I know, sir. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been just epically stressing out about that particular urine test. It was really just a giant error in judgment. One too many scotch and waters and a little too much cheer with some friends is all.”
“Mind if I ask who you were cheering it up with when this so-called error in judgment occurred? Might be a case where we can just throw someone else under the bus — say they slipped it to you, say they got you all in a whole heaping fuckload of shit at work — that sort of thing.”
“Sir, if I could be really honest, I’d really prefer not to drag anyone else into this since it’s completely and utterly my fault. I’m willing to personally accept all the consequences of my actions.” Actually, I’m not sure I fully knew exactly what I was saying.
“Hell’s bells, son — I’d really goddamn-well prefer not to be in possession of this information at all, I mean, if we’re shooting straight about ‘druthers and whatnot right now.”
“I apologize for putting you in such an awkward and-or unpleasant situation, Mr. Bartleby.”
“Shit son, it’s not my ass in the fire here — it’s yours. Policy here at Bartleby and Co. dictates that something needs to be done about an employee failing a piss test, Deramore.”
“I understand, sir. Should I go begin cleaning out my desk then?” I said, completely certain of my impending termination, pushing myself up using the armrests of the chair, nearly to my feet.
“Now, hold on — sit on back down — there’s no reason to go making any rash decisions. Policy dictates some kind of disciplinary action needs to take place, but policy also leaves it up to the discretion of the employee’s personal supervisor, and when it comes right down to it, I suppose I’m actually everybody’s supervisor around here.”
“I’m… not sure I follow… Sir.”
“What I’m saying is, being’s that my name is carved into the very slab of stone that appears in the lobby of this particular building, technically, I’m your supervisor, Deramore, if you are catching my fairly obvious drift. And that means I get to decide what said disciplinary action should be in the instance of this specific failed pee test here.”
“Goddamnit son! For having such an expensive East Coast education, you sure can be a thick sonofagun, you know that?”
“I’d just really hate to be even a little presumptuous, Mr. Bartleby.”
“You’re polite too — that’ll get you far, Deramore, let me tell you. But let me also go on ahead and spell out what it is I’m saying here, so’s that you can pick up what I’m layin down, if you know what I mean. Myself, I will personally take care of this little drug situation where it concerns you. We aren’t in the business of losing money at Bartleby and Co., so I guess what I’m saying is, we aren’t in the business of firing our big earners either.”
“Oh, umm — thank you, sir — thank you very much. I —”
“Now just hold on a minute, I’m not done yet. Of course, something is gonna have to go on the books that says disciplinary action was being taken, and any issues the employee in question — that’s you — might have are being addressed. And I know how these things work and what the people who take a close look at the books like to see, which is that we care about our employees and we stick by their side to the end and all that other happy horseshit.”
“I mean, sure. Yeah. Whatever you think is best, Mr. Bartleby — honestly.” I really couldn’t believe my luck.
“Right then, so what we have here is a case of a young man who is pretty damn good at what he does and is a real asset to the company, but who also happened to get a little reckless one night — and God knows we’ve all been a little reckless a night or two in our lives. And what those fellas who read over the books like to see are stories of fallen heroes, and such, who become the underdog and get themselves all re-habilitated and all that, and then they rise again like a goddamn’d phoenix from the goddamn’d ashes and such, if you’re following me?”
“I think so, sir.”
“And this is America, son — God’s own country, from sea to shining sea — and here in America, we don’t just fire our best people: we re-habilitate them — which is exactly what we are gonna do with you, Deramore.”
“…..” Rehabilitation? I honestly had nothing.
“So here’s what I see happening: you’re gonna sign an official written statement saying you are mighty sorry you went and royally fucked up, and then you’re gonna apologize from the bottom of your heart for hurting your family and co-workers and yourself, and that you are one-hundred-and-ten percent committed to getting yourself all better and straightened out so that you can be the man that everyone once believed in again — that is, even if they never stopped believing in you to begin with — and so on and so forth.
“You’re gonna sign that little piece of paper and go to a damn meeting once or twice a week — or whatever those sorry sonsofbitches who believe in all that re-habilitation shit do — and you’re gonna have whoever is heading up those meetings sign your little sheet of paper, and you are gonna bring it back to me, because why?”
“Because… the guys who… read through the books… like to see the signatures…?”
“Be-cause, the goddamn guys who read through the goddamn books don’t just like to see those signatures, son — they love to see those signatures! It makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside like a shitload of corporate money isn’t being flushed down the crapper right in front of their eyes. Money that could probably go toward their bonuses, by their line of thinking, I bet.”
“I understand, sir, yes — absolutely.” I think I thought I understood, anyway.
“And so you’re going to go to these meetings, and we’re also going to have to — just for the sake of record keeping here, you understand? — give you a de-motion, of sorts.”
“Sir?” This, for sure, was a contingency I had not expected.
“Don’t worry, Deramore — the pay’s gonna be the same, so you can go ahead and keep on living whatever kind of lifestyle it is you’ve gotten yourself accustomed to living since working here at Bartleby and Co. We just gotta keep our shit smelling like roses on paper, if you catch my metaphor? So in the mean time, you are — as of this coming Monday — gonna be heading up things over in mutual funds. It’s not quite as sexy as acquisitions, but I’ve been in this business long enough to know that not a whole lot else is.”
“So then the projects I’m currently working on?”
“On paper—” Bartleby leaned in and looked at me over the top of his spectacles, “—as I’d like to keep re-iterating — they are going on over to Frank C. Pelizotti. Of course, you’ll still be the brains behind all those deals. The unfortunate part of it is that there’s just no way we can pay you the commission from them, from a strictly records-keeping point of view. No real point in arguing about it either since I’m sure you can appreciate our hands being tied.”
“…..” Again, I had nothing.
“And the last thing I wanted to mention, while I’ve got you sitting here, is that we’ve got some good ol’ boys coming from the Securities and Exchange Commission in about two weeks — give or take a couple days — so in all likelihood, that means it’ll be even sooner. The SEC never tells us when they’re dropping by, but that’s why, in this business, it’s good to know people — as they say — so you can at least get a rough idea when to expect a major audit before they’re here, all of a sudden, standing on our welcome mat with briefcases and calculators, and being all demanding about seeing our bookkeeping records and whatever else.”
“So basically, we’re gonna need you to work closely with Frank on getting everything five-by-five before those SEC boys show up. God love Frank, but he’s at least one foil pack short of a box of Pop Tarts sometimes, if you catch my drift. And — this is only me speculating at this point — but if his uncle’s name wasn’t carved into the very same entranceway stone-slab-thingamajig I just mentioned a couple minutes ago, I’d be highly doubtful we’d even be retaining his services at all — but again, that’s just my two cents that don’t bear any real significance worth repeating outside this office, if you get me?”
Albus J. Bartleby and I sat facing each another for a few moments which then became somewhat awkward when neither of us proceeded to say anything to break the silence (that is, within a contemporarily accepted and socially-appropriate amount of time).
“OK… well then, I should probably be going,” I finally said, standing up from my chair, Bartleby immediately following suit and extending a hand to me.
“You’re a helluva team player, Deramore — a helluva team player — and a good sport to boot! I’m glad we had this talk. I’ll have H-R get you that information concerning your weekly meetings and whatnot straight away so’s that you can begin the process of re-habilitating yourself, A-S-A-P!”
“…Thank you, Mr. Bartleby, sir.” I couldn’t think of what else to say at the time.
“Don’t even waste another second of yours thanking me. You just have yourself a great night — and a great weekend, too!”
“I will — I appreciate it, sir. Thank you, again.”
I’ve been spacing out. Ashley’s voice brings me back to our living room. Earth to Sawyer? I rub my eyes because I can’t think of anything else to do and tell her I was spacing out, but I don’t mention what I was thinking about. Revealing the conversation with Mr. Bartleby would have to happen later.
“So anyway,” Ashley says, her speech rapid, her eyes twitchy and excited, stimulated, “We need to stop by Meredith’s place before we head down to the Qwest. She just finished the packet I’m taking tonight with all the Furlong materials in it. She’s such a peach!”
“Oh yeah?” I pretend I’m interested and not thinking about losing the commission on at least three major accounts I’ve been working on for the past couple months, and that I’m not thinking about Ashley comparing Meredith to a pitted fruit.
“Yeah, I mean, the Brandeis is sort of on the way anyway. I’ll just run in quick and grab it, two seconds tops.”
“Side note, how the hell does Meredith afford a place at the Brandeis?”
“I dunno. Sugar daddy, maybe?”
“Probably not. Probably her parents.”
“Pretty nice fucken parents.”
“I know, right?”
In my head I’m thinking the sugar daddy theory probably isn’t too far off. Meredith’s tits make guys want to throw money at them. I’m not convinced she wasn’t a stripper in her early 20s, either. Maybe she still is. Who knows? The Brandeis is fucken cherry and it costs a mint to live there. More than an office assistant can swing each month, I know that.
“Yeah we can pop by on the way,” I say. I’d rather stay and hang out for a while. One, because I hate corporate galas and two, because I’d definitely fuck Meredith if it wasn’t for the vows. She’s easier on the eyes than a hall full of stuffy business guys in suits and tuxedos patting each other on the back and congratulating one another on being so obnoxiously rich. I want to tell them, Fuck you, I got money too.
“Shit! Look what time it is,” Ashley says, bounding from the couch.
“It’s, uh, six-forty-nine,” I say.
“I know that! Get your shit and let’s go. I don’t want to be late.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” I say, walking to the kitchen to see if I conveniently misplaced my keys. I didn’t. A glass of Jack and Coke I poured earlier and forgot about during my knot tying mantra perspires into a pooled ring around its base atop the granite countertop. I shrug and pick it up along with my keys and make for the front door. I can already feel the Benzedrine putting some pep back in my step. Ashley’s already in the elevator, holding the door open for me and motioning for me to hurry up.
Here we go, I think.
* * *
I pilot my Infiniti G37x Coupe through the streets of downtown Omaha, imagining I’m a Formula-One driver. I’m only test driving the car for the weekend but I’m already in love with it. The feedback between my input, the closely-spaced gearbox, the clutch and the steering wheel is kinetic, it’s instant and fluid. The precision of the mating ritual between human and automobile is erotic, intoxicating. Ashley’s hand rests on my thigh and I’m getting an erection but mostly from the car. She can tell what’s happening inside my pants and smiles that fucking million dollar smile she’s got and it drives me wild. My wife, my passenger, her coyness and overall sexiness are doing bad things to me. I want to skip the event tonight and get us a room at the Hilton instead.
As I’m thinking dirty things about Ashley, my right eye twitches unnecessarily and my erection vanishes, like instantly, prompting me to inspect my tie in the rearview and assess the knot I finally decided on, almost by reflex. I’m suddenly feeling unnerved, a particular emotion I don’t at all care for. It feels like a weakness and a character flaw and those are two things I associate with punks and pussies.
Ashley notices a change in my mood and asks if everything is OK which I tell her, yeah, of course as I try to resume driving as I had been before. Only now, she’s taken her hand back and clasps her fingers together in her lap, gazing absentmindedly out the passenger side window. The mood has taken a change for the chillier.
We’re married now but opening up still isn’t easy. Ashley doesn’t know the full extent of my headache problem. I told her the doctor said it was just migraines and not to worry. I didn’t mention the Dr. I’m seeing happens to be my best friend Drew Marinovich and migraines were only mentioned in comparison to my cluster headaches, which, really, there isn’t even a fucking comparison.
I also left out the part about Drew and I trying some pretty experimental treatment options — so experimental the FDA hasn’t gotten around to entertaining the idea, let alone approving it. Drew, being the scholar that he is, read about some really interesting and really far-out-there study going on at Harvard University where doctors are treating patients suffering with cluster headaches with LSD. Of course, the trial is full — plenty of applicants showed up to claim whatever was necessary to have legal approval to drop acid and hang out with a bunch of other people doing the same thing; the majority had to be turned away.
Drew and I decided we needed to improvise.
I steal a glance at Ashley and she’s still not looking my way. I know she thinks it’s something she did but she’s so wrong, only I just can’t tell her yet.
“It’s not you baby, it’s me — for real this time.”
I want to tell her but the time isn’t right and, I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think my tie is at odds with my collar again which has me back repeating my mantra and deep breathing techniques. I have to.
After mantra’ing my ass off for a solid two or three minutes, I realize the radio is off and even the slightest sound of anything besides rubber on concrete is absent. In cars like these, the refined acoustics allow you to hear even your passenger’s subtlest exhale. Her body language demands distance. The little bit of white residue under her nose, however, begs for commentary.
 My wife, Ashley’s, and my — the condo, I mean, is ours — we of course live together. I apologize: I tend to think fragmentally and get sidetracked very easily — a case of severe attention deficit disorder (ADD) — but I also feel this urgent and insatiable compulsion to explain myself whenever I feel I’m being at all unclear.
acquaintances: Wolfgang Puck’s trendy Beverly Hills steakhouse, CUT.