The Peninsula

By Dicletian

© 2009 by Alyssus Publishing Group Text © 2007 by Dicletian. All rights reserved. ISBN EAN-13 061534268X 9780615342689

Printed in the United States of America.

I’m a skinny six five mother fucker And if you didn’t know me you would think I’m a clucker But I’m not a clucker, I’m a dodger and a ducker Come a little closer and I’ll show you, I will punch you And if I can’t beat you, I’ll get my gun and I will buck you, Turn you over like a bitch, pull out my dick, and fuck you She said my hair looked proper as it flowed in the wind! But I can’t have her number ‘cause I fucked her best friend It's a pity I'm a nigger that just don't care Except for my dope my money and hair – Andre Nickatina, The New Jim Jones

Children are memory’s voices, and preserve The dead from wholly dying, as a net Is ever by its buoyant corks upheld. – Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers

TESTIMONY OF JACOB BESSEMER SAN FRANCISCO SUPERIOR COURT SWORN AFFIDAVIT 2007

I. Atherton II. Stanford by Night III. San Francisco IV. Pacific Ocean V. Stanford by Day VI. Wine Country

1
All summer I hounded across Italy with the liquidity to brandish Veuve and the libido to pour it. The French I consorted with in Milan slept nightly in its red houses, boasting full-cheeked of their conquests and slapping each other’s derrières, and one night, very drunk on retsina, we barged through the Navigli towards a strawlined palace: they all had wives, they said, and if I ever wanted to call myself a man I must quench my youth in the embrace of a whore. It seemed like a good idea at the time. This milkhaired Bianca took me in her arms and bathed me, releasing me burning into the night, and I was changed forever. Ruby eyes called me back under the next moon, and back again, and I found I could not stop. I became Lothario to Florentines like Francesca, queen of the red light, who in scarlet silks murmured of Borgia as she sucked ecstasy pills; and the grateful PETA activist Mary, nineteen, of Chartres, a multiracial milkmaid; and the clicking Nigerian weed-wench from Leidseplein, Amsterdam, whom in new century zeit1

THE PENINSULA geist I trusted not to have AIDS. The infidelity took me and I rejoiced. Every boy takes prostitutes at some point in his life, and I was no different. In whore-stained sheets I felt strangely mature: I was a changed man, a new man, ready to graduate college. I did not stop, feeling no less love for myself or for anyone involved. Arms unwound like vines from the arches, beaded with saline water, flanks and thighs wriggling, tongues hanging offered, the windows shuttered and flesh taut, and I could not stop. “What do American girls desire?” the whores asked me. “At my age, not romance, wining, or dining,” I laughed. “They want to be charmed at parties, put face down on beds, fucked, and raised above their friends.” “They sound like men,” they said, rolling their eyes. “I will think about that,” I replied. “Now you can shut up and blow me.” Nights later I apportioned us a great multitude of harlots who flocked powderscented and deathridden around our taxicab, and we found ourselves soon behind doors encloistered with the many. A whore will take a shower the first thing and the last, and having drunk our bottles of Averna they commenced to wash lurching in red soap, spurging fumes of cheap whore oil and spraying upon themselves what liquids could mask their smell. I found at their return no desire for them and lay about impugning two girls of their histories while the Frenchmen elsewhere bent the others. The first had been ridden like a horse since age four, sold from Cambodia to those parts; she spoke little 2

ATHERTON English and bore a tattoo of a skull upon her neck and scars from belts upon her legs which had thrice been broken by her masters. The second and elder renounced God before me and broke out weeping in terror after I choked her, but a Fifty Euro note soon sealed her slobbering mouth. Then they held each other trembling as I fed them peanuts, beer, and barbecued pig to the moans of their sisters asuffering faroff the ministrations of the French. At dawn I led them shaking from our quarters into the elevator and saw them no more. In Genoa we suffered to pay many whores for their services and we found them as legion as fleas upon a dog. A whore bundled in soap once writhed across me while I smiled at her and commenced the same interview as in Milan, but she would not speak of her past. A Frenchman delivered to a fugacious whore so vengefully that she leaked neon upon our bedsheets and had to be purged. In the provincial cities I encountered two whores one the victim of a stabbing who bore lump scars across her abdomen and her sister a mother with the whip of the caesarian drawn over her belly. Both these in the tradition of the Pacific islands grew hair from their nipples, at which I grew amazed. It was the end of my youth. Finally the whores chloroformed me and took everything I owned – backpack, billfold, even the monkstraps off my feet. My summer’s war against the Euro, my very Italian campaign, was ended, and just in time for Stanford to resume. I called home to hear the news: mother’s vision had worsened, she was back in hospital, 3

THE PENINSULA it was all going black, oh God– “I have to see you again,” she whispered across the sea. “I have to see you.” She was marrying Michael Medine. Her enthusiasm for her late husband's business partner precipitated from a fiduciary collapse of her own creation. In an unseemly and uncharacteristic burst of feminism, she decided barely before father was buried that she would have a go managing our money, and would moreover pick stocks. She was sure she would be good at it. For the first time in her life she found herself at the helm of a large pool of capital, and over the next two years the estate shattered in half (airlines, Chinese solar), then in half again (optical networking, the Peso). She had not heard of diversification. Just as her eyes began to worsen, another fifteen million manically shunted into Michael's most recent Gina partnership – the living corpse of the venture capital funds he had managed with my father – and of the remainder mother claimed the mortgage alone was gobbling a tenth every year, though how could you trust her calculations? Times were tough, for about a week. Then in a nearly medieval show of capitulation she gave up the house like Clytemnestra into Michael’s gilded hands. Now he was to be my father and she was going blind – but what did I care? To lose two parents looks careless, so the Medines’ jet came to get me – Michael’s sister had been bopping around the Great Wen – and on the nineteenth of Sep4

ATHERTON tember, through the jet stream, the melting globe hurled me west over Atlantic waters and obsolete eastern cities. We refueled in Chicago, while hurricanes descended on the South and eliminated the sinners there. In the Gulfstream’s cabin Michael’s sister spoke to me while I drank gin and the pilot flew and eavesdropped. I hadn’t met her because her branch of the family lived in Hong Kong, but she’d heard of me. She maintained the wide-eyed uncertainty I had seen on the faces of whores, and with an enormous Lloyd’s bag balanced on her breasts she stared at me, and her silver eyes shimmered. “Because it’s nice to have nice things,” she reasoned, “we should all have the best things.” All flight she’d been going on like this, on and on about her favorite boutiques around the world, about her armory of dresses, her calfskin kneeboots, why she couldn’t stop even a day to see her family, why she had to drop me off alone. “Good,” I said. “That’s a good philosophy and one I can understand.” From the tumbler I pulled a drooping garnish and lay it on my palm. The soaked dandelion rolled over and over, and I licked it up in a gulp, tasting soap and skin. “My daughter’s come over from Cambridge,” she went on. “Lily is just the smartest girl, and she’s graduated at last. She’s written a thesis on Dante that took highest honors – and she’s thinking about moving to California to work her uncle. I mean to work for her uncle. She doesn’t know what she’s going to do. She 5

THE PENINSULA positively doesn’t know what she’s getting into!” “She’s staying with Michael?” “Since yesterday, her little sister Emma too, she’s not as smart as Lily but nonetheless, my darling, she’s a talented athlete, a star tennis player, and I’ve been thinking, you know, and I’m thinking it might not be the best idea for you and Lily to see too much of each other?” Her voice suddenly bent up. She swigged from the glass cradled in her pink hands, and swallowed spit out of her jowls. “She’s trying to get her feet on the ground.” “Okay,” I said, sprawling back on the leather. “Let’s not get into this.” The plane whined under some cloud. “Do you understand what I mean? She will want to meet you, ask questions, even spend time with you, but you do not want to see her.” “Believe me, I don’t want to get involved,” I sighed, and put my hands over my eyes. “Believe me, you don’t want to see her, let me convince you of that,” continued Lily’s mother, leaning in, chewing her nightshade lips. “She has certain vulnerabilities. And I have heard about you. A woman in my social situation can’t afford to be entangled. There won’t be anything between you and Lily, not now, not until the wedding, and not after. I wouldn’t have sanctioned this visit at all if my brother hadn’t insisted–” It was so Athertoniain. “I’m thirsty,” I complained. “Is there any more whiskey, or did you drink it all?” She curled a hand-hock around the decanter and stared me down, shaking her head. 6

ATHERTON “Is there any more,” I cried, “or any gin? Because I’m thirsty and I want to drink, and I want to listen to you!” “Then listen to me, Bessemer!” she hissed, eyes ablaze. “I know about you. I know you have ruined girls. Keep away from my daughter.” I inhaled. “Look–” I replied. “Men’s needs are full of greed. And since we can’t be beautiful we crave to be sublime. Who can say what’s going to happen? I’m only sure your daughter is ravishing, or you wouldn’t be protecting her – certainly, beauty runs in the family, Mrs. Medine. And while you might not like me or approve of my shit-eating attitude, you must admit I make some pretty piquant demands.” “What demands?” “That if Lily is going to be my cousin we will need to know each other. We will need to be intimate, psychologically. We will need to explore every aspect of each other’s minds. The cruel union of our fates demands nothing less from two attractive young elites.” She smirked. “Have compassion,” I tried. “I’m asking you to exonerate my destructive form of indifference. If you can’t feel compassion for me you can’t feel it for your daughter, because clearly we’re the same.” “Compassion! You don’t know anything about her.” “But if she wasn’t like me you wouldn’t be so concerned – otherwise you would also be a victim of this indifference. Of the same apathy! Don’t you see? You can’t escape psychological logic. You can’t escape it!” 7

THE PENINSULA Now her silver eyes boiled, and she began to hem and haw. Hem and haw she did, and I went on speaking to her, teaching her about herself, as in the plane’s vast windows stars burned among the clouds, as moisture wafted from its million dollar fans, as exhaust from its turbines burned across the crescent dawn, printing with fiery steps the eastern sky over California. Because I was born with the things I need, happiness and sadness abandoned me, and apathy withered what remained. Money buys time, and too much money buys boredom, and boredom begets apathy. My father gave his money to children – he was a venture capitalist, and his job was to take the smartest children out of school and put them to work. He did this very well, and the children made him rich. When I was a child, he would repeat to me between swigs of purified water, “Deals are like women and women are like deals. There’s no difference.” And this became my mantra, simple, bitter, and true. He came from New York or some similar pit, but his story is outdated, twentieth century – what’s important is that my bloodline shimmers with a million shares of Oracle, Intel, Sun, and Google, and that they open every door in California. Those were the companies my father’s children started, and they made him rich. But he is dead three years, and his fortune is in the hands of Michael Medine. As I said, I learned early on that the effect of wealth is apathy, especially towards women, towards sex – and this particular form of apathy, which paralyzes the de8

ATHERTON fendant, also paralyzes me. I think we are like statues or stones when it comes to loving other people. The ladies of our court, who to all other princes seem beautiful, have never found dresses shameful enough for this pair of skeletons, and we regard them with the haggard gaze of the dead. In this I am uniquely qualified to understand Medine, separated though we are by thirty years; and I will show you that this is also a feature of wealth – to age a man. I am twenty-one and a senior at Stanford University, where with all of my peers I worship technology and depucelate as many virgins as passes the time. You will hear a great deal about that, though by all appearances I am a very nice boy. I have a perfect grade point average and a shiny white iPod. I give generously to third world charities, and I date indiscriminately, to my mother’s dismay, blacks, Asians, Latinas, and other tribes. I am delighted to offer you my endorsement of raw foods, universal free wireless, Wikipedia, and the Democratic Party. The jury wishes to understand what happened last autumn when I returned from Italy and met Lily. She had just arrived from Hong Kong to stop her uncle from marrying my mother. We converged in the unbelievable volcano of money that is Silicon Valley. Now the Bay fired in dawnlight, and cream fog beneath the Golden Gate swirled on the headlands, and our silver bird passed over Marin like a needle drawing thread. From this height the water was ringed by matchstick cities, and my modern ears picked up its 9

THE PENINSULA humming sphere of radio waves. The Peninsula’s paw, smoggy and intricate with highways and microcircuit blocks, unfurled pine hills and home beyond. Twenty jumbos glinted over the water-lawn like toys, but with a drone we banked beneath them, down the coast towards the private airport at San Carlos. “Evolutionary psychologists agree that women actually seek two mates, not one,” I was informing Lily’s mother. “A provider, and a genetic resource. They will marry providers and have red hot sex with alphas behind the betas’ backs. The best deal is of course an alpha who is also a provider, but these qualities nullify each other because an alpha stops being an alpha when he supplicates.” “Perhaps,” I told her, “this principle of affection is best expressed by the bards of our age. And so I’ve memorized some inspirational lyrics for this occasion.” I cleared my throat. As the cabin plunged, Lily’s mother struggled under her seat belt and stopped in sedating earbuds, screwing down her eyes. Blindly she swallowed three pink pills and held their bottle with a braceleted hock of hand. Over the roar I rhymed to her: “I’ve never been played by a ho. If a trick is acting stupid, she’s got to go. Some motherfuckers act sad, but if she fucks with me I’m going to kick her little monkey ass. It’s a law of nature, bitches knowing well I’m a liar and a heartbreaker – I’ll have them crying for months, while I fuck their best friends and put a whipping on their cunts. Oh, they have their mothers to call, but if you’ve fucked one mom you’ve fucked them all. And I really don’t give a fuck – if your mom offers me 10

ATHERTON the pussy, she’s stuck.” I smiled. “I have to educate you, brothers: if a bitch won’t fuck you, fuck her. Move along to the next trick, and tell that stupid whore to commence sucking dick. What if she’s not sucking? That’s a waste of time, conversation and not fucking. I just put my fucking pants on, and tell that idiotic freak to take her tramp ass home. Understand, I’ll put a bitch to the test – if she don’t pass, she don’t get blessed. If the test consists of fucking my whole crew, well bitch god damn that’s what you’ve got to do –” “Bessemer!” she bellowed. “I can’t hear a thing! What are you saying?” I ceased my rap and gave her shut eyes the finger. Past the bars of the bridge, the pilot banked towards an inlet and roared over the shoreline golf course, bottoming a crab landing against the crosswind: the plane divagated in the flow and spilled across the runway, drawing up its wings, and I stepped into the morning.

11

2
All of us in Atherton got wealth early on, so we were struck blind from the beginning – we hungered of the grain and chased it as we saw our fathers do, through the temples of our homes out onto the shady streets and into the schools. The wealth we chased like atheists, and those who could not get wealth went after its display, and those who could not pretend became good nice bookreading children and died to our rising. Our family got new money but it wasn’t real money, meaning we still remembered where it came from and still wondered where it might go. My father got it before the bubble, buying up land in Silicon Valley with Michael Medine, groom-to-be. Soon they got more of it financing the companies that leased the land – with electric eyes they stuffed gold into the most lucrative balance sheets of a thousand years: they earned 1000x returns: they donned stonewashed jeans and black polo shirts: they jogged marathons in the hills: they ate organic, grass-fed oranges and avoided veal: they had become venture 12

ATHERTON capitalists. Our families were entangled from the beginning and this was not to cease. The land around Stanford University sprouted offices like teeth and feasted on the students’ ideas, while a long residential tract of Atherton spat out a cold billion to house them. Miles south in the Peninsula’s armpit, thousands of homes sold and resold and appreciated: my father generated this wealth and my family tested its velocity and then my father died along with the market, killed ostensibly by his heart but really, mentally, by what I would only later discover. I entered Stanford all but an orphan, given the incredulity of my mother and her sudden, convenient disease. They reared us south of San Francisco, on the Peninsula, in plush streets under banks of fog fallow in the shade of oaks which mined the golden foothills, not in suburbs but towns: the towns enriched our blood with money and discharged the passports necessary to become leaders, magnates, captains, valedictorians, advanced placement entrants to Ivydom, heirs both to a mandate to improve the planet and direct orders to spend wealth upon it. We are not San Franciscans and that city lies north, urban, dirty, and degenerate: robbery, needles, muggers, and fog felch in that subtopia good only for field trips and the vicarious fantasies of our parents – an alien culture hackneyed by poverty from which good new families flee south, into Atherton, or north into Marin. We are not New Yorkers and no one cares about New York: that city lies repugnant east, as unnatural as 13

THE PENINSULA a machine, unleavened by sunlight and beset by gargoyles who zip its citizens into elevators and neckties – not the kind of place you will find a West Coast surfboard sun tan educated Stanfordist, or his mind for high technology. Here the grass is green and getting greener, and knowing this we all feel fine. Money rains all up and down the Peninsula, and smart and rich we all feel fine. As we drove south towards Atherton, I asked the housekeeper what the hell was going on. She had arisen in the Mercedes, a specter of childhood – peppercorn hair pulled back, long fingers paring the wheel. Where the summer had scarred her hands with eczema, yellow dollops of oil smothered the desiccated skin, and she smelled of cheap spice. We spun down the airport’s access road. Around us the lacquered bodies of Bombardiers and Cessnas shrieked from the runways into the air. “Tita is beside herself sir,” she reported, using the Tagalog word for matriarch. I cannot believe that the address of Filipina imports remains sir. Unfortunately it pleases mother’s Victorian leanings more than the Mexican omission of title, so she has maintained this quirk in our housekeeper – the matriarch will be Tita, the rest sir. “Can she still see? How are her eyes?” I demanded. “What, Sir Jacob?” The automatic gearstick tilted, revealing a glowing blue panel, a yellow network of roads that would safely guide us home. Sometimes, trusting our expensive and intelligent car, we would 14

ATHERTON take our hands off the wheel and close our eyes. “Can she still see?” “I think so,” she whispered. Then she smiled. “Oh, the little anxiety before the brunch, I understand! The look on your face, sir! No, not to worry, she’s good as always and blessed by the Holy Father. Tita is off to a clinic in Ca-na-da in a couple of days. Her health is better, yes. Do not worry any more. But there so much to do for the brunch – we have to get back. It is important that you are there, is what she says. Sir Ryan he is coming. Sir Michael he is coming.” I slid across the leather and ran a hand over my eyes. We spun hard over the onramp and south onto the highway. “I remember now,” said the housekeeper. “The little scare. But we couldn’t reach you, sir. No! Not worry, be happy.” “At least her hypochondria is unchanged,” I sighed. “Her health has gotten better, yes. She has stopped coming to church. Sir Michael he takes her to the doctor once a week.” These typical misunderstandings. With both hands she navigated a labyrinth of ramps sorting us onto a perpendicular highway, ears twitching from the ashy bramble of her hair. “You said Ryan is coming,” I said. “Well all right. How did Mom organize a brunch on a Monday? It isn’t even the weekend.” “It is politics,” she said. As I would soon discover, Michael had chosen this moment to call upon Atherton to back his campaign for House Representative of San Mateo County, a ridicu15

THE PENINSULA lous attempt to escape the scuttled Gina Ventures. The black Mercedes breached the overpass and burned over 101, exposing an expanse of industrial shoreline and marsh tracking north towards the city. Boxes stacked, salt-shakers, the guano of urbanity: people cloistered in little morning cells there the next day, stirring mugs of cement-colored coffee with redand-white straws. Workers! A bird flew up past the car window, sucked into the sky. Workers. My plans for the future did not exist in terms of employment. To the world I appeared an undecided, dispassionate undergraduate, interested in drinking and business and psychology, probably headed drearily into slavery at Goldman or Bain. But this was only a façade. I had been held back a quarter at Stanford for forgetting to take Feminist Studies. My friends, all but Ryan Bonn, had settled into their cubicles, into the prisons of their industrious life-plans: banking, business school, private equity, hedge funds, c-level management, marriage, death – kids somewhere in there, a side project. Where soon I would have slipped away on the ribbon of my family’s wealth, off up the coast or to Asia, somewhere torn and wild, and, when I got tired of that, somewhere watery and white and lavender-fringed. When I turned twenty-three my trust fund would produce fifty thousand dollars a month, my mother once claimed. To my mind, shortly I’d awaken in a clean, modern apartment in some spired metropolis, owning what my father had – a docile fiancé, suits, interesting companions, knowledge, taste, the best set of clubs, a 16

ATHERTON silver sportscar, everything effortless and pristine. This, the power of my estate: no mess in the palace, green waters in driving distance, the occasional exotic prostitute, a redhaired lover calling insistently enough to give my wife pause, perpetual summer, and mother, though dead, persisting in guiltless memory, and all the bathrooms polished, and enough hidebound books to feel educated, and alone, at all costs alone in my palace, at twenty-five. And I would imitate Nero, standing before his golden house, when he cried, “At last, quarters worthy of a human being!” As we rushed south beneath the blue wall of hills, the housekeeper came once more alive. “Sir Jacob would you answer a question I have been thinking.” “I am the alpha and the omega.” “Sir Jacob?” “Ask and ye shall receive.” “Who is the girl Lily? They have been talking about her.” The housekeeper’s impertinence had grown over the years into an American addiction, voyeurism. I leaned my head back on the seat and smiled. She tipped her head and pushed out her lips, bobbing like a frog in the leather seat. “Medine’s niece. She grew up in Hong Kong.” “She is very beautiful.” “That’s fine.” “She is, how do you say. Her eyes–” “I never knew her. Is she there now?” “No, she leave. She come back tonight for the par17

THE PENINSULA ty.” She gave a little tenor mm and we fell into an algorithmic conversation about Europe, the garden, the speeches, about the Gentry Gala that night – halting, strenuous sentences, each a struggle to comprehend. The sudden society sucked the zing from my bones, and we trailed off into silence. I dozed to the drizzling eucalypts tumbling past the highway towards home.

18

3
On the drive, Mother’s gold sedan puckered by the palisade, draped in a sediment of cherry blossoms: already some seven cars lounged across the stones, two hybrids, Ryan’s jeep, a periwinkle seven series, and, leading them all, the familiar, snarling, silver Maserati, the Gina company car. Most bore the red shield of the Circus Club tacked to their grills, access cards to paradise, and the rest belonged to Jews who could not become members. Slate shadows fell from the poplars as the morning sun, passing behind a spit of cloud, grew ashy over the coastal range. The housekeeper clicked off the engine and with a slam darted across the pebbles, up the steps towards front doors, flung open between casements alive with bustle and hollered Spanish. I passed through my gardens. All the lawngrass had been aerated by Mexicans wielding forks, stumbling hunchbacked each morning across the green – their works were manifold, resplendent. As I passed, they 19

THE PENINSULA continued their labors. Savage voices emanated from every nook and every shady leaf. – Aquellos polvos traen estos lodos. Ausencias causan olvido. –¿Cualquier persona tiene agua? Mis miembros están hirviendo! A beber y a tragar, que el mundo se va a acabar. – A cada puerco le llega su sabado. – A pan de quince dias, hambre de tres semanas. “Take a shower and I will tell your mam,” the housekeeper belted over her shoulder. “And Pablo, those flowers, take them inside!” As I crossed the court, two Mexicans lumbered across the stoop, eyes downcast, lugging indubitably organic muffins towards a table on the side lawn, which, planed by white cloth, supported pitchers of free-trade orange juice, fruit, milk, and coffee. Batter and organic bacon wafted from the kitchen as a trio of caterers scampered down the side of the house towards the pool and the back lawn. Red tea tables presented sparkling boxes of bittersweet chocolate. Mother’s capeline sped back there as she snapped orders to a bronze-skinned functionary who blossomed in her wrath. –¡Los perros de la guerra se han lanzado! –¡Rasgue abajo a opresores! – Al vivo la hogaza y al muerto, la mortaja!

20

ATHERTON By the garden shed, blacks hauled down charcoalcolored monoliths from the bed of a truck: the monoliths trailed black and red tentacles and crackled and rocked, the audio equipment for the speech. The speakers were heavy and the men’s dark arms bulged with might. A master black stood over the crew, directing them, and his skin shone in the sun. Some of them were in fact mulatto or just tan, but they looked black to me. –If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. –Health isn’t better than wealth. –It’s no crime to steal from a thief. A man in a chef’s tunic, some kind of Asian, stood on the stone patio before a grill, barbequing shucked oysters and a flank of black steak. His nacre eyes stared as the fire smoked up particles of shell and flesh. Silently the Asian speared the steak onto an oak slab, hewed from it reddening medallions, and with a tang appraised one dripping tile above the fire. The black steak twisted like a rodent on the board. The oysters cracked as they burned and provided. – Piensa el ladron que todos son de condicion. – Pesadumbres no pagan deudas. – Quien poco tiene pronto lo gasta. – A house divided against itself cannot stand. – Half a loaf is better than no bread. – Don’t let the bastards grind you down. 21

THE PENINSULA – Hoc tro an vung ca kho. – Thay do bat duoc, oi a con chua. – Thua thay co moi mo vung. – Thay cham ti nua con bung ca noi. Unseen, I spun upstairs to shower, my lovely hands stuffed in my cotton pockets. In the blasting steam I breathed a sigh of relief, leaning against the marble. Suddenly I was alone again; I could hear nothing but the water. My mind reeled with recognition, remembering the spring: Sun falls on Stanford University, and the man with the plan tells the graduating class of the plan they’ve got to have. “Steve Jobs, Prodigy,” is this morning’s consensus. The minds of the listeners have reached singularity on the awesomeness of Steve. The students’ caps make a black phalanx under the sun, and all comers feel eager and informed. In the grass and on the bleachers sit a lavender army of parents, likewise interested and also very rich. The man with the plan tells three stories. His stories are poignant and topical, and they make the crowd laugh and cry. They concern love, trust, and death. The sun oversees Steve as he speaks, and in the valley around him a billion dollars transact over grids of optical fiber. The dollars hum on wireless waves and glide through the ground and shimmy encrypted through your phone and are relayed by satellites and are gone, and are here again, and are gone. 22

ATHERTON Behind the dollars sit companies and behind those companies sit boards and behind those boards sit investors and those investors were the parents. The parents were very rich and the ones who lived near Stanford lived in Atherton. Here, ten miles and ten million dollars north of Silicon Valley, five minutes from Stanford, across storied Sand Hill Road, the town of Atherton desires, insofar as possible, to preserve its character as a scenic, rural, thickly wooded, residential area, with abundant open space, with streets designed primarily as scenic routes rather than for speed of travel. The ordinary laws of physics and wealth derailed here around 1985 when money burst like oil from the software firms and chip fabs in the valley and the first newly rich people bought homes. This was the time Medine and my father founded Gina Capital. The houses all look thin, as if built up with flatboard behind their facades, never intended to last. But with their pebble driveways and tennis courts and rainproof stereo systems and underground parking garages and curvy swimming pools, they impress the average American housewife. They smell of money. Our house is the typical Atherton house, big and overvalued, ours at seventeen million. I check the price once a month on the interwebs. Around us, the town bleeds like a stick painting: Nordic chalets jut akimbo from Japanese timber frames, plantation-style manors rear up over of faux vineyards, and giant, gothic contraptions enclose underground gyms. The scenic routes search urgently in this disorder, in the shadows of huge 23

THE PENINSULA oaks and snarled pines, in the dust of acorns and the dark watery smells of garden bract. Our house stands at Two Selby Lane, three stories tall, eggshell white, hammered from European beech and surrounded by poplars. It is tastefully conservative. Inside the cast iron gate, the driveway revolves around a blue oak to an awning of pitch and pebbles. The lawn is a lawn and the flowers are flowers, blue and yellow asphodels tended by Cortez and Jose and Frank, with a horizon swimming pool delimiting the back yard. A damn lot of rooms, furnished by a Mexican, cleaned by other Mexicans, pilfered by Mexicans, and forgotten by us: the hallways stretch bright and plushcarpeted, pale accents embedded in the pine. We don’t have dust mites or other allergens. We appreciate that we are appreciating. Between the rows of oaks and laurels, past the Mexicans' verdure and the beat up old garden trucks, through the wild shadowy mansions of scions and selectmen and over the lumbering hedges, past the wisterias and elms, past the Circus Club at the center of town, in my high school days a sorry man once roamed free after bursting from a bedroom closet and raping a diminutive eighth grader. We now know that the Atherton rapist survived for three weeks living in the town’s pool houses and unused guestrooms, taking advantage of the sprawling excess. Ryan’s father claimed that while eating breakfast one day he saw the rapist disappear over his back wall into a patch of briars, towing a black briefcase and a machete as he went. These reports repeated them24

ATHERTON selves, but the man seemed impossible to catch. The raped girl’s family issued a million dollar reward, and for a month patrols of us high school kids, the festooned home guard, issued from our homes at sunset in lozenged sedans packed with squealing girls, protected by stoic athletes, tennis players, long-boned swimmers, hoping for glory or at least money but really bored and listless and with too much of it already. No one was sure what would happen if we encountered the rapist – scruffy, likely missing a finger, reeking of whiskey and bile, penis lolling, covered in sewage, in anything from a trench coat to fatigues to last spring’s Polo line – a demon from another elemental plane. We knew he remained at large because the police swarmed from as far as San Francisco to protect us. Crime spiked in the bad cities, East Palo Alto and Oakland, as elsewhere died blacks and Mexicans while all the police snored in their SUVs on our Japanese stones, bored and trigger-happy, watching through heavy lids for gollywogs. The town magazine, Gentry, put out a ten-page feature on sexual predators. Fear increased. Undercover agents in green jackets sauntered beneath the oaks, and horseback patrols pricked the Circus Club, farcing at polo on breaks. A tennis instructor spotted the rapist in the mists of the club steam room, and a SWAT team charged from the van parked across the street, barking the guttural language of law and hurling at least one flashbang grenade. But it was only Mike Addison, who’d snuck in using Hunter Cloyte’s card, and the penalty had to be 25

THE PENINSULA called off at the behest of his outraged clan. Afterwards, the boy confided that when the door burst open and he stood up, shocked, his towel falling to his ankles, hands raised in the burning steam, he understood in an instant how to live in the real world, and now felt ready for Princeton. The cops never caught the Atherton rapist. Two months later, responding to a break-in call at a Lake Tahoe chalet, they found a confession on the body of a tall, good-looking man missing the top of his head. He’d held an antique revolver to his temple and, according to forensics, fired seventeen times before the thing finally went off. Though this Nietzschean act of will might have sufficed to explain him, the note revealed he used to run track for Cornell and had simply popped with the tech bubble. Atherton could commiserate. The man with the plan concludes. He says, “Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but some day not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.” Steve didn’t have me figured out, though. Even though I dressed the part, I wasn’t graduating because I didn’t have enough units – I had forgotten to take Feminist Studies and the dyke registrar told me to get 26

ATHERTON stuffed. Apart from the miscellaneous girls I was still fucking, only two friends had stayed on with me – Ryan Bonn, who was waiting for his job at Goldman Sachs to start, and Cyan Zilker, who’d taken his sophomore year off to help start Facebook and was now so wildly successful that he wouldn’t dream of completing his degree. And as Steve Jobs delivered his final revelation I was crouched snorting Ritalin with the two of them beneath the bleachers, in the space under our parents’ asses, while the rest of our class graduated and we merely wore the robes. That is why I was called back to Stanford, staying on through fall quarter, when Lily came to California to stop the wedding.

27

4
Splashing freshly toweled from the bathroom, I called to arrange a companion for the night. It had been a while, and my roost felt unfeathered. As the phone rang I pulled cedar shoeracks from my closet chest and appraised my most precious possessions. Stretched with brassnailed hobtrees, they glowed glossy brown and velvet, a formation of calfskin and nubuck welt, cordovan and studded ostrich. The racks roamed in hue, chocolate monkstraps with gold flanges, wingtip oxfords with crimson insoles, hammered walking shoes from Chile, among them black clasps of manolo chukkas and cap toes, all supple around the talus and cuneiforms, ensuring my fubulo massaged, my heel caressed: all well oiled, all lathered with sandalwood shoe cream, all chariots par excellence. From the trees I pulled and debuckled a winged pair of evanders, swinging them onto my bed pillow to rest their slick soles on the starch. “I’m home,” I said into the phone. “Well oh my god. I’ve heard already from Megan 28

ATHERTON who heard from Adi, which is, I guess, all the warning I should expect–” Chewing gum slopped through the line. “I want to see you. We can have champagne. And then,” I told her, “we can have sex.” “I’m on my period,” she complained, so I hung up. But the next girl said all right, and I said all right I’ll call you later then, but she started talking and wouldn’t shut up, so I held the phone away from me like a snake. Light came from all directions, from the windows and the floor and the ceiling, periwinkle pink light, society streaming in voices leavened by the sun and air. I recalled the function that was about to begin. Across the leather plane of my desk my computer switched itself on and bwooped out its welcome. “Later,” I whispered to it. “Call me after your party,” chirped the girl from arm’s length. “We have to go out tonight. It’s the first night everyone’s back. We have to go out.” “All right,” I was saying, “I don’t care.” All of a sudden, someone began to hammer on the door. “Don’t come in!” I shouted, and hung up, stumbling back naked onto the marble and grabbing up my breeches. “Oh herro! Stop jacking off,” bellowed Ryan Bonn, pounding with both his fists. “Faggotus maximus! All right, all right!” I called, and stepped over to clack back the lock. All at once he swung in charging and dove across my bed, hands flexed to his temples, the springs creaking and snapping 29

THE PENINSULA beneath his might. A big kid, Aenean, hefting his thick-boned structure with the weight of a bull, he was neither chiseled nor soft, with a brown mantlet of skin that got him finer women than he deserved, and a spray of thorny hair thatched like a badger’s pelt. He played water polo at our high school, Menlo, then got recruited by Stanford and went along with that cult, people I couldn’t stand despite their unceasing attempts to befriend me. They always seemed to be having a good time. “I am so fucking tired from practice. Jesus God! It’s the last day ever for me.” He kicked off his leather rainbows and rose to his knees on the mattress. “Your mom says you were robbed in Europe – explain. You couldn’t have planned that one, Jakey, Jacob son of Job the Gentile, gentle dead wandering Jew.” “It’s not a joke. They were Asians. Whores.” “Not gypsies but hirarious Mongols. How very eighteenth century. Vella furry, massa Jacob. Me srob on you rong knob rong time.” He would always roll his l’s like that. It was a very popular and funny way to make fun of Asian people. Ryan stared from his knees out the window to the neighboring yard, where a child was dragging an enormous crimson toy across a lawn. He ran a palm across his jaw and felt there bristles harder than metal. His amber eyes roved, and he turned them slowly on me. “Gentile, do you have any Adderall? I ran out this morning. It – is – intolerable, this waking unsped consciousness. That is what the philosophers call it. Kierkegaard – once I read a page of him sober and 30

ATHERTON nearly had a seizure. Only ten milligrams could I take, and it isn’t enough to feel awake. May I have some prease Jacob prease? Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” My mother’s doctors said I lacked attentiveness, but I just sold the pills. “No, gayus fellatius, I have nothing. Get a prescription – you’ve already consumed more in your life than anyone who actually has ADD. I need a new wallet, cell phone, stash, Jesus, everything. You will be driving me around.” “I will drive no one nowhere. Work starts in a week and I am dreading it. Goldman Sachs. A veritable cloak of golden dread has drawn up around me.” Muscles popped in nuggets along his arms. “You can’t begin to understand my fear, you runcible schoolboy!” He stood off the bed and went pacing around fast as the cords of his neck spasmed. “You must have taken more than ten milligrams,” I said. “It is possible. Verily, verily.” In the bathroom I stepped into the chino khakis laid out for me by the housekeeper. A pink polo went over my head, powerpacket deodorant slathered my armflaps, floss lubricated my fang-sockets, mango cream soothed my eyelids, and my face sang with resplendent childhood. I slipped my hands into my back pockets and stood in a puddle of bathwater. The water rippled beneath my toes, clean on the marble, clean enough to drink. “You will be all right,” I muttered, plashing my feet. “I have so much faith in you, dearest. Anyway, I’m 31

THE PENINSULA almost in your shoes. Praise grade inflation, our lord and savior!” A few years prior, Stanford had stopped failing people. To compete with Harvard in the job market, it gave its students A’s when they got B’s. If you needed to retake a class, the new grade replaced the old grade. If you needed five units of A+ as a booster shot, you took ethics. The only hard part was getting in. Without having to study we had even more free time, and more apathy. “Why do you say that?” he asked. “Why say you that? Have you found work yourself? Do you want to light a cigar? Will you go far?” Spittle flew from his lips, foaming curds, and his stimulated eyes glittered and sped. Doubtfully, Ryan selected a trophy cup off the woodgrain shelves and put it back again. He drifted his golden hand through his golden hair, blinking his lashes. Outside, clapping ascended on rings of air, and knives tinkled the glasses, sounds afloat in the linden breeze where the sun prowled like a golden calf. “Not as such. My job will involve flying to a lot of countries and spending a lot of money and generally disappearing before being caught and forced into some office hell alongside the rest of you. Also, there will be women – white ones, and other colors too.” “You’re lucky you have your trust,” he snarled. “You and your indigent family, I mean indolent. You tell Medine I want a job. You tell him to take his insider trading profits, which God knows are basically public knowledge in Atherton, and start a money facto32

ATHERTON ry with me in charge. Fucking venture capitalists get paid twice as much for half the work–” “Wealth is just a negotiation within a family,” I interrupted, shrugging. “Everyone pities your inability to manipulate your parents.” “If only we weren’t workers. If only we were lazy like you Bessemers. If only my parents understood laziness, and could respect it. I pray for that every single day of my life. And worse, dickless Jake, the Olympic Club hasn’t sent their invitation.” He began to thunder, his eyes ablaze. Lurching from the bed, he galloped suddenly across the room in three strides. He began boxing the air, swinging his heavy limbs in his oiled skin. “They don’t take Nazis or Jews, only ubermensch. Ubermensches? Ubermunchen. The plural form, whatever it is. And you are not one,” I told Ryan. “Whatever – will you ask Mike Medine for me, will you ask him to help me escape from banking, to help me get a membership and a job? Any form of help, God save us. Christ, the Olympic Club. Chow got in and he’s Chinese!” Head down, he bit his lip and punched, his great fists swishing dumbly, his mind clanking on. I snapped up the steel of my golf watch. “Isn’t that very twenty-first century?” I asked. “His dad did donate their second golf course.” “So doubly hirarious, I might just buy a membership. I might, yes. At the nice Orympic Crub.” “Their facilities aren’t even acceptable by modern standards.” “Not for the facilities, for the prestige. For the bene33

THE PENINSULA fit of all women.” “Real prestige is within, Sir Bonn, as we have known all our lives. Come on, we’re missing the fireworks.” Early on my house grew unwelcome to me and never regained any meaning beyond shelter to the day that I left it. So as a child I went, ignored by my mother, into the foothills above the town where trails run the grasses into submission over the old earth. They run through stretches of bleached scrub and the weeds of deserted farms, into the ridge pines and the oaks. Like everywhere in Northern California, the towns terminate into vast tracts of untrammeled forest and hill and these spaces guard what peace remains in the land. I had the Mexicans take me there and wait, as Mexicans do. In the hills I saw how the wind bends flat the weak trees and turns down the boughs of the others through patient force. The wind roars over the pass and catches the groves as they grow and is brought inside, shaking the timber and the boughs, spattering sap and spurge. Just how the pines weave, a vortex spins the gale in revolutions over the rock, never ceasing in exertion, never releasing its persistent flex of wind and stone. Between the groves stretch mournful open spaces streaked with sun, chaparral where I chased snakes and the black stinking beetles that crawled the rocks. The scrub overturns with the seasons, sere gold and grasshopper green, and in summertime this molten yellow spans the entire state – bald horizons of amber hills peppered with birthmark groves, running low and fea34

ATHERTON tureless around the works of man. In the winds and under the sun, the limeleaved oaks blow noiselessly, rustling their lichen hauberks and their staffs of cork. Up here stands a bench against the void, halfconsumed by the pleated grass; here roots climb crowns choked with rattlesnakes; here a wanderer has come up above the fog to look down over the cities, over the scale and distortion of the great valley and the Bay, the landing jumbos, the trawling ships and the waters a ring of slate beyond. Down, down through the shipping lanes and freeways past the towns and the red tiles of Stanford and the humming wires flits his eye over the Peninsula, towards the far dim skyscraping city and its muffled beat, and off into the white atmosphere: his eye sweeps and wanders and blinks back to the pines flowing in the dragon wind. Here I escaped the wealth and took what lessons the land would give me. And when I learned those lessons I brought Ryan Bonn to learn them too. I like girls first and foremost, and more than money, and money more than Bonn, and Bonn more than my other friends because Ryan had no business with my wealth since his father had his own, a German who strode about in underpants and a bald pate berating his wife, who did not drink but worshiped the Jebus and engaged in the manufacture of chips and then computers in the nineteen nineties. Kaiser Bonn even found his way into the Bohemian Club; but because Ryan was a patriot he learned to hate his family of krauts, and he strode out from them to spend his childhood afternoons 35

THE PENINSULA with me at the Circus Club pool, and no questions ever summoned him, and he was alone in life except when he returned to demand wealth. Lifelong friendships require economic parity, which was the bond we shared. He was a kindred demon conjured from the nursery – the teachers decided in the first three months of our education, when we barely spoke any human tongue and had already taken to strangling each other and eating pens, that we should become friends. So we became fast friends to please them and out of apathy. If you’re like us you’ve tried everything. Around us our generation drank deeply of accidie. The companies our fathers financed grew with us – they fed us with wealth and with technology and warped our minds. Our world became a polished mass of diversion, humming airwaves, screens clicking on us everywhere we went. Information, no longer about a man, became the man himself. Our country went to war, a pleasant little war ignored on television and played out in video games in vertex-shaded three dimensional tank combat and the chartered slaying of dunecoon terrorist by blackwater machine gun and incendiary satellite bomb. Then we went to war again. We had extra lives and power ups. Words on screens began to represent human beings – screen names, email addresses, dialogues, icons, profiles, web pages. We lived online. Our America harassed us without end, planting ringing clips in our pockets which broke up our thoughts into tiny increments, blasting us with radio waves, phantom voices, 36

ATHERTON blinking names and messages, editions of humans, tailored representations, pored over, rehearsed, unreal and more real and important all the same. Before Ryan and I were old enough to chase women we killed the newts in curly creek, bashing and chucking them against rocks. We were cruel children, and when the newts tried to squirm away into the mud, our rocks rose and fell, bashed and bashed, and the guts slipped between our fingers and onto our shirts. Violence is important, because Lily discovered it here, and then it sank its teeth into her. What did she expect? One day I had walked further down the creek and found, without really meaning to, in the dead leaves a trio of the newts embracing, unaware of the carnage downstream: a male and female at first, orange-backed, but then a peeping juvenile between them, a little dragon altricial in the autumn stream – they had cloistered around their child in protection. And, boom! They sat defiantly while I bashed them to pieces. I suppose the woman couldn’t move since the baby was squirming, and the male – well, he had his pride to think of. We got them other ways too, but rocks were the most satisfying. To show Ryan, I once took a newt and glued it to a board, and we came back every day after school to watch it die – after three days the sun had hardened it to leather. If you put a newt in a jar of salt its feet dissolve. It makes a spitting sound as it expires. You haven't come to hear my stories about newts, though, and despite our mischief all is still well in the hills of California. The carpet grass goes from green to 37

THE PENINSULA gold in summer and becomes a precious offering. In the twilight, the doves increase into a winnowing multitude, flying on crescents of air that bear them down among the valley oaks and towards the towns. Beneath them, the hill trails descend through trampled grass and mud upon the packed earth, the hardscrabble, the gravel, the asphalt, the road, all the twists and turns of the high road. Now Bonn and I emerged into the garden, where linden blossoms, cherry blossoms, and sword lilies splayed in glass vessels, rosebuds spattered tabletops, and two dragon plants towered in vases beside the podium. There, mother stood comported in enormous dark glasses, tittering before the microphone to a crowd in fold-up plastic chairs arrayed on our back lawn. Behind her, the white tail of the pool aquabot whipped a sudden glittering spray, and she jumped and clattered like a marionette. And it's like, ceremonious, the way everyone behaved. We prowled behind the flocking tables, the backs of the Circus Club turned from us, linen suits and morning colors, the children in sweaters and tidy khakis, swaying beside the knees of their providers. All had fallen silent for mother, who looked up once more before sinking her face in prompt. “Well, we would like to welcome Michael back to Atherton as he heads into the final stretch of his campaign. Many of you are his close friends and business advocates. Understanding the great excitement that comes along with any political effort, please join me in 38

ATHERTON offering him our most heartfelt approval and support!” Clapping and more of it. “The Medine family, hailing from New York, heralds a long tradition of excellence in the financial services sector! Michael founded his first partnership at twenty-three, a credit brokerage, before joining JP Morgan, where he worked in the mortgage group. As you know, his second partnership, Gina Capital, helped raise Silicon Valley to what it is today. The Gina deals contributed directly to the appreciation of the real estate in Atherton and the surrounding communities, by nurturing a new generation of technology companies. As we stand upon the fruit of Michael's work today, let us recall that his service to the community extends beyond the financial! In the nineties Michael worked tirelessly to secure the Windy Hill preserve against development. He has also worked closely with underdeveloped communities in East Palo Alto, for the gentrification that area so badly needs.” She paused, then broke into a gleaming smile: “You all know this already, but I would also like to officially announce our engagement. The wedding is next spring! Yes, yes, I know, oh–” Outrageous flapping clapping and horror, horror, horror. A melodious tittering of approval emerged from the crowd. Bellowing thoughts, outrage! Reeling and reeling, she had brought me home to see me reel: Bonn looked at me and in his white eyes I could see he knew this and he was like them: stuffed with treachery horrors backstabbing filth and pain. Now Medine rose long and dusky in white linens, and, striding up from the tables, enveloped mother in a 39

THE PENINSULA winglike hug-and-kiss, then surpassed her at the stand. He splayed his palm in salute, and with a straight smile turned hale and full shouldered into his address: “Foremost I would like to thank my beautiful fiancé for lending her home for this occasion, and to welcome her only son Jake back from Europe, where he spent the summer at the University of Florence. It's my understanding that Jake returns with a sterling grasp of Italian history and the finest taste on the West Coast. He could teach us all a thing or two about style. Show off, Jake, and give everyone a wave!” Nodding like a wayward field of daisies, the crowd laughed and murmured their approval, silver clattering from their tongues. I remained frozen in place. A broad-shouldered father in nubucks lunged over to pat me on the back, hoo-rah, way to go, and I rocked on my heels. Horror horror infidelity horror. The sloping seats swung, dowdy heads and big plum-lipped smiles, huzzah, and I waved and began dancing, hopping up and down on my oxfords, aping my arms like an orangutan, letting my orange tongue unfurl, ten feet long, foaming, slithering towards them – no. I sipped my gin in defense, ice cubes clacking in the cobalt glass, and gave them the eyes of one of their sons. “Basta,” I told the crowd. Michael glared me down across the lawn, his eyes spinning into copper coins. He had once worn glasses, but his retinas had been refashioned under the scintillating bit of a laser scalpel. Now he said he could see clearer than a child: he could read fine print from ten 40

ATHERTON feet and distinguish such murky shades of color that in another life he might have been a painter or a sage. He still kept in his pocket the marred doubloon he'd brought from his childhood in Barbados: it brought the luck of the Spanish, he claimed, conqueror's luck, and as the clubpeople weighed my affinity I saw him palm it out and stroke its girth. The clerisy, technologists and financiers, did not know better than to smile and turn and feel love for me. Then they turned away. “Your pledge is valued,” Medine went on. “You are the heart of the new economy, you have witnessed astounding change this last decade, and your technology drives the world. We have the opportunity to be the greater coast! It's here the dollars are flowing, have been all thirty years I've worked here, and they flow faster and faster. It's here the population's growing, coming up from Mexico and from Asia and growing itself up from the families who've lived here since the twentieth century began…” Another eruption of clapping. Women waved their silk pashminas, blazes of stupid color. Men smiled and threw their arms about each other’s shoulders to combine their approval. I drank a great whipping gulp of gin. During the commotion we saw the Gina lawyer rise from his seat and come, chawing his grizzled cheeks, down the aisle, and when he saw us he webbed a hand over his brow and squinted, his watch catching the sun. “In about four seconds some West Side niggas is going to put they foots in the asshole of this dough boy 41

THE PENINSULA wack-ten,” Ryan murmured sideways. We both despised this man. I could not stop touching the fresh silk of my pockets – chalk-white and smoother than a girl, they distracted me from this goldbrick speech of Michael's and from the approach of his slave. The Gina lawyer sidled up between the tea tables and over to us, grasping his phone, a black plate of icons which his thumb swirled. He peered into its depths. “Jake – and Ryan,” he said out of his mouth. “The booze must be nearby.” He was Michael’s crony, a corsair hired out of Wilson Sonsini to protect the fund from prying litigation. Even as the Gina accounts withered in the crash, Michael’s smile widened and his tan deepened and he manufactured a fashionable close-cropped peppercorn beard to accompany his ponytail and linen and in the new Californian way took up all outdoor activities like mountain biking and marathon running and swimming in the ocean and ignoring his investments like my mother ignored me. For these labors, he felt less like he might die suddenly in the way of my father. Because Michael had decided to run for office, and running for office these days entailed money that Gina’s abysmal performance had failed to produce, he had decided to sell the limited partnership to Goldman Sachs and disburse the payout largely into his own pockets, for he was now the sole general partner and the largest owner. He reasoned that the brand meant something, and that buying the partners out at face value would insult 42

ATHERTON the fund and my father's memory; he wanted a premium, and he wanted the lawyer to justify that premium. So the lawyer installed himself in the San Francisco office of Goldman Sachs, wheedling and whining the lich overlords of that firm to trust in Michael Medine. Of course the lawyer was furious at this appointment, for no one realistically expected Goldman to bite. However, we did not know what Medine knew. “We can't figure it out – is you from South Central or Compton?” I asked the Gina lawyer, rocking back. “You tell me, you rambunctious little shit, you survived being robbed,” he rumbled, still without looking up, and dabbed his face with a napkin – the napkin curdled and spread wet fragments across his forehead, then down to his neck, where an excrescent mole swam in the beard furze. Slipping the phone into his pocket, he stepped up and poured himself a tumbler of red whiskey from the table, mixed in soda, and stood with us watching his master and the blond fawn that was my mother. The morning felt cool and light and the people sat in white rows on the slashed green. Like me, the lawyer rocked on his heels and I looked over and kept rocking too. “It has caused a lot of real stress over here, what happened to you,” he said. “Your mother nearly died of fright. Robbery now that is a bitter crime because one survives to bear the wounds. I guess in your case not many lasting ones, no, never, you mercurial little shit.” He enjoyed these little sobriquets. “I liked my wallet,” I choked. “So it goes. That's Kerouac.” But it was Vonnegut. 43

THE PENINSULA He took a big whisker-soaking gulp of scotch and trembled out a frown. “Michael wants you to have lunch with me at the club tomorrow, but I’ll be up in the city – if you’re up there, otherwise we can wait. I need to go over some things before you disappear to school. And we can talk about your trust.” “I'd rather not, I'd rather die, I will anyway. But I need money, now.” His gaze drawn to Medine, the lawyer slipped a palm into his jacket and withdrew a slim cordovan billfold. “What, two hundred. Two hundred.” He counted the bills by touch, and as he passed them to me I slimmed them into my shirt. He was still looking at Michael. “Your donation is appreciated,” I told him. “AIDS awareness has increased worldwide. Drug trade has slowed in the Andes. Two Ethiopian rat herders no longer need to consume their own dung to stay alive.” “Pleasant, Jacob. Always trust the Bessemers for simple pleasance,” he told Ryan. Then his eyes turned on me for the first time. “And tell your friend Cyan Zilker to stop fucking calling me. It’s killing me. He wants us to invest in his shitty startup and – Christ, your generation never knows when to quit,” he stepped by. “This isn’t the tech bubble.” “You’d know better than us,” I meekly replied, but without answering he returned up the walk, ducking his head to retake his seat, with a floppy smile to his contemporaries. As a vee of doves passed overhead Michael Medine 44

ATHERTON rained invectives from the stand, while his club people clapped and clattered: his philosophies of defense were enactable, his histories of the Fallujah invasion succinct, he elaborated the unjust tax policies of the Republican party and the duties of a Democratic moderate to the California energy grid, to Mexican immigration, to the morality of all liberals – all were arrows aligned and simple. At one point Jamie Howard the ruler of Laszlo Semiconductors, whose daughter I once sodomized in the Ebon Room of the Circus Club, in excitement pitched his bloodred napkin into the air, a wad of confetti that settled limply to the breadbasket and the speech went on as his wife, whose stepdaughter had once blown my sperm through her nose and hummed the cartoon songs of our childhood years, smiled over from three tables down and waved her fingers, dowdy sepals capped with pearls. “I just want to go listen to rap music in my room and do lines of cocaine until I can't feel my face any more,” I told Ryan. I ran my hand down my forehead and over my eyes, feeling the exhaustion taut in the flesh. “And get even lazier, skinnier, and whiter,” said Ryan. “And nap before the Gentry party because I'm drunk and jetlagged.” “And jerk off to gay Euro porn and not get laid ever.” “And YouTube that video of the horse raping the guy to death while phonesexing your mother.” Mother! I put my hands in my pockets. Overhead the birds 45

THE PENINSULA skirted the heavens, above the cherry trees and the terraced home that was possibly partly mine. “You win,” Ryan said. He took a long pull of scotch just as the lawn under our feet began to shake, as a great mountain of flesh snuck up behind us and burst moley into our conversation: she had much to trade in the gelatinous arms she wrapped about us both, joining us to the sacks of her breasts. “Oh you boys you absolutely must call me sometime soon,” the woman babbled from above her teats, her copper hair roiling upon us lambs. “It's shameful you haven't called me Jake we need to fix you up before you spoil.” “I'm accounted for, happily married,” I mumbled. “Didn't mother say I had three girlfriends. I collect them and when I am done they go away.” “Do you know what I do for a living now, who is this your friend, I haven't met him I don't think, for shame, oh you've grown up handsome you both, you've turned out so finely.” She released us from her great sacklike paps, jiggling beneath a lavender sweater. Her trotting legs autoclaved in the sun and emitted great trails of sweat down to her tied ankles. Staggering back, Ryan set down his drink and wiped his hands over his khakis, his eyes wide in alarm. “Ryan Bonn, Lulu Fermott. Ryan is lustful and alone. You have my permission to help him.” “Especially pleased to meet you,” he told the woman. “Jake you must tell him I'm a life coach,” she en46

ATHERTON treated. “But I double as a matchmaker. I'm not married myself of course, but I've studied hard.” “She is the community madam, the village tricycle.” “Oh I wish I could help this Bessemer but I'll help you too, I know your father I do believe, a nice German man.” Eyes glittering over Ryan, she aimed a hock at me but I ducked back, splattering diamond gin all over the lawn. “Daughters of bankers, lawyers, congressmen. Gorgeous girls.” Stippled eyes peered from beneath the brim of her straw hat. “What’s your background, Lulu?” Ryan had his drink again. “String theory, quantum mechanics, neurolinguistic programming, electrical engineering. And physics.” “What field exactly?” “Physics.” “You're a crazy old woman, Lulu,” I said. “Were you beautiful in your youth?” “Athena herself,” she fluttered. “You're actually in luck, because Ryan needs a date tonight for Gentry.” With her flippers she took him by the shoulders and looked him up and down and he drank red scotch and looked her in the eye and bowed his head. “Do not worry about a thing,” she babbled. “Do not worry I have just the girl just the most gorgeous little thing, she's from around town don't worry about that. You may know her and I'm almost afraid you went to school together.” “What's the name,” I said. “I’m sure I’ve heard it.” “Lily Medine, Michael’s niece, oh Jake I know you 47

THE PENINSULA know her – they own the Veidt Center in New York, her grandfather once ran for President oh yes a wonderful family. Everyone knows them, of course of course, but they don’t know Lily.” “Apparently she’s going to be my cousin,” I said, glaring off at the podium. Ryan shrugged. “The girls and boys combine like monkeys in the zoo.” “She'll be there at the party, her father has retained me to watch over her while she’s here you aren't Jewish are you Ryan not that it matters.” “Not last I checked.” “Why does she need watching over? Why isn’t she here if she’s so important?” I asked the woman. “You’re the third person who’s mentioned her to me. You’d better watch out or I might insert an extended meaningful relationship into her.” “Oh you're so coy Jacob, such the man about town, I'm sure you're doing fine, have done fine for yourself in Europe and with girls of your own, you wouldn't care about such things,” the woman said, pawing her several purses for tissues, a gypsy moth in a multilegged cleaning. “Now Jake you too here's my card. Ryan you call me tonight. You give me a call and we'll talk to Lily. We'll find you a real nice girl.” She hobbled past and her great two-backed carapace collapsed purple into a chair and began to shed and reform. Ryan looked at me and I narrowed my eyes. We turned from the tables to slink across the lawn, commerce in all things and all people around us.

48

5
In the sleeping hours that followed, mother and Medine roared off with the crowd for lattes, shopping, hiking, bird-watching, and chardonnay, leaving me to do what I do every afternoon, online with the door locked, with my effects in one hand and a glass of gin in the other. I was making time for the women of the Internet. “You have a nice dress on,” said the obvious Mexican. “A nice short dress.” “I just like them short,” giggled the tan girl in the slip, slapping her amber pigtails against her cheeks as she leapt around the duvet. Pink lingerie drifted around her on a plane of air that was warm and soft and moving. “How old are you?” “I turned eighteen in April,” whined the girl, her chocolate eyes trembling. “You’re a bad girl, aren’t you?” “Oh yeah,” she grinned, spilling over the bedside and kicking up heels behind her, wagging her rump in a 49

THE PENINSULA brownish pixilated blur. “I lead a crazy life. I know what I deserve.” “Well I have a surprise for you,” said the man as his fingers launched past the camera’s aperture, a red ring glinting on his lubricated thumbknuckle. “Have you ever been–” –Jake, oh my God, is it true you’re back? a chat bubble interjected, flattening everything beneath an orange, meowing, flashing box oblivious to the fact of its orange meowingness since my operating system is configured privately, personally, secretly, in my favorite childhood color and themed with the cry of my first pet cat whose head was chewed off with great weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth by a coyote in the hills above my home. –Doing homework, I typed with my left hand. “Oh yes,” the girl moaned behind the text. “Make it talk for me,” said the Mexican. “Taut?” “Talk. Like the mouth,” the man said. “How do I do that?” she laughed. “Like, hello! Hello!” “Oh god.” –When can I see you omg, the bubble meowed. –Go away. –Can you come by tonight? pls pls –No. Got to go. Busy. –Pls? wtf But the thunderous announce50

ATHERTON ment of an email arriving sent my entire laptop shuddering, the whole lower lip of the desktop peeling up as a silver taskbar lit up and two gongs proclaimed the tidings of the gods: –YOUR FACEBOOK WALL ANNOUNCES: “I like your boobs,” said the man. “Thank you,” the girl said. “They’re my buddies. You couldn’t do that if they were fake.” “Yeah,” the man grunted. –Someone at Stanford University –I’m SO SAD, said the bubble. –says you are in a relationship. If this is true, please confirm your significant other on your account profile page. Thanks! The Facebook Team. “Get ready, little one,” growled someone. “Oh! Who’s there?” cried the girl, behind the email. “Julio, what's up! Welcome to the party,” panted the Mexican. “Unfff!” said the girl. And as the text clicked closed, a shaved-headed man with tattoos grabbed the gagged girl’s ponytails, stabbed her face towards the pitching camera, stuck out his studded pink tongue, and screamed out, mano a mano across all time, “Yeah!” – I don’t even know who you are, I replied.

51

THE PENINSULA Behind all this persiflage my trust fund day traded on an electronic brokerage, and clicking over to that window oh bejeesus the dots sprinted up and down in real time, a thousand dollars a tick, and my providence was being raped and pillaged by the market, my wellbeing hacked to pieces, though not really, not in any significant sense beyond the contrition of a few red characters flickering green and then red again with ten or twenty thousand dollars lost. This trust money I cannot withdraw, so instead I play with it, scratch it like a dog gnawing at a flea. Day trading one’s trust must be the most pleasurable activity on the planet, and right now it’s hard for me to concentrate. The money goes up, the money goes down, the stocks chatter incessantly: five hundred dollars I have lost now, two thousand, now I have gained everything back, now the pattern reverses and the candlesticks turn from white to red and leak money through the cables connecting me to those who are taking and profiting, no doubt individuals less apathetic but of sufficient wealth not to scream with joy at the acquisition of two piddling thousand, only, like me, to feel the withering masturbation of pillage. I have lost fifteen thousand in a day and gained twenty. I have lost nineteen thousand and lost ten thousand more. I have lost thousands of hours burning in self-pity and rolling the dice and laughing in glee. Wild greed gulps and swallows and still gapes for more, and my mind burns on and on.

52

ATHERTON And when the stars are hidden by black clouds they can afford no light. In the evening, the enormous white pavilion on Circus Club polo grounds ran over, blazing orange shadows across the oaks and swimming pools. Men in linen coats conducted venture financings on their phones, extending their workdays beyond their wives, and not a cigarette flickered, California's purple hills asleep in copper cloud. At the head of the long line of sedans, Pedro or somebody took our keys with a taco smile. The Mercedes whirred towards the stables, crunching hay into the gravel. I had been driving mother because of her miserable eyes. “Well, don’t say anything,” she laughed. “That will carry you far in life.” “Do what you like,” I replied, “let me do what I like. Keep lying about your health.” “I’m not lying.” She was pathetic. “Hm,” she miffed, and I took her advice and stopped talking. I had to get out to open the door for her because the valet, lost in supplication, had passed idly by. To be sure, the staff often disappoints. At the spring gala before I left for Europe, a Brazilian waiter snapped at a snub and whipped out his dick into Mrs. Dennison's martini glass (“Olives? Caprese?”) before being tackled by a wailing herd of organizers. Less was said of it; the waiters had become white, but not the valets. We walked through the ashy trees towards the tent. Mother had me by the arm, she in a Cavalli sweater and black throw purchased just this once. Besides spending, she leaves everything else to Michael, her 53

THE PENINSULA strategy during these years of mourning to delegate. Talk to Michael whenever there's a problem, whenever you need money. Her model’s countenance survives at fifty, high cheekbones poised like shoulders above a straight, perfect nose and a swan’s neck – and the marquis eyes father chose. Her life has become a struggle to hang onto these treasures, even to see them. Since the diagnosis her voice had backed with quavering. “Queenie, I hope I never have to go back to Europe,” I muttered as we walked down the white path. Overhead the oaks stirred and brushed in the air, and music emanated from the tent. “But I can’t believe you dragged me back like that. You’re insane.” Mother clucked her tongue. “You have school tomorrow. And now I know you love me. Besides, I’m off to Canada on Monday, Cassis, do you remember? – we can’t any real time together. Have we ever? It’s supposed to be the best spa in North America.” Her attitude towards California is the strangest part of her: it took me twenty years to discover why we didn’t hoof it to New York or London after father died. But she is anchored here by a dumb faith in education and love for me. Mother will go on about Stanford for days, won’t leave me alone about what I’m studying, which is nothing. Her proudest day would have been my graduation, and this extra quarter tacked on she bore as a vicious insult, her child kept back, ostensibly wronged though really lazy. Now her ears curled like silver flowers towards the trees, where the gala’s tinkling reflected skywards and presided over her. Her 54

ATHERTON collarbones glittered with gold. Her eyes fluttered to see and to know and to greet. “I just want you to know that Michael has the backing he needs,” she cooed finally. “You know, all this has taken it out of him, it’s drained his blood,” she trailed off, gaze following a dinner dress, then spoke again. “He's very ambitious, which is what I like in a man. I think you will warm to him. We’ll all have dinner together tomorrow to catch up, maybe at Evvia – have you been? It’s delicious. We went two weeks ago and it was simply amazing. Just incredible. God knows he will need it, the poor lamb, being worked to death on the trail.” A spriteful laugh. “He seems pretty goddamn chipper to me.” “Don’t swear please. You should spend more time with him when I’m gone. You should enjoy this opportunity, take it for what it is. Did you want to invite your girlfriend to dinner?” She clasped my arm harder, swaying her head to peer at me as we walked. Her white eyes sang with death and marriage. “Which one? I have three,” I mumbled. “What? Dinner for four, then. Oh, Michael said his niece will be here tonight.” “I haven't met her,” I said. “Lily? She’s become absolutely radiant.” Then she paused. We walked on in the warm air and she looked over at me and I pulled away my arm and thrust my hands in my pockets. “Oh Monsieur Sangfroid,” she sang. “Control yourself. Also, Jake, I wanted to stress to you how sensitive 55

THE PENINSULA the little situation has become,” she continued softly, almost carelessly, “with the accounts. Until the wedding is resolved we need to be just a little careful about what we say in public. I know I mentioned this to you before Europe but I just thought I would remind you–” “Whatever.” Some money business. “So this weekend you will need to go up to San Francisco and talk with Bernie, because there is something to address about your trust. It needs restructuring.” “Restructuring? That’s a nice word.” “As part of the – oh, I don't like to say the word -– the marriage arrangements between me and Michael. Your trust has some assets that are quite challenging to value, patents and agreements mostly, which your father was involved in – and Michael is going to liquidate them for your benefit. But the lawyer will explain everything, Michael says.” Into Circus Club’s glitzy valley we rolled. The greeter and former mayor interfered with a deep hurrah and curly eyes that undressed mother. The headmaster of Menlo School appeared from outside with a thick brown hand, but seeing him coming I spun swiftly into the ballroom. And off like a panther, leaving the fuddies and getting past the swarming dinner tables to the dance floor and what friends hadn’t yet split for New York or college, I dived into the younger sea, the legs kicking gold and tan in merino slacks and evening dresses, laughing, catching up, trying to copulate, God, who wouldn’t be happy to be here, and from the way bodies swam S56

ATHERTON shaped and bronze to the music I wished I could sleep with everybody. Hunter Cloyte took Nicole Underwood’s hand and swung her in a perfect sugar push, and she burst with delight, and I sighed. Gin and tonic from the black bartender flowed, he doesn’t card, drinks for everybody, and after three harsh tequila shots the lights in my eyes went gold, and I heard from the kids in the grades below about the demise of the flip phone, and in an instant one of them had whipped his new model out, he had to show me, it’s brand new, five hundred well spent he tells me, it gets noticed. Another drawled on about his new startup, a website for playing pranks on people, but more fed up with this than he realized, I tuned him out and pounded a gimlet off the bar. Silky looks, this crowd of eager daughters grinding replicants of their fathers, wanting husbands or at least cocks in them, intimations of marriages sketched in the Neolithic thrust and throw. Flashing pink lights in the dark tent, illuminated fog, and live music from the antechamber blending and blasting. A sudden buzzing in my pocket announced a girl on my borrowed phone, impossibly excited by my nearness, though to me a world away. “I want to see you,” she buzzed. “Who is this? I feel like I’ve died and come back to life.” “Why did you hang up on me earlier?” “Wait, we’ve already spoken? I don’t rememb–” She began to answer. But “Dance?” a familiar daughter intervened, and I was off, getting a thumbs up from a guy I recognized across the bar, interrupting the 57

THE PENINSULA girl on the phone, and suddenly this new nymph was swinging me to the beat, the slight feathers of her perfect back warming my hand, the taut cleaving of her muscles, the parting pipes above the sacrum, nymph the year younger, chestnut-haired, tan, college cheerleader, whose fanglike braces once fellated me beneath the streetlight on Brittany Meadows, wasn’t raped, and, now, inside of five minutes’ dancing, not even before the second song, offered up glittering puppy eyes, and as though compelled by a higher force I leaned in to reacquaint: her lips maculated, slick and soft like slugs, and she moaned halfway between pleasure and fear, a split plum yielding its seed, a chestnut happy girl smelling of cinnamon. Another dancer bumped her ass into us, but the daughter clung to me, taking my face in her hands to hold on. I had my eyes open. Past her, mother gave me a sharp stare from the bar, accompanied by Mrs. Clyde the wife of Clyde Partners, and Griff the towering friendly eBay heir, who offered a cheery heads up. And the daughter, barely in existence now, yielded her soul through my lips like a strand of straw. Her spirit went into me and died in apathy: she meant nothing, none of them did. What of my girlfriends? Stanford girls did not exist in this world – over the years they had settled in my mind as a set of distances and hours, phone numbers, not commitments: four hours on Friday night, call when back, across the Atlantic, anywhere but here. I believed them all to be hopelessly in love with me, so my greatest victory in this stage of life became keeping the fantasy of Stan58

ATHERTON ford, where people imagined themselves equal, separate from the reality of Atherton, where wealth counted and we fucked on that basis. All Stanford girls were equal to me, equally poor. The daughter’s tongue slipped into my mouth a sweet ribbon of freedom. She’d been chewing tropical gum. Depredation, years and years. At the bar, mother took her red scotch in one hand and turned me her feeble eyes. No scandal from her, nor from Ryan, unrighteous Ryan mummed because we’re pals, the lone loyal bridge between my social worlds – now I saw him standing at the bar, watching too, with a golden-haired girl on his navy arm. “Damn it all,” I informed the daughter from within her mouth, gargling, “I’m getting a drink!” And I tore off with this, but while struggling through the forest of legs and arms and thin bulging dresses I was attacked by another daughter, scion of Madrone Real Estate, a platinum blonde with clear blue eyes, four years a water polo fluffer, a semifriend back from Colgate, now a temp at Google hopelessly lost, headed for a loveless prenup not with me. “Jakey!” She flung her tendrils around my neck, whiter than I remember, cashmere-soft. “Berry, it’s a miracle you’re still alive.” “I hear you’re recording an album.” “Not me.” “That’s what Ryan said. He said you’ve signed with an agent and you’re going to have a CD.” “Ryan’s a pretty funny guy. Did he tell you he joined a circus? He’s training to be a contortionist.” “Remember when we were in chorus together? Re59

THE PENINSULA member?” She purred and clasped, lips carmine shears. The crowd beat. “You’re on crack, but nothing has changed. Let me get you a drink.” But, twined like a lilac around me, she wouldn’t let go, so I started coughing, holding a fist to my mouth. But she took my fist away and began to kiss me softly with confectioned lips, and I twisted away, straining for breath, stretching a desperate arm out of the crowd up into its sparkling atmosphere. “I have an idea,” she purred, preening her lips up and down the side of my face, “Let’s go back to school tonight.” She licked down to my neck and tried to draw blood. “Let’s fuck each other. It would be bad, wouldn’t it? I want to smoke on top of Douglass Hall and remember what it was like. We’re getting so old.” Still suckling, she swept away her blazing hair, her eyes bleary stipples, her friendly breasts wrapped in white fuzz, market peaches pressing into my hands. The crowd rushed unseeing around us. Hands glowed with lit phones and players that shielded their wearers within the dance, in the cavities of the tent and in its violent light. “You blink a lot. And you just spat on me,” I told her, gripping her shoulders. She crumpled with candy giggles, and I spun her off. “Pull yourself together. I need to hydrate.” And, finally to the bar, I found Ryan entertaining mother with his thoughts on some political scandal. Dan Rather, somebody, fiction of another age, “It’s ridiculous,” he was saying, “he’s been lying to us all since we were kids. Makes Clinton look like a priest. 60

ATHERTON What if he’d gotten away with it–” “But who cares if Bush was a bad soldier? Why are we focusing on this, anyway, is what I think,” mother inveighed. “We’re such a voyeuristic culture. It doesn’t matter if he was a lazy boy if he can make up for it in Iraq, but he hasn’t. Oh, he hasn’t–” From arm’s length she reeked of scotch, both her wrists supporting a tumbler. “Verily, verily,” Bonn intoned. “He always misled us, which you might expect from politicians, from journalists especially. Media masters, they always mislead us with their media, that is what they do. That is what they are paid to do and so they do it. Yet don't you think media is just an illusion, a lie agreed upon? Isn't that what you believe, Mrs. Bessemer, isn't that fascinating–” “Fascinating, fascinating,” said mother. “You are the most fascinating conversationalist, not like Jake, not like you is or isn't he Jake, he has a golden tongue.” “I guess,” I said. “But anyway,” continued Bonn, "Anyway this particular admission doesn't shock me. It’s quite hard to any more. And you might expect this too – the decline of the old guard, the erosion of your generation's statuary, dear Evelyn. Rather, Cronkite, dead Jennings, all of them chained in ancient television sets and shows only watched by old ratty women.” Mother laughed uproariously. “Yes.” "And I can't condone it, I really cannot condone it. I cannot condone the elderly's control of the media. Which is why I don't watch television, which is why if 61

THE PENINSULA you're white in this country you can't watch television any more. It just isn't worthwhile after you realize the Internet is the second coming of Jesus Christ. The Internet is controlled by the youth. But why are we talking about all this when we could be–” Ryan turned aside, waving his hands. Behind him waited a calm girl in a pale blue dress. Pallid braids barely yellower than ivory encircled her head, letting down a web of blonde strands to her collarbones. Shoulder-height and proud, she was lean and healthy without being thin, and stood straight like a swan, projecting clear, strikingly blue eyes beneath her fine brow. Her nose was petite, her lips pert, and she had a narrow, derisive chin. “My sympathies,” I told her, spinning past and hooking a thumb at Ryan. “But we haven’t met. You’re Lily, Ryan was telling me about you, I vaguely remember your face from another lifetime, I believe in spirits, did you know I am the resurrected Caius Caligula–” then my babbling mouth shut when I recalled what she’d just witnessed in the crowd. “Jake Bessemer?” Lily asked, closing her two blue, clear eyes with a three-beat delay. “The endearingly faithful one.” She spoke with a faint British accent. “Yes, he’s dating the sorority sister of one of my best friends – the envy of many a Stanford girl. I know a bit about you, it’s quite impressive to have a reputation that spans the Pacific.” “That’s great, what a coincidence–” I told her. Her silver lips turned up to me, and, past them, a chain of diamonds sparkled around her neck. Still she avoided 62

ATHERTON my gaze. “I’m, uh, in a couple of open relationships,” I said. “It’s a modern arrangement – American – you wouldn’t know much about it. By the way, since you live in Hong Kong, is it true real Chinese food isn’t anything like American because I’ve always wondered about the texture of dog and snake jerky and caterpillar–” “What a wild scene,” she interrupted, running a finger around the rim of her glass. “I imagine they don’t hear much about at school. All this money, tucked so neatly out of sight.” “Well, you know, it’s mostly all us friends from home,” I chattered, flushing. I slurped my drink. “A few times a year. A few fists of cocaine and capital what do you know, the children of the flower children transform into blowjob-snorting lunatics. Like me and Ryan! No, just kidding. We have a Facebook group for it, and everything else, which makes each facet of our lives super fun and awesome – it’s almost an Ovidian metamorphosis.” “That is not a word,” she said. “Lots of friends, lots of moolah,” she went on, elongating this last, and turned away, sipping her glass of water. “Very boring and awfully Yank. It tires me out – I’m tired of talking. I don’t have any time to spoil.” She laughed brilliantly. I thought she must have seen me in the crowd. “Look–” I told her. “What you saw, it’s just that we, I’m not sure why that girl–” “I didn’t see anything,” she replied, turning her head and her cool eyes away. “You need to slow down. Real libertines aren’t so easily embarrassed.” A smirk 63

THE PENINSULA played across her lips. “I–” “Relax, it’s like you’re going to explode.” Still without meeting my gaze, she placed a soft hand on my chest. “Leave my date alone!” laughed Ryan, spinning around from the bar. Mother’s claw rested there, the only part of her I could still see, liver-spotted and old, excluded from this dalliance. “We were just catching up, since you were so busy,” Lily told Ryan from half his height, setting down her glass. Her wrist sparkled with silver bangles, and, pulling off one of these whitish hoops, she began to play with the band. “See, Jake and I have stuck together since we were kids,” Ryan rolled, knuckling my arm. “I don’t know why.” His golden skin flushed with might and he could see as I did that she was a very beautiful girl. “I haven’t tried to kill him yet,” I limped, but Lily smiled, trained to store her steel. I loaded another joke, but everyone’s attention was soon removed. “Let me get you another drink,” offered Ryan, stepping aside to reveal mother growling into her phone, unearthed in the music and brass, jamming her eyes shut, protecting her straining throat as her small forehead sank with knots over the bar, cupping a hand to hear. Two servers look urgently over, ready for another Brazilian. “Uh,” I ventured. I think all three of us said this. “Are you crazy?” mother spat. “Get Larry on the phone. There’s no way. There is no possible way. 64

ATHERTON Those charges are on my card, the little shit can’t have had access–” Ryan took up his scotch. “Wait, I can’t hear, wait!” She smacked her hand on the bar, splayed like a starfish, and rushed by, phone cemented to her ear. She turned back as she passed, and hissed, nearly spitting in my bewildered eyes. “You profligate little fuck!” my mother yelled. Then she slapped me full in the face and stormed into the crowd. At the very moment, some hirarious girl started buzzing again in my pocket, trying to be a part of it all. But I was not listening, I was staring at Lily, who had fallen back against the bar. She was frowning at her feet, looking for the bracelet she had dropped, which she could not find between her gold-tied heels. Only when Ryan stooped down to snatch the hoop off the floor, and she sluggishly raised two pallid eyes to his chest, did I realize Lily was blind.

65

6
Outside, beneath a giant umbrella spread like a raven’s wing, I called a Stanford girl to me. I had fled – it was madness to remain with my mother in such a niggardly mood. The storm swept in, hailing sheets through the blue oaks, the pavilion a dim constellation over the club. The dark street shook in rain that whipped it in passing and returned to whip it again. “I'm timing you,” I told the girl. She was half white and half brown, so we called her the hybrid. She was obsessed with sex because she knew how valuable it made her. Setting my controls for the heart of the sun, from my breast pocket I took my bullet, a silver device I keep for such waits. With a tap, a powdery bump of cocaine fell from the supply into the chamber, and I huffed it up as the spray tore me sideways, and, with three more powerful snorts in the vortex of the rain, the cocaine ran like electricity, igniting memories, moments, and time flew speeding silver white and black. 66

STANFORD BY NIGHT Instantly a black BMW appeared down the street, spraying sheets from puddles and roaring over the rock fast so fast and even faster. And in the night the girl glared out, blinking fast, eyes all smoke, dark hair pulled back from jet earrings, lit halfway, a preening cat, lips muzzle tongue and fangs. A surge of feeling, and the feeling knocked me down. “Jake, are you doing coke?” she demanded as I leapt in. “Jesus Christ. Turn on the fucking seat warmers.” We took off splashing, the moon high out overhead, grey and yellow among the splotchy clouds and spider bellies. My mind – its pace – “Where are the fucking seat warmers. Where are – where the fuck did you get this car.” “Are you high?” To her it was important to know. Around her wrist, a copper watch shattered the stormlight, and little black hands told me how late it was becoming. “Who cares, who – God, fuck, turn on the heat.” “Your jaw is twitching.” She stared at me and the night sped around the car. “Nice to see you too,” I cried. “I missed you so so so – it was intolerable. Europe was bad. Bad, bad news. Ba-ba-ba-bad.” I leaned over and kissed her, breathing her again light and nice – the olfactory stimuli dominate the unconscious, Freud mentally moaned, masturbating, as in my imagination he leaned over for a fat powdery line of blow and gave me the thumbs up with his free hand. Click click click my heart thumped in my stomach, and my mind's intercourse with Freud 67

THE PENINSULA flecked off like a scab torn away, the world bloats, sugar spends to fatten slaves, and I – “I think I’m breaking up with you,” said the hybrid. “Again? Is it even possible? I saw you broke up with me on Facebook. Or someone did. Well all right, fantabulous. Fan-fucking-tastic.” I was chewing my tongue and my lips, rolling the flesh between my fangs. “No, I am serious this time.” “Hokay. Ho-kay. Ha.” My eyes rolled – not sarcastically, spastically. “It doesn’t change anything.” She fell silent. God, she had to admit it felt good to bite your lip, to taste the blood in you. “I’m sleeping with someone else,” she said. “Me too. Well, more than one person. You have to, to categorize them, don’t you. It’s the only way. I know.” The car drove on. Well. “Uh,” she said. “Let’s start this conversation over.” “Whatever you want,” I cackled. “If it’s not going as you expected.” In my mind bloomed animal shapes, white and powdery, blustering as through snowdrifts: the animals paused, spines and stalagmites sprouting from their ridge-backs, and drifted on, pageant-like. Slowly they came apart in wisps, emitting stuffing that shimmered and disappeared in rings of smoke. My tongue chawed and I made a happy gurgle. “I can’t believe you lost all your stuff,” the hybrid whined, her mind flapping on like every woman-mind, unanchored and preening. “I thought you would disappear.” 68

STANFORD BY NIGHT “I KNOW! Fortunately I have the solution: go to the mall. Go to the mall and buy things.” Consciousness shredding now, roaring with static. “Did you lose my wallet?” “Yes. I’ll get another one. I'll get five.” She twisted her small jaw and her peridot eyes sparkled with fury. The tiny engine roared its ignominies. Because the hybrid's irritation was inexcusable she stored it. Down the dark town we raced, beneath swimming waters descending from the trees like vines. In the dark two Mexicans in baggy yellow raincoats squatted over a spurting drain, feeling around with wrenches, thinking urgently in Spanish. The one raised his hood to regard us as we passed, a Seminole raccoon; he did not move and suffered and kept suffering as we sped on in the night. “Did you hear what I said!” she cried. “I’m breaking up with you! What are you going to say?” My heart palpitated in fits. I needed more cocaine. “I’m tired! I don’t have any of my things. I just want to sleep. Take me back to your place where there’s a bed and condoms and let’s stop talking. I saw a girl tonight, she was blind, she couldn’t see. Do you know what that would be like? Do you know that Indian priests – the ancient Indians, not the new ones – they blind themselves, it’s a form of purification they say, scarification, I read that in Mackey’s class, gay Mr. Mackey the blacky packy, uh, a great English teacher though–” “I haven’t seen you for months, and you can’t even compose a sentence. You’re so fucking selfish. You’re 69

THE PENINSULA insane! Do you see why I’m breaking up with you? Do you see?” Crying. Something woman-tired in her voice and God I was sick of her already why had I called, splattered my brain. “We can’t break up!” I roared. “At least not until I graduate. There are too many parties left, too many photo ops. Think of our Facebook profiles, Jesus Christ, think of our friends!” “But I’m unhappy, and I want you to – I want you to acknowledge my unhappiness with our relationship.” More black tears rolled down her face. “Is it one of those menstrual periods for you – uh, I’m sorry, I’m so tired. I know, I know,” I capitulated. “I missed you. We can have dinner tomorrow. We’ll take a trip to the city. It will be sunny. We can go to Angry Bat and stay at the W. We can spank each other. I'm aware it's my, that it’s your birthday. Party time! It will be great.” Obsidian coins clattered from my palms. We’d turned out of the town and its shaggy mansions, driving five minutes down the avenue to Stanford. I wanted to be in San Francisco in the quiet plaster smell of my family’s apartment, with the gin in the cabinet and separate from this place. I started up again in the seat. “It is my birthday,” she repeated, wrinkling her nose. Her birthday extended three days past and future. “I do care,” I tried. “I do. I really want you to know that. God if you only knew how much I care about you.” Finally I slumped on the black leather with my arm wrapped around my head like a monkey’s, eyes bulging, my jaw grinding along with my heart, pulling 70

STANFORD BY NIGHT and popping the tendons. “I’m just jetlagged! I’m just concentrating! I try so hard to concentrate, it makes me smarter, it’s making me divine. Right effort, right mindfulness, right thinking, I’m ascending into heaven!” The Stanford campus slept among its palms in the blue darkness of the night, holding back the rain that rushed beyond the groves. Calm eucalyptus trees shielded the foothills and a realm hushed of the surrounding mortal din. Far down the avenue of palms, a cathedral glowed above the oval lawn in the center of all campus, ringed with tile and electric orbs. The structure was a dragon of russet arch. As we drove, above us the palm colonnade flipped by, its husked pillars rasping in the night. “It’s fine I guess,” she sighed, relaxing her grip on the wheel. Her eyes were bright, adorned in the streetlight. “Whatever. Tell me about Italy.” “Do we at least still get to have sex?” I said. “Jake–” No problem. Through the rain and fog we slashed forward, cars like nightmares shod in rubies rushing with us, and I could not stop thinking, grinding my jaw, could not separate awareness from thought, from ideas suddenly unmasked by the cocaine, my tolerance so low after these months, and I found myself banging my head to the music and deriving the theories of Heidegger from Heraclitus and– “You’re coked out, Jake. You’re really coked out.” “I'm aware. I’m having an amazing time. I love 71

THE PENINSULA you. I love this, and this quarter is going to be amazing. We’re going to get married. We’ll have a reality TV show called Seersuckers and we can wear linen and it’s going to be fantab–” Then I was banging my head. The music! “I don’t want to marry you!” she shrieked, her eyes bright askance. Her brain clenched like a knot of tentacles. “You aren’t in any condition to convince me.” “You will, you will, I know how to make you.” For she had been shifting her tan thighs in her seat and despite her outrage I knew this sign. Her tan skin had already flushed and her tan face purpled with lust. But first I needed refreshment. Already the coke was wearing off. Jesus Christ! We’d driven full up the drive and into the vacant oval. “Stop here,” I told her, and we pulled over onto the side of the road under two towering eucalypts. I told the hybrid to wait in the car, and there she waited. Past Rodin’s pained statues, under the great tile mosaic of the Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles, beyond the arch I went, walking, walking, where a cold wind blew around the church and sent black oak leaves stinging along the causeway; and as the sandstone wall wound past I looked up into the stained glass and more students spun by me on bikes. I saw two black kids I knew walk by sullenly under backpacks and I sort of said what’s up but ended up mumbling when they didn’t meet my starlit eyes. The great banded door swung open, releasing rich and solid the maple breath of the vestry, and I walked 72

STANFORD BY NIGHT quietly through, sinking my hands into my jean pockets. There were still people within. Stanford’s drug trade is controlled by a loose federation of dealers who live in the surrounding neighborhoods. They cannot peddle their wares on campus because they stand out like tar on ivory – suspicious eyes follow them, the police frequently arrive – so they rely on student middlemen like the one I was meeting. An eight ball of cocaine is one hundred forty dollars, an eighth of an ounce of marijuana is fifty five dollars, an eighth of dried mushrooms is thirty five dollars, Vicodin and Valium persist in the market but are swapped between friends, obtained from surgeries and bogus doctors. Small veins of other pharmaceuticals exist, even Viagra, but they are also underground. Ecstasy is not the Stanford’s drug of choice, and heroin is unheard of. Cocaine is better: a network phenomenon, its power resides in the community. From its invention it quickly gained the school. Lines can be unequivocally snorted off of anything from toilet seats to breasts: you bend over and the nostril sucks and is blown white – the inside sheen of a lampshade, slashing particles up into your mucus membrane and through your capillaries and in five seconds all the way to your brain. And as you rise, the plebes – girls, pledge brothers, the uninitiated – look on in reverence, with a dumb grin that says they wish they had the balls to do that too but have a test coming up or guilt about dad’s bad heart or a controlling girlfriend, and sort of lean back sardonically as you 73

THE PENINSULA pass the rolled buck on to the left to a better man than they and collect the strands of their approbation. No matter, a year later they are doing it too. The line is the most powerful tool in the university. I began to salivate. But my mark was not in the vestry. I found him in the chancel sitting in a pew near the back of the church, the massive Stanford church built from sandstone knocked down by earthquakes, built up again, the heart of campus. The assistant organist – he stared from Chinese eyes and thought out music notes. Overhead, a wheel of angels carved into the ceiling peered down in mosaic, bearing anchors and lambs, peace, hope, charity, faith, and love. I sat down with him and we watched a woman reading a eulogy for her father. It was an emergency treatment, dry-eyed and stiff this late. The daughter concluded and swept down from the altar and hugged her mother. A ratty girl waved flowers and there was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then a sort of priest strode up and asked them: “Who better to believe than Jesus Christ?” The dealer closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. I sat looking at them all in my khakis and leather shoes, at the priest and the angels and saints and charities, all asking for belief, all seeking some form of redemption, pleading with me for existence. The dealer turned to me. He said, “I have a question. Would you rather eat out your mom or your dad? Things to consider: eating out your dad means eating out his asshole.” I looked at him and he burst out in 74

STANFORD BY NIGHT sweet laughter, and we turned back to look at the altar. The air breathed warm and smelled of winter stone. I stared at the minister’s pinned collar, then took out a hymnal from its slot in the pew in front of me and opened it, where I found a poem slutting itself across the cover page in tall blue letters. Some hippie had written it there. What a fucking waste of space. The ghoul started and leaned over, “My God, so Stanford. Poetry woo hoo, liberal fucking yuppies or hippies or hipsters I don’t know which, now please, please let’s get out of here, I can’t stand this apocryphal bullshit.” I closed the hymnal. A woman sobbed. The priest raised his hands and led the women up the aisle, all baying under the bloody light of the stained glass, and we got up and passed them through the door on the right side of the altar, back into the vestry, rid of them for all time. “This is demonic stuff,” the dealer said when he had locked us in, earnest now. The coke glowed white, too granular to be pure, detergent wrapped in dusty sheets of plastic. “Here,” he said. “It’s hella good. Bolivian.” Most cocaine that reaches the Bay Area has been cut four or five times on the way north, with baking soda, baby powder, cream cheese, though it’s common courtesy to assure your client he’s getting the right stuff anyway. It was a big baggie of coke, and I felt the weight in my palm before putting it in my pocket. “Don’t you worry about getting caught?” I asked him. “This is the safest room on campus. The man upstairs is mostly blind – he plays by touch, so I’ve got the only key.” From his own twisted knot he scooped 75

THE PENINSULA out a powdery rim with his finger and rubbed it over his gums, slurping and licking. “Don’t the priests and – the others come back here?” “It’s a church dude,” he told me, blinking as the glow overcame his eyes. I gave him the money that the Gina lawyer had given me. He spread the bills out and folded them and slipped them into his pocket. He wanted to do a line off a crucifix. “No,” I told him. “I have a question,” he continued, glaring at the cross. “Would you rather get teabagged by a man or a woman? Things to consider: getting teabagged by a woman means putting her bloody tampon in your mouth.” “I really don’t know,” I said. And I left through the side door into the night. The wind hungering over the coast had driven back the rain. I walked fast across the quad towards the car, metallic residue beneath my tongue, my heart subsiding a little now. “Jesus Christ,” I said, and felt the ball in my pocket. Completely unaware, we began as I got in, panting. Without thought, as it always is, the hybrid leaned over and kissed me and we were kissing and I breathed her hot dark and ardent and swept down to her, and she lifted one ankle on the dashboard of the car calling and her black skirt rode up revealing a vee of blue lace soaked transparent and divine and the car bloomed in mist and we sprawled in the back seat she rising over me crying laughing so that the car shook and her eyes turned 76

STANFORD BY NIGHT sideways and clenched shut as she cried, and then, panting, kissing, somehow in love, she fell back. “Fuck I love to fuck,” she said. “I like it so much.” “Yeah,” I said. “I masturbate three times a day.” “Yeah,” I said. “Do you watch porn.” “Oh my God,” and she was on me again moaning rutting, a blue shadow in the dark, the valedictorian of her high school class. “Do you understand that women are interchangeable?” “In – every – kind – of – position.” “Even their brains?” “Ohh–” Now I had taken what I wanted so I could proceed. I licked my lips. From the oval we took the side road through the black athletic fields past the freshmen dormitories to the sorority buildings, where after their first years girls of the hybrid's physique were segregated to battle and mate. Each gloomy agate building bore a lone flatscreen in its lobby, herald of important goingson: each bore a twinkling red ribbon and the Stanford tree, which danced and played among so many algorithmically emplaced and ecologically friendly advertisements. Released, it seemed, as if someone were watching over us, we left the car and rose up the hill without another word or thought, and the night grew blacker while out in the darkness we ascended the lakeside road towards the fraternities, where our party thundered. The hybrid's smile stood out, hot and upturned, blue 77

THE PENINSULA in the stream of my mind, and we left the car and walked fast, holding hands. Wind sent leaves stinging through the night in great cooling gusts, and the lights of cars idling up the hill and the distant booming of drums showed us the straight way. As we came up onto the main road I saw others, followed them, trails of people streaming from all over campus towards the party, packs of drunks, hungry ants coalescing on sugar, not there for anything but there anyway, a place which they would leave feeling inadequate and lonely if they hadn’t dunked their expectations in enough booze, which they knew and accepted – they went because they had been going since they could remember. The party defined this stage of their lives, as crawling defines infancy. The concentration of souls grew thick atop the row, and there I saw the familiar stone steps and a great line of people charging upwards, hurling themselves into the impenetrable boundary of the guest list and charging away again, and, beckoned by the kid atop the stairs we walked up through the list and looked back to the mass. I knew I looked different from them. “Whats up, dudes,” drawled the black gatekeeper. “It’s a brand new night.” In the preceding year I had been where there were lists and won friends. But because of what some called cruelty and I called honesty, many despised me, and as my disrepute grew I found the need to resurrect the façade mother had taught me when I was young: it was not the private whispering – I enjoyed scandal and rumor – but when people looked at me with hate when I 78

STANFORD BY NIGHT passed, even in daytime, I grew concerned. So towards the end of the year I tried to be friendly, at least with the people I knew. In a short time I learned to play the part of a friend, even your best friend – hey, what’s going on with that problem set, prof’s totally incomprehensible, huh, how’s your girlfriend doing, yeah, I know what you did last night, she’s cute, nice kill, that’s great you’ve got a new major, let’s lift sometime, friend me on Facebook, what are you doing after you graduate, yeah, you’ve gotta give me your info, let’s play nine holes next week, no problem – jazz, fluff, suck. Smiling broadly I will buy you a drink and grip the palm or fingers of your hand for the right number of seconds and at the right angle depending on how old you think you are and how well I know you, and with the right pressure hold your shoulder and look into your eyes and grin, and attest without words that I’m really here for you, that if you stick with me everything will be fine, that I know just the right collection of people to get you by for the rest of your life. You like to talk to me, even tell me the details of your sex life, invite me skiing with your family, give me cigars and drinks, and let me walk your girlfriend home. But you don’t see. People were willing to like me because I was rich and they knew it. This is the very character of Stanford and of most people everywhere. A particular fear blinds the ambitious towards each other, the fear of conflict, the idea that everyone else will eventually ascend. When we’re lean businessmen across the board room table, we’ll share a nod and close the deal because 79

THE PENINSULA we remember what great times we had doing coke in college. In college! Patience will pay off, so don’t step on anyone’s toes. The network is the real value of our tuition, and everyone was so used to changing their image, raising different cloaks, converting, concealing, that they had no problem welcoming me like a brother. So I flew the most common flag, the one easily overlooked, and blended in, lying and smiling and greasing with everyone else. And the forms of the dance mutated with the passage of years: and under the Stanford sun we seemed all friends and all brothers. Inside the party I left the hybrid with her fatuous sisters and saw the unknown and the familiar and waved. The noise would deafen anybody, but I had been immersed in it since birth and the muscles of my inner ear were hardened to its force. I could almost hear better within the whirlwind than in silence, and from the roar voices answered me: hey nice to see you again – how’s your sister – hey your name is Dan, right? – do you have any cigarettes? Caroline? how absurd! – she’s finally getting expelled? – hey you’re Asian, my last girlfriend was Asian! Ni hao! hey! – and I smiled, a stupid frog jumping in the wind. I patted my brothers on the back, led them, forcing through the knots of sweaty apes. “Let's take care of business,” I proclaimed, and we went into the room and snorted some cocaine, and they gave me beer and vodka and we laughed about the girls at the party. "I need to get head!" I announced uproariously, "Let's go watch the door!" So we took two more fat horsetail lines and 80

STANFORD BY NIGHT someone told a really funny joke about how a black man was hanging in his family tree and everyone laughed again. We came back out into the main room and through the crowd I saw the hybrid wandering off to the dance floor as more girls were signaled up from the line. Stanford girls – the few good-looking ones – walk into parties with such airs of self-assurance that it is difficult to do anything but laugh. The glance of the crowd seems to levitate them, and they float through the door like angels presenting themselves to God, chins propped up, ankles elegantly tied with whatever heels their parents can afford, tan legs dangling, an hour of style in their hair, their dress’s texture, color, and cut selected from their closet's million permutations explicitly for this night's temperature, mood, and boy – their eyes shine with vanity and slit with condescension for everyone beneath them. Stanford is theirs, separate from the proletariat curvier, stupider, better-looking broads of USC, U of A, and UCSB, gorgons banished momentarily from these four erototropic years. For a while they can pretend to be beautiful. Organisms do not survive on truth, they just survive, these elegant girls, hypocrites, gargoyles, plastic wrap! Still I give them my ministrations – some of them, after all, are Rhodes Scholars. Cocaine makes me irritable: all girls continue to exhibit a complete lack of charm, and this pandemic condition I know cannot be helped. I take each one in turn, watching her until she infuriates me. Or is it the power of the drug? Eventually she becomes my mother. 81

THE PENINSULA Now the goldenhaired girl stepped in alone wearing flats that drew ferocious stares from the pack of harpies crouched next to the door. I was ravenous for another girl and her eyes were glowing. Three of us went for her through the crowd, but some goldbrick bumped into me and spilled his drink and by the time I’d recovered she was taken, linking arms with the guy who had told the black joke and speeding off towards the keg. So I went back to the edge of the hall with the others watching the door. But ten minutes later I went looking for her, and found her against the back wall of the dance floor, alone, arms folded, drunk and drunk. “I can’t talk to you,” the goldenhaired girl breathed into my face, dragging the words, looking up into my eyes, her hair afire. A teardrop ruby dangled between the incredible summits of her breasts, as the crowds, dripping, massed around us. I saw the hybrid grind by in lap of another, wasted by the night. “You can; I won’t bite. I haven’t, have I?” “You make me cry. You’re an awful person. Where is the – where is Ryan. He said he was getting a drink,” she said, staring past me; then after a moment she gazed up again and gripped my arm in entitlement, apologizing with all her molten heart. “I’m sorry. I’m rude. I’m, lets go. We do the same sort of thing, I think. We do the same thing–” The goldenhaired girl smelled of furtive flowers. She was wrapped in red cloth and vodka. “Ryan is here? Where?” “He was here. I couldn’t understand where he went. 82

STANFORD BY NIGHT Oh you are here.” Yes, yes. “He thinks I hate him, but I don’t Where am I? Who am I?” “You’re inside the party, and you’re drunk,” I told her. “It’s a historic piece.” She leaned against me, light and bruised, spilling out of her dress. The music thumped, and all of her lay in my hands. “I’m not that drunk,” she snorted. “Do you want to dance?” “You can’t dance; you can’t even stand up. They’re kicking everyone out.” “No they’re not. It’s only eleven.” “No, there was a fight and someone said the cops are coming,” I lied. “We have to go – the brutal pigs and their batons! They don’t respect our rights!” “Unless we’re minorities they don’t,” she wailed. “I have to find my friends. I love my friends.” “You didn’t come with any friends. But it’s irrelevant – you can find them online when we get home. Now let’s get out of here.” “But you’re an awful person and I can’t trust you.” “You can, I’m your boyfriend for the night,” I smiled. “I’m your personal taxi service.” No it doesn’t matter. So she slipped her smooth arm in mine and I took her out past where the line was still churning and charging and consuming itself (“Record time,” intoned the gatekeeper), and we went deep into the night down the dark central artery of campus, holding hands. A helmet of cloud sat on the sky and the pillarlamps cast halos into the mist that had settled on the campus from the hills. In that light she was soft and 83

THE PENINSULA small and red, pressed near to me, and her vulpine eyes swirled and darted. I had started to come down myself, lucid in the cold air, so I struck up on the lamp glow, asking why she thought she had any friends in the world at all. “Facebook keeps count,” she said. “There’s Mikey, and Adam, Ted, and British Pat, and Jimmy, and Kurt. Even though you don’t know them they’re all my friends.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a remarkable cell phone. The golden frontplate bore the brand of a New York luxury house, and rubies sparkled along its length. “That’s a lie,” I said. “Those are just the guys you slept with before you met me, and whom you will sleep with again after I graduate.” “Well, that’s not fair it’s just complicated–” We stumbled on. “It’s just–” “I know exactly what you’re talking about,” I told her. “I know exactly.” “The past doesn’t matter to me,” she said. “I rarely think of it. I’m over it now. It’s all just a big game, a part I play for fun because we’re in college, and we have to, we’re in college.” “With all these admirable human beings,” I said. “They are Stanford students, like you!” “Servants of the devouring sword. But I’m less idealistic,” I went on. “Those people can’t be my friends.” Trees mashed in the night, whirling fog among the lamps and sleeping dormitories. “Your only friends are your childhood friends.” Her tan paw stroked my hand, growing firm and insistent, 84

STANFORD BY NIGHT and on her middle finger’s golden band glittered a kernel of ruby. “Right,” I said. “People with attention span.” She laughed goofily. “Yes, what’s that.” The goldenhaired girl was looking up at me and stumbling to keep up. “It works the same way everywhere. Now you’re going to take me home and we’ll–” “Another year in the life,” I broke in. “Another tremendous year. Let me ask you something else. You know that feeling you have when you get home after a hard day of work and all you can think about is stripping off your clothes and sliding into a hot bath or taking a shower? Which do you prefer? A bath or a shower?” Prepare thyself; prepare thy thighs. “A bath,” she sighed. “You know how sometimes, before you even get in, you imagine the heat just working its way through every part of your body and then you actually slide in, and that warmth just takes you and you surrender to it?” “Mmf, yes,” she murmured. “You are right – you are so right.” Her eyes drooped with weight and she caressed my hand. “You are imagining that now, that red feeling spreading through your body, slowly and softly. And you are relaxed. Very relaxed.” She lolled forward in a waterfall of hair, and I held her by the elbows. “I, I crave blondeness,” she moaned. “Now we’ve had enough of talking. We don’t need to talk.” I began humming the tune to a rap song, spurting mist. I didn’t need to solve her social problems any more – she could figure those out herself; or not, and 85

THE PENINSULA end up desperate and bulimic like the rest of them. I only wanted to sleep with her so that I could place her in a category. Sorority girls, while they are being sorority girls (before they find boyfriends and realize how much they hate being Greek), are about the most obnoxious people on the planet. Specters of the bitchiest high school matriarchs, uglier since they go to Stanford, raised from the dead and angry about something – sexism, racism, poverty, AIDS, gay rights – in deference their professors and parents, their twofold mission in life is to conquer their sisters with snobbery and drunken outbursts, and to find abusive males (me) with financiallygifted sperm. We called them howler monkeys, for the way they pounce, arms desperately shooting up in the sky to give you a hug, screeching, “Hiiiiii!” I let her get in front of her house, and when she paused and looked at me dark and drunk everything below my collarbone went numb, brushed by dictatorgrade cocaine. Sensations mild and familiar: she hauled me through the slanting courtyard door into a cloud of perfume: she buried her face in my neck and pulled me against the stone: come home, come home, home to her. “I am glad you’re here,” she sighed, kissing, her golden hair forming a nest about us. Storm water clattered from the roof down the wall outside, and my eyes were drawn up to where among the maple trees a ruddy negress hooked her grey elbows over the balcony, and pushed forth a face the hue of wet leaves. 86

STANFORD BY NIGHT She watched us kissing, watched my eyes upon her, and grew vexed that I would not break her gaze or close my eyes for the kissing. Then her dark shoulders pitched over the railing and for a moment I thought she would leap like a panther to crush us. “We’re trying to sleep,” the negress called down hoarsely, and the goldenhaired girl’s wide eyes sped back to her as she lifted her mouth from mine. Her hands let go of my collar, her lips left off their adornment. “Can you stop banging around...” “Come on,” laughed the goldenhaired girl, “It’s the first night of school!” The negress her eyes enlarged and she gripped the railing and leaned on it, bellowing her pain: “Did you know it’s three A.M.? Is it going to be like this all year? Some of us actually need to try to graduate!” “I’m trying to fuck the pain away!” I roared, gripping feet of golden hair. “Oh hi, I didn’t see you there,” the negress capitulated. “Sorry.” Standard submissive sorority girl, race or no. Sex is greater than or equal to race – more woman than black, more human than human. In confusion her eyes fluttered wide, and she retreated pulling her hair back over her flat girlhead with both hands. “Now you just need to take it easy,” I called. “You’re going to have an aneurysm. But we’ll stop fucking around, we’ll take it upstairs.” Snickering, I took the goldenhaired girl’s hand and led her towards the stairs while the negress stared down upon us, petrifying like a gargoyle. We swung inside and the goldenhaired girl began to 87

THE PENINSULA mumble. “Listen, you piece of shit pledge,” she mumbled, “remove your tramp ass from my presence.” We stumbled the stairs to the inner hall. “Go watch some BET, you fucking nigger,” she giggled. “Oops, I can’t say that. Sorry.” She kept giggling. In her loft, she caught her legs around me face-toface, done and done, her gold form indented with soft light streaking from the Japanese lamps and her wide eyes declensing as she pressed them shut into the pillows. Our heat rose and our breath denuded us in the night aromatic with rain that did not impede her calling and her calls went out into the layered air and sang replayed in the mist. She had pert pink nipples and downy breasts kept in red lace which peeled away to release them. They bulged and cleaved and pressed between my hands. She had gleaming blonde ropes that she whipped to and fro. She had a roan spot that she liked to offer bent over as she moaned into the pillow, that would make you drunk if you cared to drink. In this position she would slip a hand down herself and let her fingers play backwards over her behind and down between her legs. And when satisfied she would place the same pillow under her hips to advance your angle of entry, and when so levered and entered at last her eyes glittered like red gems and she sometimes cried, and she would call out sighing into the night like she did and like she still must do. Afterwards we lay together. Past an expanse of crimson quilt, the window emitted shadows and trailed 88

STANFORD BY NIGHT on cool air the perfume of the rain branches, drawing diaphanous lining towards the posters of Mirot and Dali on the walls, towards that angry sketch of the woman’s head ablaze in flowers, and the kneeling artist’s jawbone offerings. “Very modernist, how modernist,” I smiled, waggling my fingers at the prints. “Only the things I like the best, that’s the point of a room isn’t it?” “Then do I get to be here?” “Infrequently and only if you are nice.” She reached behind and pulled her hair into a blonde tail. “Nice! The harder they come, the harder they fall. Yes, another ponderous year in the life. Will it be a good year do you think, or merely mediocre?” “Successful at least, with some trying.” She pressed her warm face to my neck. “We must try. Hydration, that’s the first step. I will take my post-coital drink.” Rolling off, I loped down the ladder to suck from the tap in the closet, rinsing her out. Automatically as I departed she sat up and opened her computer to watch a video arriving wirelessly from her sisters, the third or fourth that day: a redneck dancing atop of a car, nearly killed as the vehicle swerved, went then flying into an oak’s girth, and was killed. She smiled and giggled as I clambered back, emitting a brassy borrowed laugh. I resumed kissing her length, her tan shoulders strewn with bronze. “You aren’t drunk,” I told her as she tapped away. “You don’t taste of it.” She took a pen from her lap and began chewing it. “Let me show you how drunk I am.” 89

THE PENINSULA “All women are liars.” “I just need ten minutes while you lie here.” We are always working. We all have hoards and hers was on Facebook. It made me hate her. “No, I want to fuck again,” I said. “Not right now,” she said. “I have to do this.” “Do you know how many fucks I give? One fuck. I won’t go to sleep until I have one fuck.” She stirred and put the cap on her pen, cradled in my arms. She looked up at me so I lay down on the quilt. “You know something?” she asked. “I will love you no matter how dissimilar our tax brackets are. Can we have sex?” “I think I’ve concluded I don’t want to stay in San Francisco when I graduate,” she said, looking down at Dali. “I am thinking of going somewhere else after I graduate. It’s all the people like you.” “Do whatever you like,” I sighed. “We aren’t in San Francisco.” I picked up the magazine on her bed and scanned it. A full page explanation of steak, a full page explanation of what women want, an Italian male model straddling a boat and shoving his white-clad genitals towards the camera. “Just don’t be rude.” Girls talk, emotions die. Across the bed she began to massage her palms in her lap, her fingers kneading the pads. “I can be whatever I want to be. It’s my life.” “How Bohemian of you, a Bohemian stage in your troubled existence,” I mumbled, turning the magazine’s glossy pages, which swam with legs and faces and stank of fresh slick ink. “But no matter what you do, everything will make you unhappy in the end. Society 90

STANFORD BY NIGHT is set up that way.” “Maybe. Maybe I think this routine we’ve gotten into keeps me down.” “So you don’t want to see me any more, that’s what you’re saying. Well hallelujah because–” “No! I just feel restless,” she snapped, her eyes flitting inside her ever-glowing hair. “That’s what I’m trying to say.” This brilliant golden peacock. “Well, I don’t know what you have to complain about. Try waking up at six to go to work like Ryan will. You still have a year left of school.” “Oh forget it,” she sighed. “I should have expected this.” “The same shit? Well, it is the same shit. You’re always complaining. Sometimes I want to fuck and you’re always complaining. When you’re not complaining you’re looking at websites. The Internet is like your ball gag, it’s suffocating you, it is your voice. Well great, fantabulous, live your life online, fanfucking-tastic.” In a sudden motion she pitched off me under the blankets, bunching the scarlet pillows. “Stop crying,” I groaned, reaching over. “Oh fucking Jesus Christ, what are you crying about now? There’s no reason to. What are you going to do, tell Facebook about it?” I brought my hand over the covers and felt her form shuddering beneath. “I’m not crying,” she cried, shaking the pillows. “I am not crying.” Her voice shook out and went rolling away. Then, in a sudden girlish motion she slipped from beneath the blankets and trembled down the lad91

THE PENINSULA der and out the door without saying a word and without grace, her tear-stained face turned away. So I tried to sleep as she had asked, and the crickets chirped in the misty summer night. I lay back but could not die – my heart thundered on. Fragrant air flowed off the foothills, and from outside drifted two pinched voices, Indians, girls of another kind, walking down the path outside the houses. “The security server I find quite challenging,” one opined. “We will need to address the problem set quickly, form a Google group to reach our team members, and you will download the modules and I will go back to the library and get immediately to work–” and as their calibrations deafened me I sank into the wind. After ten minutes of lying there I got up and left too, knowing sleep would not come. I walked through the courtyard past the goldenhaired girl – sobbing, sitting, wailing to her negress who bent over her like a nurse – down the misty road splitting the sororities, past the construction site on Wilbur Field, but I somehow lost consciousness again – the cocaine overtaking me, questions ringing in my mind – When I came to I stood in front of a dorm. I had found Ryan and he was with me. We were going to see a girl. We passed a gathering in the outer hall, mostly hippies, little clubheaded men, and, crazily drunk, I looked in and saw nothing of myself and went down the hall and when the door finally opened said into the girl’s regnant face, “Is this your damn friend.” And 92

STANFORD BY NIGHT Ryan spouted conventions, “Hey! It’s so good to see you! Meet Jake! Meet Jake!” He embraced her, this beautiful Chinese girl with short straight hair, stepping in front of me. And, uncomfortable, over his womanstifling shoulder I said hello and nice to meet you, my name is Jake and nice to meet you although you’re disturbingly sober and I haven’t seen you at parties before so you mustn’t be anyone worth knowing. Tired and batty, ringeyed, dark hair ponytailed above a thin, olive face, she stood holding the door, looking at me. She sent a tart smile at Ryan, who was hugging her like a father, and her leg reversed through the slit of her green skirt, pulling her into the shade of her room, swinging the door open to get me in there forever. “Nice to – I was asleep,” she yawned in a dusky voice, rubbing her eyes with the pads of her palms. “You people are voracious.” To the side she stood looking at me looking at the fleshy flowers in the jar on her desk and at the laptop slapping out woody beats and at poetry books that lay about, a profusion of literature I could not account for, uncomfortable female intelligence, halfconstructed furniture buried in clothes, filmy shirts and leggings, and in the musty scent of her makeup everything swirled and poisoned itself at the edges, took on emerald auras, and I stood with my mouth agape. “You live in this pigsty?” “Jake’s an asshole, did I mention it,” added Ryan. Way to fit the bloody mold, my friend, you weeping cunt, and the Chinese girl halfway smiled, walking over to the bed and sitting down. She said, “Well, I didn’t 93

THE PENINSULA pick it. We aren’t all from Atherton.” Right then I was wearing a good enough pink shirt and a crocodileskin belt no one understood here, and staring again, obsessed, I told her, “I know what it is. The bed, it’s too close to the desk. It looks like prison,” and she just said, “At least try to be nice, we’ve only just met.” And so the conversation tangled stiff. It was so late at night that it hurt us. Frantic, we took shots, or I did, I don’t remember – like every poor Stanford girl she kept a fifth of something nice on her bookshelf, but going down it was the vitriol of ninedollar butane she’d recycled to save a cent. With two more big gulping shots I went and stood by the window, breathing deeply, holding down the vomit and the fumes. “Are you all right?” she asked from the mirror, clasping her hands to her collarbone and leaning forward, and I turned around, gulping for air, set to explode. “The Stoli,” I strained. “Where are you from–” “Kansas. The suburbs. Swimming pools, lawns, you know. The infinite America.” “Is that a place?” Ryan was talking to her. Something. “Oh, that’s amazing you’re going into banking. I interned at Goldman. You’re willing to work the hours? Tell me, tell me, tell me.” And he launched the same inane spiel he’d slobbered on anyone who’d blinked his way the last three months. I stood staring blindly at them and the girl winked at me and I saw it. Her eyes opened and green darkness 94

STANFORD BY NIGHT flowed from her into the room. “Corporations excite me,” she purred, taking a green shotglass off her desk and rolling it in her fingers, while I took more shots and choked and smiled. The inanity of it all, the fuming booze, swung the room into binary shades of olive and, bored, I got out my digital camera and began taking pictures of her in all sorts of poses while she slumped against her mattress listening to Ryan’s flailing. She modeled for me twice, thrice, sticking her tongue out, and then became very uncomfortable under the camera, unreasonably uncomfortable, so I took more pictures and she looked at me sideways, nervous, playing with her boyish hair, fleeing, stuttering, peeking, the little sneak. I was overjoyed, salivating, but Ryan, as I had predicted, turned sharply against me when the girl gave a little laugh and said, “Is he all right? What’s he going to do with those?” and became her friend, of course, a paladin with a steel priapus, and I saw this and took note but kept taking pictures, it feeling lovely to play. Behold: Ryan said, “Maybe you should cut that out, Jake.” He beamed with his eyes. The Chinese girl had two strands of black hair locked in her fingers, looking at me. “He’s something,” said the girl, very serious, “How much have you had to drink?” “Some,” I snarled. “You could use a little of it, but could you use a lot? Well, could you?” I wanted to know. “How much have you had. What goals do you have? For your career? Your life? That’s the question on everyone’s mind.” 95

THE PENINSULA She murmured and leaned over to pour herself more vodka, a tan expanse of skin unjoining from her waist. “I’m writing a thesis on Japanese poetry, then going into legal consulting, and then maybe I’ll work for a hedge fund.” Ryan stood staring at her, nodding and smiling, his dick hardening, saying oh and ah. “What about you, Mr. Asshole?” She sipped the shot slowly, watching me with her black eyes. “Friendhole, I prefer. Friend and an asshole. A priest to my friends, comedian to my enemies, the enemies of the empire. But an awful lot on my plate, I’m afraid – business, the arts, sublimating my past. Oh, it’s hard to work your way up, isn’t it – upper management won’t be that bad, will it? The technology prophets say that when you start your own company you can work your own hours. That’s incredible. An incredible, original plan, bound to bring you happiness. And kids too, eight or ten, we are Catholics, we Bessemers.” Her fine eyebrows wrinkled and she snickered, full of wine. “Thirteen hours a day with kids,” I told her. “A founder, maybe a CEO, and a playboy on the side. Me for me and really I have no idea. But I think I will do better than you. Better than a namby academic and a thesis writer, obsessed with the future and blind to the present. Present, past, and future – fantabulous. WRITE A BOOK ABOUT IT! What a ridiculous notion. Do you realize how many idiots are raised by mothers like you? Mothers too deep in thought to potty train their kids! Introverted lesbian wannabes and not mothers. Your kids are going to be raised by television or, if you’re lucky enough to find a husband who can 96

STANFORD BY NIGHT supplement your paltry income less psychiatrist fees, a Mexican. Like I was, yes, I admit it. Or mine was Filipino – no matter. And you can call me bitter. Your goals are ridiculous and you should be in law school. In fact, I think you don’t really care enough about your life so you swallow the conventional Stanford savetheworld bullshit and it disgusts me, it really does, it’s like a disease, so, go ahead, slide it down up your conceited, ultraliberal, alphawoman throat, where nothing else has trespassed I’m sure, and not for lack of trying.” There was silence and I stood there, the alcohol crackling through my veins, nothing mattering. Her olive face grew waxy as she turned Ryan her eyes. Then she sort of tossed herself backwards onto her bed and her arms came up for a moment and settled at her sides, a doll flung haphazardly away, ready to be righted. She turned from us against the wall. “I’m suddenly tired of him,” she said. What I had said was really nothing but a version of truth in questions, a reflection of her, nothing more than an intuition that she wanted to see herself, and that she knew and liked games and I knew she did and she was a girl and what else do girls like. So I stared and heard the bass pounding from down the hall; the walls are so thin in the dorms – meant to drive us mad, I think, and bass broke like waves through the walls and my temples pounded and I stepped forward and looked past trembling Ryan into her eyes and saw the fight in her becoming feral, fearful, sexual. I laughed out loud and I think that she did too. 97

THE PENINSULA “Ryan, stop being such a fucking Pharisee,” I told my friend. “C’est recherché et arriviste, you fucking lifeblood earner. Now, Dorothy, what are you reading?” I picked up one of her books, The Gods of the Phoenicians. The thick book coughed out from gold edged pages, an old volume from a former century, scarred and hidebound and reeking of mold. “Why does this interest you?” Everything irritated me – the bad manners, the assumptions, the ugly self-righteousness, and so that the Chinese girl would see things my way I pushed further, and she sobbed in response. “Useless!” I told her, pushing Ryan aside – though bigger, he obeyed – “Is this what women have become? See for yourself why girls never get ahead, why they’re submissives, secondrate citizens, cum dumpsters. They spend all their time fantasizing about dead knowledge. Reading a book, what a ridiculous notion! We’ll never have a woman president!” Everyone was enjoying what I was saying. I could see it in her tears, in the way her pupils dilated in her big dark eyes and in the way they gaped at me through the gaps in her fingers. And then she briefly smiled again, at the edges, a flashing smile and I saw it – the smile of Sade, of the malebranche. I looked back at Ryan, standing by the door. A conclusion is all I wanted, and he had to keep out of it. But before I could finish, the girl’s plain roommate burst into the room with her skinny little boyfriend. “Hey, nice to meet you Dave, okay, nice to meet you Kim. My name is Jake, you ugly pigfuckers. Please 98

STANFORD BY NIGHT ignore the girl crying on the bed. Actually, Dave, maybe now is a good time to trade up from the skag you’re dating. OK, let’s go! Out! Onwards!” And I laughed, off again, kicked out by their disbelieving stares, out into the room down the hall where the hippies still wallowed in some kind of carnival, some occult ritual – pounding their bellies to their horrible beat around cake and filth and loud speakers and oh how I longed for sleep – it’s really a pleasure, my name is Jacob – I was really trying now – and one African girl said hi my name is Batalth’ithaitalitaitlat’liathi and I laughed out loud that I should be expected to pronounce that ridiculous, offensive name, which the ironical Stanford admissions committee had imported from a fifth world to my wild night, and I stumbled because I was laughing so hard I was almost sick – hey mon nice to meet you too insane laugh my name is Jake, Jake, a racist – and left the room flying that black flag, forty eyes pushing me out, drooling to myself and chewing my tongue and still in the throes of snickering when the hippie party host came out and said look you really insulted that girl I want you to apologize. I trapped him against the door with an elbow (what else would you do to someone like that?) and his friend shrieked and tore me away and everyone was crying and someone sobbed, “That’s enough, just leave! Get out! Go!” Their concern registered, but I was gone off into the night, leaving Ryan there to pick up the pieces and sleep with nobody. I awoke later around five, sprawled on a bench in the 99

THE PENINSULA sorority circle watching a man be put under arrest for drunkenness, and applauding loudly while my cell phone rang over and over – perhaps it had woken me – it was the hybrid, it was goldenhair, it was the Chinese girl, worried, trying desperately to find me, to reach me, to get into some party or out of it, to make sure I wasn’t fucking somebody else, to open up my wallet and drink the succulent money – and I was still clapping when a billowing phantom of Lily Medine roared into existence beside me on the bench, screaming like a vulgate. – Kyrie eleison Christe eleison Kyrie eleison! Devilish girl, she had her phone out and it rang as she billowed. I kept clapping and stared at her in amazement, in rapt love, in ecstasy, epiphany, my heart beating wildly, my limbs rocking and flapping, drool flinging from my lips – glory! For such a vision to find me, alone, on high doses of illegal stimulants – I could not believe my luck. I clapped and clapped like a happy young man. The cops looked over at me, then saw my cell phone out and nodded and put the other madman in the car and drove away. And, wildly, I shouted, laughing, “You can see again, Lily! You’re dishonest! You’re a liar! Why did you come back here? What did you expect? Lily!” But the questions elicited from this vision’s brain a rush of snakes, venomous, reactive, and she stared down on me, growing to twice her height, shimmering in a coat of scales, and hissed something guttural, and in my confused mind slithered from the bench, gliding straight and fast away. 100

STANFORD BY NIGHT But to fix things I called, “Wait, let me take your picture there, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. It’s not real. A joke, see?” I got out my camera and she emitted some kind of caterwaul as the bulb went off, and the light burned her skin and sent smoke rising in a silhouette, but to me it was a good picture. She was looking back at me with teeth out, with a forked tongue, and I stared at that image (later revealed as a desolate, black road filling with steam) and lost my sight again to the drugs, and the blackness of the night took me and rolled the earth into day. I am barely past twenty but my mind is much older.

101

7
YOUR FACEBOOK WALL ANNOUNCES: Happy birthday! I’m SO sad I can’t come to the party. I will come next year. I already came. I’m here for you. I am your best friend. I don’t think solo liquid lunching is the proper way to spend your birthday, but I’m absolutely sure you’ll fix that in about half an hour, so happy birthday! I miss you so much and I so wish I was there to celebrate with you, but don’t worry – I’ll be visiting you soon. Have an awesome birthday and take a few shots in my honor. Hehe. Hootie hoo! New year, new crush. Grey Goose got you feeling loose? Let’s play a game called “I miss you and want you back in my life.” It’s official: I love you so much you don’t even know. I bought you a Peruvian present today – get pumped. It will go well with your campus golf cart, Larroque style. Remember that one time when we weren’t friends? Wow – but I’m officially 102

SAN FRANCISCO ending our phrase “life is what happens” because it’s overplayed, but as I told everyone else, I want all the credit for coining that and spreading it among, well, you, me, and everyone. It’s a neologism. P.S. – my line about “being unbelievably posh” was the best one by far. Booyakasha! I’ll be back at Stanford soon, and hopefully this time we’ll actually hang out instead of just texting, hehe. Poke. Super poke! Remember to poke me back lol. I have a feeling you’ll have an amazing day/night. Hope you have fun and XO! I’ll always remember that it’s your birthday. It’s also Britney’s! So HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Yea they all blend together, and, savoring these missives, a girl, I can’t remember which, rose queenlike from her silver laptop and stumbled past me over her untied white shoelace and fell hard, pushed up on pastel palms, ignoring the grey-edged gash worn loose on her knee, and revolved towards my penthouse bedroom. “Come on,” she urged. Onto her face she drew the heavy girl-mask she had worn socially since she first learned of her beauty at sixteen. Not once since then had she unwound the public smile from her lips or the soprano twang from her voice, and by sprightly and sanguine mien she announced to all the joy abiding in her youth. Another year she would celebrate among best friends forever. After a few limps she walked without bothering to tie her little pink shoe, and she reached back behind her head to draw her chestnut mane into a sweeping ponytail of curls. 103

THE PENINSULA I had come up that weekend to my family’s apartment on Russian Hill, driven to consult the Gina lawyer by my mother, who had cut off my accounts. Circumstantially it was also that girl’s birthday, something she expected me to celebrate, so she had come too. San Francisco’s Fleet Week arrived with us, and now jets practiced for the airshow, scraping across the silver sky. The bay swarmed with warships and the streets with sailors, and the city murmured with expectant power. Predictably the proximity of weekend wealth made the girl desire perverted sex. The stolid white apartment of my forefather smiled upon us as we feathered down and ate ginger snaps and drank organic water and fucked, and when we grew tired of fucking we brought up another of her sorority sisters. Saturday morning we received a noise complaint from our downstairs neighbor. ‘Your lovemaking will not be tolerated. Screaming is inappropriate in any situation. You should be aware that some of us have young children. Consider this your last warning.’ Not having any loved ones had really freed up my time. Around the corner lay the second vulgarity, a blackhaired bitch draped across my bed reading The Atlantic, munching peanuts and cradled by the blue bamboo frame. The three of us had fucked all night and all morning until I grew bored. “My conquest of Carthage is over!” I announced. “Piss in my mouth again,” said the bitch. “Also I’d like a diet Coke.” Between her crossed ankles a trail of purple and black underwear led towards the door, creamy bras, balled tee-shirts, and cores of powdered 104

SAN FRANCISCO makeup. The windows smoldered quietly with city clouds, passing sweeps of light along the walls. Our apartment building crowned the hill on Hyde Street, a parapet seated among plane trees and cablecar tracks with a good view of the bay. South, the financial district rose in misty relief around the Transamerica Pyramid. “It’s a morgue in here,” condemned the girl as we entered, “thine eyes shalt ruin.” “Clearly I heard you fall,” said she still reading. “Roman, thou art still in love with me.” The girl augered backwards onto the mattress, sending a comber of featherbed flapping the magazine’s pages. “It’s all raw,” she complained, probing her fingers around her kneecap, now sticky with lymph. Then she let out a frustrated moan and rolled around onto her breasts, kicking her calves like a flea to inch across the bed. Then she turned me her eyes, green and pleading, and asked, “Jake would you come rub my shoulders please please pretty please?” A steel ring glistened in her lip. The bitch’s hooded eyes swung off the page to regard her sister’s knee. “Would you not get your flesh everywhere,” she said. She had been reading about people who believed they could change their facial structure by concentrating on photographs. By keeping an ideal facial structure fixed in their minds, they believed they could slowly alter their countenance towards the ideal. An intelligence test stuck out of the pages, a folded card. “Tell me your IQ,” I told her as I began the massage. 105

THE PENINSULA The girl curled under the blanket, preening her legs like a cricket. Smoothing my hands over her back, I ran the cords of tension down and out, and she purred and closed her eyes, wrinkling the linen with her paw. “It’s high I got into Stanford what more do you want to know,” the bitch said defensively, not looking up. A butterfly tattooed on her ankle showed that she came from some inferior Californian zone. “What are your thoughts on NAFTA?” I inquired. “Do you agree with the war or should we just nuke all the rugheads and be done with it?” “Stop speaking weird. Racist.” “He thinks he’s a therapist,” sighed the other girl. “He tries to provoke you. He needs therapy himself don’t you baby.” Her back joints popped staccato under my palms. “Therapy is to the masses what drugs are to me,” I informed them. “In this I’m almost Buddhist.” Blindly the girl clawed across the bed and wrapped her arms around the tan leg of her sister, laying down her warm head in the proffered lap. I pushed off, leaving her purring, and went to watch the jets as they spun across the sky. The penthouse windows were set obliquely, peering at the sun, and one had to approach to view the city sprawl and the hill below. I looked. Across the bay a brocade of cream clouds prickled with thunder: the sea blew them in over the cruisers and the sun leavened them – the clusters of ships rocked in the dark morning water, and the jets cleared off as the biplanes began their tricks. A red one, maroon in the cloud cover, shot straight up over 106

SAN FRANCISCO the bridge and cut its engines – for a few seconds it hung insolently in space, then began slowly to plummet. Faster and faster it tumbled, before a white trail ejected from its wings and it rose slowly towards the skyline in a parabolic arc. “An unfortunate consequence of thought, not being a slave,” I commented, looking back. I was wearing a navy blazer over my seersucker boxers and into its smooth pockets went my innocent hands. I was wearing a foppish admiral’s cap with a golden anchor and a blue bill, and last night I had been wearing an eyepatch. “Oh, smarts,” the girl said mockingly. “I remember those.” “But do you remember the capital of Kansas,” asked the girl. “That is the question.” “No.” She went on reading on one knee, writhing her little white socks and plucking her mesh thong. “No really,” squeaked the first. “It’s not Kansas City. It’s not.” “No, I don’t.” The girl looked up at the girl and blushed and her eyes fluttered as she began to laugh, trailing long lashes over her green stars. All of a sudden a vague roar shook the walls, and a jet tore past the windows. “I am so in love with you it’s so ridiculous,” the girl said to nobody in particular. She had pulled in two armfuls of pale green bed, rolling over again. Her night-colored hair, straightened by long labor and long heat, splayed fanlike from the top of the cone. She began to tickle the other, who squealed and kicked her hips, and then they kissed long and began to lick down 107

THE PENINSULA each other’s necks. “Who’s your hookup tonight? Oh! Absent me from felicity a while.” “Oh you know, you don’t know,” whispered the girl. “Now you know.” The girls and I looked at each other and they went back to licking and I turned back to the white city at the window. What they did was beyond my control. Another plane, a pen of metal, scratched a fingernail across the sky, and sailboats were beginning to crowd the bay. “Oh! It’s decided I will get married this year, at twenty. To Jake, by the way. The same year his mother gets married again! It is my first bad birthday. We are all aging without cause. Youth’s like diamonds in the sun. Mmf.” “Did you see the absolute mess Britney has become,” moaned the other. “Unbelievable, it’s so sad, on your birthday. I really think it affects me, her states. I’m like linked to her.” “Oh, I saw it last night, I saw it. Oh!” “Puke-o-ramaa! Who is coming tonight, tell me everything. Hopefully black guys with big arms,” the girl breathed. “I like to massage knots out of the necks of black guys.” “I like their big arms and their big hands and they are so fucking–” “Bonn is coming,” I called back, looking out to sea. “But he isn’t black,” one cried. “Is he coming!” “Oh my God!” slurped the other. “Everything will be wonderful with the formal and 108

SAN FRANCISCO all,” I sighed, “such a crazy fun night for sure.” Now they had finished and I turned around. The girl propped herself on an elbow to look out with me, skin flushed peachlike, wiping her chin with a paw. Past her, rays of sun fell upon the vanilla blocks, and from hill to sea the city lay in solar light. “Bitches, bitches, bitches. A litany of bitches,” said the other girl into the blanket. Then she popped forwards with a kick of her naked calves. “Thy cups runneth over,” I told her. “It’s nearly noon, I have to go to my lawyer. I have to buy more coke.” “Are you serious?” asked the girl, red eyes wide. “You don’t do it. He’s joking isn’t he.” “Jake are you joking,” said the girl. “He doesn’t do drugs.” “You said you wanted to try it for the first time,” I said. “Well – maybe – I mean, I don’t know.” “You didn’t say that,” squeaked the girl. “Soo devilish!” “It’s fun to have a super awesome night,” I remarked. “You know it will be.” They squealed and rolled around on the bed, wearing only their white socks. “I love Harlot, it’s seriously the best club,” one girl told the other. “I love that we’re going there.” “I’m so excited,” the girl cried, her body hot and flushed. She kicked up an ankle and they went swimming back under the covers.

109

THE PENINSULA Also I had to see Lily. She had called me up while I rotted in my feminism class. “Jacob Edward,” she said. “This is Lily.” “I’m in class,” I protested, under a storm of dykeglares. “Fine fine. I’ll step outside.” “I hope I’m not disturbing you. I know this call is out of the blue but I wanted to talk.” “Jesus Christ, that would be extremely inappropriate.” “Don’t tell me you’re nervous about talking to a girl.” “I hope not. That’s not what I was saying and this makes me extremely uncomfortable, I’m letting you know that right now.” I stood beneath the red arches, before the black classroom door. Neither of us said anything. “Are you still there,” I said. “Yes, and I need to talk to you,” she told me. “It’s actually important. I’m going to be at my family's apartment in San Francisco tomorrow, and Ryan mentioned you'll be up here–” So we agreed to meet that afternoon, and on the occluded sixth day of our Lord, in the year of the Monkey, with war in Nazareth and bombs in Jerusalem, opening the curlicued gate onto the city street (the musty breath of the hall, asbestos, paint, neighbors), and beneath lavender horns of cirrus carved by my country’s warplanes, with a mighty breath I began through the stone hills towards the Gina lawyer, up, up, into the shifting sky. And as I walked I observed that you must take any chance to play, because soon you will be 110

SAN FRANCISCO working. The birds squawked that morning, a mother jay fretting in the knobby plane on the corner at Hyde, in full career of ten young demanding feed. Around them blew green saplings and leaves that died, fell, and died some more. Her hatchlings spun their legs and spread from their belly-fuzz their wings; they had grown larger than their mother, urgently calling for what she could provide. Her oblong head spat between them the white slime of the tree's insects, and in repletion they twittered, bashed each other, then collapsed. I descended through Victorians onto pastel Columbus, past the piazzas and cafés to where the glass battlements of skyscrapers linked up overhead, the beep-roar of morning traffic deflecting through their canyons, and crowds of fast-moving weekend troops descended with me – bankers, consultants, paralegals, prides of analysts darkly clad, chattering on phones, hurrying on, some younger than me, inexperienced recruits from obsolete cities who had never beheld wealth and who aged now in its proximity, for it is a function of wealth to age. At the base of Columbus the financial district raised its cape of silver glass and blocked out the sun, delimiting the white sky into a grid. We ignored the morning tourists, the strolling invalids, the lunatics and beggars, their laziness a disease on this earth. Where Montgomery runs its steel through the towers, strafed by the taxis and streetcars and the ironwork of the banks, the carved lions yawn from the arches above all the crenellations of exchange, open accounts 111

THE PENINSULA aglow in shells of cinder-brick and the windows and the eyes of money managers. The district seems to await an earthquake, a resurrection during which much wealth will be spent. Medine’s lawyer and Goldman Sachs, whipping and working beneath a bank of marble – it was Saturday and they were still working: all of them were still working and they said they enjoyed their work. Before the tower of Goldman Sachs sank a sculpture called the Banker’s Heart, an immense polyhedron made of stone the color of iron, like the circle of buildings enclosing it. It seemed to hum and shimmer in the subterrene vibrations of passing cablecars, and I leaned in for a brush as I passed, feeling the cold buzzing rock against my fingers and simultaneously anticipating the sudoku puzzle awaiting me on the back page of the Chronicle upstairs. I crack a soduku every day to keep my mind sharp, and for recreation. But before I could complete the thought I’d slammed through the glass doors, where, arching my eyebrows at the attendant, clanging my magnetic card on the elevator sensor, and checking the steel face of my watch for scratches while the buzzer dinged off the floors up the spine of the building (more time passed, surely), I suddenly found myself in the bank’s lobby, crawling into a guest cubicle for kicks, sweating, astride an Aeron mesh chair, devoting a ten second reflection to the journey to alleviate stress before starting down my daily, priorityoptimized checklist. I had to imagine what Ryan Bonn was about to become. The investment bank is a hexagonal wheel embed112

SAN FRANCISCO ded in the agate of the tower, a circuit replicated identically floor by floor. Beige-carpeted cubicles and supply rooms honeycomb its interior, spoked by a hall joining the elevators with reception and, halfway between its endpoints, passing the double doors of its gold-marble executive suites. Dun acoustic tiles blanket the murmuring of the multitude hunched over its woodgrain work surfaces, black phones to their ears, and speaking as quietly as possible besides. Over them a mint, full-spectrum, ergonomic glow spreads from fluorescent bars fixed in the cornices, keeping everyone cagy. It is as if the light could see them. Floor thirty three, the Gina lawyer, surrounded by the bank’s own wind system, a helicopter pad a hundred meters up, an arena of days – I sat eagerly here dabbing my temples with a lotioned tissue, imitating the careers of my contemporaries, visualizing life as a paralegal or an analyst, rolling a pencil eraser between my fingers and glaring at the streets below. A disused part of my brain began wandering free down there, and shut up quick. Beyond the dim windows, a palisade of mirrors receded to the pier, the battle-sides of other skyscrapers now viewed aloft amid a living mist. Over the waters a military helicopter swooped and gaffled, and from the far-off panel windows steel grids of faces stared out in relief, other analysts, peers embedded in glass, unilaterally overseen by glowing Bloomberg stock screens, and happy to present on a Saturday, eager to incur wealth. Yes, through the infinite chains of Microsoft Excel they weave their weekends for years without pause, for their various kings, the threads of analysis, glorious analysis, 113

THE PENINSULA the measure of their days, unleashing corporate debt restructuring, income-linked hedging, and mezzaninebridge financing upon the blubbering laymen of the world below. They were investment bankers and their work could not be explained in words, only in pecuniary terms: overblown emerging markets, acquisition arbitrage, matured noninterest-bearing debt, AEX, ROFR, consumer nondurable stocks, ASXD, obligor, selling climax, pig, stick, dog, dry powder, pipeline, plain vanilla. On my workstation screen, primed and purring, a dull security panel logged me through to a desktop strewn with broad, pixilated file-teeth: the grey disc of the client database, the Recycle Bin (which I emptied immediately, compulsively), My Computer (loaded grindingly), My Network Places, spiky cash flow models, the stock-monitoring template, a yellow stack of email to sort and resort, the smooth blue whorl to the Internet – chain-links and staples, attention restraints. The Google word of the day was opprobrium. Associates with gray mugs trooped by, and the slow, persistent swirl of the office began, the sixth day, separating my mental chatter: the sharp scent of coffee, pastel carpets freshly sucked, the sheen of the great beech conference table down the hall, a paper menu for expensed chowmein, the muffling lack of sound, the purple robe of money. Now I’d clicked through the news sites, occupied by a story about a destroyed shop turned into a museum of World Trade Center dust, and was wondering how, why – but my imagination faltered as the secretary strode into my cubicle – and in a panic I shut 114

SAN FRANCISCO all the windows I had open. This would be Bonn’s life. This would be his fear! No more time for the luxury of thought. The sweetsmelling woman took my hand and whirled me on between the steel pillars: a sweet-smelling foyer: a hall of cubicles: a corner office: I passed through this alien land and breathed its lotioned air. An analyst, a maggot, hung around next to the giant stainless-steel fridge, waiting for a bagel to toast, while gray light streamed in through the windows. “It's so cold,” she mentioned with a wavering smile. “Winter is coming." Drained by the effort to speak, she spun off the counter to face us, holding a foil-wrapped packet of cream cheese and a plastic knife, but faltered out of the way of my guide. "Sure is getting colder," the secretary rammed, her claws picking up crumbs off the counter. "Days are getting shorter. Global warming. Well, enjoy your bagel." And she pulled us into the stale air of the copy room, swinging a shoulder in a broad turn that tore loose the useless strands of that interaction and returned the pantry to silence. Panting, an intern shat his pants at the helm of marketing's Xerox 8550DX, trying to make pitches for next week’s annual meeting. The enraged copier, a black, turquoise-lit behemoth, spat out a hundred pages per second, shaking wildly and emitting blasts of toxic toner gas, and I saw the huge stack of pages shoving from the tray weren't pitch indexes, they were malformed stacks of PDF-gibberish, Wingdings, sprayed out by some error this little shit had committed in the print queue. "What the hell, Eric? The trees are crying!" I 115

THE PENINSULA leered, flying by, and the idiot stared up in terror and began mashing buttons on the console, pressing cancel over and over again, anything to halt the job arriving over the network. He was praying for a plane to strike the building, he was pontificating about the injustice of it all, this indolent turd from Yale! But before I could put him in his place we'd put yards behind us around the corner, and I was storming, clawing my hands through my hair hard enough to yank the roots. “Fucking amateurs,” I sobbed. “It really pisses me off!” And the secretary, as wise as Virgil, nodded in compassion and drew me along. “Jesus God Damn,” thrummed a brassy voice, echoing my sentiments exactly, and I saw we’d passed into Corporate Counsel, a kingdom ruled by distant heir to the house of Morgan, whose great suit-back blocked our path and heaved up and down in fury. He was berating someone I couldn’t see, and just as we arrived he slammed out a huge silk-draped arm against the cubewall, which I ducked under and meowed, “Whoa there!” And, behold, he was flagellating a totally useless paralegal from Texas who cowered in the middle of the carpet, holding her face in her hands, but I had no time for her swan song and we sprinted by without slowing, getting a wave and a heads up from the heir that I mentally filed away as intangible goodwill, and he went back to flaying her, waving a finger in her face and chewing his meaty lips as was his goddamn right. Then the spokes of my evanders rammed onto a lip of caramel marble, and I saw we had reached the central hall. Double doors stood halfway down, flanked by 116

SAN FRANCISCO red-fired pots of yucca cacti: outside, a Filipina janitor stooped over the gold plants with a plastic pitcher, but I barely noticed her, for my gaze leapt beyond the doors to where a hairy form hunched up like a beast, feral in an ash pinstripe suit, a curly demon pelt rolling from his palms and scalp. He glared down at me with yellow eyes, then rocketed up twice as fast as he should, oxbloods scorching the carpet, yelling, "Hey, good morning there Jake! Get your ass in a chair!" We had arrived at the offices of the Gina lawyer. “God damn eBay stock,” the lawyer gargled, seated at the window overlooking the rooftop lawns, where somehow a polo game was in progress, the entire kingdom imported skywise. “Down ten points in after hours.” Spinning on the chair, he wrung my hand with a cold grip. The pores of his face gaped like minnows beneath his beard, and his blue Germanic eyes hounded me with impure intensity. His soft muscles bulged out dropsical, contained in a checkered yellow shirt. “Now shake my hand again, you've got to learn how, that's the first thing you should know in business.” I gripped his hand with about thirty percent more tension than I reserve for professors and fathers of friends, staring him in the eye. This was the same man I had seen at brunch, but here he seemed magnified by the pyramid’s lower layers. An amber margarita liquefied slowly on the tray table beside him: he grasped the stem and suckled, sloshing liquid onto his hairy fingers, which he licked grey and matted. From the adjacent seat a young man 117

THE PENINSULA with slick brown hair rose nervously, holding a binder to his chest. “DAVE!” the lawyer bellowed. “Burn my fucking music. Are you done burning it yet. Please tell me you are done burning it. Also, Jesus Christ, your footwear is disgraceful.” “No, I’m sorry,” the boy wept. “Then go fucking do it,” I snarled. “Go on.” The boy turned, head bowed. “Wait, leave the binder,” the lawyer said, and the boy came back from the doorway, placed it between us with both hands and waited. “Jake do you want any music, I have this hard drive with twenty thousand songs he's helping me copy.” “I already have too much fucking music.” “Then that's all!” The boy lowered his head and walked out. The lawyer's gaze drifted after him. “Good kid from Wharton,” he said. “You need people who can walk through walls.” “Why don't you hire Ryan out of the bank to work on this?” I asked, sitting down and crossing my legs. “He'd love to work in venture. He’s familiar with Gina.” “You presumptuous little shit!” guffawed the lawyer. “You presumptuous little fuck! We don’t hire just anybody!” He bellowed out for my files and crossed his legs to the groin, chattering to me while assistants kneeled to sift the records. Those two girls took a quarter hour to locate my trust documents, and when they arose the carpet had latticed their shins red. Twice as they were 118

SAN FRANCISCO working jetplanes buzzed the building, faded teeth of metal rocketing over the bay. “My assistants went to Stanford, just like you,” the lawyer chuckled. He pointed at one of the girls, who crawled away sobbing. With bandages on both thumbs and blue ink splattering his hands, he grasped the file and yanked out thick sheafs of paper, the Gina reports. “Yeah, this is them,” he said. “Tighter than a granny’s diaper.” Grinning like a wolf, he leaned towards me, pressing two fingers and the margarita glass against my shoulder in the wet, corrosive aloha of a Harvard man in California who’d decided that this was the thing to do. I smelled tequila again and my stomach hopped. “Why are my files here,” I asked, “and not on Sand Hill?” “Everything’s here, Jake,” he groaned. “The Servants of the Acquisition See All. Yes, that’s what it entails to be acquired by Goldman Sachs: bring the last ten years of your shit up to their offices so they can sort through it and make sure you aren’t money laundering. I’ve been sitting here for weeks just watching them sift paper.” “So you think the deal will go through?” “Impossible to say, with these fucking jabronis. Debt is cheap, thank God. Now how was your first week back at school?” “Irrelevant, irreverent, the same. I am twenty two and it’s not my first day at Stanford. Fucked some girls, I think.” He howled and reclined back on the sofa, opening a 119

THE PENINSULA palm in a warm gesture of commerce. Red-faced, he waved to the secretary for food. “Now let’s eat,” he said. “It’s not the Circus Club, but we make do in this city.” “Are you a member at the Circus Club?” I asked, surprised. “I didn’t think they allowed Jews.” “What, I’m not Jewish! And those policies are indecent–” he barked, but his phone caught his attention and he pulled it out and began to swirl it with his thumb. He pushed wings of faded hair behind his tan ears, pulled at his shirt-collar, and gave a little shiver at the looseness in his neck. Then he pinched the stems of his glasses and sharpened his blue eyes into pinpricks, as he began to speak money. “You're here because I'm doing your family’s books,” he said, “so let's not beat around the bush. You spent way, way, way too much this summer, and everyone is pissed.” “I guess. I think I should have more money.” He leaned back and took hold of his drink, watching me. “We need to talk about your family's finances,” he said. “We need to get big-picture now. We don't talk about this much, but you know the basic setup. Are you ready to get big-picture?” “I guess.” I looked past him down over the city. On the runcible polo field, children were dancing across the emerald lawn and Mexicans were watching and moms were sunning. How had they gotten the horses up? What a load of shit, this place, it was almost unbelievable. The vision shimmered. Far off beyond the towers 120

SAN FRANCISCO the bay gleamed, and the fanglike planes kept playing in the sun, weaving their complex patterns of exhaust. “Are you paying attention to me?” He'd crossed his legs tight, flexing his thighs like a sardonic queen. “Well you had better pay attention this time,” he went on, leaning in and narrowing his eyes and making them burn. “Take some of your pills, because Mommy has asked me to cut off your credit cards. Do you understand that much?” “I don't know how that works,” I replied, for I didn’t. “Is that even possible?” Then the secretary brought in sandwich plates and orange juice on two trays and smiled at us, and the lawyer waved her off. He started eating his sandwich. A gob of yellowish chicken salad fell from the bread and plopped down on his slacks, and he looked at it for a moment before smearing it away with his thumb and putting it in his mouth. “Wait, what the fuck are you talking about?” I asked him. “I thought we were going to discuss my trust fund.” “Jakesh,” he swallowed. “You have a pretty liberal attitude towards money. You spend, and God knows Evelyn has been spending.” “But that is the status quo! Why does it matter? It doesn’t affect anything.” “Do you know how much money your family actually has?” “What about our investments?” “You know what happened with that. I manage your investments now, thank Kleiner. Soon Michael will.” 121

THE PENINSULA “Right, and even accounting for my mother’s idiocy, they are limitless. You don’t have to educate me about my father’s success. And I don't want to talk about whatever Ponzi schemes you've set up to rob us. I just want my money.” I rocked back in my chair and inhaled the air he exhaled. “Not totally limitless, you fallacious little prick. Around here, investments cover a family’s basic costs. What are those? Let’s see–” He waved around his knife and fork. His eyes flapped in their sandy lashes. From his desk he picked up a copy of San Francisco Magazine and began to read. “Mortgage on Atherton home: $189,000 Property taxes and utilities: $72,150 Mortgage on a $1.5M Vacation home in Lake Tahoe: $81,570 Property taxes and utilities: $30,000 Landscaping, demolition, room renovation: $125,000 New furniture and housewares: $37,000 One full-time servant: $57,000 Housecleaner, twice a week: $7,500 Part-time personal assistant: $45,000 Home repairs and upkeep: $25,000 Stanford tuition: $50,000 Additional donations to schools: $60,000 Weekly tutoring: $6,750 Pool: $10,000 Activities/lessons: $14,000 Birthday parties: $3,000 122

SAN FRANCISCO Clothing for her: $40,000 For him: $27,000 Jewelry: $15,000 Groceries: $12,000 Takeout: $4,500 Restaurants: $20,000 Wine: $16,500 Fitness (club memberships, plus private sessions): $22,000 Country Club: $12,000 Haircut and color every six weeks (for her): $4,000 Monthly massage and facial (for her): $5,760 Medical expenses/uninsured specialists: $17,800 Four dinner parties for eight: $4,000 One birthday party: $10,000 Two international trips, plus six weekend trips: $75,000 New car: $75,000 Upgrades for computers and other electronics: $18,000 Warriors season tickets: $22,360 S.F. Opera season tickets: $5,700 Charitable contributions: $23,000 Gifts and tips: $10,000 Accounting and tax fees: $4,000 Car insurance (three cars): $7,500 Gas: $10,000 Car maintenance: $4,700 $2M life insurance policy: $8,430 Financial advisory services: $13,200 Attorney fees: $50,000” 123

THE PENINSULA

And how! He unclipped his glasses and folded the spectacles on the mahogany. Down on the roof the polo game roared to life, the knights pricking across the field, shouting out plays. The small horses kicked and bayed. No sound reached us. “But they don’t cover some ridiculous summer in Italy and six hundred euros a night blown on ecstasy and whores!” The secretary stepped down the hall in high dudgeon, rushing the glass shut to seal us inside. “I don’t do ecstasy. I was looking at art,” I retorted. “And windmills. And how do they not? Did you know that a billion dollars makes a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a day in interest?” “A billion dollars! As if your family ever had that much. What matters is not the principal, it’s the policy. Here’s the new one: you get three hundred a month to spend. Now it's not all bad. Once you start work you'll be earning for yourself.” “Three hundred a month? Work? What the fuck? Why can’t mom cut back on all the ridiculous shit she doesn’t need?” “How does it feel?” “I don’t know yet whether you’re serious.” “I mean right now.” “Like I want to carve your eyes out with sticks.” He guffawed. “Don’t start pretending you’re a Patrick Bateman. God knows all your generation reads American Psycho and idolizes him. It’s unhealthy. It’s the only novel you people read. It’s become cliché. 124

SAN FRANCISCO Now I think you'll get a kick out of this,” he said, “come step over here.” Still holding his sandwich with one hand, he popped up his laptop with the other and pressed a blue button. The sandwich plopped more cubes of chicken down onto the plate and one rolled over the lip. I slid into the seat next to him. Beyond his pink silk hocks the cursor flicked open a series of graphs from a spreadsheet. A red box flashed a rate of return, which he selected and traced, a quiver of blue arrows flowing into it from a list of company names, share counts, and prices. He put the bread down and wiped the back of his yellowy hand on the napkin. “I want to show you how far they've come this year at Gina, Jake. I don't think you've been by in a while to appreciate it. Venture's rebounding, exits are up three times since the crash.” The portfolio glowed to life, displaying the companies alive in the Gina portfolio. A pie of slivers diversified – semiconductor companies in pale blue, chip fabs up and down the coast in million dollar interests, destined for acquisitions by Cisco or Sun or to be washed overseas and outcompeted. Software in purple, web in gold, sites I'd never employ, acquisition hopes for Google or Yahoo. And green leery biomedicals to IPO pre-revenue. All these shone from the lawyer’s spreadsheet, caressed within the operating system of his laptop computer. “I don't give a shit about Michael’s doomed enterprise,” I told him. “The fund stinks since my father died and everyone knows it. Give me some money. It 125

THE PENINSULA is my money.” “But the fund is your problem as well as mine,” he said, turning in his chair so that our knees brushed, his head a red and blunt knot without features or eyes. “Not mine.” “Oh yes, and that’s what’s so fun about this arrangement. I'm embarrassed to say I partly agree with you, that without a grand slam this fund's going underwater. But not everyone knows that! And no one wants that to happen.” I slid back to the other side of the table and took the sepals of a vase flower between my thumb and forefinger, a swamp dock, cold and undernourished. I could feel the fluids circulating in it. “I guess,” I said. “In short, I presume you want your allowance. And I presume that you know the majority of your trust’s assets remain invested in the Gina funds, where they were transferred at your father's behest.” “Those assets have already paid out in cash. The old partnership is winding down. I don't see how that affects me today–” “What affects you is the rate your mother and I decide to give you money, and the rapidly dwindling liquidity of the Bessemer estate. I know you don't want to work, but given this situation you may have to.” The lawyer pulled at the plate binder his analyst had left and clacked open its metal fangs. He flipped out a blue sheet printed with the date and a short triplicate of columns, our family’s accounts. “I have tried to speak with your mother about this, but she, like you, made up her mind long ago to spend 126

SAN FRANCISCO whatever she wanted for as long as she could. The columns denote years. As you can see, the Bessemer trust is – well, look.” Depleted. I examined the page. “This isn’t much, but it doesn’t include our interests in Gina.” “Yes, those completely illiquid positions which no one wants or can even value, like you say. That is why our fates have become more and more aligned. That is what we’re trying to sell here!” “Why haven’t you talked to me about this before? I don’t see how this could have happened so quickly.” “It hasn’t happened quickly. It took years to spend it all. I’m telling you now because you have been a dependent, because your mother asked me not to. But you’re graduating, and as part of preparing your trust for transfer, we decided you should get the whole picture.” He leaned back and drank from the amber glass. “Not that you really have any choice any more. You’re cut off in the short term. As your family’s counsel it is my fiduciary responsibility to protect the health of the Bessemer accounts. You have what we give you. But in the long term, your family's fortune, barring your mother’s marriage, is largely dependent on the Gina funds, and Mr. Medine’s diligent management of them.” I crossed my legs and gripped the leather arms. “What is the Gina interest worth?” “The third fund interest is almost spent, because they are winding down. Fund four is half invested. We have taken on some secondary assets. If we post market returns your family could expect some pittance, 127

THE PENINSULA maybe ten million dollars over the next four years. But if we hit one out of the park–” “Which is impossible these days in venture capital because Kleiner and Sequoia are sucking up all the best deals and it isn’t the bubble any more–” “It’s possible.” “That’s great to know. It’s great that you’re doing your job. I don’t see why we don’t just sell our stock on the private market. And I don't see how any of this affects me.” “It affects your mother more – her decision making at least.” He ruffled up his snout. “I’d like to say someone would take on a Gina interest up for auction, but no one is going to buy the Bessemer stake as a secondary. It’s tail-end private equity. No one likes to buy tail-end, not such a small position.” “You said my mother knows about this?” “Does mother know – mother doesn’t know the difference between a sheet of stock and a bond. Your mother, however, knows the feeling of money.” Sweat had appeared on the lawyer’s freckle-crowned pate, where the hairs swam back like insect legs from his crown. He was still smiling. “The point is, without a big injection of cash into your trust you will have to work in an investment bank for thirty years if you want to continue any semblance of your current lifestyle, because your mother isn’t going to let go of the cash. She has her own needs. Hundred hour weeks–” He grinned, capitalist. Then he leaned in earnestly. “Which is why it’s so fortunate that Mr. Medine has offered to buy your trust’s Gina 128

SAN FRANCISCO interests.” “He has? For how much?” “Three hundred thousand, today.” My eyes bulged. “Show me the upside!” “It’s cold cash here, in your hand, rather than paper that may or may not be worth anything. Examine the files yourself, you’ll see what’s in there – just a bunch of patents and common stock in companies about to go under. You said it yourself. You should take the money; it’s a sizeable nest egg. Your mother wants you to work too, after what you spent in Europe. It isn't the nineties any more, Jake, and you've got to learn we all worked for what we got, and you must too–” The wings of his hair went floating around his ears and his eyes revolved magnified in the glass lenses, large rosaceous eyes which stared upon me a moment and continued their roaming around the forms of the tower. “You've got to get out there and invest yourself in the world. I think you'll find it's boring without something to do. Work holds everything together. It's not such a bad thing, believe me, once you get used to it.” He continued: “You believe me, your father knew the value of work. Hardest worker I’d ever seen, but he didn't show it. Never condescended, taught even Mr. Medine a thing or two. I respected him very much.” And this disgusting Ragged Dick took to sliding his thumb along the slicks on the glass, picking up a rim of water that overflowed his palm to his wrist, which he wiped at with a napkin. “My idea is to move to Hawaii and never speak to 129

THE PENINSULA any of you ever again,” I told him. “And how do you feel about your mother's marriage?" the lawyer replied, crossing his legs again. “You can imagine how I feel.” “I’ll be honest with you,” he said, leaning in, “I didn't intend for it to be this way, nor did Mr. Medine really. The drifting apart of partners, the death of one, and a changing of the guard, like that Russian novel, what was it. Anna Kleiner?” “I wouldn't know.” I tried to laugh at him, pulling up the corners of my smile and chuckling in my throat, but stopped. “And in the end I do see myself in you,” he finished, and I shifted away and put my hands in my pockets. It was getting faggy. Down on the field a black stallion kicked its rider off in a sirocco of pointless dust. Rolling away, he rose to his feet and patted the browned carapace of his knee linens; he stomped earth from his body as the horse galloped towards the edge and went charging round and round. Somehow it would fall, go hurtling the fifty stories to the street below, and splatter like a bubble. “And I always felt a duty to your dad to see that you came out all right,” the lawyer went on, red-faced. “I know you don't want to work, and I see you weren't raised for it. I don't think you lack ambition, only that you haven't decided what you want to do with your life. But your spending doesn't lie – we won't support that kind of lifestyle, your mother won't have it, and Mr. Medine certainly won't have it. If you know what’s good for you, take the money.” 130

SAN FRANCISCO “If I want your opinion,” I replied, “I will sue you.” I picked up my papers. Outside, the sun scorched the city and the sky let down its tresses in the streets. Beneath the banisters and the marble orbs, the blocks filled with suited soldiers out for coffee and money on their Saturday breaks. I walked back among them along the boulevard, the package under my arm. It was time to see Lily. “Now minster,” a bald shoeblack called from the sidewalk, “those some fine but funked up shoes.” And he sat me upon his throne, whirling the saddle soap and flicking from between his teeth an excrescent red tongue. “You needs this soap,” he muttered. From the hills around us plunged cablecars on sinuous wires, and the district clanged out a hundred thousand conversations, confined by its high towers into the fiber running beneath the streets. The shoeblack pulled gobs of parade polish from the tin and spread them across my shoecaps with a rag. The evanders shined in the sun and a passing banker turned his head in admiration. “You got a dollar?” the black asked, eyes quivering. But I was not listening. I had taken the pack of papers from the folder and flipped through them, where, nestled between the reams of gibberish, I found a small typed letter: Jake, this note is for you, and it’s hidden here where I know you’ll look since you love money. There is something important you should know about our family and 131

THE PENINSULA the partnership with Medine, but I can’t put it here in writing. Michael has done some very bad things, even committed some crimes – at any rate, we aren’t entirely on the same side any more. Since you’re reading this I’m dead, and he might have something to do with my death. I don’t know, of course, since I’m dead. I want you to go onto a computer and look at the logs I’ve uploaded to my file server. I have written something there that will help you. The password is in my safe, Evelyn has the key – but since I love Shakespeare and this postmortem escapade fits the shoe, the username is H@ML3T. Good luck, I love you, and don’t invest in optical networking. – RUSSELL BESSEMER Well, I smiled at that letter, and I hadn’t smiled for a long time. Trembling, I climbed off the shoeblack’s throne and up the silver streets.

132

8
Sensations, sensations, San Francisco, its jelly of sensations! I hiked all the way up Columbus to where the parapets of Sts. Peter and Paul overlook Washington Square, a grand toy towering over the poplar branches and their scales. One hundred Chinese made ranks under those dancing trees, formed in silent exercise around their leader, moving liquidly, and I walked watching them down the path. Yes the square opened a hole in the city and its supplicants crawled forth to drink the light: they sat upon benches brown-faced and reeked and never lived. Witnesseth! Across the lawn a bum in black crawled before blast sprinklers that knocked him to and fro, and he sprawled to wash his buttocks, pulling the pants down with one hand and wiping away as I walked through the sharpsmelling grass. But the breeze of the sea found these heights as well, and blew off the cooksmells of the morning, the aroma of motor oil on asphalt, bread baking, noodles frying in 133

THE PENINSULA offal, and the modern scent of trash. A ringlike giblet bobbed by on the shirt-neck of a man with no face, and an old Persian dressed entirely in blue scuttled across the street, feeler-hairs descending from the warts on his face. They were people of another time. In the city I saw the collection of souls multiply and conflate, face gait and beard – gossip, gyration, cigarettes smoked upon the sidewalk, a weaving of decades – bald Jap, chortling sailor, hippie in a woven sack, salt-haired lesbian in glasses, toughbrowed Mexican hauler, stalking negress, suitbacked secretary, coiffed analyst threepair sidling, chucking hooded vagrant, a gaunt white haggard tireless driving multitude, driving and driven through time – and I walked through the park to meet Lily, watching them as the morning became day. In the café’s yellow sunlight dust swirled and released mote by mote the breath of bread and human perspiration. Full of passion, I struggled for the feeling and the feeling knocked me down. The dust rubbed across the tables and went out into the day. There were three chairs at the table and I sat in the tallest, waiting for her. I always prepared for first encounters with mind tricks, images and symbols. Yes, it was better to concentrate and prepare. In my mind emerged a little knight onto a brown plain alone. A spear and shield, chainmail beneath a black tabard – the crest of my lineage, the leopard, agile, not a brute canned in russet armor, but a flexing feline knight with time to spare – retreating, parrying, patient. He looked around and flipped his spear. This is how it began for me that morning with Lily. 134

SAN FRANCISCO This is how I see myself ideally. The cabbie held the door open for her and a dog that was trained led her: it was a blond dog with a black harness and it led her well: and the people in the café turned their gazes and some of them remarked that it was a blind girl. On my mind’s plain she emerged, conjuring symbols of her own. She was purple and large, clumsy, an octopoid imagining, an overconfident lurching mass of tentacle and beak, resentful, foolish, and aggressive. Oh how it shocked me to see her! Nervously I went over to her and said hello and by her fragile hand led her to the table, and immediately the dog curled at her feet. Her face molded in the cool light, glowing like Egypt and tanned like amber, falling sharp and long. She was beautiful, really physically beautiful – and it was in the contradiction that I wanted her. I wanted no one but her and I wanted never again to see any of the Stanford girls. The knight trembled and shook his head. He faced his opponent and waited and took a sip of his tea. Purple large and venomous she trailed her palps over the table, a hand running atop mine, and I felt her hands, embracing, vambracing, greeted her simple and plain, interesting, but not too interested. “Her name is Callie,” said Lily. “What? The dog. Our meeting will go much faster if no one speaks.” “But she’s good to me, and I care for her.” I sat back down on the highest chair, and she sat on the low one, and my brain began to spin with feeling but I stopped it, and there was only the picture of the 135

THE PENINSULA knight upon the plain and the monster quivering as it was stabbed over and over in gouts of froth and gore. She traced across the shield another tentacle. “You’re holding something,” she said, leaning in. Her pale eyes remained still. “Just some papers, some stuff for your uncle.” “Not more schemes between our families!” “Only between you and me. Only we can keep a safe distance.” “Can we. Then I’m happy you came,” she said. “Why am I here?” “You’re cantankerous, inappropriate, selfdestructive, and single. And right now I need a drink.” “All right.” So we drank two bottles of champagne and I proceeded with my usual tricks. She turned out to be a world-class drinker. Just as I began to lean towards her she would turn away, long neck flexing and reaching for her flute. She could sense my attraction as well as I could, and we brought our chairs side-by-side. She would close her glassy blue eyes and laugh, and reach out and hold my hand and whisper things in my ear. Soon the wine softened us to lighter topics – movies, dog preferences, the implications of global warming, the impending war between vodka and gin, the dissonance of human desire, the Chinese trade deficit, the glories shared by all elites. She could talk as well as any man and she knew what to say to draw me along, and I could not stop looking at her strange eyes and smelling her silver scent and trying to touch her. Unlike most foreigners she had only a sneer for technology 136

SAN FRANCISCO and would talk nothing of Silicon Valley – she hadn’t even brought a phone with her. She was more interested in irrelevant things, art and literature, the names of the trees in the park. “I’m obsessed with Dante,” she said. “It sounds strange, but when I go places I can see the different parts of hell.” “Which ones do you see here?” “Lust, and avarice.” “You should blog about it.” “I think blogs are the worst thing to happen to writing since the Inquisition. When there are as many authors as readers, the two roles become indistinguishable. The same thing happened in Rome with public readings – everyone took a turn being fashionable, and mediocre thought became the norm. There went the empire.” “Well, I don’t have time for all that rubbish, writing,” I boasted. “It doesn’t have anything to do with modern life. I can’t remember the last thing I read at length. Try to hold my attention for a minute – go on, try. I think it’s glorious to let the mind wander. It’s the only true luxury. It’s the only thing you can do forever. Lily, I try not to date people I’m sleeping with, but I would be willing to drop some of my recreational drug use for you.” She sighed. “Nothing gets me hotter than a man devoid of debilitating long-term debt.” “It would be really convenient for us to have a fling.” “Where would we have one?” 137

THE PENINSULA “Your apartment suggests itself.” “My uncle’s? But it would almost be incestuous. Talk about Rome!” “It’s not incest if they aren’t married.” She smiled. “Now you’ve hinted on something.” “Is that what you wanted to talk about?” “The cruel union of our fates, which my mother told me is the term you use.” “Your mother mentioned me? I’m happy, because she told me to keep away from you.” “You’re a very pretty guy, she tells me. Lots of girls. And you like to talk about the past.” “It's what I like to think about. Much easier to think about the past than invent the future. The past is like food. There the mind, like I said, can wander.” She unbuttoned her purse with one hand and buttoned it back, the brass clasp clacking into place. A twist of the head, a fluttering glance, a stutter, her quavers building. “But it isn’t important,” she said. “Jake, I should tell you why our families can’t get married.” Now she blinked and her throat tightened as she swallowed. I knew every feature of her face. She would have brushed her hair back a few seconds later, or her jaw would have twisted, or she would lean a little further back. One always notices a girl’s eyes: a defensive blink is held several milliseconds longer than a normal blink. Did blindness matter? She blinked again and ran out some words. The plate of her collarbones inverted with her breath. “We have had – some problems, like I said. My un138

SAN FRANCISCO cle’s had some problems. It just can’t happen. It wouldn’t be good.” “Is it to do with the trading rumors?” “Not exactly, it’s more difficult to explain.” She bit her lip. “It’s more personal.” Then one of the blue jets shrieked over Telegraph Hill and the café shook. The shock was terrifying, infernal, burning through our ears. All of the tables were shaking, the glasses spilling, and then it was gone, leaving in its wake a beeping tail of car alarms. Lily had put her hand to her chest. “God, the first time I heard that–” she laughed. “How close was it?” “Right overhead, blue with yellow stripes.” “It’s the most American thing in the world. Think of all the gas it sucks up!” “We do not consider gas. You were talking about your uncle. Saying it’s hard to talk about,” I told her. “I understand, of all people.” “I didn’t just come because of that. It’s rainy season in Hong Kong, it’s getting too hot, and my sister is here with me – she's going to a school we wanted to visit. Bucknell? We're going back around Christmas.” “So was it your family again? A family problem.” “Obviously.” “Oh I know them,” I said. But she wasn’t listening. Her glassy eyes had closed, then opened, and in the silence between us she somehow raised them to stare at the slats of food appearing on the counter, wedges of yellow quiche, bundled greens. At least it appeared to me that she had 139

THE PENINSULA directed them, and the effect was haunting. Mexican hands handling, chopping, suddenly a spray of vert stalks among the knife ahammering – I thought she must have been distracted. I pursed my lips and she sensed it. Her eyes again settled down upon my lips and this upset me so I licked my lips and she stared into the beyond. Blood flowed from a minute crack in them. Her eyes drifted up, flowing past me, and her fingers grew white on the table’s edge. The tentacle tore my knight’s shield away and whipped him around as he struggled after it. He clutched his spear in both hands. She was almost leaking blood. Her neck, her lips, swollen and puffy and engorged. I was going insane with lust. I knew what to do. The clinch requires you to be cruel, to produce something different. “Do you want to know something, Lily?” I said. “What?” “I can tell you’re dead inside. You never had any life in you.” I had my knife and fork raised, and I said this motionless, not that it mattered to her. “I think you're afraid of becoming like your mother and as she gets crazier you get sadder, and here you are, with some fucked up agenda that happens to coincide with mine.” She stopped and her eyes closed, wrinkled in silver folds. She straightened up and lifted her head, and I had her softly by the neck. “What?” she squeaked, blushing, and I saw she liked abuse. We walked up clear to her apartment, clasping 140

SAN FRANCISCO hands, the street flowering and pollinated with breeze. From time to time a candelabra of F-16s would blast over us, up the hills, but the sound was almost soothing now. Most of her was on me, her light girl-weight floating on my arm, the dog trailing on ahead, the dog that had made no sound at all since emerging with her into my afternoon and which seemed totally oblivious and indifferent to my assumption of her mistress. The sun beat down the golden air. Yea, you children of hags, lift up your shaggy heads and announce yourselves, and go back to drinking, to your incest and your games. Far up Lombard Street, up the many roads of San Francisco into its Pacific Heights, under the afternoon’s twisting violets, dusty moons, we walked together. She could walk quickly, it surprised me – her sense of space was uncanny, built, I supposed, over decades of concentration. I was trying so hard to relax that my mind gripped me like the bars of a vice. Lily’s terrycloth dress clung to her; and as she paused to unpeel it from her thighs her tile purse swung from her shoulders. Horn clasps braced the pale locks from her face. Her cheeks reddened. One of her knees had turned towards the other, and it seemed she might crumple like a schoolgirl. Another trio of planes flew over, howling their song. Around us people cheered from balconies and rooftops. Lily had not spoken much, but she climbed up smiling and held my hand and again we went up through the heights. She took a step away from me as we moved, and began to protest in a girlish way. “I can’t do this Jake,” she sighed, a little drunk, 141

THE PENINSULA holding me off tensely. The equivocating embrace of womankind. “You have to go soon.” She made a little face as though to apologize, squinting for some reason, somehow acting, and giving a shrug, and oh, it’s all right, let me imitate your probable father. I shrugged back. “I guess,” I said. A sweet breeze wandered with us on the hill. “It’s nice to be up here,” she continued heedlessly. “It’s so cool and calm. It must be a hundred degrees down the Peninsula. I love this city, the feel of the air. When I’m surrounded by this many people I feel alive. That’s why I love Asia.” Oh the endless perambulating girl. “Yeah,” I said, my eyes dull, and gripped her hand. Between the gaps in the buildings, fingers of fog enlaced the bay, and sailboats bobbed out in the slate. She asked me, “When I go back will you come and visit me?” “No,” I told her. “I’m not from there.” We had reached the steps and with one foot on them she turned gazing past me and beneath her marquis eyes her collar bloomed and expanded. We stood between two orange trees on the step. I took her by the waist and kissed her across the years. And we were in the elevator, kissing as the floors dinged off, then devouring each other, unbuckling and inhaling, gorging on the smell of her hair, her sharp clean scent, unable to concentrate on anything else, laughing as she slipped her rainy fingers down my 142

SAN FRANCISCO pants while the dog barked, and without a word I pulled myself together and stepped out into the hall with her, pushing her towards the notched door. In the groomed foyer of the Medines I took off my coat and she was on me immediately against the wall, biting my chin, her skirt riding up. I held her hands and slapped her hard. Dim memories of ancient fuckings flapped like bats from preconscious twilight, delivering orders, forming patterns that moved me against her body as I had moved against them all. I imagined the throw of her pale breasts, her back furrowed and flared out into the petals of her waist, her gold legs tensed like an athlete’s. I reached up to tear off her shirt, but suddenly her hands grabbed my wrists. Lily dropped back, kissed me, and, stepping down, let her own hands glide over the ledge of my ribs, falling so her fingers hooked on my belt. She breathed in, pressing down her lips into a cherry pout. She turned her head and her silver neck twined, and her eyes closed slowly. She screwed up her face and blurted out giggling. “I can feel you!” she laughed. “All wound up.” “What?” She pulled away from me and brought a hand up to cover the laughter spilling from her lips. “I’m sorry that I have to keep you waiting. I know you’re in pain.” “What?” “I’m sorry. I’m celibate.” Her hair shook in a cloud of gold. She turned away and slipped deftly across the room. How she moved! “It’s so hot! I need some wa143

THE PENINSULA ter. Wait there.” “This is unacceptable. You do realize I can have anybody,” I said, prickling with heat. I turned away to the door. “Is it because you’re blind that you’re uncomfortable.” I expected this to hurt her. “Oh no,” she laughed. “Every sensation is enhanced. Don’t think I don’t want to.” Her voice was sweetly aware. “There,” she went on. “I’m really celibate. No, I’m just playing. I’m awful. Would you like a drink?” The sound of water. How did she move so quickly? She knew the place. “I’m leaving,” I said, putting my hand on the knob. I should have left then. But she walked slowly back unaided and without a word slipped her hands around my waist once more. She must have spent a great deal of time there, to know where to step, and her dog lay in apathy, curled on a cushion by the door. Lily slipped her over my chest and down to my sides, soft around the front and moving. “Please don’t go.” She trembled slightly. “Why stay?” “You won’t know if you leave.” “My dignity is on the line.” “Your dignity? Your dignity?” The room felt sickeningly disordered, almost reversed. There were too many paintings, too many pieces of paper, Medine’s notes everywhere, clothes, books, her unctuous Braille books, bowls of dried up food on her dresser, a swarm of ants crawling. How would she clean them? Somehow I was with her in this adopted lair. Sadness, then – I turned her off and 144

SAN FRANCISCO stalked to the balcony door. She sat down on her bed. "You were so tense. A ball of tension,” she called. Then she laughed mockingly. “Come back.” She had a book on her lap, of all things. Was she really such a student? Yet on her crossed tan legs lay a marbled tome from which she turned wide pages imprinted with Braille. I walked over and around, imprisoned. “Sit down. This was one of the first books translated into Braille and my family bought it for me. You should see it. The university’s paying me to record it as an audiobook.” I sat on the bed. As she turned the pages her eyes seemed to flicker with the impression of what she had read and without response she took my hand in her free one, caressing it at first, then drawing hieroglyphs upon my palm with her finger. I didn't like it or understand it, what she could get from so much reading, not even reading with eyes, useless, and, though I tried to ignore the intercession, it stretched into silence. "Is that how you do it. What are you reading?" I demanded. "Dante, like I said I am always reading Dante." Without moving her gaze she leaned back and drew arms up around my neck, her ocean eyes lazing past the page. "I wonder what it is about me, that I have no interest in literature," I said. "A dearth of imagination, my bee." Upturned lips kissed me on the nose. "It seems so far from reality," I said. "What’s the 145

THE PENINSULA point? I don't see how you connect anything." "It would be hard to disconnect entirely from history." “Well, read me something pertinent.” “All right, I’ll choose one for you.” “You don’t have to.” Shadow shapes seemed to depart her eyes, and I looked from them down to her lips supple with pleading womanly need, plush with blood, what did she want, money, shoes, and gazed further down the white parting of her collarbone running beneath the loose blouse, and stirred faintly, and wondered which among these made her woman. “Here,” she said, and turned to an earmarked page. She began to read in a lilting voice: “I want to be as harsh in my speech as this fair stone is in her behavior – she who at every moment acquires greater hardness and a crueler nature, and arms her body with jasper such that, because of it, or because she retreats, no arrow ever came from quiver that could catch her unprotected. But she is a killer, and it is no use putting on armor or fleeing from her deadly blows, which find their target as though they had wings and shatter every weapon; so that I've neither the skill nor the strength to defend myself from her.” Then her face twined again into sad laughter. “I’m 146

SAN FRANCISCO sorry, I’m sorry!” She grabbed a pillow and buried her silver face. But I had had enough. I got up, took my papers under my arm, walked to the sliding door, and went out onto the balcony. My cheeks were hot and I was cursing everything. Standing outside, I watched the sun setting over the water and regretted my life, early into autumn on this the birthday of that irrelevant girl I had left sniveling in my apartment. The planes were gone. The heights rose separating themselves from the base city. Beyond the marina ridge the Presidio fell black and verdant in fountain steam. Air is liquid as much as gas, a seagull’s wings are chainmail fans, the setting sun sends nightmares as it dies, the sounds of twilight are taut vibrations of the sky: on a defiant rock in the mists of the copper bay, white-faced and clawed by cypress, the Alcatraz lighthouse accosted a trash barge rounding the cape, and the faint barking of slimy, chestnut-shouldered seals, faroff up the tidy-dingy streets of the city, I ignored. “I keep forgetting you haven’t been here,” Lily said, stepping out onto the terrace. Inside, her throw twisted across the carpet with the crumpled buttery bedclothes, all over the floor. She wore only a translucent slip and it fit her well. She carried a glass of ice water slippery with her licking. “It’s convenient and affordable,” I told her. “It’s the city experience. It’s suitable for you. But I’m leaving.” “I’ve tried not to be rude.” She faced off into the distance. “No, but I’ve got dinner with this girl in Russian 147

THE PENINSULA Hill. I have to call her. So so hungry, the food will make her revolting personality bearable, at least until she vomits it back up.” I was saying anything, trying not to look at her terrible eyes. I turned my glare down onto the street. “Don’t say that about her.” “What do you care?” “Because you should respect the people you spend time with.” She crept up and pressed herself against me, winding her arms about my waist like flowers’ tongues, all slender and hot. “But of course you are a liar by nature.” Across the bay the sun sank into the water, a ball of golden wire. At its immersion the ships glowed, their navy sides, cobalt and copper, booming the waves. And rut it. Rut it. I had to teach her what I meant. I turned and grabbed Lily’s wrist, snapping up her opal singlet, and in one tearing lurch yanked her to the brink of the rail, shoving her head over. She cried in surprise and dropped the glass, which clanked down upright, the water falling back in a jet. It was obvious to me that she liked violence. I gripped the scruff of her neck and forced her head down into the warm air, speaking closely to her. “Not a liar,” I snarled. “What do you have to say for yourself, you homewrecking bitch?” The inclination to tease her, to play as I would with any other girl, came back freely, the old sword bared, and, incensed now, I bit my lip nearly to blood. “What are you doing?” she cried, panting. She slank an arm around my leg and tried to pull back, mewling. 148

SAN FRANCISCO Her knees bent and her back flexed – the slip went pulling around her, half tearing off. Of course she liked to be choked. Beyond her shoulders the houses descended and the sea abandoned the coast, tilting and pitching as we struggled. It flared into a bent coin around the horizon and the view swung dizzily. On the hard street below, a car door slammed and a man clopped around the bend and still I gripped her. I bent her like that to his eyes, if he could see. Her pale hair swung down, my fist tearing at her neck. Far below, the crest of the oak shuddered in the wind, its circle of leaves darkening the pavement. Her gasps quickened and I moved her slowly forwards to die, tilting her shoulders, her waist nearly over, tipping, tipping. Down the sweep of the heights and towards the harbor she stared and began to cry out in fear. “Casting your sin to die on the rocks,” I told her. With a shove I gave her off. But as she rose back flowerlike she bent her wrist and hit me in the jaw. My fangs snapped blood into my mouth. Tearing, I began to laugh, and I let her kiss me. Her lips, soft and shaking, stuck again like petals. “Lily, you stink of lust and adultery.” Turning away, she fixed her hair and clasped it in. She was smiling and still panting, and the slip she wore glimmered and showed. “You should rinse to get the smell off,” I told her, shaking my head. “If it will come off.” “Oh but I like it. How else am I going to hint to your girlfriends?” “With a baseball bat.” 149

THE PENINSULA “I don’t know why you don’t love them, her, any one of them.” “All girls bore me.” “You don’t love her, and she’s beautiful.” “Do you think it’s beauty?” I turned away and looked down upon the smoking city. A gull cast down the alleys on unseen currents, beneath then over a clothesline, and deposited upon the street a ridiculous white volley. “It’s not beauty.”

150

9
The whole night lived. With her I dined atop the city and sank into nepenthe: night winds, cold noble cherry trees, stone pillars, blades of air in the twilight, the stars supine between ozone expanses, and not a soul but us in those heights. The mansions glowed, the planes glowed with the boats, all the night folding ebon. The outlines of the houses huddled on the skyline and the restaurant opened like a star among them. The storm glinted in tatters over the bay, reflecting the Peninsula’s cities, and off to the west boomed the ardent Pacific. Sommat crooned the portly maitre d’, taking the necks of our coats, and away into a maze of tables Lily drifted beside me with the brazen, half-grateful gaze of a new lover. Zagat-rated 26 here; Yelp four-and-a-half stars here; excellent Cotes du Rhone here; excellent Crevettes Bordelaise; excellent views; expedient service; a yummy birthday dinnerplace. Yet filled with the old sitting gray, emitting plumes of dust, and a few fag151

THE PENINSULA gots who stared hungrily into each other’s eyes and spoke of getting marriage. San Francisco. From the windows, the clattering hill descended towards downtown and bayshore, where I’d climbed up this morning. The streets blew with a thin layer of fog that dissipated on the Pacific wind. We were still higher up. The entire bay lay revealed below – packrat Oakland in griddled sprawl, and dark Berkeley dreaming liberal, and the white caps of Marin’s boats dancing in the distant night, the candlelights of Mount Diablo’s observatories far above the water. “I can feel the light,” she said as we faced the view. Her eyes, sleepy and hooded, slanted down a face washed clean. By memory she had chosen the pearl dress that draped in luxurious folds around her shoulders, as she encoded all her outfits in her mind, warehousing the world’s praise. “The abalone dore,” I ordered of the waiter, a burly homosexual with a ponytail. “Try the Crevettes,” I told Lily. “Delish,” she said. “Don’t say that. It’s effeminate. And we’d like a bottle of wine. And some Pellegrinos.” “What is your vintage, sir?” The waiter’s left eye twitched; he took our menus and smiled before disappearing. Lily turned in her seat, framed by the lights. Fallen cherub, to be weak is miserable: her gaze meandering among the lights. “There may be a case,” she said, “For us being the most convoluted people in the world.” “It doesn’t matter if we’re rich.” 152

SAN FRANCISCO “The wealthiest, most messed up people.” “Are we a couple?” “We are at least partners in crime.” “I wouldn’t consider you my partner.” “I am offended.” “I like to be offended, it motivates me.” “Is that what attracts you?” she asked. “I’m not attracted to anything except money. I’ve forgotten what everything else feels like.” “Who do you blame for that?” “I don’t assign blame. One thing I’ve learned in my life is not to assign blame.” A bead of sweat rolled down my cheek, pricking tears to my eyes. “When I was young I used to look for enemies, but now I realize I have no enemies or friends. Except for you, you may be different. Which is why you’re here. Sickening, how we’re almost meant to be.” Her pallid face turned and something sad, almost black, spread across her features, and after a moment she placed her hands in her lap. I regarded her coldly. The waiter brought the wine and poured a tasting into the glass. I sniffed it. It smelled like wine. “Just perfect,” I lisped, and with a smile he poured. I tightened my grip on the glass, feeling the glow. She sipped. “Let’s talk about something else,” I said. “I want to forget this is happening.” Salad appeared, a rectangular wooden bowl of bracing shrimp in tartaric vinaigrette with citrus sprigs in pesticide-free greens pounded into oblivion by the cabernet sledgehammer, organic, fair-trade, Paleolithic, but 153

THE PENINSULA I was too tired to really care, and maintained that the wine went thpectacularly with everything: tannins, oakiness, and a strong finish smoothed the acidity of the dressing, clearly. Blackberries in our throats. We took another glass while the plates were cleared. We talked and talked – she could talk about anything. The dim lamps left exhausting tracks in my eyes, and the ancient city couples murmured codas and slowly left the room. Lily’s face had gone slack, and our conversation sank and finally decayed, hissing away on our breath. Whatever the fuck, wha– Then the abalone, a half-dollar lump of flesh in an enormous pink shell, winked open at me on a bed of morels, and I was started into wakefulness. The waiter clapped his hands and announced the plates, and we were off, gorging, gouging the white servers for loaves of wild rice bread, and as the wine gulped into plum paint on the sides of the bottles, the word ciacco rang in my head in operatic tenor, and I ordered another course of rock melon wrapped in prosciutto and then a quail breast over spinach pasta, and I felt happy and complete to be there providing for Lily. “Jake,” Lily said as I ate. “We want you to come on our boat tomorrow for Fleet Week.” “Who’s we?” “Me. I’ll be with my uncle.” “That could get weird.” “It won't be weird, he was wondering if he should invite you. We’re going to a party out there – it's apparently the biggest yacht in the world.” “Tom Perkins's yacht? The Maltese Falcon?” 154

SAN FRANCISCO “I think so. At least a nice place for you to watch the airshow.” “I'll think about it. It all depends on how much I drink. So much depends.” “Well, then we’d better hurry so you can get back to your party.” “You won’t come? I’ll bring you, what the hell.” “No, you’d better drop me off, my uncle says I can’t go out here.” “What, he’s not here, is he?” “No, but–” She frowned. “So what do you care?” “It’s better anyway, I need the sleep.” With one hand she balled her napkin, twisting the strands. I shrugged. I think that I should have paid more attention to this, but that is the fashion of ignorance – one always ignores the important details until they show themselves to be important, and then is too late. Dessert sank to life, raspberry soufflé and cherries jubilees topped off by vivifying espresso with sugary crystals that came in mango, elderberry, and cinnamon. Delightful! And the bill came and went, four hundred and seventeen dollars and six cents. In a brief start, the waiter rejected the credit on my platinum card, and I dismissed him with a wave of the gold (the experience was not insulting at all), got rejected, and gave him a fan of cash. Fucking mother. Half asleep, we got up from the table and drove down through the veins of the city towards its crackling core, and I took Lily home and put her into bed.

155

THE PENINSULA At eleven, back at my apartment, the first shots of vodka went down, and the ribbons went up, pink and gold as the birthday girl’s cake thundered in. Champagne clacked in silver buckets, and the table brimmed with cups for Pi Phi punch. Sisters arrived, two halfAsians explained by green eye shadow and miniskirts who immediately switched the music to electronica, because of their race. The celebrant remained before her mirror in extensive preparation. And conversation rose around. “But can’t we have eighties Jakey?” a girl called. My other friend Cyan Zilker leaned against the wall. “I have a new three-step life plan,” he told everyone. “First step: personal finances; I’ve laid out all my financial goals for the next three years. Second step: relationships; I'm going to take a class on networking. Third step: personal productivity; I'm going to learn how to get things done.” “Who is that girl?” “Just friend her on Facebook.” “But I have to know her name.” “Oh hi hi. Are you in Pi Phi–” “How do I get on YouTube here? My Blackberry’s down.” “So on Entourage–” “So many hot girls oh my God–” “So on Lost–” “Do you think they’ll escape–” “Banking huh?” “Private equity! Hedge funds!” “City of sevens.” 156

SAN FRANCISCO “Computers and cell phones can cause a loss of I.Q.” “I feel pretty smart. Excel modeling is hard.” The conversations rose and unified, to airy thinness beat. “Would you rather see the future or change the past?” “Mondrian at the MOMA. A really great Monet exhibit passing through in November, they say all the water lily paintings will be there.” “Cyan Zilker, what have you invented now?” “You know they say her ex boyfriend is coming, I hope there will be a scene. He always runs away from her. Everyone thinks he’s still in love with her.” “She’s so anorexic. So ano! It hurts me to look at her, arms like sticks.” “But Denny is dating Danielle and Darius has just come out of the closet, won't it be embarrassing–” “Whose apartment is this anyway?” “O-M-G – you look stunning!” “Thank you,” said the girl whose birthday it was, staring hatefully into my eyes. I took many shots of gin, and took Ryan into the bathroom to see if he would get the bitch off my case. We hunched over the slab of marble that surrounded the golden waterspout. We drew five long lines of cocaine and we rolled a hundred dollar bill and took those lines until powder gusted out of Ryan’s nose. The hot tub had been priming all night and instantly my friend was naked. Now Bonn he dipped his golden body in, and the water beaded on his wax skin and 157

THE PENINSULA made good in rivulets and streams. Now he slipped fully into the water which purled clear and majestic in waves from him, from his bronze hair, acidified by chlorine, from his glistening arms which had been trained in it, which had become statue-green, from his pommel shoulders and from his ribs, the water went rolling and bubbling and hissing out. “MORE COCAINE!” roared the marid. “You know what I want you to do,” I stammered. “You know what I want you to do.” “I know I know what you want me to do,” he rippled. “I know what you want me to do.” “Well you can’t possibly know, you can’t so what is it then,” I said. “I know I know what you I know what you want me to do.” He was leaning against the tub wall, his eyes folded in their metal skins. “I know what you want me to do.” “Snap out of it,” I said. “We’re having one of the most amazing conversations I’ve ever had and I can’t,” he shivered. “I simply can’t. I know what you want me to do.” “Yes you do. Yes I am. Yes you will. You’ll do it tonight and she’ll do it too because she wants to make me jealous.” “I think the only way you will get me to do it is if you give me more coke, yes more coke please. I don’t fuck Asians any more.” “She’s only half. Fine.” And he took more huffs and began to giggle. “Give me the entire bag,” he cried. 158

SAN FRANCISCO “Fine. Whatever. Who gives a fuck?” He dropped half the powdery clumps into the water. “Consider this done consider everything done,” he bellowed, suddenly starting up, splashing out, lurching for his clothes. I do not even need girls any more. Over the years my lust, limitlessly satisfied, has evolved a tumor of dreams that satisfy me more than any woman – visual, aural, olfactory, tactile – they describe the naked pert bodies of the females fucked by all men, spread and laid open, stripped, jizzed upon. I can do anything to anyone in my mind. So when I see a girl like this one, this automatic birthday girl, the scene replays automatically – the breath emitted by her body as I peel off her clothes, her mewling moans, the slickness on my fingers, the incarnadine taste of sweat, the destruction of her body and mind. My phallus is a wand of death attached to my ego. “Gosh,” said Bonn. “Gosh.” “You think she's pretty, right.” “She's pretty, yeah, tight pink little cunt. Pink and brown. I bet she fucks like a minx, like a fucking minx.” “Then take her to–” “To sit-on-my-face city. That's right. Where I'm the fucking mayor!” “That's right, bitches!” “Aight.” “Aight foo you ready.” “I'm so fucking ready.” “Lets do this then.” 159

THE PENINSULA “Do this!” “Do this!” We slammed our chests and writhed against each other, then bound from the door back into the party, wiping the dust from our faces. Thump and Eros: the club perched on the edge of an enormous construction pit vertical with cranes, a burrow of ash and rock. The cranes hung black ropes that swung with cargo down the sides, where rebar grids braced back the bedrock and chalk. Beyond the fence the pit descended three or four stories, extending across to the patrolling lights of Market Street, and yawning among the city’s towers. HARLOT perched high above this depth and poured down its beat like sediment. The sorority formal from Stanford had arrived, and our party merged with theirs in the streetlit line, a train of drunken duets stretching into the night: Pitt and Jolie, Spears and Federline, Love and Cobain, Barbie and Ken, episodes of our childhoods replayed in ostentatious costume. Ryan, delirious and now mauling the birthday girl, bore up in pink sunglasses and a muscle shirt he’d changed into. His thick wrist jammed a cor of champagne to his breast. He wrapped an elbow around my neck and breathed out his adoration of the night. “Happy birthday to princess!” he shouted into the line, the other arm around her. Leaping like an imp, he pulled at the birthday girl’s hair in the lamplight and buried his face in her lithe neck. She had said nothing to me and it would be easy this way. Everyone bloomed in 160

SAN FRANCISCO laughter and whooping. The black bouncers stood off in their leathers, looking first at identification cards and then always up to the sky in thought. Golden rings wormed around the black flesh of their fingers, which diverted the crowd inside. Their hands held court with a red parapet of velvet, where, ahead, the girls cosseted the princess and left Ryan with me and the other males. We broke out in fraternal cheering. I took the heft of the champagne and swung it, choking down gulps that foamed down my chin. “Happy birthday to you-u, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!” the girls began to sing. “Oh,” the birthday girl murmured, lifting her eyes to the night. Their triple bubbled dresses shimmered with scales. Their legs kicked and carried them forward in a red fog. “I wanna be a Pi Beta Phi, boom boom honey and that ain't no lie, I wanna be a Pi Beta Phi don't you.” The bouncers smiled and received the train, tipping their hats like country squires. “What is this?” Ryan laughed. “This could be on television.” “Yes,” I cried, “she’s a keeper.” And suddenly out of the club’s main window a leonine face was gazing at me. The girl wrinkled her freckles. A tongue stuck out, and eyes full of topaz light gleamed with mirth, then the face pulled back into the fog. “I'm so happy to have made it. Here's some of that candy wine,” a girl screeched. She took the neck of the bottle to slick it down, licking her lips while Ryan nuz161

THE PENINSULA zled her and she pushed him away. Then we passed through the dark archway. Whom the crowd thumped, whom whom the bass breaking over the bar, you felt it in your chest throat and buzzing the bones of your face, a breastplate of sound in you wherever with whomever, a force of technology effacement and youth. The vinyl floor stuck with liquid viscera, and, relieved of my coat and sixty dollars, I held forth across the mire towards the dancefloor, to find the birthday girl, drawing Ryan with me. The crowd packed in, funneled here and summarily deafened, all eyes wide, all throats straining to be heard. Ryan passed me and went on through the crowd, looking for his mark. Down the bar, brushing the girls’ jean-, skirt-, and dress-clad behinds. No attention for them beneath notice, plebes, but I broke in on two of the better looking bridge-and-tunnel crew, unfortunate conventional Midwesterners in tense stances casting roving eyes, chained in collegiate impedimenta – ruffle skirts, even, in this fog, and was that a sorority tattoo? No, only a grease drawing of three Greek letters, Delta Delta Delta, and a little piggy with a halo – behind them the smoke crawled with sisters, all blonde, all chanting, and I opened them thus: “Sorry, I’m trying to settle a debate over here, I need a female opinion – do you think men lie more than women?” One, undeterred, leaped in with the ferocity of a philosophy major or some lesser feminist demon, taking me by the arm and pressing her face close to mine to offer her verdict on this important matter. But, feeling she was vindictive, I addressed her 162

SAN FRANCISCO quieter sister, who sipped a gin and tonic (really a man’s drink, I felt) and regarded me with direct green eyes while the feminist blah blah blahed. “How short are you?” I asked each, patting them on their heads, and each jerked, amused by the barb. Reactive little robots, inferior babies. Already they bored me. Of course they all disliked the feminist because she was the more attractive and some kind of sorority officer, pledge matron, but I’d never know or care. Believe me, I don’t care. I had to keep things brief, seem unavailable and older-than-thou, so after that bitch stopped talking and I could ignore her I asked the quiet one soul-searching questions, what her idea was of happiness, where she saw herself in ten years, her three favorite adjectives, and she’s alive, she’s ready, she wants to dance, to have my children, and I bade her a false goodbye though I returned for her number before long, just long enough to make her wonder, and began towards the next set of girls. In the shadows two figures emerged at the turn of the bar, a city couple dressed in black, dancing fast. They were Latins. The man stepped to the woman and the beat took both of them fast, rising and rifling back down, back and forth; hips and shoulders rippling with the beat they twisted and entwined, and the man swung sharply into an alley cat and took the woman in his hands and sweat flowed from their bodies in sheets and his hands went up and over her neck rhythmic around her back, flaring over her hips, whom whom, and as her mane tossed back she wolfed up a ravishing grin, she held herself to him and raised one knee up to his waist 163

THE PENINSULA as the bass beat, held it as the song moved them and the smoke rose around whom. Down stared the great oil paintings of harlots hammered high on the walls. There was a lambent Japanese geisha facing a samurai who awaited her kneeling; she held in her hand the red ribbons of her hair. There was a filthy Victorian courtesan splayed on a Louis sofa, hair tied up in ribbons. There was a naked and virulent redheaded whore hanging over the bar who stood legs splayed, striding her wasteland forward. There was an ardent black whore keeping the dance, a leopard who rose flexing her buttocks and glancing back over one mahogany shoulder as she pared the whip she held. All these and others stared down upon the crowd, breathing in smoke and the dissipation of wealth. When I saw them, Ryan had the princess plopped on his lap and she giggled into his ear. He had both of their drinks and kept them from her, teasing, and her limp wrist dangled after the glasses as she traded him the moon of her smile. He pinched her waist and she swatted him, straddled him, twisting over, her jaw revolving in pleasure. Around them peered a harem of blondes whose hair blazed white, ultraviolet – they sat straight and soft and silent at the table, their heads lolling in revelations of sound, their firefly eyes neon. Around them swirled the soft breath of the club, the dark night that was inside and outside and which no one could escape. Without any control I imagined the birthday girl being seduced by him, not by even Ryan, but by any taller, stronger man, who speaks confidently and makes 164

SAN FRANCISCO her laugh and dresses well, a banker and my best friend. The feeling came and I could not hold it down. She’s initially aloof but begins to soften when he mentions philosophy, religion, Africa, the Democratic Party, world peace, AIDS. Not simply serious, he quips warmly and she laughs, putting her hand on his arm, at first momentarily, then allowing it to linger. They talk more, and he asks her to dance, which she agrees to do. Half for play she’s assertive, grabbing his hands and putting them around her hips as they begin. She does not fight the feeling and they close what gap remains. They get drinks, take shots, she becomes convincingly drunk and he starts putting his arms around her, leaning in, leaning on him, holding him. She’s smiling and takes his wrist. He asks her what she’s doing, she says she doesn’t know, he wants to head to another bar, she agrees, they go out past me, get a cab, and immediately start kissing in the back seat. He reaches into her dress, into the white lacy dress she has worn out, and feels her small breast as they sink in the leather. He suggests they go to his apartment, and she looks up in his eyes with hers fuming brown. She redoes her curly black hair while they drive, tying it back in a pony tail, and remains silent while she considers what pangs of guilt still flicker in her heart, and kisses them away. The driver takes them to the necessary apartment, well furnished, with hardwood floors, and his roommate thank God is sleeping (the birthday girl will be excited to meet him in the morning). The man's a venture capitalist or an investment banker, he’s well off, and no one is concerned about the quality of his furniture, or his ex165

THE PENINSULA pansive view. He leaves the cabbie a generous tip. Once inside they start kissing furiously, and the birthday girl pulls his shirt out of his pants and lifts it over his head; she’s kissing all over his neck and torso, licking him, sucking on his body, and she gets down submissively and unbuckles his pants and commences to fellate him, looking up at him, her cheeks inverted. It's totally unbelievable head, and it keeps coming. It is the Isis myth, the resurrection of man through cocksucking. He closes his eyes and looks up at the ceiling, praising God, and places one hand on the back of her curls, guiding her: he hasn’t had anything this good in years. She takes him out with one hand and starts sucking on his balls, still moaning. Then she gets up and says, “I want to fuck.” He takes her into his bedroom and throws her on the bed, and she looks up at him wildly, and starts playing with herself. He rubs himself a few times and pulls the sheath on, then enters her – her legs wrap around his back to guide him into her. He’s infinitely confident. He begins fucking her slowly and she moans purrs screams cries out, digging her fingernails into his back. Then he flips her over and fucks her from behind with low long strokes. The feeling's approaching and she bucks into him, rubbing herself from underneath. He fucks her for several minutes after she comes; her eyes glaze and she lolls forwards like a doll, tumbling against the pillows, limp totally, a tossed child, and she’s still moaning and crying the while. The man he finishes with a grunt and thunders to rest, collapsing on top of her. They fall asleep kissing and she's crying. No she couldn't fight the feeling, no you 166

SAN FRANCISCO shouldn't fight your feelings. It was enough for me to believe. Now Bonn held up the girl's wrists in his golden hands while she writhed, and he slid his giant hands up and held them around her knuckles, staring godlike into her eyes. Between his lips flickered words and incantations, and all his muscles primed deliciously, propelling his neck like a snake striking, so that he latched onto her mouth in one motion as she flung her arms around him and fell into an embrace. Reclining in the fog the birthday girl's jaw snapped left and right and her eyes peered over the floor and she saw me. She separated herself and got to her knees and feet and straightened her dress by running her hands over the fabric. Bonn leaned back across the leather with the glasses and drank from them. The birthday girl ran her bracelets up her wrist, turned, and stepped down the bar. “Fuck you, Jake,” she said. “Were you going to sleep with him?” I asked her. “I thought we were an item. What happened?” “What are you talking about?” Her face was flushed. “Well fine, you can have our friends. I don’t care any more. Please advise me on a relationship exit strategy.” She stared at me. “Fuck you for doing this to me on my birthday,” she said. I rolled my eyes. “Were we ever really dating? Death to all sluts. Death to the slut queen. Hail the un167

THE PENINSULA dead slut queen! Okay, just kidding. This is all a big joke. Joke is on you, F.Y.I.” People were pressing by and dancing in the darkness, people of color. “What you crying about,” I asked. “What is wrong with you, Jake?” “You’se taking shit the wrong way,” I quoted, “and I can tell right now it’s going to be a long day.” I set my drink down and tried to hug her, but she pushed me away. “Here, babe,” I said. “The good news is that I’m an asshole anyway.” “I can’t deal with this. You're crazy. Are you even aware it’s my birthday? Do you even know what fucking country you’re in? Where were you for dinner?” Turning, she broke out sobbing, lowing sheep's sobs, holding her hands to her face. People pressed by us, trying to get in and out of the club. “Is that girl crying?” someone woofed. “For Christ’s sake, your birthday’s in two days,” I argued. “God, what the heck, sheesh, get it together, okay? It’s not me, it’s you. No just kidding of course, there I'm only kidding. I know it's today.” “Jesus, goodbye.” “Do you often sleep with other men?” “Fuck you.” Her friends had gathered behind her, hands clasped, staring at me venomously. I had fucked almost all of them and they desired vindication; they wanted to see her descend, and descend she would. “Just, look, it's not bad. Just come here. I’m coming down.” I could make a case, but I didn’t care any more. I let my hands fall to my sides. Without caring it is difficult to be consistent or even logical: she could leave if 168

SAN FRANCISCO she liked, she’d surely call tomorrow. I could leave if I liked too. Alcohol surged through my blood, manufacturing cocaethylene, erasing the last memories this girl would impart. “Did you know, did you know, Michael Medine is going to win the election,” I announced. “With mom.” “This is your third night home. I haven't seen you all summer. We’ve barely done anything together! You obviously don’t give a shit what happens to me and that’s it, I’m out of here.” She was strangely calm, her eyes red and scored with hurt. Then she began to shout. “You’re a fucking cokehead! I don’t know why I’m wasting my time with you! I’m not! I’m done! I’d rather be with my friends! Goodbye!” “Friends? For someone half as smart, you’d be a work of art. Does it ever bother you that every single one of your friends is a carbon copy of all the others?” I was pontificating so that the girls behind could hear over the beat whom whom. “You're a hypocrite. You – you’ve got to stop worrying about all this crap. You’re going to be fine if you make a little money. You’ve got to get your head in the moment and start changing what’s in front of you, rather than what’s in your imagination. Think positive! Also, we haven’t dated long enough to have breakup sex, and that’s a huge bummer right now.” “What are you talking about?” she screamed, balling her fists. “You’re crazy! You need a therapist, not a girlfriend–” Her eyes diluting with tears, she took a fast bulldog step back through the crowd, into the arms of her sisters. I didn’t care, I started laughing. When 169

THE PENINSULA arguing I sometimes started stuttering, couldn’t get a sentence out, because it was so funny to me. I staggered and fell back against the wall. “Would you do me a favor and glue razorblades to your fingers and pour itching powder – gosh,” I said. “That was easy.” Beyond the breathing cave and over the red rope, the haphazard night wind dispersed sea cloud among the city’s towers and the reek of vomit rose from the gutters. Outside all the couples from the club were fighting. Girls were slapping boys and boys stood hands hanging and pacing and yelling. There were five or six couples fighting and five or six girls crying. With Bonn I pitched forwards into the black city. Because we had become drunk enough to lumber home we would not deign to hail a cab. We were immortals. With cancer sticks aglow, insolently swaying, inveighing against all who had crossed us in our lives, we began on our way. Phantoms rose up from our cloven wallets, and our slick arms, necks, and armpits steamed. We had before us two miles up Telegraph Hill to the apartment, though by our estimate it would take only ten minutes. Beneath the towers Bonn lamented. “This is goodbye from me to me.” He had been trembling about his job. “What are you wailing about?” I snapped. “If you don’t like it why do it?” “Will you make it that simple,” sputtered Bonn. “It’s not like everything else.” Then he began to moan. 170

SAN FRANCISCO Above us, a flock of twittering pigeons settled at a casement, rifling their violet gizzards. Shadows. In our path a bum in a taxi-patterned shirt slumped over himself, twisting to reveal an ashy furze of chest hair and one drooping, grayish nipple. He had been eating glazed candy from two large sacs and the fragments surrounded him. They crunched beneath our shoes as we passed. “Fucking bitch fucking fucking bitch,” the bum yielded suddenly into the night. “Fuck you you fucking fucking shit bitch cunt. I’m sorry. Oh, I’m sorry.” He put his hands on his clowny mouth. “Cardenio!” I named him. “There and there,” moaned Bonn. “Farewell.” “Fucking shit piss eater lesbian mouth bitch kill shit. I’m sorry, I can’t stop – fucking shit piss kill slut rape kill bitch shit fucking bitch fuck.” We walked faster, but we had already turned the corner onto Market, sleeping in dim light, rock girding the iron tracks which were iconic in daylight and now cold. In the buildings across the boulevard fifty figures milled in the pillars and they were blacks. The figures murmured softly and the ones wearing white distended like ghosts. We swung sharply north on Market. Some of the blacks sat on planter pots, beneath the sign of the building blazing RABOBANK. On its web page the bank declared itself to be a full-range financial services provider founded on cooperative principles, a global leader in sustainability-oriented banking. The blacks milled and murmured. In the darkness I imagined them doing 171

THE PENINSULA crack and killing one another with knives and bullets, but there were no signs of this yet, thank God, and as we retreated they gave no pursuit. In their long effacement and in their warm hooded jackets and in their silent perches, the disdain of the city and my disdain shackled them. We went up Market towards the Ferry Building and the piers. Then we turned at Second and went into the Financial District. When we reached Montgomery Bonn began to cry. Around us lay bums wrapped in sacks, mewling in their crack-addled slumber and Bonn was crying. “What the hell?” I bristled. “What’s wrong with you?” “Have a great time here while I’m on vacation. Just let’s go,” he wailed. He had seen a cab and raised his arm, wiping tears from his face. The cab drew up in a yellow blaze and its light flickered off. “I have to go.” “Where are you going? Sack up.” “To my fucking job. I have to prepare. I have to fucking pray. I cannot handle the streets. I cannot handle these derelicts.” “All right, fine,” I said. The wind from the sea came up Market and rifled our coats, and down the street some of the blacks began to roar. “Can you give me a ride?” “No,” said Bonn, “I’m leaving. You work your own shit out.” And he stumbled into the cab with a slam. “What an asshole,” I told the bums, making one hoot or at least I thought it hooted. Then I walked on. Beyond the financial district Chinatown twittered, 172

SAN FRANCISCO dusty and red in the night that contained its lights, and through those old blocks of concrete and stone I marched in the freezing air, through the Stockton Tunnel which bellowed out its insides, up the hill to what I called home. Splashing back through overflowing gutters, tenderloin streams, ramps of mist, back to the apartment where two thirds of the tenants were dying lavishly, lucratively: silk-headed spindles perishing in chambers tended by silent Mexicans, spirits departing into the air of large rooms, beige hallways permanently empty, full of ghosts, a community patrolled by death, people too old to use the Internet to escape their prisons. The outstanding age of this city! San Francisco has more dogs than children. I walked with my memories as alive as ghosts, faster and faster through the streets. I seemed to accelerate and lost myself again, and time ran silver and black on its rails. In the cabinet in the big room of the apartment sat the whiskey I needed. I needed it and I shambled like a yeti across the carpet, licking the bottle and chugging back half, turning, panting, my gaze on the big Buddha smiling on the wall. The room swept in dizzy spinning and another figure stirred far across from me. It was myself, draped on the couch. I had been watching me, and I had not noticed me there. I took off my shoes and rose to my feet. I walked slowly towards me, watching my eyes and my rocking gait. And I took me by the arm and put me to bed.

173

10
Dream fell softly – an old rummy savannah of red and yellow sawgrass, swirled and toothy to the satisfaction of safari and trundling elephant alike. I was seated at a clean little tea table with an old friend of mine. Atop the tablecloth had appeared, with a strange twinkle, a carafe of red wine, and overhead stretched a great sleepy tree, promising shade and peace in its blue leaves, a Eucalyptus, improbable so far inland. And as if in friendly answer, a berry popped down on the table and bounced away into the grass, and the leaves waved lazily away. My dear friend had poured me a glass of red wine and looked at me, purring. I sipped the wine and bubbled it between my teeth and my friend said, “Well, Jacob, it will really be quite a year. You’ve accomplished so much already, and I’m very proud of you. You’re nearly halfway. After all–” And I nodded and took my wine and felt comforted, and the chair felt taller, more supple, cushioning my back. The sky domed and spanned, swimming overhead with pearls of cloud, and I announced, “It has been 174

PACIFIC OCEAN good, after all. I am very comfortable here, very happy to be here again. And everything is going well – they tell me nice things, and I have so many friends. You have met my friends, haven’t you?” And my friend smiled and leaned in a little closer, lips pulling tight over its muzzle, and said, “Yes, Jacob, they are a very pretty people, and they are good at flattering you. But you mustn’t trust them too much. You shine at them like a diamond, and they can’t help their envious little hearts. Now, now, shh. We shan’t discuss that now, because” – and I felt my hair being combed. This was the feeling. I was drinking the wine and could not say yes or no, but nodded with my eyebrows and gave my friend an approving glance, and my friend winked over the rim of his glass, a goblet of fine crystal, and I noticed now that the tablecloth was astounding French jacquard, not plain linen, and a cloud passed by the crescent sun and some dust rose in the East, and my friend turned its spotted face and looked askance with a curious frown. "Jacob,” it said, “We have come a long way, you and I. Over the mountains and across the deserts and across the” – another Eucalyptus berry slammed down and bounced away – “Of course you know that I love you. Goodness, I can’t think where I would be without you.” My friend now turned its head back, its playful eyes creasing. “But you can’t be with someone like her, someone who will expose you, and this is very important–” it pawed vaguely off towards the East, and though I looked I could see very little of the lands beyond the veldt, and all seemed cloaked in warm haze, 175

THE PENINSULA and when I drank again my mind stopped, “– and this is what you’ll have to do to – and this is the way we’ll take, the way we’ll take to stay awake–” my friend was murmuring, and the wine tasted very warm and comforting and I listened to the leaves shifting in the breeze, “–and this would be the mistake! Jacob, Jacob, are you listening? Yes, you are. What a good boy you are!” – and he adoringly pinched my cheek – “It’s not so far to go, is it? We’ll be all right.” And I nodded, lolling, to my friend, who was now very close to my face and breathing hotly, and I looked past it into desert places, where two dust storms rose and spun, and I thought I saw a bird whip from one like a thunderbolt, and I drank again and flew alone into a morning free of clouds. Helium igniting the black depths of a blimp, blotting the edge of my hippocampus, an inferno blasting so hard my eyelids could only flutter in pain: I came awake and tasted tequila, and death, and did not stir, and lay dark as a corpse. Every year the hangover gets worse, the alcohol smoldering in your bloodstream as you slumber, swelling the cells and bursting their membranes and nuclei and devouring the mitochondria, emulsifying your liver a sultry shade of yellow sure to give the coroner pause, and tightening the tendons in your legs to iron wires. Meanwhile the cocaine burns back up your nostrils into the membrane, where it fries off cell linings and blood vessels, cackling, rupturing them into delicious little nosebleeds that make you snort and sneeze, dancing like a fly trapped in the sinus, 176

PACIFIC OCEAN burning your throat and leaving in its wake enough arrhythmia to recall every last heart condition that has hacked limbs from your family tree. My friends claim that two glasses of cold water and a multivitamin will have you feeling fine the next morning, but this is a ruthless lie, along with the myth of running a mile and sweating the death out, and the story about charcoal pills and burned toast, and the fiction about B-vitamin supplements restoring your memory. Only time helps, and pain, and not drinking as much, and not doing cocaine, which is impossible. I lay in bed blackly, dreading the light, taking comfort in the cool pockets of my four-hundred-count sheets until the jets began again at seven, throttling the penthouse tower with their screams. A thick, stinging layer of mucus carved away from my swollen throat and sent me coughing upright, and I nearly wept with pain. Sunday. God, would the drugs kill me, and why did I ditch Ryan, and I sincerely hope I didn’t offend anybody beyond apology and Christ, I’ll never drink again, and where the hell is Lily, and why are there no girls here. The white tieback curtains had been ripped loose, and one of the bronze rings lay on the floor next to a burnished stain, whiskey, or blood. Behind the screen, a morning breeze blew into the room: the golden sun was just breaching the bay, driving ferries before it. The planes circled over the headlands in sharp formation, crying off east towards Berkeley. God, what time would it be in Italy – and the calculation struck me over and over again like a hammer in 177

THE PENINSULA my temples until I gave it up and sunk speculating about past and future, fleeing from the present. My robot vacuum slave, Emily, roared on and scooted out from her dock underneath the dresser, but as she passed I put my foot down and killed her. Huffing, I staggered out over the strewn wingtips and cedar shoe-trees I had been parsing through three months prior. My pink shirt was crumpled in a corner and I had hurled my jeans at the bathroom sink, knocking off the bust-shaped bottle that lay in a pool of stinky viridian cologne. My belt was entirely gone, sucked into the sky. I staggered up, and in my mind the white plaster walls of the apartment writhed like jellyfish. I shambled around the perimeter towards the bedroom door, one hand on the wall. The azure oil Buddha seemed to wink at me, bringing on a hacking fit that made my nose bleed. Into the bathroom for a sit on the throne and a few miserable bloody flushes. “How did I get here?” I asked the mirror. “What is the meaning of this?” In the clean breeze from the bedroom the white lights of the windows swirled together, and the night started to return – I went chuckling into another tiny nosebleed that I wiped on my knuckles. “Outrageous,” I said. I stood up and washed my hands, then raised them over my head, flecking the porcelain. “I remember,” I announced, squinting. My forehead pounded out grievances in violent concussions, and I closed my eyes, opened them, wrung my hands, and finally shouted, “All right, I don’t care, wake up wake up! It’s time to go!” I waved my arms 178

PACIFIC OCEAN around. “I’m late! I’m more single! This is going to be the best day ever!” One glass of organic, free-range orange juice with extra omega-3 fatty acids had me raring: I tossed and tossed my pink hands in twenty five ortho-kinetic jumping jacks, stretched, and fled out the door into sunshine. I told myself to forget the night and forget it I did. Fleet Week: beyond the seawall, marina townhouses overlooked a host of morning joggers, San Franciscans who trotted to and fro from sidewalk to green, bearing biodegradable water bottles and powerbars and lowfat lattes blushing with foam art. Little cotton dogs scampered before them and white wires trailed from their ears, and some of them wore khaki visors or underarmor and all of them wore sunglasses, and as a group they smiled, fit and lean and listening to audiobooks that hit the weekly knowledge quotas of their blogigarchical lifeplans. They were happy to be near sailboats and happy the sun shone while they accomplished so much, and they bleated into their cell phones just how great it was to be out and about. Now a parachute plane trundled overhead, announcing the start of the airshow – from its bowels shot red and white smoke and yellow pellets that unfolded into men and shells borne spiraling downwind. And all of the joggers brimmed with cheer. They were happy and dauntless and sagacious. From every direction came the delighted cries of onlookers swelling the marina to glimpse the planes and mixing with the trotting meritocracy. There were many sights to miss and many 179

THE PENINSULA people to miss them. Chewing gum, I walked up the gravel path from the crowds on the green, past the old yacht club towards the harbor point. Long scales of seawater dandled the yachts and keelboats along the docks, currents winnowing through the bay from the ocean's mouth: these waves spanned a network from Alcatraz to the bridge, sinking offshore in deep coils invisible, unseen, and, according to Google, nautically important. Above, the sun oversaw the field of airplanes and the sails, and enthusiastic cities crowded the hills. For my benefit the Medines had been waiting a half hour in their boat, and when Michael saw me coming up the quay he raised a hand and stepped from the transom onto the deck, extending his arms to help me aboard. Upon his biceps were puckered grey scars, and under his gold watch his hands felt clawed: it was the first and the last time that I touched him. Blind Lily lay in the back in a blue bikini and giant dark glasses that hid her eyes. She waved a lazy hand, a black pendant twinkling between her breasts. Beside her in the pushpit lay another girl, burnt gold and some years younger, who sat up in a white swimsuit and stared at me, then pointed her freckled nose up in the air. “Way to be late,” she said. “We’re going to roast like it’s 1943.” “We still have plenty of time,” said Michael. “Jake, this is Emma, my younger niece.” He fingered his watch. A blast of cheers went up from the green as a red biplane shot over the trees. “She doesn’t have any manners,” sighed Lily. The 180

PACIFIC OCEAN sister turned, bouncing two glittering pigtails between her shoulder blades, and without saying another word drew up an alice throw. It touched her expensively. The speedboat snarled cold and white from the water; with gas five hundred, six hundred an afternoon, and a slip twice that, it was a sink of money so deep as to command its own name, Parsival. A cherrywood runabout, it dangled two fenders from its sides that kicked finlike as we trawled into the water. “Good to see you again, Mr. Medine, Lily,” I said. “Nice to meet you, Emma.” The propeller roared to life and I put my hands in my pockets and sat down near the girls. Feeling began to return to my nose. “Jacob had a devilish party last night,” Lily said, biting her lip. “You missed out,” I told her. “Sleep is the cousin of death.” The younger girl sat forward, peering at me with clear eyes. “What kind of party?” “Just a birthday party,” I said. “I think.” “Do you not remember because you drank a lot?” “He always drinks a lot,” Lily continued, barely audible above the roar. “He does immense amounts of drugs too! Emma’s only twelve so she hasn’t quite had the chance.” Medine seemed not to hear, his stone shoulders motionless at the helm. “She looks older.” “It’s cause of my boobs,” Emma informed me, pushing them together with her hands. The motor snarled. The boat drifted from the dock, spinning behind it a drift of sargasso weed, and I sat 181

THE PENINSULA against the hard seat holding my head. A wake of foam spumed past the hull vents, and the water deepened from green to the nickel of the bay. Alongside, on the grassy shore, a collie went bounding after a ball, barking over a log into a veil of sand, and in the crowd men set up beach chairs and threw footballs and grilled hot dogs in a mentally healthy way. Bark, went the collie. The women stood around their strollers and chattered and lay on towels and some were brown and some were gay. Jiggling jogged the joggers, still smiling. The boat made a long turn out into the shipping lanes, dodging sailboats with Alcatraz to our right, making towards the mouth of the ocean a mile hence. “San Francisco is a city of the air,” called Michael, prophetic, ridiculous. He plied the wheel and his hair blew straight behind him. “The sky here makes the sea seem small to me. Clouds and hills, wind, fog, gulls!” Oh wax poetic. I clutched my forehead as the motor roared, and Emma rolled her eyes. His voice came clearer, a tenor tone. “You young people must understand the elemental nature of cities, their affinity for air, fire, water, earth. Think of the Greeks! Maybe you only feel it when you live in a place for the first time. I remember Beijing and its peach orchards, Los Angeles scintillating in the sun, Seattle teeming with fish and water, snow on the mountains above! New York a kind of mix of them all, a piece of modern art. Washington certainly of the stone, stone all around.” 182

PACIFIC OCEAN “I know what you mean,” Lily laughed. “Jake just isn’t as philosophically inclined. What do you think, Jake? Consider relating this to Heidegger’s theory of truth and beauty.” “I hadn't thought this would be necessary,” I groaned. “I suppose Stanford reminds me of palm trees.” Michael grinned wide and white, teeth bracketing his jaw. The sun fell on the boat in sheets of metal and a fat blue plane droned overhead. Drone drone, said the plane, let me ravage your gin-soaked brain. The marina crowd had receded to a pink line in the grass, wavering like a mirage, and the sky grew big and open and filled with fire. “I may have a strange way of thinking,” conceded Michael, muted by the roar. “But you have to deal with the consequences!” “This country has to deal with them if you win,” called Lily, and he barked out laughing again big and strong. The boat fired in the surf, roaring as we thumped over the breakers of the bay. “We are ready for a moderate from this region. Why, Eshoo's afraid, Boxer’s afraid, and Feinstein must be – she has to defend the democratic agenda and a capital gains tax. It will never pass–” he went on. Birdlike, Emma leaned over to me, propping herself up on the transom so that I would stare into her face. “They are so boring,” she peeped. She had the cornflower eyes of her sister, and the same metallic hair, but the sun had burnt freckles all over her body. She smelled of sunscreen, and a pink whorled ring studded 183

THE PENINSULA her belly button – when she looked at me and played with her hair she was no longer twelve. I looked sharply away. “You know the investment community will never let that through,” Michael yammered from the helm. “In fact Atherton's the only city in California to vote forty points Republican. Those are votes I can take. Both parties are sick of Bush. You know I'm not intending to say I like him or respect what he's done, of course not. But there's an appreciation of business in this region that I daresay will defend itself. The extreme left wants to raise capital gains and that will be unthinkable!” Emma was holding her hand up, yapping along, while Lily lay behind and stared blankly over the bay. The crosswind drew their hair in golden capes. Our boat overtook two catamarans idling in a field of seaweed, manned by Indians in wetsuits, or Arabs, I could not tell, who clung to the blue straps as the wake rocked their craft. One swam behind, a black glassy head of hair, while his companions chortled their beerbellies and drank up the sight of the planes. Chuck chock, they laughed. They waved hello. Programmers, city-dwellers: otherworldly gearmonkeys drawn from Silicon Valley for the show, arrivistes I thought and think, bridge-and-tunnel, yes, probably even immigrants. Beyond them the inner sweep of the bay sheltered a field of other sails, wheeling and bending in the wind. And ahead a massive SEACOR transport hauled containers towards China in the blue haze beneath the bridge. The city hills receded uniform, the Presidio the 184

PACIFIC OCEAN only remark among them – the dome of the old fairpalace, the science museum, and far up the inlet the gridded skyscrapers bared their teeth. The breeze flowed faster as we escaped towards the ocean, the air wet and cold and touched by mist. “The noble work for others,” Medine roared. I could give no comment. Skipping beneath the bridge was the tail of a regatta, translucent sport-sails shooting and weaving. “I once knew a pair of scientists who cut themselves off from the world – all they could contribute was science and by Croesus that was enough. Raised a hellion, your father, Jake! That’s why he cut away. They invented a way for making steel, another century and another time. We Medines, we just, well, multiply." I let him speak. What he said was true but it didn’t matter to me. Lily lay silently in her giant glasses and Emma had curled her head on a knee. Both girls had donned blue woolen wind jackets. Flap flap went the jackets, thissssflesh. The sea blew by and I leaned back into the sun and whipping spray and let go. All of a sudden the spars of the Golden Gate plunged us in shadow, their concrete caverns sheltering gullflocks like lichen, the high immensity of the bridge erasing in an instant the sun, the hills, and any impression but its overhanging girth. Down Baker Beach people had come out to surf or jetski, riding neon slashes through the waves. In blaze and sparkle the ocean leaped white-capped beyond, and we made for the slanting cliffs, their coral beaches and their coves. We coursed north an hour in view of the Marin 185

THE PENINSULA headlands, past Stinson, seeing agate highways veining the hills, and the shining expanse of September sea tumbling at their knees. And always the hills collapsed into long isthmuses balled with oaks, rising up again to sun their brown backs, while far behind us the airshow glinted, the planes spinning off somersaults and figure eights, growing smaller now, wishbones, toys and specks. The girls dozed. Everywhere sprinted silver sheets and troughs of black pitching water, and at times the sea permitted tongues of light to lick it, so that fangs of rock emerged in the deep. Coralclaws beneath, old steel ships, beds of hidden life, red moss and twisted cable: the sea-crags rose near cliffs the color of hide, spined with broken shells and squalling seabirds: the beaches ran pink under the headlands: they ran pink and gold and long. Some miles north we swung close through the breaks into an eddying lagoon, a cove sky-soaked and veronica blue. On the enclosing ridge, groves of callery pears sunned their oiled leaves in the chaparral, hugged by slopes of buckthorn and oak. A high willow wept in the water, hanging down green hair to wave above the sea. Now Medine cut the engines and turned back in his seat as we drifted and slowed. His golden watch blazed the brilliant heat everywhere, like the red eye of a pschent. In the wind he stepped bowlegged and took bottles of beer from the cooler in the stern, passing them to me and sitting down in the sun with his tight smile. The sea rocked out the only noise, the roads deflected leeward by the bluff. On the cliffs the verdure 186

PACIFIC OCEAN was nearly tropical and through it flowed the wind. “Oh, you didn’t bring us here!” squealed Emma suddenly, sitting up awake and blinking at the rocks. “You didn’t I haven’t been here in so long oh oh!” “This is good dive water,” Michael replied, kneeling on the stern to trail a hand in the current. “Sharks out from the coast, though, the biggest group in the Pacific up by the Farallons, that’s where we’re going. You don't want to go swimming, but in the cove there, Jake, do you see that line? That’s a kelp wall, through which sharks do not pass.” Across the mouth of the cove stretched a ruby blur, undulating slowly. “Really?” I said. “Yup,” said Emma. “We came here when I was really little it’s so much fun!” She sat up and looked out starboard, and the muscles of her back furrowed gold. “Giant kelp is the strongest sea plant,” Lily said, brushing a blade of hair from her lips. “The root has to anchor strands thirty meters long, and survive currents that overturn boats.” “Woah,” I said. The hull forked over the blur and long red leaves were waving in the water. The sea rose around us, Ionian blue, and the brown cliffs stretched far. Lily sat up and pulled a white shawl around her shoulders, then took a book from her purse and began to read the Braille. Steeples of gold hair jerked around Emma’s face as she retied the white knots of the bikini, supported in the netting. She wriggled her tan legs into the wetsuit’s tubing, drawing the zipper-cord up between her shoul187

THE PENINSULA der blades. She lifted her hair and whipped it in a ponytail and wrung the knot. Medine watched from behind his sunshades, leaning against the bow rail. “Do you still remember how?” he asked her, sipping the beer. “If you have the hook,” she said, climbing across the hatch, “it’s pretty self explanatory.” From the compartment she removed a slender steel claw with a rubber grip and a plastic sack. “Arr,” she winked at me, brandishing the tool and sticking out her tongue. Pulling up the goggles from the obsidian swell of her chest, she stepped to starboard and without another word plunked like a stone into the sea. “Good girl,” said Medine. He turned to follow his niece’s mask as it gleamed across the waves. Black and glassy where the boat pitched, they concealed her utterly. Everything was blue, blushing water. The sun threw down a ballistic golden light. Ah, as her shimmering form entered the cove I looked at him, and by the tight smile stretched on his face and the way the muscles rifled from his jaw to his neck he seemed hardened into stone. Lily read silently, her fingers fluttering over the page. Then Medine turned to me. “It isn’t often I can get away like this, Jake, but you are important, and I felt we needed to speak.” “I’m happy to, Mr. Medine. It’s a beautiful day. Thanks for having me out.” I squinted in the blaze. “Let me be direct,” he said. “I do know that you can hate.” “What? I don’t hate you.” I stiffened. “What gives 188

PACIFIC OCEAN you that idea? You’ve been generous to my family.” Frowning, I sat down and set the beer on my knee, where it formed a pale crest. Lily pulled up her shawl, closing her book. “Don’t harass guests,” she told Michael, frowning. “But you associate me with your father’s death,” Medine went on, watching me. “The Gina partnership. How it bears on my situation with Evelyn.” I said nothing. “Am I right?” “That’s ridiculous,” I retorted. “For you to even bring up the matter of my father–” “The matter of him. It’s just something I have been very concerned about these years, as Evelyn and I have grown closer, the possibility you might have grown up with some kind of enmity for me.” “That’s very considerate, but I have grown up, haven’t I?” Up on the slopes wind cattailed among the trees, sending their arms up in worship. They bowed and rippled like the waves, the wind come down over the sea to blow our hair in halos and manes. Lily had fallen silent. Far off, Emma, a black paddle in the lagoon, winked into a dive. “You have,” Michael said. “You have done magnificently. We’re all amazed at your life, your travels, Jake. We wouldn’t want you to think otherwise. I wanted to congratulate you.” “Well thanks.” “You’re welcome,” he told me. “And if there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.” For a moment I turned away, facing the bluffs. 189

THE PENINSULA “Tell him what’s happened between you and his mother,” Lily said suddenly. She had lifted herself on two wrists, shoulders draped in the shawl. “You know they don’t speak much. Tell him how it happened.” Michael’s grey brow corded over his eyes, and he regarded his niece with an odd, feverish expression. “My dear, I know you’re going to be very mature.” Across the sound, a tern burst from the cliffside thatch and dived into the ocean, rising with a slim whipping minnow it bore in its beak and swallowed as it pitched into the groves. I sat back in my seat and grew red faced and when this passed took my beer and stood up. But there was nowhere to go, and I saw Medine had planned it this way, to confine this here where I could shout and curse him and be heard by no man. I turned to Lily and made to speak, to ask her what she meant. Yet when Medine saw this, the cords of his neck withdrew into the folds of his collar, the tendons recoiling as he seemed to chew upon his thoughts. “There’s no need for unpleasantness, Jake,” he intervened. “Your mother has been provided for all her life. The world makes an effort to provide for a woman like her; it’s almost natural law.” Spine buckling, he leaned in. His blue eyes – the pupils dilated in the sun: they did not contract and his eyes seemed suddenly injected with ink. Disconcerted, I turned my face to stare at the rocks. “She is an aspect of exchange in the world. I suppose all beautiful women are.” Then he took two steps forward and was leaning closer still, uncomfortably close. I could feel his breath. Lily sat stock still 190

PACIFIC OCEAN against the transom, holding the book in her lap. “Not that her physical beauty is what it was, but neither are we so old.” He was speaking cold at me, tongue flicking between his gray teeth. “One woman will change her physical beauty into grace, another will grasp at youth. It’s only natural. Thank God your mother is the first kind.” Beneath his pupils his high cheekbones stood out like rims of steel and his long mane was shot with stone – all this time it blew behind him in a fantastic dark tail. Onto his lips he drew a sardonic smile, straight and ashy, the same as Lily’s. “But the implications for the campaign, Michael,” I stuttered. “You and my father. You’ve already been married twice. How can this help you?” “Well!” he barked, turning off and striding back to the other side of the boat, where he took a long pull of his beer and watched the cove. “You must have support.” The hill breeze swung down hot, drawing a wave of pollen from the overhanging boughs, yellow orbs that striped crosswise in the wind. Slicks of sweat coated my palms, and I realized he had driven me back to my elbows on the railing. Burning with vexation, I picked up Emma’s towel and clenched it. “Love is a transaction, one I am not embarrassed to complete,” continued Medine. “There is nothing shameful in it – we have known each other for years. There’s nothing to disbar it. It’s a partnership. As to what she gets out of it – well, I can’t speak for Evelyn.” He twisted down a screwlike frown. The wind blew my shirt in ripples, wriggling snakes, the towel flying a 191

THE PENINSULA brunette flag. “What do you think she gets?” Lily asked, her voice shrill. “Lily you shut your dirty mouth,” snapped Medine. His great left hand had snapped the can that he held, and suddenly its copper shell sparkled with light that mixed with the red light of his watch. I inhaled. Looking down, Lily pulled the shawl close and twisted to face the water. Medine set the can down, crossed his legs, folded his hands upon them, and sneered. His woolen pants flapped, the pleats rippling and purling over the rocking of the waves. He turned to me. “Jacob, your house has been in disorder for some time,” he said. “I don’t see how it connects,” I protested. “It hasn’t. It’s not appropriate to–” “It connects,” he went on, “because your mother has beheld wealth and it has become an aspect of her. And she cannot continue without it.” He looked down into the sea. “She has certain obligations. Money creates obligations, you know that. Do not think I have any idealistic beliefs about my person. I simply understand hers.” “I don’t believe you really understand her.” “Let’s be clear. Your father’s estate is nearly gone, due in no small part to your rearing, to certain habits of yours and your mother’s. You might not believe it, but it’s true.” Again he cast me his agate eyes, and drew them to Lily. He paused. Then – a second short smile, around his canines. “The fact is we should enjoy our192

PACIFIC OCEAN selves out here,” he finished, looking out to where Emma was swimming. “You should dive. Obviously Lily can’t.” “Well–” “Go on. Emma wants to show someone what it’s like.” Medine bent, and pulled a second suit and mask from the compartment. His broad hand offered them to me; then he threw them down. “She didn’t say so.” “Only because she thinks I will mind. But I don’t mind. Lily can’t. Can you Lily.” He was cruel and I looked back, but Lily said nothing – she remained turned, wrapped in the shawl, her face to the sea. The surface hid black, and black, black, black, unfathomable engulfing, mother of sudden ice beneath the wetsuit skin as I plunged, kicked, and met the white sky and air, putting off from the boat with heavy strokes. My hangover dispelled in the shocking cold. I have always feared deep water, the prowling invisible killers, and now I swam hard for the cove, looking out inside my mask towards where the dim reef of chalk reached from the abyss. Emma’s legs, bleached by the filtered light, circled as she treaded water ahead, bisected undersea. She swam above a moonlit crevice choked with seaweed, bobbing the hook’s spangle and the grey sack. As I pulled towards her a wave rolled through the cove, interposing a wall of twinkling bubbles. The wall rolled 193

THE PENINSULA on and ascended into the surface, hauling up with a roar. Now Emma dove under the wave, kicking down among the boulders. Her legs propelled her froglike between the lips of the crevice, where she inverted and flippered, clawing with her hook among the hairy weeds. A round gem flipped into her bag, then another, two more, and she darted up for air. “Gurgle,” she panted as I paddled up, “a landshark.” The ocean pitched and dunked and I struggled to stay up. “Prospero, in fact. Your uncle told me to come out–” But under the water she had looped her arms around my waist. “What are you doing?” Cold fingers slipped around my wrists and I began to kick. “Let’s take this down a notch!” “Do you think he can see us?” Giggling, she spun and pushed away, holding the hook and bag in one hand, and pulled up the mask to her bangs. Her cherubic freckled face stared at me, washed clean. “You looked scared!” “Don’t do that again.” I spat out salt water. Rocks crawled from the sea twenty feet beyond us, chunking towards the beach and the windswept groves. “He can’t know,” she went on, taking in armfuls of water. “He does and can not know.” Another wave overtook us and rumbled past, dunking Emma and breaking on the rock wall. “Look at all these.” Her bag brimmed with a heap of abalone, studs of flesh in shimmering shells. The nubs writhed and contracted in 194

PACIFIC OCEAN the sun. “The slaughter of innocents,” I coughed, paddling. “We could release them?” “Into flesh and ash and stone and ash and dust and shellfish.” Suddenly she smiled, lips dripping salty water, and twisted the bag shut. Laughing the same metal laugh as her sister, she began towards me. The black water snarled and clapped, and, treading, I swept around to face the open sea, and near swam for my life. “Is there really a yacht out here?” I tried, spluttering water. She was bobbing behind, near now. “The biggest yacht in the world.” “And I’m being fed to the sharks.” “They don’t come past the kelp wall. Not any time when I was little and not today. Oh I love it here! We could go surfing on the beach if we brought boards. The abalone is still fun. Do you want to try?” She passed me the hook around my chest and passed her slender palm down my thigh. There was a moment of warm pressure. Looping her hands around my neck she kissed me behind the ear, then, clawing my face, forced her young tongue over my lips as I struggled off. “Stop!” I coughed, grappling her wrists, nearly clawing her with the hook. “Yes!” Emma cried. “Do your part to harm the environment. He will be so proud of us–” She kicked back and off, eyes smoking, and I fled into a dive. A careening, sudden flash startled me, and I nearly dropped the hook – a sinuous fish barreling from the rocks, heading for deep water. The ocean lifted me as I 195

THE PENINSULA struggled down beneath the waves, where at least I was safe. Keeping my distance, I hooked up abalone for a quarter hour while Emma floated on her back and hummed. The boat bobbed off in the distance, a wooden wedge. Then she told me to go back. “Aren’t you coming? You must be freezing.” “No, it’s his turn,” she said, swimming away. She spoke shrilly, the same tone that Lily used when speaking of Medine. “You have to wait on the boat so we can–” Waves came and I could not hear her for the crashing, so I turned and struggled back through the water. Near the boat I saw Michael’s black form dive from the deck, and he went barreling towards his niece, sending behind him a plume of bubbles. Aboard, I struggled out of my wetsuit and stood watching them far off in the cove. At first I thought Lily asleep – the blowing shawl covered her face where she lay in the shadow of the pushpit, but she sat up slowly, and, turning, I saw her. She had been crying – makeup streaked her face, and the wind had deranged her hair. “They can’t get married,” she said coldly. “So we can pray.” “And not for the reason you think.” “All right.” “And I don’t want you to ask me why.” Her eyes gazed past where an arrogant seagull had alighted on the stern, preening its snout. “It’s very–” “Look, I don't care.” “And I do want to see you. We have a lot to learn 196

PACIFIC OCEAN about each other.” “I want to see you too,” I said it, and I did. “And there are some things you don’t know about my family.” “I believe you.” She turned and leaned fully against me on the siding, wiping her eyes. She looked like an Egyptian cat, a watcher of the Nile. Breeze blew from the shore groves. Out to sea horns blazed in the distance, and money-smoke rose on the horizon. All around the new sea murmured, the rows of waves tiled in slate and blue. Then I saw that a few drops of red blood had blown from her upper lip across her cheek. Startled, I wiped them away. “Oh, it’s horrible,” she said, “you don’t know the half.” “We will stop them,” I told her.

197

198

11
Moored in the haze smoothed by heaven over the sea, an armory drifted before the Farallon Islands. We could no longer see land for the clinging haze: everything had faded to white. Medine grasped the speedboat’s wheel with thick pleated hands of tendon and hair and his white smile went blowing behind him as we sped towards the largest yacht in the world. “Practically her maiden voyage!” he bellowed. His swim had filled him with energy. “Tom’s little project!” Polygonal, then triangular in the haze, the grand barge rose moored by ivory ropes to the seabed, like a great white wurm weltering among the island spars. On deck fifty healthy couples in bright cotton partook of the afternoon, terraced onto the floors of the boat, among them racing crewmen who attended to all functions and all desires, caviar champagne and cellulite. In the surrounding surf fifteen other speedboats dandled in spume, a concordance of hulls that pitched 199

THE PENINSULA and tailed and sometimes clanked. “Well here, here,” called up Medine. “Here!” Crewmen threw down ropes and drew us in below the siding as the exhaust snarled, and long faces emerged above flutes of champagne, watching from the railings. A platinum-haired woman pressed her maw to the ear of her husband and trailed down over us her blessing hand. Pitching behind the rim of the yacht, the sun burned lemon in the sky where the jet trails fanned like a shell’s lines, converging towards the city’s pedicle. The speedboat’s roar had muffled the planes, but now we heard their fierce souls again, far off and unseen. Ladder rungs tapped down on board. “Ladies up first,” Medine told Lily. She had on a red summer dress and it drew up a corolla around her legs as she climbed. The Mexicans helped her on board and took her by the hand and led her. Emma went up in a paisley chemise, winking at me as she passed. I stared savagely at Medine but he was distracted, watching the yacht’s prow, where, of all people, my mother Evelyn stood chaffering with three men in linen sportcoats. Thus I climbed up into another level of wealth. As a hillside is terraced and scalloped by a farmer and made arable, so did the yacht’s decks sweep from its bridge to the fang of its bow. Over these shelves, twin balls of radar whirred and hummed amid a sphere of seagulls that went crying out for sustenance around the barge. Fifteen square sails drooped on three unstayed masts, vast blank stretches of white sheeting as big as a galleon's, the central pane emblazoned with a 200

PACIFIC OCEAN black falcon. She was the finest boat in the world and in this rich surf she spent well. Off her bow a blond boy flew a Chinese kite, holding on as the sea winds took the serpent and blazed its ribbons in recursions of color on the rocks. Mexicans crawled the decks and crawled the ropes and cooked and chattered and cleaned. “It has taken three hundred laborers more than five years to build,” the owner drawled, resting a fuzzy elbow on the bar. Medine had gone off with the sisters to find my mother, and we were drinking champagne like good tycoons. “It has taken history's largest single order of carbon fiber for her masts; there's more of it in the Maltese Falcon than in a stealth bomber.” “You must be very proud,” I told him. “Congratulations on this fantabulous maiden voyage.” “For Jesus’s sake I am,” the old man growled. “So, you’re Russ Bessemer’s son.” “It was nice of him to make me.” “Do you know that these sails are controlled electronically, by the push of a button? Doesn’t even require a crew. Do you know who I am?” “Appearances attest a deity of high finance. T. Boone Pickens? Kleiner? Warner Chilcott? Henry Kravis? No.” “I am Tom Perkins. I did some work with your father. We built the valley into what is is. My companies built it!” He barked the same seal laughter they all shared, rocking back on his heels. “I suppose you’ve heard of Google. Do you see him there, that’s Sergey Brin, one of the founders. Do you see what kind of 201

THE PENINSULA man he is? Now let’s have some of these oysters–” A black elven head bobbed among a circle of admirers. “He’s a very powerful man, but he would be nothing without me!” “Sergey, really!” “You’re young, you look college age. You probably either go to Berkeley or Stanford or MIT. You have your whole life ahead of you. What do you plan to do with it?” “Start my own company!” Of course I knew what he wanted to hear. “That’s the spirit – let’s put you in a startup incubator and make you into meat.” Square teeth bared, he slapped me on the back. “Did you know that the sails can open in six minutes? I rent this boat for three hundred fifty thousand dollars a week. Three hundred fifty. Did you get yourself a drink.” “Mr. Perkins, you must be a billionaire.” “We don’t talk about money out here. I heard Mike is marrying your mother. That’s something isn’t it.” “You’ve got it right.” I swigged my vin. “That’s a good one. All in the family.” “All in it, that’s right.” “There goes Mike now. That’s his nieces isn’t it. God damn, look at them.” “Yep.” “God knows I care about politics. Politics, money, and technology, the golden triangle.” “The golden vagina,” I quipped. “What? Well, you've got to stay for the feeding. We've got the researchers from the island to come up 202

PACIFIC OCEAN and show us a shark feeding. You know, nature fascinates me more than anything. I’m running for conservationist of the year. It's the biggest group of great whites on the California coast right here, literally right beneath our feet. You wouldn't want to fall in, no! Lunch is starting, oh look, I've got to go, hi Marty, have a drink won't you, Marty, be honest, did you know that this is the most–” Mexicans swarmed from the galleys, bearing great silver platters of fish, and we sat down at tables bolted to the decks. As it chanced the food had been catered by a Palo Alto sushi farm I knew well from school – Miyake, notable for the disco sake-bombing it hosts after seven, when a grizzled Tongan bouncer stands outside glaring stupidly; he doubles as the maitre d' and has to rush in to find you a table. Sometimes he gets angry and huffs around, yelling, “Move outta my line, people! Mah line! Moof!” and beating his huge flippery arms around in rage. Fog machines shoot aerosolized cancer onto the fish and soup and sake, and you breathe in deeply and the lights flare on and the music starts, and everyone is up on their chairs raising a toast, "ICHI NI SAN SAKE BOMB!", and the shot of sake goes clink into the Sapporo and there is a brief stinging rush as the entire thing is taken at once, the rice wine drifting like a pale oil slick on the gold beer, and it goes down hard and makes you, the third or fourth time, want to puke, but you don't since you're with good friends, out having a good time, at this super fun place Miyake. But before seven it is an awful two-dollar fishhouse with no crowd and no discernable purpose except to fill 203

THE PENINSULA the lunch hour of venture capitalists arrived to suck marrow from the startups on University Avenue. It would be worth it, I thought, to take charge and demand of Perkins Evvia’s mink cutlets or Tamarine’s leggy half-Vietnamese waitresses, or equally fab Marin cuisine, but then it struck me that it would be expensive. And then a more terrible realization hammered down: I had just worried about the bill, which, by my own standards, right then and there, put me half-way to economy class and half-way to suburban hell. So lunch on the sea emerged, immediate and execrable – particulate, salty miso soup followed by slimy bevels of ichthyolite in various shades of blood, and tough squid legs tossed in batter, served under tiresome flights of Veuve that did nothing to debride the fishy viscosity. Medine and my mother snuck up – he had her by the arm and they proceeded flutes-bared, guzzling champagne and staring at me with the coins of their eyes. “Well, this is – this is great,” mother said, letting her hand fall to her side. “Super!” Proximity to the Maltese Falcon made her less intelligent, I saw with rage. Mother chewed through toro and mashed the vinegared rice underneath with her chopsticks. Michael, he slaked his thirst with beer and rustled in his linens. “It is your girlfriend’s birthday tomorrow isn't it,” mother wondered. “I have it on my phone.” She crossed her legs and the black corolla of her dress pulled around her knees. The bolts of her high heels let down, and she drew her ankles up to cross her legs and face Medine. Beyond the prow a yellow helicopter 204

PACIFIC OCEAN swooped around the island and swung over the yacht. “Yesterday,” I told her. “It was some sorority party up in the city. Fuck the bullshit, is what I say. She isn’t really my girlfriend.” “Jacob,” she snapped, sucking the chopsticks. “Women everywhere tremble,” I said, winking at Medine. “I'm happy Jake's returned from Europe in one piece,” he broke in, “with no tropical diseases.” He laughed loudly. "Yes," came mother. The boat rocked in a sudden wave, and everyone grabbed their seats. "With no desire ever to return," I said. “It seems he's cured.” The lemony liquid inside Medine’s flute whirlpooled and came to his lips, and he drank looking at his nieces across the way. “I hope Lily can meet your girlfriend,” he said. “And look what Michael has gotten me,” mother cried. Pushing away her sauce-drenched plate, she took from her purse a red lizardskin case tied in silver. “To go with the diamond bracelet he already got me, I’m spoiled I suppose, but this is to say welcome back, for my nerves. You know, we were really quite concerned about you when we heard you’d been robbed.” “Then how come I didn't get anything,” I said. Mother slipped her fingernails under the glued edges of the wrapping and snapped off the sticker seal – out came a lustrous turquoise case. Inside lay a golden pendant in soft down, a serpent the size of a coin, an ouroburos flecked with a ruby eye, blazing in the sun. “Oh it’s beautiful,” she shrieked. The necklace glit205

THE PENINSULA tered in the sealight, swinging as she drew it beneath her ears, and pulled back her faded hair. Now she slid her hand over his, both resting on the spattered paper. Medine's shock of grey lifted and the stone eyes looked upon me and settled back down. “I hope it’s sufficiently unique,” he said. “It's perfect,” mother said, pulling her red lips into a smile. She kissed him on the cheek. Her marble eyes drifted to mine, held a moment, and I looked away, repelled. I took my napkin and folded it under the ridge of the plate. “At my age I can only wear gold. Not like Lily! Such a beautiful time in her life,” she added, “she must have so many nice things by now.” "Not too many," said Medine. "So many soon!” mother laughed and drank. The filtering clouds cleared and the deck shone with light. Mother cried out, squinting and rubbing her eyes. “Oh! It hurts!” Working fast, she buckled on her dark glasses. Sweat began rolling down her face as Medine patted her hand. “Well,” said my futile mouth. “Stanford’s back. Huzzah for me. Can you taste the excitement? Officially my last three months.” “Tell me what it's like there,” yawned Michael, still swirling his teacup, which he held up in the breeze. “Are there many parties. Are the girls happy there, in the sororities.” I picked at a squid head. “All suck the cock of the dark lord.” “I think that’s repulsive.” “Many things are repulsive,” I said. “But that 206

PACIFIC OCEAN doesn’t stop them from happening.” By now Michael’s hand was on her knee. I put down the squid head and looked at them, pushing my plate away. Michael took a long gold sip of tea and swallowed wolflike, watching me with the coins of his eyes. Scowling, I stood up. I walked away and up the pyramid decks, as high as I could go. After several flights of stairs I came to the top of the boat. Down the whole yacht lay, a blade in the sea, and over the roar and my thinking I still heard the noble jets. The symmetrical prow lay ahead, unfolding its white decks like doves’ wings. Dry bubbles soured the throat of my flute. The straw bubbles clung and died. My stinging eyes gazed: for ten minutes I stood alone on that deck by the rear mast, facing the islands, listless, staring at the rocks and staring at the water in the rocks, at the booming jagged pores belching the same sea, the same salt that enveloped everything. There the cataract foam poured from eyeholes in the crags, and, beyond, the slag plain of the islands spread out on the ocean. The exhaustion of the days broadcast from me and I was like all of them below, hunted by the others, but unlike them I wanted only to escape, and to help my friends escape. On all decks the people milled in cotton and linen and silk. Leaning their elbows over the embrasures, they let silver leak from their shirtsleeves, spilling down over the yacht’s lip hands which their educated brains conducted in dances expressing the having and the knowing of wealth: hands which mimicked with long ivory fingers graceful gestures acquired at the tel207

THE PENINSULA evision and movie screen, slow trailing touches and the gathering up of other hands and the stroking of platinum and gold watches and rings, of expensive cellular phones, and the warm clinking of bracelets which beckoned their loved ones nigh and eager. “Now is that a Bessemer? It is him, look!” Woman voices broke out and I saw the matchmaker conducting Lily and Emma out of Acheron, pursued two decks down by my mother, and I spun and went fleeing, guzzling champagne, a blast of sun nearly knocking me off my feet as the barque rolled in the surf. I ran to the opposite edge of the deck and looked down into the water. But the fat head of the matchmaker berthed the steps and the sisters came up behind her, Lily climbing slowly. They had me trapped and what could I do so I drank. They crossed through the wind. Now the matchmaker began to speak, juggling her breasts with her elbows as she prayed to me, “Bessemer I must know how you got an invitation to this little sortie,” – always the wrong word – “because of all disreputable young men around town, I would not have picked you for it, not to come this far north, not for nice afternoons on boats, no your mother wouldn’t invite you even, I suppose it must be one of the Medines who singled you out in their kindness and where is that young lady of your own.” Lily put a hand over her mouth and giggled. “She couldn't really come,” I sighed. “Rough night last night,” repeated Lily. “Yes, well, it requires a certain insanity to make it out here,” I huffed, and they stared back at me blind in 208

PACIFIC OCEAN a uniform sundress that seemed stretched threepatterned across them all. Above us a chime sounded on deck, drawing couples trippant to the stern, dangling shards of cocktail from their bracelets. “What’s that?” said Emma. “It must be for the sharks, Emma,” said Lily. “Do you remember what that man was saying?” We drew to the deck that faced the islands. Over the roaring sea a scientist walked out on the boat's side wing, carrying a steel bucket – a thin reedy bespectacled man in tan khakis with a badge proclaiming his powers of research and deduction. Below him the waves roared as high as walls, whitecapped sheets that rocked the boat in its chains, pulling the smaller craft about, colliding them, unminded by the deckgazers who had silently towards the prow. Forcemeat slopped from the scientist's bag and soaked his rubbers with the slit guts of fish, vermeil intestine, and then emerged the head of a seal he had harvested, a glossy auburn apple he palmed like a ball and pitched over the side. The brown skull spun a moment in the waters, then sunk beneath the silvery cloud. “Yuck,” said Emma. “Sharks aren’t cool.” “All flesh is grass, and the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field,” I mumbled, and began to laugh in pity. “What did you say?” burped the matchmaker. “What did you say just then?” “O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified!” “Oh, that’s Shakespeare, we read him in school!” Emma cried. “You are educated!” 209

THE PENINSULA As the wind rose and chopped spindrift over the decks the scientist hucked more meat over the side, dipping in his elbow to scoop up what he could. Then he took hold of the bucket and heaved with all his strength the whole red gout into the sea. Within the torrent went eyeballs and a soupy rope of gut. “I can't look,” said Emma. She spun and tried to bury her face in my shirt, but I stepped off and nearly cudgeled the matchmaker in my haste to avoid her. “It's science dear,” Lily said. “It’s only science.” She lay her silver hands on the girl's shoulders, and I looked over but of course she could not see me. Below us the old man Perkins called to the scientist, who turned around on the wing and showed his bloody gloves and smiled beneath his spectacles. Then we waited and felt the wind rise and go away and rise again, and silence fell on deck. Medine stood with my mother on the prow, and in the pause I saw him look back to me. He raised his glass but I did not. And all at once sea birds fell into the red slick like missiles, plashing with their wings and drawing up their beaks to devour the hunks of seal and what small fish had come. We watched, all silent, as the birds shrieked weltering in the black glass of the surf, and then suddenly rose up together, tearing over the boat into the sky. Then beneath the feast white shapes rose from the depths, sinews flipping over and over and twisting into screws of grey muscle that shone below, and as the couples astern made utterances and lacquered fingers covered painted lips, the great white sharks of the Pacif210

PACIFIC OCEAN ic Ocean drew up to consume the offerings made: and all the hungry mouths swam silently out, sifting their jagged fangs, ramming and battering their seaflesh, tearing and swallowing, and without making any sound they drank salt and blood and perpetrated no death but what had been offered to them, and absolutely no information passed between us.

211

12
Beauty, that indifferent gargoyle, flees Stanford campus until the first day of spring. Then the snap releases the sun over the crimson hills and warm breezes skirt the fountains brimming with winter rain, and sun inflates the mood. Students lounge on lawns with red beer cups, weekends add to themselves at least another day, girls tan and exercise, and forgiveness becomes possible. Stray trumpets in Braun announce evenings on the peaceful lakeshore, laptop and lover in hand. But this would come later, and the cruel winter faced us. October came, October passed, the penumbra of the year. Lily and I grew close. We never spoke in public or even mentioned one another, but the silent bond persisted. We would meet sometimes in the streets or parks, or she would slip away from the dinners Medine held – we would talk for hours where no one could discover us. We maintained this masque for those weeks, permitting ourselves only whispers and kisses stolen 212

STANFORD BY DAY and few words spoken, and I did not even defile her, more from protectiveness than anything, protecting her ideal. She was a form of purity, but I could not announce her to anyone, I felt I could not, and soon I went free against her will to deliver to those whores and nonwhores I enumerated to you, and I went also with Lily whenever I desired. I did not sleep with her; she would not let me. “Do you think they will ever know about us?” she asked, twining her hair as she lay on my chest in the back of my car. “I don’t care. They don’t care. We don’t care.” “Well, it makes me very tired,” she said, and fell asleep. We slipped out of Atherton to be alone, escaped coastward to oyster shacks on Point Reyes and Mexican eurekas hidden in the San Francisco Mission – we ate the bounty of the golden land in the glorious new century, explored the horse country in Bodega and the dusky, autumn reaches of Napa Valley. She told me that her uncle sometimes hit her, but she would not fault him for it; the violence came from the stress of his position. She would not say whether his reach extended to her sister, and my questions went nowhere – it was a topic she clearly wished to avoid. Storms descended on that autumn and would not lift, flying down like bats on the Alaskan winds, so we spent long weekends in Tahoe and drove down Highway One along the twists of the coast. I was happy to see the expression on her face when she felt the iron 213

THE PENINSULA and tackle of a mare against a rainy hillside in the Sierra trails. Because the wealth protected us and our parents did not care for us, no one questioned where we went. And as the days passed her clear eyes grew dark with retreat, and then blackened entirely. In the third week of October Lily’s depression came like a conflagration. She brought out bottles and bottles of pills which she consumed coughing and crying and cutting her wrists, losing ten pounds and going half mad in distrait. All of a sudden she would not see me any more, and I guessed that Michael had discovered us. It was true. At his command she went away for a week to New York, taking her sister with her – Medine said she was to publish her thesis there, but everyone in Atherton knew that he wanted to avoid a scene. To me, she would say only that everything would be fine when she returned. Bonn, too, disappeared into the pristine bowels of Goldman Sachs, surfacing not once in protest. His youth had ended. Worse, Mother had dashed off straight to Canada, and I learned nothing from her about my father’s note – twice on the phone she crossly evaded questioning, and then she refused to answer me. She thought I wanted more money. I searched everywhere for my father’s files, but found nothing except a stash of ancient pornography hidden behind a bathroom panel. Without much cash, I moldered through a routine of turkey sandwiches, hot tubs at the Circus Club, hazelnut lattes, evening jogs, and bottomless worry. Mostly I sat home and medicated, day trading or clicking randomly through vivid porn 214

STANFORD BY DAY banners and ad-games hawking caricatures of President Bush. My thoughts diversified into specks. I spent days plopped in the massage chair at the Stanford Shopping Center, brooding until Mexican clerks banished me home. I ate smallish hens conjured by the housekeeper and drank what fresh-squeezed orange juice the withered teats of my state’s orchards could provide. Once I drove to San Francisco, but the wind and fog froze me home. I even wrote a little. This was my imagined lavender future – I had become powerless. Looking down from the key windows into the yard of my childhood and watching all of blue Atherton sink into shadow, I froze again into ice. There was something inimical about the sight of those magenta mansions settling like pyramids into the dusk – the dwellings of my pretty friends and their newmoney fathers, our glorious neighbors, and all the other progressives of this new century, technologists and functionaries and debutantes, mayors, CEOs, provosts, senators – gentry – that made me hate womankind, even Lily, and realize how nicely they'd all been bought, their feminism and women's lib swept straight out from under them with a glittering rope. They'd found men who'd barbecue a steak dinner once a week to show their family spirit, who'd loft them to company events and introduce them as their wives, who’d eat humble pie and never beat them or yell, certainly, who’d direct medium interest towards their fatlegged spawn, who’d call them Evelyn, my beautiful wife, not dear or darling, and who’d pay for everything 215

THE PENINSULA under the sun. These men were whipped enough to assume whole religions in the service of marriage, to pretend to care, even, about the environment or politics. It was all the same. I realized they were all damn weak and couldn't be trusted, not even Lily, unless I controlled her, and controlling her meant fucking her. So I never told her about the note. I waited, uninterested in anyone else. Sobriety overtook me, my body swimming in an overdue sea of healing, the nerve fibers and lymph nodes loosening under the flush of renewed blood from my arteries, the tendons stretching and lubricating, the flesh purging alcohol deposits in sour sweat that soaked my sheets, my brain sucking up oceans of pure water from my system, replenishing memory and will and awakening slowly a state of maddening, desirous thirst, a firebreathing desert thirst culled from a million miles of dream. Dangerous fugues began in my mind, theories, signs of life: I could barely control what regenerated. I understood my generation’s disease. Withdrawn from depth, we had shattered our consciousness and burst our lives into tiny fragments, then soaked them in booze. I saw how I walked through my days in a bifurcated haze – forward-striving, head down, my ideals broken into milliseconds, unable to concentrate for longer. The one thousand desires of youth had scattered to a portfolio of endpoints, and the navigant stood baffled in the center of their spinning compass: nothing remained for the journey: there was no journey. But we could not complain without seeming ungrateful, so no 216

STANFORD BY DAY one understood us. Our pain was dismissed, laughed away by our money. Then Medine called me into his office on the morning before Halloween, prank day at Stanford, a bitterslate Friday beneath an incoming squall. I got up from bed, stretched, and suckled about three gallons of water from the brass sink in the bathroom, then took a hot shower. The housekeeper had left lilac soap atop some fresh towels, the white scent smoldering. Awake, I set out for the offices of Gina Ventures. During those years, a pregnant river swelled the venture funds with cash, and unsuspecting entrepreneurs all over the Bay Area began to get rich again. As they got rich they sang the song of the valley and this was its song: Got me a CS degree – honor roll, MIT, moved to Palo Alto and opportunity knocked. Thought I had the perfect plan, took a job at WebVan, traded in my twenties for a worthless pile of tech stock. Suffered through the market crash, lost a giant wad of cash, pink slips, burger flips, would you like some fries? Happy days are here again: Larry Page, Sergey Brin, time to write a business plan so I can be like those guys! First you need a buzzword, then a second and a third: pick at least two industries you'll revolutionize – find yourself an engineer, feed him pizza, buy him beer, give him just a fraction of a fraction of the pie. Need a good domain name – must be cheap, can't be lame, something cool like Flickr, Meebo, WikiYou, Mahalo, Bebo, "telephone" without the "t", "Digg" but with 217

THE PENINSULA a triple "g": make your elevator pitch, code it up and flip the switch! Blog, blog, blog it all: blog it if it’s big or small: blog at the Cineplex: blog while you're having sex: blog in the locker room: babies blogging in the womb: blog even if you’re wrong: won’t you blog about this song? Launch party, nicely dressed – what’s the point? – sausage fest: blue shirt, khaki pants, looking like a line of ants. Need to get a Facebook page, all these guys are half my age – twenty nine, past my prime, I feel so behind the times. Here comes another bubble – in a year we swear we'll all be billionaires. Make yourself a million bucks, partly skill, mostly luck – now you can afford a down payment on a small house. If you want a bigger one, Hillsborough, Atherton, better hope the same thing happened to your spouse. IPO – lucky you, have your cake and eat it too. Party yacht, party jet, why not buy a matching set? Build yourself a rocket ship, blast off on an ego trip, can this really be the end? Back to work you go again. On Sand Hill Road, money transacts and it transacts in the accounts of venture capitalists like Michael Medine. Though situated on some of the most expensive real estate in the country, their offices remain nondescript halls of brownstone, plank and agate, sentried by poplars and by the thorns of old ridge oaks, cordoned up the hill from Stanford University and arrayed behind sprinklers, hedges, and fleets of luxury sedans. They do not build skyscrapers because of how humble they are. Sand Hill, the only straight road for miles, ascends through them towards the freeway and the hills, while 218

STANFORD BY DAY Hoover Tower’s red dong pokes from the eucalyptuswall a mile off, marking the campus vein where these fanciful investors forge young ideas into wealth. “Anyone who wears a suit is a slave,” Michael had said. At work he wore only tailored jackets of rugged yataghan and tweed and wool above eternally pleated khakis and brown suede shoes. His total eradication of the necktie announced his ascent to the upper tier of Californian finance. Under his jackets he would wear black tee shirts and turtlenecks, or muted collars of olive, mauve, and white, or sometimes, on Fridays, bright fitted polos and stonewashed jeans to accentuate his elan sportif. His unassuming clothes made him very popular, and so did his rapidly compounding bank account. A venture capitalist is judged by his track record, and because the biggest hits return two or three hundred times your money you only need one success to enter the pantheon of the big swinging dicks of Sand Hill Road. Except they weren’t big swinging dicks, this being an elitist New York term – they were humble intellectual men interested in technology, and interested in you. Michael’s hit had been his early investment in Sun, which, on the five hundred thousand the Gina fund injected in 1990, returned eighty dollars for every ten cents at the height of the bubble, which, incredibly, was when he sold. So the five hundred thousand became four hundred million, and this made his reputation forever – his investors slapped him on the back and poured him scotch and became less interested in his future. My 219

THE PENINSULA father went on to make twice as much for the fund, but that is another story. The Dot Com Boom was the only time in history that this was possible. Michael never hit big again, but no one cared because he reminded them of the days before the bubble burst, and for a while he got to keep his fund and his offices on Sand Hill Road. But now it had been ten years since Sun Microsystems went public, my father was dead, and Michael’s investors were losing money. They were pissed about that. So he was selling the fund and getting into politics, which was at least predictable. The Gina Ventures secretary pushed her bulging tits from her yellow blouse by wriggling her brown shoulders. In my imagination she took her hands and placed them on the sides of her breasts and pushed them together, offering them like forest truffles. Her shoulders flecked brown and she blushed at me and leaned over the plate-glass desk that Michael had bought her. Now she immediately set down her pencil and took off her fashion glasses, coy and bookish, and I took her by the hand and led her into the coat closet, where I delivered her a swift and savage rodgering. “Jacob Bessemer is here,” she telecommed in her sweet voice, oxford shirt striped with perspiration, and I went up the ornate oak staircase that somehow sometime had cost my family a hundred thousand dollars. Upstairs, associates – bright-eyed ex-entrepreneurs sold into finance – scattered down the halls in tailored blue shirts and tight slacks, wagging their bicycle220

STANFORD BY DAY honed asses. A grizzled founder in sneakers straddled a mesh throne in the smallest conference room, arguing with a scythelike blond VC who spoke and then shouted and then rose to his feet. Rolling his eyes, the founder pulled a silver phone from his pocket, stared into it, and pushed to leave. “You guys are such assholes,” he sighed as he yanked open the door. In his Congo-themed corner office, Medine flipped around in his mesh chair and extended a paralyzing handshake, unclipping his glasses with his free fingers and folding them on his desk. Outside, the associates scampered to and fro braying out the deals to be done, and Medine stepped by to close the door. Then he sat down and turned off his phone, surrounded by the cedar plane of his desk. Around him glowed four flat panels of light mounted on black arms: they scrambled the shimmering icons of blogs with the patina of legal print, showing him where he had put others’ money and how much of it he had won and lost. They showed him brilliant technologies created by young people. They told him how to reach them. Again he spun around in his chair, a gigantic grey child. He raised his arms, then braided his hands through his mane, and spun back to face me. The blue foothills lifted in relief from the window behind him, patched in mist. “My nieces return tomorrow,” said Medine. “You’ll join us at our Halloween party. And you will, in the future, keep away from Lily.” “Do you have any alcohol,” I inquired. “Because being around you requires me to drink.” 221

THE PENINSULA “As if it was possible to have a higher opinion of you, Jake,” he went on. “Fortunately I’m thirsty too.” He hammered on his phone and an associate crawled in grinning and whistling and deposited two bottles of purified, five-dollar water. “Would you like some fresh ginger?” the associate chuckled. “No,” I said. Medine had already picked up a sheaf of reports on his desk and was paging through them. “All these companies, I don’t understand where they get their names. Zoom. Zivity. ZiggidySplit. Scribd. Yypr. What is that? What the hell is that name? Christ, let Goldman sort it out.” Over us, two mammoth scrolls of African provenance unfurled, jagging faces and animals hooting and hollering. He leaned back in his chair. He told me that he paid his associates two hundred thousand dollars a year for their chiseled masculine behinds and winning smiles. He told me that running a fund was great business and fortunately for me it was also a family business. He said even if I was an ungrateful and malformed little sperm he saw a place for me at the analyst level if I would only make an effort to play ball. He even offered me a job right there and I told him to offer it to Bonn once Gina was acquired, because I didn’t intend to work. “More great ideas,” Michael said. “You’re a real innovator. Convert your stock into pennies!” As if cheered, he drained his bottle in one chugging gulp and kicked up his chestnut shoes onto the tribal-print desk. 222

STANFORD BY DAY A stuffed macaque in a cage peered down at us in horror. “Fortunately,” he continued, “I have something for you to do.” “Why would I do anything for you?” “Because I am offering you cash for the dogshit stock in your trust fund, Jake. Evelyn just needs to sign off and I will wash my hands of you forever, which I am sure we both desire. Unfortunately your mother has a religious quality, much like your late father, and she wants to examine the patents herself. Well, that is all right, if she can read them. But they are locked up in your safe, and she has the only key, for which we must wait.” He picked at one of his square front teeth. “This other matter involves one of your friends. In fact, it is important to me because your friend owns some stock that is hard to get ahold of. You know who I am speaking of? The Facebook kid, Zilker. A piece of that would make the Goldman deal go much more smoothly. “Here is the idea: your success will determine how much cash I pay you for your trust, whether I pay anything at all. Which will determine whether you have to spend your twenties in some cubicle hell like the rest of your generation. I thought you wanted to help your friends?” “It depends which friends. And where is that safe you mentioned?” “You should ask your mother.” “She won’t speak to me because of you.” His gray lips chuckled and he glanced out the window. 223

THE PENINSULA Well,” he said, “you need to get better at lying.” That is how Cyan Zilker got rich at twenty-one. “Entrepreneurship is my life,” he said at breakfast. He came from Seattle. He had the habit of inviting people to dinner who weren’t really his friends, and talking long into the night about the minutia of the Internet. He read books on ethics and social capitalism, the way to get rich without breaking too many bones, and when people screwed up he would preach to them about honor and how he'd have done it – principled living he called it, the principled way to conduct life attuned to the universal laws of social effectiveness, the straight path diligence and success, which wasn't hard if you bled American blood. He read every technology blog. He majored in computer science because he imagined that it was the only degree that would make any money, and he was very liberal because he knew it would get him into heaven. Once, when he began to doubt the Democratic Party, he had his father buy him a Prius. By habituating himself to a stringent life-plan suggested to him by the examples of Warren Buffett, Donald Trump, and Mark Zuckerberg, good Americans all, by exercising for ninety five minutes a day and avoiding the consumption of impact carbohydrates after midnight and certainly alcohol on weekday nights and all drugs; by eradicating verbal miscues from his speech and enunciating clearly and with all the force of his understated baritone delivering truthful and honest words to the motley collegiate multitude; by dressing ingen224

STANFORD BY DAY iously to reinforce his sprouting self image, by wearing tailored clothes and keeping them first and foremost clean and lightly starched, laundered with colorsoap and fabric softener, and second conservatively chosen in pastel hues, yet spiked with precise articles of flair (a metal bracelet, embroidered cuffs) that betrayed his adventuresome sartorial nature; by filling his electronic contact tree and sending an email precisely once every twenty-one days to all he considered on the right track with him, and by making calls just to check in and for no other reason, just to be considerate, and by never saying anything negative at all, Cyan aimed to surpass the demands of a country set to boomerang him back into the disparaged middle class whence he had somehow crawled. Everybody just hated him. But he was reliable and loyal and made me feel protected, like a trained dog, and he would work harder than anybody. He had been with me all of Stanford. I found him in the campus bookstore, wired out of his mind on caffeine, purple rings under his eyes, studying like a Chinese schoolgirl. He looked up at me from his bench, tanned, chestnut hair slicked and spiked like a teenager’s. A broad silver panel lay in front of him, resplendent with a glowing white apple. This he closed immediately, slipping from the screen a black sheet of plastic which polarized oblique light, protecting his computer from any eyes but his own. A white-capped chunk of metal lay next to this, trailing white wires to stubs which he slipped from his ears, rocking his head slightly as he swirled his thumb and silenced them. He slipped the player into the black 225

THE PENINSULA leather case clipped to his belt. He turned his head, pretending to look over at the café. A chip of blue metal sat in the spikes above his ear, a wedge-shaped blue headset. “Are you kidding me?” I said. “What,” he said. “You look like a robot.” “Technology – it’s for the good of all of us,” he beamed, “except the ones who are dead.” Everyone around looked up in irritation, and he smirked and gripped my hand as he rose. We stepped outside onto the flagstones, where sun streamed down through rips in the sky. The wind had come over Stanford, shaking jewels of water from cupleaved trees, sending them splashing off the ivy on the walls down the causeway. I smelled it. It was a familiar wind, the fast blade wind off the foothills that picks up the scents of the oaks and pines on the ridges and brings them down to the sea and city, predicating a storm. Around the whipping hedges, the red stone had soaked a deep brown from the morning shower. Students spun past, unheeding the spray, some sodden, some carefully wrapped in plastic, others scuttling beneath umbrellas or wet books. The cover of a paperback Juliet looked over at me, splayed on the head of a fat kid. As we spoke, the wind blew the clouds white, then translucent, and the sun pooled and caused growth. “What can you possibly be studying?” I asked Cyan. “A book on time management my professor told me 226

STANFORD BY DAY to read, and which you really should read too, the best tips on organization I’ve seen. It all involves lists. It’s prioritized, synergized. I’ve been microblogging all morning. Have you tried? You’ve got to get on Twitter.” “I can’t be seen with you.” “Be a fountain, not a drain,” he stammered. “How was Europe?” “Full of gypsies, and England was full of gays.” “Sounds like San Francisco.” “I was robbed.” “You’re kidding.” “No, but I’m still rich.” “Well, of course,” his eyes flickered. His speed tripled a normal human’s. “Maybe you can help – my brother can’t decide what to major in at USC.” “He likes English, right? He told me that once. The world needs English majors.” English: larger and larger words spun around worries kicked up by Joyce and Nabokov and all the others centuries back, a massive cocoon that gets more irrelevant each year. “He'd go nuts. And anyone could do it – not challenging,” Zilker affirmed. “Psych?” We psych majors regard your words with a little smirk, as if we know what you are feeling. Even if you’ve just bumped into us with an “Excuse me,” the little smirk registers – there is something we know. We inevitably produce demonic and overstimulated children. “Only evil people take psych,” he said, grinning through white needle-teeth and clapping me on the 227

THE PENINSULA back. “Econ? Lots of jobs, not too hard.” Usually a pleasant group, since few of them learn enough to talk about economics. “Hates charts.” “He could study business.” “That is what he is talking about. But I don't want him to get stupid,” he said. “He’s at USC, how can he get any stupider?” In a flurry of clear sunshine we walked across the court to the café. The line forced us out the door, and a band of undead old white men had started playing jazz on the patio, clearing the tables three deep on all sides. They were dancing and stepping and fiddling the brass. That is Silicon Valley and Stanford: blaring trumpets at eleven on a drizzling Tuesday in premature winter, and everyone too sleep-deprived, too ambitious to complain. Vengeful geezers with saxophones hooked up to speakers, getting in your face, getting a piece of you with their bad Coltrane and floppy hats and tip jar, their resurrected New Orleans. And a bunch of selfobsessed, stressed out techies crouched over laptops sipping fifty cents of coffee under three dollars of foam, trying to look like they’ve got the next great underage idea. He knows Guy Kawasaki, someone in line says. Really? I hear he throws great parties. He’s such a guru. Someone else is on first name basis with Larry and Sergey. Someone else has got a sweet company, a great new site – they’re going to IPO for sure – I hear just closed a serious up round, they gotten into 228

STANFORD BY DAY TechCrunch – I hear Kleiner’s got the banks talking – did you see that press release? The other VCs are ravenous, delirious, masturbating. They want a piece, for sure. Is he wearing Bruno Maglis? Check out his blog. He’s a great writer, a great guy. The blog’s great. It’ll teach you all about semiconductors. It will. It Will Teach You All About Semiconductors. He’s only twenty-three, a total wizard with Rails. And have you checked out Zazzle.com? It’s a great company, a hot team, a really interesting market. They can customize a tee shirt in twelve hours. Any tee shirt. They delivered the first one in forty minutes. The guy was in his bathrobe and flipped out – they delivered it right to his door in forty minutes. Isn’t that a funny story? God, I could study that site for days it’s so interesting. Really, it’s great. We tried to escape the jazz band but because of the crowd ended up across the patio near the roaring fountain. I shouted, “Tell me!” “What!” he shouted. “Christ.” He pulled his chair around the table. The fountain bellowed, combining with the strident jazz. “Tell me whether Zuck’s going to sell the company!” Facebook was getting offers left and right. Cyan’s face crumpled. “I thought he would actually do it.” He stared at the table with red eyes. “The bankers said we would get twelve times revenue, but, oh God, he won't, in the end, he can’t bring himself to sign.” He had leaned his pale face in his hands, and his cheeks bunched up over his palms. “He’s too attached to what it’s made him.” 229

THE PENINSULA As he talked I ate my lox bagel and leaned against the blasts of jazz. Though again a student, Cyan dropped out a year to work for the Facebook under Zuckerberg, when its invasion of Stanford had just begun. Now he sat on a slug of private, illiquid stock worth several million dollars. Zuckerberg had called two years ago out of the blue after seeing Cyan’s pulp article in the Stanford Daily on cell phones and social networking. Facebook wasn’t a new idea – it had been done before by Friendster, which eventually scuttled itself under a krewe of outsourced Ukranian engineers, but Facebook’s smart revision was to build an exclusive community for college students, giving status-hungry kids the equivalent of social rankings through the number and quality of friends they amassed online – the site baited our vanity. It was psychology economized. Now Zilker was back finishing his degree, and sitting on nonqualified, nontransferrable stock options about to expire into valueless ash. Since he had left, the company would not renew them, and he couldn’t afford the taxes necessary to convert them into stock. That is what Medine had discovered. “What's your stake again, two tenths of a percent?” “Three, fully diluted, if I exercise in time! Everything expires soon. Last month’s valuation is FIVE BILLION. Oh my God.” Fizz squirted out of his ears. “Three tenths of a percent of five billion. That's, like, fifteen million dollars. Vested?” “Fully vested, I would price at the sale with him.” “And what would Zuckerberg sell if there was an 230

STANFORD BY DAY IPO?” “Fifty percent of the company,” he quavered, leaning back on his chair legs. “It's almost unbelievable at twenty three. It would change my life. And to think of what he has! To think of how much he has!” He sucked in breath and his tongue went playing over his thin, grain-eating lips. “He doesn’t have it yet.” I placed a grape on my tongue and snapped it into a cold jewel of nectar. I looked past Cyan into the gaze of a girl sitting on the other side of the fountain. She felt her napkin and stared past the little girl sitting with her, at the people in the café. She had a swimmer’s body and a golden face and straight blonde hair, and I watched her and something triggered in memory did I own her but Cyan's chattering distracted me. A big grey dog, a mastiff, strode in across the patio stones, dragging its master, and she turned with a wan smile and gazed after it for a while, and the band stopped their racket to change instruments and she looked down and reached for her water glass, and sounds and sights and thoughts went into her in rhythms and colors and words, and joined synesthetically in her mind and her environment dominated her because she could find nothing inside to hold onto: her mind was blown down and around by the sensations of the café and I saw it. “Hold on,” Cyan said. He removed a buzzing panel from his pocket and unfolded it. The sound it shrieked was neither music nor noise, and dampened in the air. Around us, people at the tables rooted in their pockets to confirm whether their phones were ringing, but only 231

THE PENINSULA Zilker's was, so they looked back down again and ate and spoke. “It’s him!” Cyan wailed. “God, Mark, hello! You’re coming to the game? Oh, great! We’ll see you then! Hasta!” “Sorry,” he cried. “Zuckerberg’s coming?” I was looking off at the girl. “Are you going to give him head?” “Don’t mock him. He’s on campus now – let’s go.” The Zucking billionaire. “What about the vision he’s always talking about when he gives those interviews,” I asked him. “The New Social Consciousness?” Where everyone’s mind connects online and everyone knows what everyone does and exactly why and there is no difference between you and me only a gradient of mutual friends connecting us like flies in a web of grey undulating slime– “He wants to grow the company, sure, but he also wants to stay in as CEO. He's still out to improve the world. It’s his right to do what he wants, Jake.” “It’s amazing,” I sniffed. “Doesn’t he ever take Adderall? He misses the bigger idea of the company. The idea is to quantify social power and let people believe they have some control over it, so they won’t feel so powerless.” “The first users of a new technology are not the people who’ve got it all together, Jake. They’re the people who benefit.” “Nerds. Well, the Internet is changing the way we interact all right,” I churned, bored now. My mouth 232

STANFORD BY DAY read the blogroll of my mind. “Last week’s Economist: the rise of the online community. The brotherhood of man.” The coffee I’d paid for was getting cold. “Two Schweppes,” I told the waiter. “No, never mind.” What else do you say. Zilker opened up indignantly: “Yes, but more than that, for the first time in history technology is making it possible to tailor everything to people’s needs. It’s the end of mass production – it’s the beginning of mass specialization, of consumers using their time instead of money to shape their lives the way they want to, their social lives, of people no longer buying into standardized products, but getting things designed for them, or that they design. Look at the Internet itself – it’s just a book that customizes itself to your needs. And we’re going to do that, take it one step further, we’re going to take that same idea and apply it to communities, to relationships!” “Oh great,” I snapped, sipping the cold coffee. He always liked these little speeches. Beckoning to the toddler, the swimmer girl uncrossed her legs and got up, leaving a sepia imprint of her left leg in the skin of her right. Our soda water came. She straightened her skirt and draped her sweater over her shoulders. Her collarbones deepened, ribs of brown. She said something to her charge, lowering her dusty eyes, and her miniature stared blankly back. The girl looked across the stones, under the shadows. A young man with a laptop looked back at her and their eyes met. He smiled and she looked away and he sipped his coffee and shifted his head. 233

THE PENINSULA Cyan was looking at me, tightening his lips and probably his rectum. “What did you want to talk about?” he asked. “I might have a way to help you.” His eyes fell. “My technology is secret,” he said. “And you aren’t under NDA.” Like everyone at Stanford he had been working on a “stealth” company. He was always going on like this, as though anyone cared. “Not your shitty new startup, douche bag,” I laughed. “I know a way for you to get cash for your Facebook options.” At this he paused, wobbling like a ridiculous cobra. Then he leaned in, trembling. “Jake, forgive me. Sometimes I say the wrong thing. What did you say?” “I get that feeling too. Fortunately I don’t care either way,” I said. The café murmured out its lights and sounds – circles of people chattering, chins splayed above iron tables and white cloths and the goblets of clear water, sending up ringed impressions into the cold air. Cyan, gripping the edge of the table, fixed me with a liquid stare. “Go on,” he said firmly, thumbing his fork and placing it on his plate. “Selling would make you very happy,” I replied, shivering in the wind. A paper napkin went spinning across the patio. “But we’re late. Drive me to class.”

234

13
Since I had delayed him, and delay drove him mad, Cyan drove as fast as possible, which due to his flapping vagina was not fast at all. I told him to take me to the oval even though it would make me late for lecture. I wanted to stretch my legs with a stroll. Stuck behind a moving truck on Campus Drive, I saw his eyes tighten – his mind immediately consumed itself finding ways around the problem, to regain the two or three miles per hour disparity in the aggregate speed of the journey, to ensure that the destination was not reached ten or fifteen seconds late, to be prudently aware of other obstacles and hazards, the damn pedestrians about to cross the crosswalk up by Wilbur Field, the joggers edging impudently from the bike lane, the van pulling out sluggishly fifty yards ahead, the gigantic puddle concealing a pothole. In his frantic eyes glowed terrific cowardice. 235

THE PENINSULA The drive tunneled into a straining race for achievement, bound by the handcuffs of good manners and the innumerable whatifs society had clapped on in preparing him for Stanford. The cops, professors, parents, teachers, recruiters – all screamed and fought each other in his head and boiled out his ears. I could see them through the case of his skull: he was stuffed with problems of the world’s design. So he did not pull out onto the shoulder to pass the truck (the cops, everywhere, all seeing, might get onto a record, affect jobs, schools, everything); he just growled under his breath, “Come on, come on, come on.” It was a very dorky thing to say, almost lifeless. But the sentiment I understood: it’s the same with all of us: it’s the same when we walk, heads down, pushing our pace until our legs strain for no other reason than to arrive at class before anyone else, to sit chattering, checking email: it’s the same when we bike as fast we can peddle, roaring through puddles with our music at full blast, skidding around corners, eyes tense, ignoring the implications of our surroundings and even the people in them, even the people we call our friends who we sometimes think we know. Come on, come on, come on. Up the ladder. “God damnit Jake, just tell me,” he said. “So,” I said, opening and closing his glove compartment. “The bankers called again last night about the IPO,” he continued out of the side of his mouth, unstoppable and poisonous. “They don’t know he’s going to pull the deal. They are inhuman.” 236

STANFORD BY DAY “What do you mean?” “I mean they work all night. I can’t believe Ryan is working at Goldman. I don't see how he could do it. I gave the analyst who called me all the accounts for last year and he turned it around by eight this morning, he can't have slept.” “If you want to make money reliably–” “If you're smarter,” he cut in, a white glow seeming to spring from his voice. Then he fell silent, his tongue rubbing the belly of his upper lip. I saw the massy vein on his knuckle bulge as his grip tightened. “If you think a little you don't have to be a slave.” “Is that your theory of entrepreneurship? Is that why people start companies?” “Success can be a reality. Liquidity is possible.” “Ryan says he might work on the Facebook deal if the timing's right, if Zuck decides to sell the company after all.” “How does Ryan know about the deal?” He looked at me quickly, then swung back to the road. “There is no deal.” “Didn't you say I could tell him there might be an IPO?” “No,” he said, staring ahead. “I didn’t. Jake.” One of the bulldozers working on Wilbur Field pulled out onto the road carrying an enormous metal pipe. Cars, dull polygons reflecting the grey light of the sky, had piled up ten deep behind it. Cyan’s fingers drummed the steering wheel. “It's highly confidential. Any rumor would be extremely dangerous.” The stifling little hybrid trundled liberally. “Well 237

THE PENINSULA shit,” I said. “But don’t worry, he won't tell anyone else.” His lips coagulated into a half-smile and he looked over at me with eyes newly kind. “It’s all right,” he said. “I know you can’t control yourself. It won't threaten our friendship.” It was all very faggy, and I leaned against the door and let my breath redesign the passenger window, staring out at the buildings. “About the options,” he said. “That’s a pile of cash you’re sitting on, in venture terms. How much do you need to exercise?” “Our 409a is around five dollars a share, and I have seven hundred thousand. So, uh, taxes on three and a half million dollars.” “Jesus.” “And when do they expire?” “At the end of the year.” “Jesus, that’s in three months.” Of course I knew all this already. Medine had told me. “I know. I just don't know how we're going to monetize and get the current valuation. He’s not going to sell. If you’re giving me an option, if you’re for real, if you’re talking about who I think you’re talking about, I’m shitting my pants. Well I've decided now, and I want to sell. Tell me what you’ve got.” I could hear his ego bubbling in his ears, fizzing like coke. “No. If I told you my buyer I wouldn’t be much of a broker. And don’t you need to get Mark’s approval to sell shares? He has the right of first refusal.” “Yes, but–” “So we should talk to him before wasting any of my 238

STANFORD BY DAY investor’s time.” “I think–” “Think different. He’ll be here this afternoon and it would be an honor to meet the Zuck. The wunderchild, he will lead us all from the valley of steel.” “I don't know what you mean,” he said, and stopped the car. “You need some drugs.” “No thanks.” “Really because I think it would be a mind-opening experience for you–” “No, I'll see you right after class. Come get me at Blyth at eleven. And thanks.” It is a savage truth that Ryan, Cyan, and I are three heads of the same person. That is to say, if you added all of us up we would make a complete human being, but as life had it we split into three bodies, each possessing a third of a mind. We hang together through some loose law of gravity, like a faint constellation, and each third bellows in loneliness and distress, and each goes mad in a different way. But we are not alone; fragmentation is the story of the age. Strained with sardonic laughter, I got out at the top of the oval and, since I was enjoying the drizzle, took the slow way to class through the engineering quad. I passed two well-heeled Japanese men in matching suits who looked me up and down and clucked a joke as I swaggered by. And sensations fed on me like predatory birds, a kid laughing, the sun blasting through the clouds, a pack of tendons writhing around my spinal 239

THE PENINSULA cord. But nothing stuck – attention diffusing, spraying, dying in apathy – sensations whirling this way and that, ten milliseconds, ten milliseconds, no time to grasp or hold or understand. Now that I was back on campus my phone roared incessantly in my pocket. I’m tired of consorting with these insipid Stanford socialites, I’m tired of leasing my attentions to morons and bores. I’ll never do it again. It’s gotten worse. No time to reflect, nothing. Calm down. There, there, a point, a structure. There: the Bill Gates building faces Packard’s, arm wrestling with geeky bucks. That’s the end of Cyan’s rainbow, a foundation named after him. The Cyan Zilker Foundation for Drug Addicts and Gangbangers Named Jake. Kids clutching red folders sprinted up the steps to the quad, this year’s applicants, prospective freshmen arriving electrically fit, new and a little scared, the ones from Atherton here first, tumbling out of gleaming rovers to be herded from herds into other herds. Pairs clambered down from giant roaring wagons and glossy sedans and fiery sportscars. Get them into fraternities fast, safely away. All of them become me. The Gates Hall leered in passing, its every seat equipped with a screen to allow the blind to see the lecturer. The screens are for the very many blind people at Stanford who are interested in computer science: for the many students with vision impairments towards whom we must be tolerant, open, prepared for anything, prepared for two hundred new computer science admits who happen to have glass eyes: this is the reason we’ve spent two thousand dollars times two hundred seats 240

STANFORD BY DAY times five lecture halls to outfit the entire building. I didn’t think Lily would be offended. Class, class, Studies in Postmodern Feminist Empowerment. I became a dark spot among Stanford’s trees, crossing the quad for Memorial Church. Wind was blowing, crashing through the oak leaves as the palms roared overhead, and the morning grew cold. Others moved with me, white spots jabbering to themselves, some on bikes or skateboards; a tribe of distracted, self-absorbed kids beginning another toocertain year, the tribe I’d outgrown which clutched me still. Bermuda tans and khakis and polos, a repletion of logos – horses, alligators, Burberry scarves, a people, a human race paddling together down and out, there to kill time and bum some answers from their elders, make an image, stuff a resume, stand out. The freshmen turned plastic smiles and spat gossip, striding to class puffed in five hundred dollar coats and leather jackets, deflated deep in hooded grey sweatshirts, hands in pockets, moving in groups giggling, evading all problems and all potential inequalities. They hopped like toads between hourly glances at their Facebook profiles. A pond of ducks: surface feathers gleaming, legs pumping desperately beneath. There – an urgent Indian boy in glasses striding with his girlie, clutching her hand, as she called to a pair of seniors across the causeway who grinned back in Greek letters, staring past the Indian boy with copper eyes like mine. They, too, secretly roiled beneath their Greek tunics, only half extant in the moment, worried what they would make 241

THE PENINSULA next year, their parents bearing down from the East. As they walked away from the girl and her shaken male the seniors lapsed into silence, eying each other. Who would make more in the end? Then they comforted themselves by staring down another skinny boy hunching with his head down, buried in his music, busy smiling at a dimpled Chinese girl and maintaining a dance of hellos and glances that began in class one day last year and for politeness’s sake would persist until graduation, though they would never have a real conversation or even know each other’s names. The two seniors started to crack a joke about it, comfortably superior until a master’s student loped by hungrily speaking to a professor, eating up every word, a Marshall Scholar. The seniors tightened their jaws and walked on silently, and continued competing all their biotechnologically-prolonged lives. I stopped before class for a different stimulant. The line for coffee stretched out, students whispering and huddling against the cold, unaware of those around them, uncaring – I saw people I knew and said nothing. The libraries towered overhead, plating in mirror glass a thousand computing minds. The wind came off the hills and tried to freeze us and everyone rocked forth to collect warmth from the counter. The stand glowed with lights and rock music. At least the Mexicans smiled despite the cold. Mother tells me they are a servile race, eager to work, that they enjoy it. But they can be outdone: a Vietnamese deli artist at Andronico's spends fifteen minutes on each sandwich and earns twice as much as any Mexican. 242

STANFORD BY DAY Servile, they cannot compete. They are shackled here by apathy. Hopefully all of them hate us, hopefully they piss in our drinks. As the Mexicans dispensed foam or no-foam, sprinkled cinnamon and chocolate powder on coffee-heads frothy with soy, and chattered to each other in Spanish, I prated anxiously and thumbed through the pictures on my phone – sundry nonwhores, whores, decrepit friends. Where was Lily? My mind roved on. The fat woman with plum lips waved me up, and I got my coffee from her and was off down the main causeway, leaving the Mexicans to their bean-shaped lives. At the clock tower I bumped into a girl I had been screwing sophomore year, a senator’s daughter, and by the blood vessels spiking her eyes I saw that she had been crying, but she assured me she was fine and I gave her sticklike arm a squeeze and told her she looked great and that we’d hang out for sure, that we would be best friends forever. Halfway to class I saw two huge baseball players in Cyan's fraternity, and we walked together under the arches of the education building, and the speed and seeming vigor of the whizzing bikes elicited the brief hope that my thoughts would subside. One player said something about his girlfriend getting in a fight with another girl. We all offered cursory anecdotes. “A famous fustigator,” one recalled, “she liked to cause women to die in childbirth. She would come to pay her respects, bringing along a powder whose odor would cause spasms and convulsions ending in–” but a star-eyed freshman we hadn’t seen walked past, and the 243

THE PENINSULA conversation dove into silence. Rabbit-face, from a crown of honeyed hair, regarded our stares with rightful trepidation and quickened her pace, very young and smelling gamy. They were twelve students taught by a poofy female professor in a bow tie with a lisp. Together they learned. Seeing a seat open next to the portly Nicaraguan whose family owned all of that country’s gypsum, I pressed down the side of the room, across the floor in front of the professor and the whiteboard, up the other side and across the table, forcing three people to stand to let me by. I looked at that Latin boy. He sat by the corner of the table, leaning back in his chair, his thick legs crossed in jeans stonewashed and scarred by expensive rips, bobbing bright white sneakers embroidered with emerald alligators, and he wore a starched oxford monogrammed in purple, his mane poofing behind him, jet-black. Towards the professor he directed the bored gaze of degenerate youth – of all ingenious, moneyed young men to which bars are but instruments of liberty. Gruffish, stubborn, and illwilled, he sent the cold eyes of his ancient wealth into the backside of the professor, which wriggled in verlegenheit, earning no interest. When the Latin saw me his lip upturned in a gilt sneer, and he shifted to open the adjacent seat, which blazed with sunrays. When I sat down he began to whisper. "O divine air, breezes on swift winds, ye river fountains and ye ocean waves, what tidings bring ye, Bessemer? Of great birds of prey, is this I hear? What 244

STANFORD BY DAY of the fortunes of the night? What of Lily, who doth teach the torches to burn bright? Pray not, like us, confined to fast in fires – hung here in chains, nailed 'neath the open sky. For I sought the fount of fire, and it hath conveyed me 'neath Earth, 'neath Hell that swalloweth up the dead: in Tartarus, illimitably vast, where adamantine fetters bound me fast–" "What the fuck?" I whispered. "Do you have something to say," the professor told us, and went on. Thus I opened my laptop and began checking my email and reading the news, the only thing I do during class. As the professor speaks the children soak their minds in Internet flowing from the walls and ceilings, and wirelessness conquers education. “When you read a book like Pirsig’s,” the professor was saying, “There is absolutely no question that rhetoric is contextualized. In a sense, rhetoric flows, ah, flows forth from the culture surrounding the rhetorician. The soil his words grow in, if you please – rules that were once thought to be set, psychological truths about logic and argument – now seem indistinct from culture and, ah, in a sense, from language itself.” There is no value in education. It does not prepare you to make wealth, and everyone knows it. It does not prepare you to sleep with anyone, or to be happy. Fault the bad professors, the professionals more concerned with their research, reputation, and whatever books they might be spinning than teaching. Fault the business class that feeds its best students under the guise of a fellowship into the professor’s personal venture fund. 245

THE PENINSULA Even the most revered emeritus is loved only because of the prestige he bleeds on his nearest acolytes, or for the Nobel Prize framed in his living room. Stanford’s only contribution is revealing its students’ unwillingness to be taught. This is the only progenitor of independent thought. Thus the mantra of Jacob Bessemer: universities are obsolete, universities must die. What’s the point? You can watch every class online without missing a beat. You can watch the best professors, dead professors. Fire all the living ones. Nor do grades matter when Stanford has imposed a system of point inflation to compete with Harvard and Princeton (who, kowtowing to the network effect, quickly followed suit). Outsiders do not believe it, but Stanford props up grades by at least a letter. The hardest part, as everyone knows, is getting in. Yes, since students have become too distracted to work hard enough to achieve, the administration works for them, curving classes that should not be curved, bumping up scores across the board and begging them to retake anything that poses the slightest difficulty. Freshman year, Ryan tried to fail simply to see if they would let him. He signed up for an Engineering Aerodynamics class, took none of the tests, turned in none of the homework, and attended only the first day. The class simply dropped off his record and out of his GPA, as if it had been an error. So we succeed because they make it impossible to fail. But I didn’t want to succeed that way – I wanted my inheritance and I wanted my annuity and I wanted my lavender vision. “So the question addressed here is the quality of 246

STANFORD BY DAY your lives and relationships. Your lives. You. The problem Pirsig poses is that he says we know nothing about quality, that we are mistaken in the way we see it, so we form insincere relationships. Can anyone define quality for me?” There was silence, and in fact no one had heard the question. The professor persevered, accustomed to her room of empty minds. She looked out. A wiry kid with a shock of brown hair, once interested in literature, now takes refuge behind the silver screen of his laptop, his face illuminated faintly by the glow – he appears perfectly polite, but he drifts among ten open windows, chatting with his friends, looking at pictures of himself, composing flattering emails, skimming through the reading for another class. A girl who wants to go into medicine binges out of a plastic container of olives and hummus while she reads the tabloid online. Simultaneously she checks the news, sends messages to her mother, and looks at her transcript to make sure her GPA has not dropped below the requisite 3.7. And a Nobel laureate’s grandson, eager to become a policymaker, tries to pay attention but can’t hear anything because of the swarm of thoughts in his head – will he be able to ask Sarah to formal, can he do it by email since its less painful, will that be pathetic, perhaps he can use instant messenger, or just look up her number on Facebook and call her, and in any case will he live up to his grandfather’s name and marry young so he can focus on his career, but when can he get home to check his messages, and there might be something he’s missing on CNN, some new terrorist attack, but 247

THE PENINSULA probably not since his cell phone is rigged to deliver him important headlines, and in any case he should focus on the lecture right now and he’s a truant because he can’t – and down at his fingertips sit a thousand keys to forgetfulness and as many images as his mind can name. “Denny, what do you think about quality?” The younger Tesla looked up from his laptop, startled. “I think what the author says in the second part of the novel, after he reveals the implication that he is himself the shadow character Phaedrus. It directly starts him down the path to understanding and therefore catharsis.” “But what do you think?” “Well I think it’s something you have to decide yourself. Everyone’s life is different, right? It’s all relative.” He looked down at the screen and ceased. We are a generation of instants, risen to the call of world that demands this of us. A modern world: a polished whorl of communication and consolidation, a small world, smaller than before, where you can talk to anyone and any thought can find you. Thought after thought, action after action, no matter if incomplete, is chased with such haste that everyone’s attention is divided ten times over. We are just information, instantaneous information, spurting around wires and on radio waves, the Internet. We don’t live here, we don’t inhabit this space. Our bodies are useless now, and we change into mental, emotional things, like ghosts, and ride straight through walls on currents of electricity blasted over the sky. 248

STANFORD BY DAY “Does anyone have an opinion about quality? How do you tell a low quality relationship from a high quality one?” A fly crawled around and around the globe of glass on the professor’s desk, distinct and regular around the front, and terribly magnified upside-down, repeating this lightspeed metamorphosis every revolution. Nothing ever happened. The lecture went on. My screen scrolled. Then, in the flood of crashing packs and rustling papers and laptops clicking closed five minutes prior to the hour, I was first to leap out the door. As the bells bonged I brunched in the library courtyard with the drug dealer and Bonn, who’d surfaced, announced only by text message, to interview students at the fall career fair. Like old times we consumed sourdough rolls with turkey and cheese, and sparkling water, and watched silver maple leaves sift across the court. Under the pale sky the drug dealer tapped at his long black laptop the while, a buckskin surcoat draping his knees. His black whiskers ruffled lazily at the server, who balked above the pink curls of the shrimp plate she carried. He looked like a Pharaoh and in some ways he was. “I can take anyone public,” Ryan was saying. “I can do this deal, that deal, any deal. Do you know my credentials as a representative of Goldman Sachs. Do you know how much money I make and how much my bonus is. Let me jam my blood funnel into your money supply. Because this, let me tell you, has been an excellent year for bonuses, and I cannot wait for 249

THE PENINSULA December. Jake you know it. Jake you know I cannot wait. It's going to be huge and I cannot wait.” “Settle down, Beavis,” I said, “take your Adderall.” “Do you fucking understand the power of Microsoft Excel,” Bonn was saying. “Because I never understood it myself. But lo, every shortcut is hard-wired into my brain.” “Jesus Christ, Ryan,” said the drug dealer. “Imagine if you were in the military.” “What?” sneered Ryan. He had already lost his tan, and rusty scruff warred over his blue chin and neck, lending him an air of horror. “It’s Goldman Sachs.” Now he wore glasses, thin ones whose black carbon fiber frames adorned his gold-lobed ears and gave the whites of his eyes a godlike accentuation. "Look at our security pass for the Bloomberg machines," Bonn said. He removed a brushed shingle from his coat pocket and held it up in the silver light. "When you want to get in, you log onto the website, press a button, and a graphic on the site blinks out a barcode. You hold the card up to the monitor and it scans the lights right off the screen and gives you access. That way you can't give it out to anyone. Because it's so valuable." "It is valuable," said the drug dealer. "It's valuable and unique." "With a Bloomberg machine I would be able to justify losing more of my parent’s money," I commented, "because I would be better informed. Because I trust information and where there is more information there is more trust." 250

STANFORD BY DAY Bonn pinched his pink tie, which bulged cocklike in his jacket folds, and his puffed blue shirt waved its fronds in the chill. Slipped between his tanned fingers, the card passed from our gazes back into his breast pocket, lying close to his heart. Now we could only see his golden cufflinks, which were whorled like cats' tails. Bonn winked at us. "Can you tell me about internship opportunities available at Goldman –" "We don't hire interns." "Can you tell me about full time positions –" "What do you know about capital markets?" "They're highly efficient, the markets know the best way to price securities and –" "Tell me about modeling." "Do you mean arb modeling or DCF modeling or merger models and what assumptions do you use –" "What do you think about the price of oil." "Oh there's so much to say. There's so much action there, in the Middle East and with the war and with suppliers investing so much in gulf equipment all over, I know so much about this I really do, I will perform well in the interview, I will tell you everything you need to make an informed investment in me as a person, a child, a new analyst in the new analyst program. I will serve you well with hundreds of thousands of hours and you may make my mind into whatever you desire." "What is sixty five divided by twelve." "Oh oh oh–" “And how!” I added. “The point is, of course we are 251

THE PENINSULA going to be bankers. Or consultants, or in some other arm of the machine. Stanford makes sure of that, we just get to choose which kind. The thing is to keep our brains sharp, to outlast the monotony, and to split off after a few years so we can get really rich.” Yes, yes, we’re well aware of the age-old complaints about work, about moving away from home and growing estranged from everything you love. We’re well aware, I assure you. Yes, we’ve heard you complain about how you’ve spent at last count ten thousand fifteen-dollar hours in front of a computer screen in your office, fearful to write a sentence of truth, to crack a joke, to frown at your co-workers because you haven’t quite figured out what’s so great about the whole arrangement. We’ve heard how you could make the same amount of money teaching tennis. Will you ever get over that childish notion? We’ve heard how your acceptable level of intimacy changed in only a week from screwing sorority goddesses to ten minutes with Rump Riders mpegs and a roll of toilet paper in the corporate bathroom. It’s been noted. And how decent the bliss of solitude has become! Loneliness doesn’t seem very lonely to you any more, but that will only help you succeed – less and less time you’ll spend with fewer and fewer friends. And all the other little things – how you’ve given up on music and books and learning and summertime and your parents, how wonderfully indifferent you’ve become. How those little things pile up and blow away! But it’s something everyone goes through, you know, and it could be worse. Just think of the paralegals, poor souls, 252

STANFORD BY DAY or your brethren in Iraq. It could be worse, it could be worse, it could be worse. And it’s just part of life, just something you’ve got to deal with for a couple years: accept it, surrender, then you’ll be free: no pain in the future, no: it’ll be better later when you’ve clawed your way up and you’re making more for less in an office with a better view, a higher thread-count carpet: then you’ll get some air. And remember, possessions await – the sports car and the vacations to Greece, the bespoke suits, the flat screen television, the hybrid electric vehicle, the wife and the kids and the slow insulation from the world and race you once considered yours. But don’t think too hard about all that now, just keep going. You’ll see how good it’s going to get. And you’re quite sleepy, we see – you’ve been up since 3AM – great – who’d have known in college that you were such a hard worker? Work brings out the best in you. And nothing will stop you now from getting up and going, and nothing will keep you down, and if sometimes you need a friend, just ask your boss, your mentor. “Are you thinking about something?” spat Bonn. He pulled a black handset from his coat and made it chirp, blazing with light. Hawklike, he scanned the horizon for other bankers, but only bikes trundled across the court. “I have thought about doing something hippieish, writing a video game or doing photography, saving babies, saving the whales," admitted the drug dealer. "But I hate hippies, and, you know, I’ve learned from you that companies can be challenging. Debt structures can 253

THE PENINSULA be organic. Depth in the organization, politics, intrigue – and I fail to see how valuation is easy. Really, banks hire mathematicians.” “You’re right,” affirmed Bonn, “what I do is fucking hard.” I shrugged. I believe shrugging to be the perfect gesture, a yea or a nay, both, the ultimate exoneration. Bonn, secretly an aesthete, once had announced he wanted to leave Stanford to paint in Barbados, where his family keeps a cliff bungalow. But his father beat him for such thoughts, and he hadn’t the training. The twelve hundred hours at the Lehman internship had yawned in him like a grave, the glossy scroll of his offer curled around his senses, the figure he’d shopped up the banking pyramid towards Goldman Sachs. The etymological turd: Isaac, hoarder of gold: Sachs – the angel of the Lord held forth: thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies and turn all students into salt. Girls emerged from the library and sat with us. One looked familiar – she had started sleeping with Bonn and everyone else and I didn’t care. She had a half Asian face and dark curly hair. But I forgot her name and she ignored me. She sat on his lap and drank energy tonic out of a distended can. Trying to conceal her discomfort, she smoked three flavored cigarettes – “Oh, I can only smoke Parlies, they taste good.” Cold had come and the day stung to frost. Clutches of premeds biked from the arches across the stones. She pressed into Bonn and gave me a look of death. She kissed his neck once, near where a bruise showed. “Banking is male,” someone said – the drug dealer. 254

STANFORD BY DAY I drifted from a coffee-flavored haze. “There are woman in it,” I announced. “Hard women. The CEO of eBay was one; I played lacrosse with her son.” “At good old Menlo, our Menlo School, mother of purity, mother of pearl,” sighed Bonn. Everyone looked at him, and he felt compelled to continue. “It’s a fine institution. We have the Google kids and the Siebel kids and Jerry Rice’s daughter and the Bronfmans and the Ranadives and the Byers and the Rosendins and the Pades and the Chens.” “It’s not Exeter,” obligated the girl. “Not yet,” I obliged. “Not yet,” agreed Bonn. “I am applying to banks,” she announced, and Bonn burst out laughing. “Stop it! I had a conversation with my advisor about it, and professional experience makes sense if I want to go to law school.” “But you don’t know anything about finance.” “Buh–” She recoiled against him and, because feminism no longer existed on the Peninsula, capitulated, looking down, clasping her hands, her abdomen clutching a hollow drum. What a loser. Bonn was laughing his head off and everyone stared at her until she gave up, and just as suddenly everyone departed. I walked with Bonn across White Plaza which teemed with the booths of divers employers – banks, consultancies, law firms, startups, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA – vendors of money and dreams after bodies and years. Few could pay as much as Goldman Sachs. Overhead the cold wind scattered leaves from the trees, 255

THE PENINSULA and everyone huddled in their winter fleece. "Now everyone has read American Psycho," Bonn said. "And everyone knows how to wear Zegna suits, how to choose business cards, and how to carve women to pieces and freeze their remains." He looked away and his gold locks blew in the wind. "Every era of excess idolizes the previous golden age, helped by the media. Books and movies but books since you can remember books, while you can't remember movies. The Internet makes us cease to remember. The death of Ariel." "You've changed quite a bit," I said. "Evolved. And you also seem different, different." "My emotional quotient is higher." "Gay faggot. You have a girlfriend!" Now the bikes went spinning by again and chanticleer words spun from the fresh student mouths of the riders, blowing off like leaves. Bonn's golden eyes followed them and we stood up on the hammered brick of the court. Now the wind was coming over the eucalypts and the trees blew with the wind, their leaves twisting in blue crescents. Now the wind gave off and they lay still. "Something like it." "I always knew you were a serial monogamist," Bonn said. "I always knew you would settle." "I’ve had my hot streak, you’ve had yours.” He laughed cruelly, and put his hands in his pockets. "Do you think you are settling. In some strange unconscious way are you settling for the ghost of your childhood because you find no engagement with your present life? Have you run out of money? Has your 256

STANFORD BY DAY mind become so stunted that you can't communicate with people our age–" "She is our age." "Well you know what I mean, people who have been brought here to the great wheel, Stanford University, from all across the American galaxy in order to please you, Jake. You want nothing with any of them." "They aren't that spectacular when you account for grade inflation." He said nothing and the wind came again and the computer screens in the windows glowed solemnly, students hunched over them. The air, diamond in the early afternoon, burned cold. “I’m sad to say I agree with you. My sex drive is not that high any more.” And then Bonn sighed, watching the bikes whir by in pockets of sound. “But do you think that matters, Jakobstraat? In real life the less you want the girls the more they want you. Thus apathy is an advantage. Treat a girl like dirt and she’ll cling like mud. I mean, Jesus, being at Goldman, I have chicks all over me, not that I have time for them.” “It’s the power, my disciple. It’s all about the power.” Bonn stared away. “But I also hate them for it.” “This is what my father had inscribed on his desk, Ryan, and I think it might be useful to you: ‘A sense of duty is useful in work, but offensive in personal relations. People wish to be liked, not endured with patient resignation.’ Cheer up. I’ll see you when you’re old.” With an iron glare, Bonn punched me in the ribs and trotted off towards his carnival of jobs and I walked 257

THE PENINSULA past Tressider towards the business buildings and the Blyth Fund, where I had to find Cyan. On this clear morning a harsh wind began to blow from the foothills, and engineers demonstrated a fleet of Segway scooters below their foundry, drawing a crowd. An old man, probably a professor, snapped a picture of the brave pilots as others stepped up to watch. I walked past a nerd who grinned and chewed his tongue, proud of knowing how to drive. He smiled for the camera and bobbled in his helmet. Compact, online, green, efficient, dynamic, networked, wireless: take pictures, screenshots, show them to your friends and parents, post them online, make an album: no worries: find bigger answers to smaller questions. Each of those scooters lost someone a million dollars. The Segway was one of the worst investments of all time. The Blyth Fund was still meeting so I sat down in the frozen garden outside to wait. Now the day had become cold. The blade wind blew off the foothills, whipping down from its font among carpets of fog and the giant redwoods, down long over forest slopes and valleys studded with dark houses, conversing with the needles of the pines. Then it overcame the low-lying oaks and went out onto the foothills. This cold wind divides California, north from south. A girl came and sat down, holding her purse and a cup of blended juice. Her blonde hair she’d tied in a ponytail – a black puffy windbreaker without designer logo, beige khakis, toe rings, nails painted silver. Her 258

STANFORD BY DAY bare feet supported her on the bench as she gabbed into her sparkly cell phone. Her foam sandals, brown and white and soiled, rested on the bench. Her round cheeks were pockmarked, and her face was small. Around us the trees embarked upon autumn lectures, and strands of spiderweb lazed in the wind. The spiders survived the rain. Weather.com suggested the next three days would be sunny, but lied. Another girl pedaled by on a bike, faceless, underweight. The poor girl rubbed her eyes to shade herself from the sun, tired, depressed. A cold breeze ran a curl of hair away from the mass of her braid, over her ear. What was she doing? Thinking, thinking, thinking it over. The girl sucked her smoothie, an orange plastic overload, a mango-pineapple blend by all appearances, an exotic choice and one that clearly gave her pleasure. A Japanese tourist popped around the building and snapped a photo of the water garden before popping back, and an airplane scored the sky. Time flowed like the slow fountain water and we grew slowly older. The girl sat with her eyes closed, and all the other people sat in the shade. Now she stood up to go into the hall, and I followed her. As she walked she closed her eyes and yawned, and her face sagged. Her cell phone replied to a text message by using her hand. Behind two blue steel doors, the Blyth Fund murmured its adolescent prophecies. An amphitheater of slender intellectuals. No one seemed to know each other from Adam, but all sat poised to catch the morsels of wealth squeaked from the podium, where stood Cyan Zilker. 259

THE PENINSULA The girl sat down and I sat behind her. In an instant she fixed her attention on him, following his every move, turning her head, and nodding hard. Sometimes she emitted a soft moan. How true everything seemed! On her laptop screen, job applications glared and scrolled. The speaker cracked a joke and everyone laughed brightly, politely. "Mm-hmm!" the girl exhorted. Cyan delivered another anecdote and everyone roared, and the girl raised her hand, but he called on someone else so she put it down. Her hand rose again and, as if suspended by a string, jerked up and down – up it went, then it flopped down on the desk, and up again. She did not want to be seen raising her hand without being called on. She began to sweat in confusion, then gave up completely. “I want you to understand the most important thing, and that is progress, the way we’re headed!” shouted Cyan. “China, India, whatever, I’m talking about biotech on a worldwide scale, on a universal scale. Stem cells, cancer, nano, scrollaxing bigger and bigger, what we see, that’s only the beginning. We are on the verge of a revolution in human engineering! Virulent, viruseful! And as much as the conservatives try to stop it, it’s going on; it’s not stopping for anyone. Kids in a lab building E-coli that glows today, in twenty years they’ll be making E-coli that turns flesh to aluminum. That’s only a few trillion dollars away from hitting the world. You can measure time in dollars! And when it does, it’s the end of us, one way or the other, cyborgs or dead, out. The Singularity is near! Terrorist bioweap260

STANFORD BY DAY ons, yeah, that’s one way. Consciousness, real conscious biomachines, that’s the next step. Socialstainable emotrics blickrolling through intercommunes, twittering on the Facehook: the Singularity is near!” And I was struck by the impression that these might be the brightest minds of all. I got up and went to urinate. There is on campus a place called the Intersection of Death, made of stone the color of iron, like the circle that encloses it. There, under a pillar, I sat drinking coffee, and enduring Cyan’s weekday custom. The intersection swarms with careening bicyclists in the morning, and everyone you know goes by, whining and crashing in the carnage of chain and spoke and oil. Cyan said he valued this exposure as an efficient way of making himself socially visible. Under the Intersection’s pillar he sat, studying Chinese, since reasonable people agreed China would at least be second to America by 2020. Wo hen hao. Wo mama, baba hen mang. Wo xuexi Hanyu, ni ne? He learned the characters slowly, copying them by hand with his Pilot Excelsior, three times each. Everybody had a favorite brand for everything. Three times for one character, on average about six strokes. He would write one, then stare at it for a few slow seconds, then write another. “Jake I cannot stop thinking about this deal. You don’t know what it means to me. I can’t wait to tell Mark. I can’t wait to meet your uncle.” 261

THE PENINSULA “He’s not my uncle,” I sneered. “Well, practically, damn!” The bikes whizzed all around us like flies, glancing, swerving, in and out, extremely smooth. Without fanfare they would crash, apologize, and bike on. People talked, babbled hurriedly, the crowd parting where the eye formed around us. Cyan had learned to trust the space around the pylon. He even stretched out his legs into the bikes and crossed his ankles. He took another sip of coffee. Wo didi, gege gaoxing. Tamen zai Stanford daxue. Tamen shi Stanford daxue de xuesheng. Buzz. Whizz buzz whirr whip. He saw a girl he liked go by on her bike. He looked at her and she smiled and disappeared. He looked at his Pilot, the only pen he used. Rollers failed, and he lost more expensive tips and fountains. Pilots offered a good middle-of-the-road blend of style and technique: sharp tip, precise, black liquid ink, superfine. Good at drawing characters. They had been recommended to him, he mentioned. Cyan carried an executive clipboard with white paper to class. Lined paper he considered messy and childish, he said. White paper he considered sufficient. He wore a navy polo, distressed jeans, and rainbow sandals. He walked everywhere. He thought about the bikes, and concluded that by walking he would make more friends. Three giant athletes walked down through the Intersection towards us, passing among the bikes. Cyan knew them, and he watched them for a time. They talked and grinned. They talked about the night before and how much they had drank, and about the girls they 262

STANFORD BY DAY had fucked. They dressed in expensive dark jeans, white shoes, sweaters or jackets or polos. Their slow, tired swagger wed disinterest with privilege. The three walked past, and at the last second one of them acknowledged Cyan with a brief motion of the head that could have been a nod. Cyan blinked. “They were in my fraternity,” he exclaimed. He was not the most popular member of his fraternity. “We had better go,” I said. “It’s going to rain.” “It won’t rain. I looked it up online.” “Look at those clouds coming over the hills and tell me it’s not going to rain.” “It won’t rain. But we have to go anyway, I’d forgotten that it’s prank day.” Many still view frats in the crude way popularized by Belucci and pantomimed across Hollywood for the last thirty years, but here in Silicon Valley they have evolved like everything else. Keeping the tyranny of technology in check is their new function: forcing us pale-skinned, mechanized nambies into human interaction and manly warfare. I’d become a surrogate member of two, meaning they liked me enough to invite me to their events and offer me a share of their women, but, disliking their initiation rituals and pube-coated showers, I wouldn’t join. The fraternity is the slave child of the university, protected by the university, and run by the university like any classroom: its citizens are cogently aware how to misbehave within the rules, and do a brisk trade of androgen, inheritances, and envy in exchange for Pi 263

THE PENINSULA Phis, kegs, and cocaine. I suppose from a girl’s perspective the system still treats them as chips to be pushed around, but it’s preferable to dating unaffiliated losers, as long as you didn’t end up with a Cyan. We walked up the steps between the gold lions flanking the entrance of the fraternity. Two pines caked with the scoria of sap and inscribed with carvings crossed like Baghdad swords overhead. Athletes and the very rich populated this house, Cyan their bastard hop-frog, a skittish scientist milking their kudos and girls. Every year the fraternities held prank days to teach the new pledges how to offend, and we joined in. Just the year before, we’d stripped to sheets, sprayed ourselves with ketchup, rolled in the dirt, and hauled huge nailed crosses from the base of campus up into the golden foothills, wailing for others to follow us. The Son of God and Apostle John had risen once more. Bonn strode behind me in a cassock and a cat-o-ninetails, flaying us, though too often he broke down snickering. Those days had passed but still we had work to do. The glass door stood open, splintered in radials by a pellet shot through its center, and wedged by a scored wooden triangle. I stepped through onto sticky plaster, my sneakers unbearably white in the grime. Home is where you want to be. The night replayed its echoes across a dozen chairs smashed in the lobby, glued together with piss-colored beer and sprayed with cheetos. I goose-stepped over them and turned left into a bluecarpeted hall, the top rim, the senior hallway, towards 264

STANFORD BY DAY Cyan’s single far at the end. Doors stood open, filling my ears with fifty different rappers and the Afghan scent of hemp, the rooms rolling out in dilapidated vertebrae. Within lounged people I knew well, real Stanfordists in the class below, the opposites of the Blyth Fund. A powerful bronzed tennis player with simple tastes, smarter than he seems – he looked up from pirating music, broke into a toothy smile, and hailed me with a clap on the back and a rundown on his good life. A cut panther of a man stalked to and fro two rooms down, a childhood jujitsu champion, wringing his rough wrists with chalk as he prepared to leave for the gym – very polite and incredibly quiet, he had to register his hands as deadly weapons. A coppery Jew from Los Angeles, wielding a harpish voice, dexterous, drug-laced, cynical, chipper, welldressed and generous, popular as a charmer. He was cleaning his room, nailing a poster into the wall, and beeped over, “Hey buddy!” A sharp boy from Washington, short, good-looking, meticulously clean, rich, desperately intelligent, addicted to work, stubborn, able to concentrate like no one I’ve ever met. He was doing accounting homework, a class he was taking for fun, and told me to take a number. A clownish redhead from New York, juxtaposed by his nearness to the wildly successful, wearing the cloak of an old money banker: in love with money but quite confused by how easily it came to him, the most intelligent of the bunch and the least wise, half leader and 265

THE PENINSULA whipping boy. He lay passed out face-down on his couch, his shins propped up by a pillow. A lion man, an Italian, angry, apathetic, destructive, endearingly loyal, ever trying, ever failing, smart as a whip, burning with fire and rage, he was death and embarrassment to his enemies, pity to his friends. He had his girlfriend in there with him, and they were either about to slash each others throats or fuck – she slapped him hard and he turned his face with a bemused expression – I could not tell, and closed the door for them. A Nigerian prince surprised by his own beauty, sleeping inadvertently with everyone's girlfriend, an aristocratic black man, crisply polite, eloquent, vulgar, good in bed, possessing a feral cold streak, stepped out into the hall in a towel and plodded by with a reptilian smile. A giant Diamondbacks recruit guffawed from his television perch – the rookies on the Stanford team clustered around him, chanting “Heated! Heated! Heated!” as someone hit a home run. He looked over and grinned, totally unimpressed. A bearish, Nordic type, possessing all drugs and embracing squalor, a husky staple, enjambed at the end of the hall, censing marijuana and joy throughout the entire place. His face plugged in a bong, he puffed out his cheeks in laughter. So many more, hundreds of them. Sooner or later they all will be gone. And timid Cyan at the end, unlocking his door, tripping over a business book, Good to Great, with a great hilarious pile of masturbatory tissues slumping on his 266

STANFORD BY DAY silk duvet. He looked back, startled and embarrassed, and swept them into the bin – the room contained only a bed, a chair, and a computer. “Busy?” I asked. “I only come here to sleep.” “Evidently.” I went over and plopped down. Past the sliding door birds played across the lawn, where two pledges crouched behind sandbags with pellet guns, taking potshots at squirrels. A plane mooned across the sky, and the clouds started rolling off. “We were thinking we would hit Johnson’s lecture on social norms,” Cyan said. “That would be fun. You can drag me along. Is Zuckerfuck still coming?” “Coitenly. We’ll meet him at the game afterwards, assuming they don’t arrest us.” Palm trees nodded outside the window, and the street murmured, buses roaring, boys shouting, balls bouncing, girls chattering: pale sunlight entered, conversed, and wind came in with the smell of sandstone and trees. The sounds chuckled and swirled around, the day dozing on the brink of November. Cyan went over and sat on his chair and coughed long and deep, and swallowed mucus before coughing again. His phone rang. “Hello,” he said. There was a long pause, and he commenced talking. I could not believe the words that came out of his mouth. “Ummm, hello. Umm, yep, yeah. Oh I’m having a great day, fabulous, how about you? Yeah. Yeah are you having a great day? Good. Umm, well. I think I am going out tonight but I’m not sure I want to drink. Did you see my new 267

THE PENINSULA Facebook profile? Hehe yeah I’ll see you at the game okay. Yes I’d like that. Hold on. Yep, you still there? Hold on.” He emitted a long, dry cough, wiped off the phone, and continued, “Hello? Hello?” I looked at him. “She hung up,” he said. “What the hell? You talk to girls like that? Do you realize how you sound?” “I have a new girlfriend.” “You have a girlfriend?” He blushed furiously. “I thought you would understand.” I laughed. He turned and went to his computer. A pair of spiders pressed over the palm window, and the sun burned off cloud behind the red rooftops of the row. Then the street quieted, and bikers replaced the buses. Cyan called back – he began talking again, and his computer chattered to the network, and ten or twenty messages piled up, blinking orange at the bottom of the screen. Cyan took another call, switched over, coughed, then switched. Someone opened and slammed the door. A brief gust of requests: times, places, orders. Plaintive, simple facet – the palm window darkened with cloud and the street outside fell silent. Program one in a hundred similar programs – the computer strummed a harp, and two more messages poured onscreen. Cyan clicked on and on. Someone was wielding a buzzsaw down on the courtyard. Finally he spun around in his chair and wiggled his eyebrows. “Okay,” he announced. “Let’s tool this wasp ass bitch.” 268

14
Annenberg Auditorium, one of the largest halls on campus, teemed with hopeful spectators. No classes should be held on the day of pillory. Every fraternity pledge had been planted there to watch and film us, and they hollered with their girls. Students pushed into the aisles – afraid of being trapped in a middle seat, they preferred to squat on the floor – and in the window of the swinging doors we could see the professor far off on his stage, and it was a stage, bellowing his thoughts about self-efficacy and social norms, and we were ready to go in, dressed as Mexicans. Cyan hefted a large cardboard sign crayoned with “WORK ORDER.” I toted a hammer and wore blast glasses. Sorority girls had coiffed us in black hairspray and masks of makeup: we looked vaguely ethnic, that is all: we looked insane. I wore giant plaid overalls and some fool artist’s spattered jacket. As a pledge patted me on the back, I said, 269

THE PENINSULA “Okay,” and we opened the hall doors and walked into the aisle. Five hundred eyes turned towards us in a wave, laughter scattering throughout the back rows. Someone said my name and burst out laughing. We just kept walking. The professor did not see us and said, “It really is quite uncomfortable to violate social norms. Have you ever tried it? Try doing something as simple as wearing your shirt backwards, and see how it feels. You’ll be surprised.” He looked at us. He prejudged us to be Mexican and because he was afraid of offending Mexicans he kept speaking, but his lurching around the stage took on a wary spring. We walked up to the flue grate on the right wall, halfway up the hall, and I banged on it with the hammer as hard as I could. Laughter exploded in the rows. The professor looked at us and the two freshmen in the aisle stared up in horror. Again I banged the grate, and Cyan held up the sign, and announced we had a work order. Cackles rose in force. I banged on the grate again, loudly, and the professor stopped speaking. “It looks okay Juan. What you think mang,” I said over my shoulder. Cyan was shaking with fear. Someone began clapping, then stopped. In the net of gazes we turned up the aisle towards the grate below the professor’s stage. As we approached he stared down in shock. We came within inches of his feet and I looked at him. He was an older man with spectacles wearing a sort of sad pink shirt – I could tell by the way he styled his dying yellow hair that he had once been a dandy, but in oversight or old age he had paired a chocolate 270

STANFORD BY DAY belt with tan shoes. “Wot de fock, mang,” I stated. And I looked up into his eyes. He was uncertain. Hefting the hammer, I banged on the gate. The room erupted. “Looks okay, Pablo,” I told Cyan. “What you think.” “Looks okay, Lopez,” Cyan trembled. “Can we get some tacos?” “Maybe some taquitos,” I suggested. “Or a chalupa, mang.” The kids in the front row – the good students, the quiet blondes in pink – remained totally silent. Their knife eyes hated and feared us. They would kill us with their death rays and PhDs. Still the professor lacked words, still he stared down in disbelief. Frowning, I banged on the gate looked at Cyan and said, “This one need work.” The crowd laughed in fits, silenced, and laughed again. The professor opened his mouth and said, “Is there not another time that you could do this?” I could not believe that he would say this. “They scheduled us for now!” I cried, looking up at him, cracking my knuckles around the haft of the hammer. “Do you know that there is a class going on here?” he whined. He scrutinized my face. He would see through the makeup. “Then you need to talk to maintenance to reschedule us,” Cyan told him. “These flue grates might be leaking into the room. The kids could die, mang.” “I need to finish my lecture, this is absurd.” He was 271

THE PENINSULA getting annoyed at last. I shrugged. “Maybe you people talk in another room?” “Okay, I will just stop the lecture, then. Jesus Christ.” The professor sat down on the stage, crossing his faggy legs, staring down at us, and the room silenced into nervous whispers. Cyan trembled and we walked slowly past the professor and turned up the other aisle. As I passed people they looked up at me in awe. I could feel the professor’s wrath on my back and the approbation of the crowd and he began insolently humming. A camera flashed and my heart beat – we hadn’t considered that. I reached the last flue gate and banged on it. Is that Jake someone said. “Do you have any respect for education?” the professor shouted from his stage. I looked back at him from up the aisle, and I was bigger than him and because he thought I was Mexican he sat back down. But it was not impressive enough. I had to show them. I had to be remembered. So I turned slowly, and I started walking back towards him, pawing the hammer. “What do you fucking think?” I roared. The crowd erupted into bedlam – a Mexican kid nearby actually began cheering. “Mostly I am sick of your ugly white ass up there talking down to the people who fix your shit! What do you have to say about that?” “Now just hold on here–” he began. With great thumping workman’s steps I was thundering towards him, and he faltered back in panic, arms raised. “Now, I was just–” 272

STANFORD BY DAY “Fuck that shit mang!” I yelled, pumping my hammer. “I’m going to kill your racist ass!” He turned and fled across the stage to where the curtains swung against the floor. “Don’t come up here!” he cried. He trembled, breathless, a deflated frog. At the foot of the stage, I looked down at the grate and bludgeoned it with a two-handed swing, splitting the wood frame, then turned, stormed back up the aisle, and followed Cyan out. The room had gone silent. In the lobby, contorted pledges worshipped me. “Uh, I have to leave immediately,” I told everyone. We began to run. The sky grew dark, furrowed by grey trenches that rolled over and over. I washed up at the fraternity, changed, and got a ride to Cardinal Stadium. Cyan had gone on ahead to meet Mark Zuckerberg. As I pulled up, I saw them frozen among the field of cars. Mark had dropped out of Harvard to work on the company before moving to Palo Alto, where he spent his days under attack by venture pirates and trying to fit himself into a social scene that rabidly exploited his compounding wealth and made fun of him behind closed doors. He was actually fairly good-looking, and a decent guy underneath, with more business acumen than most of our fathers – but he had no idea how to make conversation, women terrified him, and his flabbergasted expression and Frodo Baggins haircut did nothing to help. In this day his publicity left him a sitting duck for gold-diggers aged eighteen to seventy, a condition which would not cease. 273

THE PENINSULA Eventually he found a nice normal girl and settled down, but when I met him he still had some of the college mojo in his veins. He was here to talk shop, but also to meet girls. The Zuck stood about my height, with pale Jewish skin, curly auburn hair, and a complexion ruddied by the cold. Under a low baseball cap, he assumed no one would know him from Adam. “Hello, Mark,” I said as I locked my car, gripping his cold hand. “It’s Jake Bessemer.” “Hi. So you want to buy his stock?” He gave a warm, nervous smile. “Yeah. That would be sweet,” I said, looking at Cyan, who wore a Catholic expression, as though praise from the Zuck could justify his existence on Earth. We set off towards the copper mesa visible through the trees, and tanbark and twigs scuffed under our feet, kicking cold dust in our wake. Shivering families, red and S-embroidered, grilled hot dogs and murmured in the heat of barbeques and turned-up car heaters, morbidly oblivious to our passing. Only some of the older ones gave sad glances to the walking ghosts of their college years. Off among the trees, frat guys began shouting at a couple of Cal fans – their voices rose from the grove, and they started shoving each other as I watched, but separated when a cop car cruised through the field. Mark stuffed his hands into the pockets of his jeans and exhaled a silvery cloud. “Well,” he repeated, “You want to buy some of Cyan’s stock.” “My uncle does.” I had just called Michael that, and it made me spit on the ground. 274

STANFORD BY DAY “Why did you just spit?” he asked. “Uh,” I said, “I have oral herpes. Just kidding.” “He probably does,” Cyan said. He stubbed a beer can as we wove between two enormous black jeeps. “He probably does!” “I collect STDs,” I tried, and laughed out loud to make everyone more comfortable, but no one liked the joke. Zuck hadn’t even been listening; he plodded ahead lost in thought. Two kids played across our path, throwing a football. There were few people out – with Stanford projected to lose and lose and lose, the regalia of 1971 seemed a distant memory. Off on the other side of the stadium we heard the band start up a tiny, distant clangor. “I already sold some stock to Accel Ventures,” said Mark. “But I could sell more depending on the price.” He looked back, his blue eyes clean. “I’ve got to think about this.” “What about me?” peeped Cyan. “I’m thinking…” We’d reached the edge of the eucalyptus grove and stepped over the chain that surrounded the stadium grounds. Across the parking road, traffic cops in neon jackets directed cars laterally towards the field. The bored, overpaid, unnecessary SUPD searched bags and blew hard. We walked towards where an oak tree shaded a circle of door-splayed SUVs blaring rap. There, twenty kids huddled over a silver keg and attempted conversation. Other tailgates sprawled through the distant trees, encircling the stadium, separated by 275

THE PENINSULA duckbill speakers lofted on poles that blared out pregame announcements. Fortunately, some good-looking girls had turned out, and my mood lifted. “Great,” said the Zuck. “Let’s meet them.” “This one will do,” I said, pointing at a girl and beckoning. “Come here.” This orange girl was a drooling Texan transfer from USC who had landed in Pi Phi because of her fake tan, blonde hair, and materialism. She had dated a baseball senior headed for the Cubs until he tore his ACL and became ineligible to play, which got him dumped good and square. With his signing bonus he’d bought her the ugly pair of fake tits that now bulged orange from her parka, and which made her attractive in a menacing kind of way, yanking attention from her cold eyes and crablike legs. One time I’d run into her on the dark side steps of Green Library and near screamed with fright. On the days she wasn’t trying to sleep with me, she became susceptible to attacks by my friends, which made her perfect for the Zuck. Two mousy subordinates flanked her, tackling Cyan as we approached, and he launched into a horrific conversation about business school and saving money. “Hey, you look great,” I smiled, yanking the orange girl by the arm. “This is my friend Mark Zuckerberg from Harvard. I can tell it’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.” The force of my whisper rocked the planet and the orange girl stumbled her green pump heels into a stick and half-fell against me, nearly bouncing her melon-like boobs out of her shirt and into 276

STANFORD BY DAY Mark’s incredulous palms. The Zuck’s eyes widened. “Wha–watch out, there!” he exclaimed, and the girl giggled madly, licked her chops, and said hi. “All dilution will occur on a pro rata basis,” I predicted. “We do not discriminate in this group.” “Bring some beer!” I yelled at one of her subordinates. That mouse-girl went back into the circle smiling and cramming her ass into her pants. “I am thirsty,” the orange said. "Are you thirsty for RICHES?" I asked. The Zuck bobbed up both hands over his face. His curls ran down his forehead in a mop of bronze. "Love is about liquidity," I continued. "Diversification. And the best diversification is cash.” As I knew they would, they sucked together in a hungry vacuum of conversation, two gears of a social machine conjoining to begin the preordained march towards sex. Not even a wunderchild can resist. Behind us, the duckbills burst into excited shouting and a tinny boom of cheers rose from the stadium – we had just kicked off and nearly given up a touchdown on the return. Cal always had more fans than us, mostly because everyone at Stanford was too drunk or too busy to care about football. Shivering, I straddled the keg and poured some beers. The girl gripped Mark’s forearm with an orange claw and stared up into his eyes. “It’s cold in Boston,” he intoned. “You ever heard of seasonal depression?” The Harvard trick always works because most Stanford 277

THE PENINSULA kids have a secret inferiority complex at being listed third on the Princeton Review. Orange leaned up and whispered something into his ear and smiled through her fangy lips. When the mice stopped sucking Cyan’s blood, I slipped over to him and asked what he wanted to do. “It looks like Mark’s having fun, I hope he’s having fun,” he whispered. The mice glanced at each other and fled towards the bathroom to discuss the loss of their mistress. “He’s armed with the H-bomb.” “Yes,” he said doubtfully, breathing into his hands. “But he’s a bit strange. Are you sure he’ll be okay? Do you think I should ask him?” “He’s doing better than you would.” “If you think he’s all right then I suppose we should leave them alone. I’m just so worried. Let’s go inside – I can’t handle this – we’ll tell them where to meet us.” Cyan stared back nervously. The tailgate burned dimly against the freezing blue air, and conversations swirled up like balloons into the leaves of the oaks, rising towards the confluence of noise above the stadium. A biplane circled overhead, beating out SENATORS SPARE OUR SONS in square red letters, and I took a short, fiery breath. “Can I borrow a twenty?” Cyan asked, leafing with trembling fingers through his empty wallet. “I need to buy a ticket.” “What. I suppose,” I said, slipping one from my billfold. “But pay me back.” He frowned as he turned to look at me, slipping his wallet in the back pocket of 278

STANFORD BY DAY his pants. “Sure. I’ll buy you some beers inside.” “I’m not drinking,” I said, then realized I was still holding a red cup. “Any more than this. I’ve got to drive.” “That’s never stopped you. Fine. It’s not important – I’ll pay you back.” Down the side of the arena packs of people streamed from the parking field towards the gates. The stadium resembles a coliseum, a red steel plateau scalloped out and pierced around the rim by a loop of beer stands and bathrooms – the Stanford Indian played here before the harmlessness movement tore that mascot down and interposed the nebulous ‘Cardinal’. In reality, the Stanford Indian had been played by a local Apache chief who dressed up in a real headdress and buckskin and galloped out on a brilliant stallion for every game – many Native Americans viewed the mascot as a bond between the university and the state’s heritage. But we forget these ties. These days, everyone claims it was a racist white kid dressed up with an axe and red body paint, like they do in Cleveland. In Silicon Valley, even tolerance is tinged with prejudice. As we climbed the enormous flight of stairs that led to the rim, packs of aging alumni pressed by us, kids in tow, rushing up after the memories of their glory days. Their sun had merely set over the horizon of the stadium wall. “In nineteen seventy our fraternity–” one belted out as he passed, his little girl panting up the stairs behind him two at a time. In nineteen seventy our fraternity drove a firetruck into the lake and got busted 279

THE PENINSULA by the cops, and we kept a pet monkey in a closet under the first floor stairs and one time Hunter Charley tried this new stimulant PCP and cut off its balls with nail scissors – and after it was dead we locked five pledges in there and told them they couldn’t come out until they’d finished a box of cigars – and on the balcony we’d have screw sessions with Chinese from Canada College and we wouldn’t wear rubbers ‘cause there was no AIDS then and we’d slap those chinks on the rump and go downstairs for beers, and everyone had the time of their lives – those days everyone could get into Stanford whose dad would pay and the world was filled with peace and love and none of us rich kids had to go to Vietnam, thank God, and Jesus, do you have any marijuana or know where I can buy some – it’s been some time, it’s been decades – and look at this, look how fast I can roll a joint, it’s muscle memory, you see – you’re a great guy, a real class-A cat, and thanks for listening to us, we can get you a job anywhere now that we’re rich – me, I’m an emm dee at Citibank, a managing director, a certified M.D., and I’m rich and I’ve got a trophy wife and two kids and a Porsche and a mistress on the side, and I get away with it because I provide, and you can, too. And freshmen struggled up with us like breaching salmon, red-painted, glistening warriors brandishing contraband bottles of vodka and coke, yipping at each other with hateful smiles. Winning the game mattered to them – they’d keep count each year, and if Stanford won all four years they’d consider themselves surefire billionaires, and if Stanford lost all four years they’d 280

STANFORD BY DAY forget, like me. Two drunk ones pressed by, forcing Cyan to the side of the stairs, and one leaned over the railing an emitted a mouthful of chalky yellow lunch into the grass below, then wiped his lips with a ragged paw. “Puke and rally!” yelled his companion, and, seeing four Cal fans descending the other way – a family, with two little boys dressed in blue – spat on, “Fucking plebes! Peasants! Die in Iraq, fuckers! In ten years you’ll be pumping my gas!” The mother stared in horror, but in an instant she swirled into the crowd and we struggled up over the top with them and looked down upon the sport. The stands dawned with noise, and a roaring sea of red fought an ocean of blue, and down on the field the fighting teams pricked and clacked heads and coaches called and the Stanford Band erupted in song and dance, and cheerleaders and dollies flopped over and smiled, dressed as pirates, and the entire building shook awash in the breath of this enormous human system, and I became aware of my cell phone buzzing in my pocket. It was Lily! But I didn’t pick up. It was not her place. She called again two times as we trawled the crowd, but I let the phone shake in my pocket as we descended into the student stands. Near the top of the bleachers the nerdier kids congealed like sputum, outlining the greater mass of students below – emaciated computer science majors and their briny girlfriends, little peeping Asians and all manner of other trolls who cared less about friendship than Firefox, and less about being a normal, hygienic human being than pissing everyone off with their foul 281

THE PENINSULA smells and leaky clothes – no matter, I told myself – and ogrish English majors with long snot-braided hair and condescending sneers, who knew about poetry and would tell you about it too, who if you pissed them off would write short stories in their agony, and cocky polisci goblins headed to great American law schools, drenched in too-big Polo shirts, talking on their cell phones to mom and dad and pastor, and TAs and dormies, hippies and RAs, and God knows what else, all of them little shits with no influence, and I ignored them as they ignored me. The middle band of students comprised the dull, ordinary partygoers: people who kept half a vodka bottle in their room for special occasions but usually found their Friday nights lonely, who enjoyed three-hour Facebook sessions and online chat – mostly econ majors, I realized – a considerate but uninteresting proletariat using Stanford for wealth and the parent-directed pretense of learning, a group largely uninterested in other human beings, perhaps with good reason, a class who read Newsweek and the Economist but not the New Yorker and certainly no fiction. People I’d learned to exploit. I offered smiles to some of them, and moved on. And towards the bottom, near the band and the edge of the field, golden smiles looked back at us and hands waved – friends welcoming friends – the glorious Greeks and those other fortunates with futures, raised by families good enough to be interested in good things – art, drugs, learning, life – people we saw at parties who liked to golf with us, with whom we identified, 282

STANFORD BY DAY people with names. A crowd called Jake and Cyan and waved, and I felt happy waving back, and we surged into an aisle between two gleefully rocking aluminum benches and treelike columns of legs, and shoved open a place to stand so that we could see down onto the field. A girl teetered down the line towards Cyan, stepping through in a charcoal beanie and tan hide boots, giving him a reaching hug and kiss on the cheek that nearly set me flipping down the rows. Cyan’s brow furrowed and he quietly drew himself up, a gnome rising from a pinprick. The girl stood at his knees, he drew her up and we rocked and buckled. She looked like a parrot – his new girlfriend. The crowd roared mightily and jostled us together. There was nowhere to go. “Well,” I half-shouted. “Where’s the Zuck!” “I don’t know. I think we should check on him.” “Don’t fucking check on him.” “Don’t talk to Cyan like that,” the parrot gawked. “He’s my friend.” “Jake, I should check,” Cyan whimpered. “If you go after him it’ll look like you want something. You’re acting like a little bitch.” “I just want to see.” “Don’t go.” “Fuck you.” “Don’t go if you want him to commit.” “Don’t order Cyan around,” cried the parrot. She looked back at me with glassy eyes and breathed fog and moonshine. The crowd rocked us back and I could have her I could have her I didn’t want her. 283

THE PENINSULA “If I want your opinion, I will take my dick out of your mouth,” I snarled. Slack-jawed, she looked down at the game, crossing her arms. Stanford began kicking off and the crowd lifted their keys in an orchestra of tingling, jangling them back and forth as the kicker approached the ball, and they all called ‘Wo-ah!’ as the pigskin sailed down the field. In this sea of motion, the Zuck emerged at the stairs, looking down over the kingdom his website had conquered. I waved, and the Zuck, being a wunderchild, perceived me. “See?” I told Cyan. “Fine.” He stared down the row and set his jaw, then flitted his eyebrows in greeting to someone he imagined he knew. Cal had driven down the field in three plays and was pushing the goal line. We’d fallen twenty points in the second quarter, and already the students had begun sulking up the stairs, resigned to another loss. A Cal cheerleader grabbed the microphone and yelled, “PENETRATE, PENETRATE! SCORE, SCORE!” and the blue side of the stadium chanted and roared. Then Cyan sputtered something, growing redfaced, and started to step down off the bench. But at that very moment the Zuck stepped up with his orange bride, trying to squeeze in down the row, grinning and holding hands, and they waved and rose up beside us. So Cyan politely settled back on his heels, his ears red and boiling. “We lost you down there. Hell of a game,” said Mark, and reached out a hand. Orange blasted a smile 284

STANFORD BY DAY and received eyes like daggers from the parrot. “I didn’t know she was your girlfriend!” exploded orange. “That’s so cute. I love your hat!” she blasted. Her grin threatened to snap the tendons of her cheeks. “Thaaanks!” the parrot replied. “I love your shirt!” “Thaaanks!” “Thaaanks!” the parrot said again, and I squeezed her arm. The orange girl gazed blithely off into the crowd. Mark had stepped off the bench and maneuvered behind me and Cyan. “Guys,” Mark breathed against the roaring cheers, “This is great. I didn’t realize Stanford girls were so much hotter.” “Yeah,” I said. “They say all the Ivys are bad, but at least the Stanford ones fake bake.” “Not even that. She’s so much more interesting,” he beamed, “than a Harvard girl.” Cyan smiled faintly. The douche was blowing his opportunity. “I’m glad it’s going well.” Douchetastic. The biplane roared back over the stadium, and the stands boomed as Navy pushed over the goal line, putting us far down in the half. The girls’ conversation had also failed to revive, and they stood next to me, side by side, thirsting vainly for connection. Then Zuck said, “Cyan, you can sell.” He raised two fingers in blessing, and wealth was had. I spun around, alive like a golem, thumping Cyan nearly knocking him back into the knees of the row behind us. “That’s great!” I said. “Michael will want you to come down to Carmel with him this weekend to talk about it.” Then Cyan shot a yellow, sideways look at 285

THE PENINSULA me. I didn’t know what it meant. It was gone in an instant, replaced by a staggering grin. “It will be awesome,” he beamed. The Zuck shook both of our hands and trundled back to his orange, who convulsed with sunshine at his return, slopping a multicolored kiss on his cheek that made the crowd revolt towards me in fear.

286

15
Halloween toppled over the hills, the sun kicking copper into the air and smoldering fog among the pines, and Lily came home. That sun was an autumn hound and we went into the hills to meet him. The hill forests remembered my childhood treading deertrail and bramble through their ancient pines, building troves of rocks and feathers in the tree hollows and streambeds, and under hanging mists raising forts of mud and shale, great dams and high cities peopled with berries and twigs and centipedes, in those silent high reaches. Lily said she would not stay another night in her house and wanted to be with me. “Silence,” I told her at the trailhead I wanted her to see. The blond dog kicked in its leash. I held her hand, and we began across the skyline with all the valley and all the sea arrayed on either side. Stanford sat far below, a red gem surrounded by suburbs, and out west the Pacific extended its plane. Californian wind traversed the hills, brushing their 287

THE PENINSULA coats in wild spirals and swirling down into the valley. Every consideration of past and future blew from my mind as we crossed those bleak spaces, down the trails and through the grasses, through the dust, seeing only seeing while we walked for miles. We could walk well and even if we tried, if I led her. Redwood groves gathered before us, bent in red bark robes, oaks at their knees: their moss and lichen dripped, and they held all but the wind silent. We kissed leaning against the trees, then left their shelter, walking on among the fields. Now the ridge twisted back above a broad forest valley, choked with heath, and we came down the trail through the dust and turned on. A silent hawk rose from the scruff of a pine, talons sprung: he dipped among the grasses and fetched a coiling snake, half its head hacked off, slinging it behind him with a brownish drool. As he passed, his claws went twisting and popping the flesh, and he went down in the forest where the creek whispered its song. Now we stood on the brink of that gulley, where a column of living mist drove up from the oaks and the stream, buoyed by the wind into sails that twisted and ran before the sun. Like a tiered castle, the shape rose and parted into transparency, carrying with it the valley’s waters: the trail wound down into the gulch, thick with the smell of wet leaves, and down the trail we made our way seen and unseen by every living thing around us. On the valley floor we passed into a grove of sharpscented bay trees shielded from the sun. The trail crested like an altar, the dome of leaves almost turquoise, 288

WINE COUNTRY oblong and glowing around a ring of black stones. There was life in this place. A coal-colored snake parting the grass, a stinking black beetle wobbling through the dirt around a coin-sized patch of sun: life cycling endlessly. The sphere of leaves interspersed the shade with twinkles, and the creek went among the bays. “We can stop here,” I said, picking a rock off the pile. “Can we,” said Lily, and she let her dog off into the brush. “As good a place as any – since I’ve brought you here to die.” She yawned. “I would like to die, or at least lie down.” She lay, and prisms fell on her face, sunned through the canopy, tossed along unwinding branches and the black pews of the tree trunks. She had a good view of herself, good as any, and she rolled up the legs of her jeans and slipped one dusty foot from her sandal, sinking it into the moss. She crooked her other leg beneath her. She turned her chin askance, tilting her head and letting her platinum hair fall freely. A brown birthmark the size of a plum fanned on her knee. She patted the moss beside her and slowly lay back on her elbows in the shade: this silent metal girl resting like a deer in the forest, and all around the sound of trees. I sank down beside her, my one hand drawing crosswise across her back. She darted her head and turned, ears slanting from her straight hair. “Well,” she said, biting her lip, “I do know you better than other people, and I know you wouldn’t kill me, 289

THE PENINSULA though you’d do all sorts of other things.” She turned and leaned close. “But you don’t know me. That’s the advantage I have.” “I know you pretty well,” I said. “Do you want to see something?” she whispered into my ear. Her clumsy cheek brushed mine. A flurry of hair. “All right,” I said. “You don’t get to see unless you’re good.” “Show me,” I said. A black bird dashed around one of the trunks into the branches, and Lily blew air into my ear. All was green. Then she laughed, and, flaring her shoulders, reached down and pulled off her top. Without a word she turned and half pounced over me, deft as a cat, sinking one arm into the moss by my side, gold and fast and toned. Blue lace clung to her and in her navel swirled a glittering ring. Leaning her face close to mine, she inverted her arms, showing the pale underside, where on her wrists lacerations swirled like calligraphy. Around them drifted the brutal print of blank and faded scars. “I was busy in New York,” she grinned, her teeth bared, “This is why I can’t have lovers.” “What about me?” I was staring at the scars. “You are nothing.” “Those are new?” “They are why he sent me away. There are many more from other years, but scars fade fast on me. I have skin like a snake.” “Why–” “It’s a form of valediction.” 290

WINE COUNTRY “I must have this effect on many women.” She laughed harshly. “Oh, not you, it has nothing to do with you. But now you can see physical evidence of my insanity. Now you can stop being interested in me.” “And you are happy with it?” “I’m ravishing.” She leaned down so that her parted lips opened inches from mine, then moved her knees up and sank upon me. She smelled of jasper and she smelled of bay, her eyes gold and gone. “So you will have to believe. And behave, you will also have to behave.” I necked up to kiss her but she pulled back like a serpent. “Not now, Jake! Not in my tortured state!” She let her hand trail down my side and again to my belt buckle, where against my straining she left it, still staring blankly past my eyes. And she pushed up and off with a brassy laugh, stepping up, turning from me, her back striding and striped with light. “Let’s go down to the creek, now that you have seen all of me. Take my hand. Too slow!” Then she leaned down and unbuttoned her pants, and stripped them off. She looked back and laughed the same, shrilly, like metal. “Then can’t we–” “Not yet,” she said. “Quickly!” All aching, from one elbow I heaved up. I staggered after her in a daze, down the mossy rocks to where water played through the tree roots. She placed her feet carefully and stepped between the rocks, not once looking back, but when I approached she held up a hand – she would proceed on her own. 291

THE PENINSULA Faltering only once, she made her way to the stream’s edge, and padded up the shale to a pool spread beneath the greatest bay tree, where she stood for a moment before stepping in. I sloshed through the rocks after her, ears buzzing. Leaves and water stung my feet, and I stumbled to a knee. A jagged slash drew across the cap, crimson, and looking down I saw creatures writhing in the cracks between the rocks. Yes ivy crawled on the rocks, on the trees and nested at their roots, and among the ivy crawled beetles snakes birds rats squirrels worms lizards spiders earth creatures who saw naught but black, who roamed and jumped and spent themselves in hiding, encased in their armor, all clattering through the ivy earth and stone on legs many clawed delivering unkindness to species same and not, who bereft of language muttered their own defense and died. Among the death lay stones worn smooth by the water and on these stones I stepped, silver streaking between the stones down among the leaves, silver into black water turned, and oak leaves, gold- and grime-faced, swam among the gleam of the water and spent. The stones clacked and swayed between silver water and towards the stream I came and at the bank of pebbles the waters of the stream opened beneath the tree and gave life to the land. Wretchedly, I came up behind her, soaked and torn. I was standing on the bank and I could not enter the cold water as she had done. The chill wind swept between us. “Look at you, pathetic beast,” she said, not even turning around. Now her silver calf came down in the reflecting pool and she wore nothing but the lace of her 292

WINE COUNTRY mornings and the water came to her knees and scattered shivers all over her flesh. She sank into the waters on her knees, facing the river tree, in the darkening coil of her hair. “Doing my best,” I mumbled. I stepped into the pool and ice came prickling all around as if to kill me and I stepped through the water and reached out my trembling hands. “The beast is the best,” Lily said. “Well, it is Halloween.” She floated, turned, and drew her cold arms around my neck, pulling me to her mouth, in that cold darkness where as a child I first felt home. I held her through the lace and through the lace I stroked her. One of her hands trailed around to grasp me by the neck, but soon she broke off, kissing my face, my eyes and brow. “Narcissus of California,” she murmured, viewing me only with her kisses. “A modern tragedy.” Around us water swept, freezing, and I held her. “But my uncle’s the reason for coming here,” she sighed. “Not you. So your existential ruin can’t hold court, even if it is at the hands of technology.” “Well I am going to tell you,” I held her off and looked at her, “that I’ve found our answer.” “Have you?” she laughed. “I still won’t sleep with you.” I laughed. “That doesn’t matter to me.” “But I could have sworn.” Her hand again trailed down and held me, and her cat’s face wrinkled as she began to kiss my neck. “The flesh is willing,” I gasped. “But the will is 293

THE PENINSULA fake.” “Because if we do it–” she preened into my ear. “You might go crazy.” “Crazier than I am?” She looked at me, and there we somehow balanced. “Tell me then.” She took my cold hand. The sun followed us into the meadow, but even then I did not defile her. The bay groves waved and rustled and the old oaks overhung, while I told her my secret. “I know where those files must be,” she said. “Why didn’t you say so earlier? Your mother gave all that over to my uncle for safekeeping, it’s downstairs – he mentioned it when I first arrived and he was taking me around the house. He talks a lot about your family. But your mother wouldn’t give him the key. You’ll have to find it. Bring it to the party tonight.” So as the sun set and clouds blew over the hills I made my way home. Driving down Atherton Avenue through the patrols of clean joggers and prowling housewives, I felt as sharp as a blade. The moisture in the sky had frozen into a cold rain spattering against the windshield, and air tore from the open windows, gnawing my knuckles red and hardening my grip into a frostbitten burn. Rainwater frothed oil from the roads, sliding across the asphalt to curdle in gutters, bleeding up leaves the color of candy stripes. Now horses drummed past as shadows against my eyes, and on Selby Lane a pair of Mexican gardeners tending the neighbor's yard glanced up at me, brandishing wood-handled shears and primitive iron adzes from 294

WINE COUNTRY another continent, another age. The fatter one waved at me, and I stared him down until he went back to work, pausing before swinging around into our driveway. I clicked off the engine and stepped out, brushing my hands on my coat and crunching towards the front door. A pair of lights in the dining room – the housekeeper’s window lay open upstairs, emitting a faint smell of oolong, light and amber. The brass lion's head turned, rusty, and through the smooth panels of the door I walked as a ghost into my own home. Voices rose, and I started. The plaster interior wall faced me, at its base a cherry table set with an urn of dead flowers. Around the dead flowers lolled little monkey skulls my father had skinned in Papua. And Russell Bessemer the Great, in vibrant Hong Kong acrylic, himself grinned from a tropicalia canvas before me on the wall. I turned aside and went down the corridor towards the lights, passing two glum Asian prints of a gibbous pear and panda bear, remarking with a glare the shelves of children's books my mother had bought from England and stored away, perhaps the last thing she had read. Then a tart, angry odor burned on the air, Indian food, which the housekeeper had no idea how to cook. Stepping like a doomed Basque around the corner and through the open double doors, I found Michael and an anonymous, grey-haired woman seated at opposite ends of the dining table under dimmed lights, divided by three steaming mounds of aromatic saffron, tandoori chicken, and an ugly eggplant curry. 295

THE PENINSULA They looked over at me. Michael immediately broke into a crimson smile and pushed out his chair from the head of the table, knocking over the brass servant bell. His red-veined lips were dusted yellow with sauce, and his napkin, balled next to his plate, was stained like a clotted bandage. Another smell, a persistent, faint musk or perfume, hung behind the spices. The grey-haired woman looked up but remained seated, baggy eyes peering from her face of ash. One of our crystal glasses rested between her index and forefinger, filled with ruddy wine. She wore a dark blue dress and no shoes. “Jake,” said Michael. “Great,” I said, staring at them. “I suppose mom gave you the key?” “We came because his house is being decorated,” said the woman coldly, looking at Medine. She took hold of her purse. “We needn’t stay.” “Bonus points for preparation,” I said. Michael gave a ruffling, pinching affirmation with his snout, and put his hands into the pockets of his slacks. The woman glared at Michael, folding her napkin under her plate. She looked back at me and opened her mouth and closed it – her nose wrinkled slightly, a tan layer of powder cracking across the bridge. A fly thundered out of the rafters and alighted on Michael’s plate, and he leaned forward, waving it away with a tremendous motion of his hand. The woman pursed her lips, about to speak. “All right, all right,” Michael cut in, pushing back 296

WINE COUNTRY from the table and sucking his teeth with his tongue. “It's fine, Jessica. Let’s get a breath of air.” She turned her eyes towards him and raised her hand off the table, a silvery tendril – and Medine, with a frank smile, stepped by me into the hall, smelling of our shampoo. She followed him, looking back at me. Incredulous, I stared around the room. On the counter lay the various implements of our kitchen – the huge, stained cedar cutting block and the gleaming cleaver that the housekeeper always used to hack the heads off of fish, oilcloth, yellow-slimed eggbeaters, a bowl of breadcrumbs and batter, and a blackened oven mitt standing vertically against a pinkish mound of chicken skin. Michael’s glass gave a wet click as the ice in it splintered. Appalling – but, stupid as everything was, I wouldn't be blinded by anger. I swung through the hall and around the corner, gripping the oak banister and storming up the thick-shod stairs onto the cooler second floor. I heard Michael call for the woman outside, and he gave a priggish exultation I couldn't catch. By the trot-and-halt of his footsteps he almost certainly embraced her and laid a curry-soaked, lapping smooch somewhere on her withered face. At least everyone would soon be wearing masks. I'd kill them both, I thought. I'd leave and be gone for good; I'd get someone to beat me with a rod until I got some mean-looking scars, and sue for abuse. Above the stairs opened an expansive, airy chamber with a white carpet and gray-shuttered windows, open to the evening – my playroom when I was a child. 297

THE PENINSULA Hung with silver tapestries, the interior walls curved softly, so that the room formed a semicircle broken by hallways. Two enormous cisterns sat on either side of the oxblood sofa up against the far wall, lofting bamboo and heartwood. Calm down. I walked over to the sofa and knelt on it, resting my elbows on the windowsill and staring down into the dimming yard. The sun had gone down behind the hills, and ozone cast a perse halo through the stratosphere. Two glasses sat dull on the patio table, dark-ringed. Then the front door slammed shut in a patter of receding footsteps, and Michael’s car started with a distant click and a high-pitched roar, and around the front of the house gravel crunched as they pulled out onto the drive. I turned around and crossed the carpet towards the housekeeper’s room at the end of the hall. From a stereo, low, dulcet Tagalog tunes crooned imitations of '50s soft rock, and warmth grew in the air as I approached the orange glow, as though a heater were belting into the hall. The housekeeper was an illegal alien that mother had bought from the San Francisco smuggling rings on a tip from a man father knew in Asia. A girl of fifteen when she entered our household, she was immediately relegated to bathing me, changing my diapers, cooking, cleaning – any chore to retain the small stipend she faithfully remitted home to her sprawling Manila clan each grim Christmas. She was without wealth. She presented in almost all of my baby pictures, poking a bottle at me or wiping up my various splatters – the 298

WINE COUNTRY Mexicans took the yard, but indoors was her domain. On a trip to Tahoe when I was five, mother bumped into the housekeeper unloading luggage and discovered a taut belly concealed beneath her rags – she was nine months pregnant. We had her sent home by helicopter to San Francisco General, where the baby was delivered a week later and whisked away by her same smuggler, who appeared – the last time we'd ever seen him – like a grinning, liver-spotted ghoul, clutching the screaming child by one leg and assuring us that everything would be fine, that the housekeeper’s nameless baby was headed for a “lovely couple of American doctors, yes, doctors, who will adopt this lovely little girl!” Mother was surprised how well the housekeeper took it. At some point I began to suspect she resented the housekeeper’s love for me, but by then she had become a necessity – there were some things beyond the abilities of Evelyn Bessemer. The servants’ quarters remained a small converted living room, despite the two open bedrooms on the first floor. I imagine they recalled her Manila adolescence. A wooden cot opposed a small coffee table with a stereo and a cable TV set that perpetually and silently displayed the game show carnivals of Filipino TV 12. A molded wooden crucifix stamped the wall overhead, next to her shaded window, and the aromatic oil frothed in a burner on the nightstand, adjoining a caped shrine of Santo Nino that steamed the spice into the room. This pious quality adjured mother’s cantilevered bed-hall overhead, which overstretched the daisies below the exterior wall by an excessive, jutting yard; and 299

THE PENINSULA it adjured the silk sheets of Medine and his sixty inch flat screen television and arabesqued bathing room; and it adjured the indoor fountains of the Bonns and their pillared underground gymnasium. It adjured Atherton. As I stood, one hand on the doorknob, looking up at the housekeeper’s little cross, a shiver of glee traversed my spine. She sat on her bed writing on trisected letter paper with a thin blue pen. She looked up as I opened the door, her pickled chin bulging into her brown cheeks. She set the pen down on the pad with a smart thwack, and stood. Fawning attentiveness clawed across her features, and with a courteous "Sir Jacob," she lowered her hazel eyes, stood up, and almost curtsied. She wore a pink-and-white print dress she'd bought at the discount store where she shopped on the sole Sunday we gave her off each month. She only shopped there after visiting a Mexican Orthodox church, and before retreating, dutifully, in the evening, to the dingy Barangay Butterfly, a Filipino social club in the faroff slums, where we assumed she conducted ephemeral friendships with others of her ilk and hopefully refrained from further unprotected sex. We always predicted she'd run away before she finished her twenties, as most nannies did, marrying up into the lower class via a man with an Asian fetish, sucking cock for a green card or at least less boring forms of illegal indenture – but the housekeeper had stayed on, and, were I less self-absorbed and, presently, infuriated, I might have loved her for it. “Mother's gone,” I said. “This is important.” 300

WINE COUNTRY “Everything is fine,” she asserted, nodding. Her obsidian hair was braided into a single flopping ponytail, tied with blue rubber bands. I paused. “I'd like you to help me find a key.” Her eyes dilated. “Ha? Tita she has all the key.” “Big problem,” I said emphatically, arching my eyebrows and pushing out my jaw as I like to do when I talk to servants. “Show me where they are.” She pointed downstairs with her lips, then upstairs. “I need,” I said, tightening my grip on the doorknob. “Sir Michael he say Tita say he use your Mam bedroom. Did you see him?" It was just like her not to realize the implications – it was selfish and rude, a jealous servant's comment, a piece of gossip, and I bared my fangs. Her eyes flickered around like moths, and she scratched her head in fear. "I don't give a fuck, Marta. Where is the key? You're going to lose your job over this. You've got to give me the key." A low, smoldering pause ensued, which the stereo filled hotly, beaming crude Pilipino rock into the small room – guitar, steel drums, a tenor giggling Taglish lyrics atop a moronic, prancing melody that repeated itself over and over – and suddenly an announcer came on, splitting the song midway, jabbering impossibly fast in choppy, meaningless syllables – "Ricardo Tilos! Felipe-Felipe!” Sputtering advertisements, the song turned up again, building slowly towards a sentimental crescendo, the singer calling a lover's name again and again, "Anita! May iba ka na bang mahal? Anita! 301

THE PENINSULA Kailan tayo magpapakasal? Anita! Anita!" Utterly alien, a slave race, a culture of chewing gum, subjugated by ours, and as the gulf between us widened my mind churned in exhaustion and finally, as the announcer exploded again – "Felipe-Felipe-Felipe!" – I nearly charged the stereo and hammered it to pieces with my fists. Still she hadn't said anything. "Marta," I snarled, stepping inside, “there is a chance you'll be sent back. Mother and Michael are moving away to another city. Michael doesn't want to take you. He doesn't like you – I'm here to tell you that – he's never liked you." The housekeeper’s mouth tightened into a straight, worried line and she clasped her hands in front of her, still looking down at the floor. Eye contact had always been difficult. I stuffed my hands in the pockets of my jeans, trying to force concern across my face. She closed her mouth and I saw her jaw muscles clench beneath the brown layer of jowl. She trembled, too, then stifled it. A cold breeze spirited in from the window, blowing off a little of the smoke in my eyes. She looked pitiful. I straightened my neck and cleared my throat. "But I want to help you," I said, closing half the distance between us in a single, stiff stride, my hands in my pockets. "I will help you. Help me find the key." She sat down on her bed and looked out the window. Her eyes hadn’t spilled yet, I noticed, but they stared out frantically, creased at the edges. Her feet, contained in little lambskin booties and blue socks, scooted to face each other. I took another giant step forwards and 302

WINE COUNTRY bounced down next to her, glancing up at the crucifix on the wall. “Michael has been trying to take our money,” I told her, trying to sound concerned. She met my eyes. “I need to stop him, and I want things to stay as they've been. But mother won't believe me. I need to get the key to look in my father's files. They called the agency yesterday, and if we don’t stop them they’ll be coming to get you.” I swallowed loudly. “I don't want you to go,” I ventured. “I'd like to help you, Marta. It may be even possible for you to work for me.” She turned her head and I saw a brief, sideways look of suspicion in her eyes, and then a gleam of understanding, but it fast receded behind tears that began splashing down her arms, and she shuddered and covered her face, muttering, "Sirry, Sir Jacob," the lilt dragging out the r’s. "All is not lost," I told her. The unconquerable will, the study of revenge, immortal hate, and courage never to submit or yield. "I can't go back. My family–" "Then you've got to help me," I said, cutting her off. She had folded her hands in her lap. I kept staring at her. "I need to see my father's things," I said. "What does the key to his safe look like? Do you know?" She paused, but I knew she had begun to lose. I tried to imagine the trash heap awaiting her in Manila. She rocked slightly, and more tears came, and she flipped her hands back and forth before finally facing me again. "That one is very small." She held up her thumb and 303

THE PENINSULA forefinger, and I could hear bitterness in her voice. "Silver." "Come with me," I said, taking her arm. "We're going to find it." We climbed the stairs to the third story, saying nothing. Mother's chambers encompassed the entire floor: a bar, a sitting room, an ornate bathroom, and her bedroom – framed by an L-shaped hall that pared the front from the west side of the house. Moisture hung in the air and embossed the windows facing the front yard; some bygone person had trailed their finger along, leaving a long squiggle. Down the west hall a pair of white double doors led into the bedroom, and I walked quickly towards them, ignoring the hanging photographs of father, my childhood, her dead parents and brother. Her room was a mess. Three pairs of men's khakis mashed at the foot of the rumpled queen bed, along with a disgusting ball of grayish Polo boxer-briefs and a dun Gucci belt, an officious bundle. A half-empty decanter of scotch resting on the teak dresser was turning the underlying wood a waterlogged peach. The windows had been spattered with oily drops, and, past the marble sink, septic air flowed from the wet bathroom floor. The slide closet, mercifully closed, rested off its axis, as though something within had been shoving into the room. “What the fuck?” I stared back at Marta. “You don't clean in here?” She said nothing, peering past me. Then she stepped inside and picked up a pair of men’s pants and began folding them with her withered hands. I walked over to the dresser and pulled it open. The 304

WINE COUNTRY vague, perfumed scent I'd caught in the kitchen rose from mother's underwear drawer, puffing from packed, peach-colored bras and conservative cotton panties and God knows what else – I wouldn't look – I slammed it shut, a carton of intestines, snakes, and went down to the next, which bulged with velvet bags of gold necklaces and freshwater pearls, and continued on, finding nothing but damned sport tops and folded shirts and the other informalities, absurdly mismatched and mixed, androgynous, mocking me, and I grew impatient and more and more furious – a velour tracksuit sprawled around a pair of interlocked plaid cravats, a little plastic box of brass cufflinks (welded M’s) sat halfway out of a sundress pocket, a stack of folded men's jeans, a mound of red and yellow Chinese silk, colognes mixed with perfumes in lascivious bottles, their scents igniting unconscious fires, gold blended with silver, lead with water. The cavernous bottom drawer was half full – alligator purses, shoelaces, digital cameras, a tangled pile of electronic chargers, a plastic bag of foreign bills, a silk jewelry box full of a complete set of unworn platinum Tiffany pendants, one of which I slipped into my pocket for Lily. A tertiary layer of junk shifted away from my hands and collapsed tinkling. "For Christ's sake," I said over my shoulder, still digging around, "don't say anything about this. I'll tell you what I find out, and talk to mother about keeping you." She did not respond, but I could hear her flap the sheets as she made the bed. She pulled the closet open at one point, gave up on tidying whatever was inside, 305

THE PENINSULA and slid it shut. Then she walked over and stood quietly behind me as I searched, waiting. For ten minutes I sifted through the junk with my fingers – rings, coins, toenail clippers, silky Bloomingdales receipts – and finally leaped up, exasperated, the blood pounding in my temples, and turned around, my fists balled. The housekeeper held out a tiny silver key in her brown palm, and looked at me with clear eyes. "In the pockets," she said.

306

16
Halloween night, a pageant in hell. Blood sprayed across my face and my starched white shirt, and I drew a stainless steel meat cleaver from our kitchen block, tucked it into my suit pocket, then roared into the night. I chewed blood pills as I drove through the dark, drooling sugary ichor. The Medine house faces the Circus Club fields, winding three stories around two spiral stairs, an adobewalled compound defended by two rangy dogs and a flotilla of border-hopping Mexicans. The red Spanish walls immure camphor trees straight from Van Gogh, scraggly junipers in the front yard overgrowing the swingsets. The night glowed with festal light. In the drive lolled SUVs with the old, yellow high-school water polo stickers, obscene behemoths belching enough yearly nitrous oxide to brown Lake Tahoe three shades; a womanly Lexus hybrid, pink-tinted and gold, sprawling, oil-spattered garage; and up around the side of the house where the drive continued, a small fleet of bat307

THE PENINSULA tered white pickups, the land craft of the Mexicans who so diligently worked, now, on the lights and streamers for the party. Slamming the door and crunching past the gardeners, I thought I heard one of them snicker. In the sleeping garden, Lily held open the side door’s glow, wearing a red skirt and stilettos. “Do you value your spleen?” I asked her. Strings of blood slurped out of my mouth. “Do you have your change of clothes?” she replied, tapping her heel, where the little dog kicked around on a green leash. “You’re late.” In the main rooms the party murmured, decked in orange and black. Goofy pumpkins growled from every nook and cranny, awash in amber light. “No, I told you – I don’t want to go to Carmel.” “Do you have the key?” She took it. “The safe’s downstairs, but you should go and talk to my uncle, keep him occupied. Send Emma to help me, if you see her.” “Deceiving your family is my specialty,” I said, stepping past and turning through the hall. But Lily put her arm out and caught me. She ran her fingers up over my face, lifting strands of blood from my lips. “You need a mask,” she said. “Everyone’s wearing a mask.” “You don’t have one.” “Bring me the girl one on the table back there, and take the other.” Onto her face she pulled a flimsy disguise made of thin black wood, shaped to depict the visage of a mantis, with golden antennae and bulbous eyes. Bright 308

WINE COUNTRY touches of orange and silver paint dappled its surface and, glued or nailed down, a layer of soft black velvet obscured the frame. A dainty feminine nose had been carved out of the wood, and the two thin antennae twisted from wire and feather protruded from the top, while jagged mandibles poked beneath. The mask’s eyes gleamed with iridescent layers of mesh, but there were no holes for hers. “He made that for you?” “Had them ordered,” sighed Lily, palming the key. “You can get anything in China.” “It’s disturbing.” The mask’s shimmering eyes regarded me blankly. “Put yours on.” Though fashioned from unliving wood and bone, cruel mirth animated the features of the mask I held in my hands. The wood had been sandpapered into a coarse and brutal face, then colored thickly with scarlet dye, charcoal hollowing its curves. Lascivious eyes, deep-set and veiled by smoke-glass, peered above the garish mouth, whose lips curled in mockery. The smile was broad and thin, twisted high in sharp points of laughter. Broken in the middle, the nose fell flat and bulbous, hanging off-center. “I’m not wearing this,” I stuttered. “It messes up my costume.” “You will wear it because everyone else is,” Lily snapped. “Hurry up, there isn’t much time.” “Whatever,” I said, pulling past her. “I’ll go talk to him. I’ll distract him.” But as I pushed open the foyer doors a tiny form 309

THE PENINSULA flipped over on the dark marble and went tumbling into a cartwheel, splaying blond rays like a sparkler. Enjoying our company was Ryan Bonn’s spoiled and infernally rambunctious younger sister. “Juh juh jah jeh juh Jake Jake Jake Jake Jah-Jake!” she exploded, spattering Ritalin-soaked mucus all over me from three feet below. “JAKE JA-JA JAH JAKE! MOM IT’S JAKE!” A joke had been passed around Menlo that her blood seeped with a stimulant more potent than cocaine, which kept vampires away from the house – once, she went ten months without seeing her mother on account of an American Idol addiction that confined her to the upstairs playroom and the care of her black Georgian nanny. Kicking prints up the parchment wallpaper, she did a backflip, teetering on two pinkish arms, and came up with a toothless smile. She wore a little plaid girl’s dress and a white polo shirt, the uniform of Sacred Heart, a school for stupid kids. “Did you just come from school, Clarissa?” I asked earnestly. “Nope! I’m sick!” Offering no explanation for her uniform, she spun around like a top and fled into the legs of her mother, who had emerged from within, in cream pants and a cashmere cardigan. In the low light she resembled Martha Stewart. She always turned out impeccably groomed, mechanically composed, her auburn hair falling in garlands around her face. She took religious pride in the activities of her offspring, and thrived, as well as she could, through their conventional lives. 310

WINE COUNTRY “Jake!” beamed her ashy yellow choppers. “I haven’t seen you since graduation! Clarissa, what do you say?” “That it’s nice to see you,” the girl beeped, holding her hands together and looking at the floor. Plated in marble, the cavernous entry opened behind them, an atrium nearly three stories high, traversed by a lazy spiral stair that wound around the foundation wall. The ground floor sunk towards its back and flanks, a dining room, a luxury kitchen, a den, and a bathroom encased on five sides by mirrored granite. Voices swirled from within, and the tinkling of crystal. I walked over to give her a stiff hug, causing the youngest Bonn to scamper away, squealing among the voices of the others. “How is your mother doing?” Mrs. Bonn suggested, emitting a dead, scary look from her eyes. Her faculty for listening had vanished after she stopped working. “She’s a decrepit whore,” I nearly said. “Goo-od,” glazed Ryan’s mother. “Goo-od. It’s so exciting that Ryan is working. It’s such a good opportunity. Yea-ah. Well, you never know. Yea-ah. Do you want anything to drink? Soda? Goo-od. So have you decided what you’re doing yet? No-o. Goo-od. It’s hard to decide. Yea-ah, yea-ah, yea-ah, yea-ah, yea-ye-y-y-y–” and oil cylinders burst through her eyes, spraying me with coolant, and her entire face rocked open on a hinge to reveal a concentric set of lubricated steel cylinders pumping and straining around a glowing uranium core. “JOIN US, JAKE!” robot-Bonn bellowed, lunging 311

THE PENINSULA crazily at me with steel pincers for hands, and I found myself asking, “Is the host in there?” “They’re all by the bar,” she crooned, rotating to pursue her daughter. “It was nice seeing you. Tell your Mom hi! Snacks will be ready in a sec. Super cute.” Into the foyer, where guests attired in fatuous costumes prowled and preened, between the slipping Mexican waiters, a crowd of sumptuous Athertonians appeared – a fairy godmother, a witch, a porcupine, all animals of the forest, celebrities of the golden age, and I stepped out drenched in the blood leaking from my mouth and my ears and my eyes, carrying my mask, the front of my suit encased in gore. Over the music somebody squeaked my name, and tempted eyes turned immediately. Beckoning a drink, I staggered into the atrium, drawing on the shelter of my mask and cursing every politeness. But I could not pass through the crowd. A labyrinth of leather chairs blocked my way, tangled with woolen legs and high heels. Before me on a chaise sprawled a girl disguised in an oval of lightweight bone, holes cut out for the eyes, mouth, and nose. When she saw me she stood up in the middle of the chair and pointed. Her mask has been painted a mottled gold and mauve. Enormous floppy ears made from soft yellow hide sprawled from the top, and long stiff whiskers stuck from the cheeks. Two large buckteeth crammed through the mouth-hole, and leather cords bound the muzzle to her blonde mane. "It's Emma!" the girl peeped. "Where are you going?" 312

WINE COUNTRY "I'm in a hurry to see your uncle," I replied, but she had already looped both her velvet arms around my waist, drawing me back towards the stairs, while I twisted, struggling, and nobody paid any attention. "Come with me! Come look at my fish!" "I can’t, I can’t," I moaned, but both her fingers had hooked into my belt loops and she was dragging now, putting her weight into it, and around us polite conversation tittered about how the kids were playing with such adorable energy, how dark it was outside, how winter was coming, how well the NASDAQ was doing, and how nice it would be to be young again and just starting out. But I had Emma by the wrist and I leaned in to tell her that her sister needed her. "But will you come?" she whined. "Are you going to join us?" "Your uncle wants to talk to me." "No he doesn't. He doesn’t like you you know! Come on." But I let her go and instantly she was off, bounding into the hall after Lily, flopping her ears as her tail whisked the marble. And just as I turned I saw Bonn’s sister go tearing after her down the hall. The wealthy roared and rumored in their amber light. “The entrepreneurs!” one yelled, a wealthy investor, “I can hardly believe their arrogance.” Above a massive polished coffee table, Medine stood talking to his lawyer, a dubious wolf-man, and a giant turtle at the far end of the foyer. The lawyer regarded me skeptically, but I strode towards them, pushing aside a fairy and an orc who clanked glasses and talked of semiconductors. 313

THE PENINSULA “Friends, countrymen!” I belted. Medine’s mask covered his entire face, and I recognized him only by mane of gray hair surrounding the straps. The front had been cut to resemble a hawk, and painted a deep obsidian color. Crafted from bone, from the skull of some large animal, it bore a small black beak surrounded by carved feathers. Two wide, red eyes bore bifurcated holes that let light pass in. Black feathers shrouded the mask’s edge, and the chin had been cut off, leaving his jaw free. The beak snapped to face me. “Jake,” welcomed Michael. “What a great way to dress.” “You amusing little turd,” added the lawyer. “What are you guys, donkeys?” I asked, teetering. “Where’s the booze?” I leaned towards the lawyer and leered in his mask. “The fucking booze–” At this, they all stared at me, their ears bobbling. “Jake, do you need assistance?” asked the lawyer, folding his arms. “I do need a little help,” I gurgled, slurred. Blood foamed from my hidden mouth, running down my neck. “I’d like to kill both of you.” They exchanged glances. “What do you say…” "You're coming tomorrow to Carmel, I hear," said Medine. “With your friend.” "I don't think I can." "Why not?" “I have important actuarial business.” "Your friend is coming to talk about his shares,” repeated Medine. “I thought you would join us." 314

WINE COUNTRY "I don't think so, he can handle himself." “It's only right that you come–” “Nein, Michael!” I bellowed, and turned away, downing my flute in one sodden gulp. “NEIN!” I cried again. “The last of the Bessemers,” he sighed. “A pathetic drunk.” He swirled his champagne glass, looking past me. Across the cavernous room, someone snapped a photo from the couches by the fireplace. The lawyer tried to step past but I shot a bloody arm around his shoulders and he recoiled, trapped. I swung the lawyer to face Medine and began to teach them everything that I knew. “Did you know that a whore will shower–” In the night, in some night, back I came to the foot of the grand stair. I tore off my mask; perhaps they were looking, but I went on anyway. Emma led me by the hand, and we came up, around and around while the night swirled, into the playroom, a foyer draped in paisley blue and peacock yellow. Instantly she had turned around, and was unbuttoning my pants, nigh tearing them down. She kneeled down on two pillows and was licking her lips. "We found it," she gasped, as I kicked her off, staggering back. "Found what?" "Can't tell." She crawed around on her hands and knees, giggling. "Tell me–" "The password." "What's the password?" 315

THE PENINSULA "What’s the password?” she giggled. “Lily has it. You have to go in. But play with me first, please will you–" And without another word I fled into the halls. A black wooden door opened into a chamber awash with red silk the color of blood. Lily wore a black top embroidered with red, and her sister’s hands had blanched her face with powder, bringing out her crimson lips and the blaze of her eyes. Now she closed the door and brought me by the hand to her bed, and sat me down and straddled me, the skirt riding up her knees. She popped out her fangs and lay them on the dresser by her mask. “Did you find it?” I asked. “You are covered in blood.” She swatted my chest and then wiped her sticky fingers on my neck. “Yes I did – it’s a reference to Hamlet.” As I reached up to kiss her she pulled back. “Yes! That must be it,” I told her. “My dad was obsessed with Shakespeare. The login is, in fact, ‘Hamlet’.” “Oh,” she said, “how funny.” She paused. “But I don’t think it’s what we want.” Then she got up and went to her dresser, fastening her hair back with tortoiseshell clasps. “What? Did you find anything? The address for the server, even? Come here,” I groaned, grasping after her, rolling on my side. “You’re unattainable.” I had resorted to whining. I should have checked myself. “I found some things. I’ll show them to you in a moment,” she, without turning, called across the room. “But you, you want to have sex, I can tell. Well, it has come time, I think. You’ve waited long enough. 316

WINE COUNTRY Though you might go crazy if we did anything. Then no one would believe what you said.” “Stop saying that.” “But you might.” She turned. Her eyes gleamed dark, almost seeing. Then she slipped a hand down her flat stomach and under the hem of her skirt, biting her lip. “Do you want to?” “Do you?” “Of course I want to,” she whispered. “I want to now.” A tumbler glass appeared from the dresser, and she took up a small flask of whiskey and poured me a draught, feeling with her hands, splashing some on her fingers. She slipped over to where I sat on the bed and pushed me back. She made me lick the scotch from her hand, like a dog. “Okay, you asked for it. You’ll never be the same.” The shot went down. A metallic, medicinal taste rode the burn. Lily planted her knee softly, laying herself open to me, and her hand drifted down. The liquor stung, numbing my throat – her scarlet skirt formed a vee of lace and I rose upon her and everything disappeared.

317

17
When I awoke I knew that I was deathly sick. Only alcohol, I thought, could so swiftly derange body from mind – and for me hangovers were so common and so withering that I did not suspect anything else. But Lily had drugged me, I would learn. Consciousness drifted back, tingling with pinpricks, in an unholy draught of pain, and beneath the worst hangover of my life I felt a virus suppurating in the harsh tissues of my chest. I shook with fever. Coughing, I came awake, propped upright in the back of a car. A limousine? Three blurry figures comported around me, tinkling with conversation. Morning, breeding season, ancient oaks thrummed past, and as we rose into the coastal hills everyone began the social chant. In the back of the limousine, Emma dandled out the first flutes of white wine, staring into Cyan’s eyes so fixedly that the syrup dripped unnoticed to his knuckles, and Lily waved for the bottle to slosh us two glasses of chard. 318

WINE COUNTRY I moaned, light raining into my eyes. “What happened? Where’s my jacket?” Someone had washed my face and put a clean white shirt over my bloodstains. Up the hollow body of the car, the runt dog, Callie, burst into my lap, rolling over and biting me softly on the wrist, but I flung that beast off and it went kicking down to cower between its mistress’s boots. “Have some wine,” said Lily, “you pathetic drunk. Your clothes were ruined so we left them behind. Do you even remember what you did last night?” “We were worried about you!” cried Emma. “I told them it was typical,” said Cyan. He had been brought along at Medine’s behest. He wore a black suit coat, lacerated jeans, and sneakers with embroidered skulls. In his hair remained the impossible blue earpiece, which he seemed, at times, to address. “I need to quit drinking,” I groaned, struggling up. “What the hell happened? I don’t remember anything. Where are we?” Up front, just as I asked the black driver to turn down the radio, Lily heard a favorite, so he turned it up instead, the noise mounting as we rose into the Santa Cruz Mountains. “Work,” Cyan mentioned, running a hand through his hair. “The Zuck’s going to South America and I’m going with him. I haven’t been before, because I'm scared of the spiders. I hate spiders did you know–” Without another thought I swigged white wine through my teeth, Lily curling against me. Enough about work, all week about work. I could not gather my thoughts because of all the talking. “Jake–” 319

THE PENINSULA “Where are we going?” I lamented. “The winery in Carmel,” said Lily. “Wine country living!” Emma cried. “It's so nice of your family to invite us,” claimed Cyan. “I hope someone knows wine.” “My uncle does,” Lily assured him. “He didn’t tell me it was a winery!” Cyan shrieked. “Jake, did you hear that! We’re going wine tasting!” The limo jostled, coasting between a pair of trucks on the pine-shaded pass. Far away, a candelabra of sailboats pricked the harbor, the cats bobbing through fog on the shore. Cyan and Emma wanted to take a picture of the surfing capital of America, though we could see nothing from so far off. They wanted to anyway. She headlocked him into a trim kiss on the temple, she conied up white teeth, click, she goofily sucked her cheeks, zoom. It was very fun what she was doing. “You look adorable,” I encouraged them. “Not us,” chirped Emma, giggling into his neck, and actually biting him lightly. “Jake’s speaking funny! He’s slurring his words!” Her tanned ankles, tied with yellow linen bows, kicked out as she lunged. Like a Catholic priest, Cyan feigned protest. “Alert the vomit police,” sighed Lily. “Leave us alone,” Emma mumbled, peeking out from her girl’s mane for another giggling bite. Lily leaned her head on my shoulder. Lifting the camera, and snickering callously, she began shooting onehanded shots of us four, and of the passing forest through the window. That kind never turns out anyway, I told her. 320

WINE COUNTRY Beyond Santa Cruz we blew through the tidy farmlands into Monterey, through the rolling fields of artichoke and lettuce on the border of the Central Valley, where there was not even any Internet. A spray of fulmars rose out of a cloud group and cried off over the boats, flying parallel to the highway – their wings hung like fans, oblique to the flow of the wind, and now the birds wavered over us, divagated, and dove silently into a roadside cypress. The car spun through dusty knolls and runt farms to where salt lounged on the shore pans. Cyan spoke quietly with the black driver, whose eyes traversed us in the mirror. He was affiliating himself with another race. Now his phone sang, and he endeared himself to his listener, set up an appointment, then leaned shop talk at Lily – a thesis on Dante oh, how exciting, how can you really call it work, oh I know its important to you, I wasn't implying that, do you like photography too, that’s amazing, have you put together a book yet, you can’t you say, that’s great, I feel like I know so much about you– But he did not know that Lily had been a cutter for years. Her ankles and feet were so hardened by mutilation that she didn’t even feel it any more. The night before I had seen her fully naked, seen the extent of the scars, and they inspired in me near-total bafflement. Her body was riddled with tangles of all colors – ash, silver, cherry, smoke, twined like wires in her flesh. She seemed to cut herself every day, disguising everything in a thick layer of makeup her sister applied as diligently as a handmaiden. Under duress my coping 321

THE PENINSULA had tumbled forth – that's terrible, how can this be, tell me what's going on, is there any way I can, do you need to go to, holy Jesus – but in the end I did not know how to respond. I recalled it now. She had only smiled blankly and kept kissing me. Last May she’d sliced open her abdomen with a knife, she said, burned the skin around it, then sewed it back up with a needle and thread. She said her skin was far more sensitive than a sighted person’s. I remembered telling her that if she ever cut herself again it would be over between us, but at this she smiled, laughed, then began to cry. Oh Salinas, and three bottles already. Salinas, Monterey, I tried to refuse drink but could not: they would not let me refuse it and the pink white draughts flowed into me and filled me with apathy. As the drive lengthened I began to feel more and more sick – the fever brought terrifying shivers, and I lay back with my eyes closed, letting Lily’s silver fingertips play over my temples while her other hand pinched a crystal flute. She drank and laughed and drank, and we drank with her. I came awake. Popular sunshine hung over windswept fields, warming grapes, and we nodded sleepily, we descended, glided into the drive, where Cyan suffered a courteous but premature tip to the chauffeur. “I often try to be generous to people like that,” he admitted. The cliffs behind the house rose steeply among golden amelanchier and the hanging gardens of blue oaks whose leaves were withered as though the rains 322

WINE COUNTRY had not come, swinging and dying in the wind above. Heath grew on the spars down to the beach, and, below, the sea boomed against rocky pillars and slaked up white strings of foam. Beyond a stark lighthouse on the promontory, the golf town of Carmel murmured two miles north, while here on a hewn platform among the cliffs, surrounded by a few acres of terraced grapes, half a mile beneath the coast highway, stood the summer house of the Medines. Before that adobe mansion two bronze fountains played in flurries of oak leaves driving from the vineyard. A triplicate of shimmering workers, shirtless, hauled planks to a patio under construction on the western swell. And oh – my eyes hopped and slid under the influence of the wine – I was dazzled by refractions, by the standing sun. I sneezed water, wine, and fever. Led by her dog, Lily flung downstairs into the basement levels where she and her sister stayed, and Cyan by himself took the ground floor – I was encloistered nearest the master bedroom, closest to the clouds and in the coldest region. Servants clattered everywhere, Mexicans, watching us with white eyes. The rooms of the house lay long and open, hewn from a material that was not wood and not stone but something more expensive – lustrous and brown, it seemed at once like clay and bronze. All the bathrooms gave way to the milk of marble and we slept not upon linen but fine jacquard. Beyond the numerous sliding doors, the sea sent towards a storm brewing black with rain, and above the house a bank of cypress forest led 323

THE PENINSULA up to cliffs and the other vineyards. I had barely set my head down when Emma burst into my room, flounced onto the bed, and took my hand, looking into my eyes. “Up, you!” Grabbing me, she pressed my hand to her stomach and turned, pulling me up like an ox, so that I could not rest. They said Michael Medine could not be found, so it was decided we would drink more, that we would enjoy as fast as possible the fruits of his estate. Out onto a path, then inside green oak doors, led by Mexicans, we came up a corridor around back to the warehouse, where barrels rose in rows, and Lily was sitting crosslegged in a brilliant scarlet dress. The scene was elegant and Californian. The warehouse walls had been made of earthquake sandstone blocks arrayed geometrically without cement. They were pieces of organic stone and no pesticides had been used in their creation. Temperature gauges studded the beams, humidity diffused from ceiling vents, and across the floor traversed hoses with chemical dials. A great aluminum cylinder for mixing stood in one corner, and outside I had seen the hoppers for the grapes. In summer months, Lily told us, the wine was sensed and maintained by a staff of twenty. “Jake, look at this! Take a picture!” Cyan stood like a proud goat up on a barrel, and nigh he drew forth a red gout from its belly with a glass siphon, splashing it into his mouth. He had never done anything like this before, and he felt young. The young wine splattered everywhere, over his soft pants and feet. And he grinned as he leaped back to earth, tapping the hard 324

WINE COUNTRY oak, the grand cru, the favorite of the vintner. Emma demanded wine, and she took great pouring swallows from the tube. She staggered backwards from the barrels. She never had been drunk before, she said, but now she felt the need. My mind sputtered, and suddenly I began taking a hundred pictures, Lily preening, Emma crossing her legs, Cyan flexing again atop the barrels – an incredibly fun one – the wine, my crying, enervated body, my bleary eyes: I could not stop. “Remember to tag that,” Cyan reminded me. “Remember to post it on Facebook.” Out of the fever thoughts came, memories of literature, sadisms: he has his valet depucelate the maid, aged ten to twelve, before his eyes– In the anterior tasting chamber, reserves in plum jackets were spat and swallowed along the bar. They were served with water crackers. A hawk-nosed Mexican twirled her turquoise pendant while she poured onehanded, while Cyan questioned her about rosés. “I don't want to be pretentious, but I have to ask what wines are in this blend. Because I taste peaches, and peaches mean Pinot.” “Eminent sommelier Cyan Zilker has arrived,” I lolled. “The viticultural possibilities astound the mind.” “Saignée wines were once blended in this region, but the practice has fallen out of vogue,” Lily told us. “This vintage is made as a byproduct of a red, a Grenache.” I looked over at her. In the ashen light she was still strikingly beautiful, a marble willow set with blazing eyes. And her wild hair – it had her sister blanched. 325

THE PENINSULA Emma, who stood naively upon her ribboned heels and whose tan skin had been kissed by sun, her innocent eyes peered unknowingly at Lily and she sipped a pink goblet, absorbing her sister’s words. “I'm going to pee,” she slurped, “taste this one, Cy.” She shuddered away on her shoes, one hand on the wall. “Is she always this whiny?” Cyan joked. “Lily, try it.” The rim slipped with both their licks. “You are a complete faggot,” I told him. “Jake, we are in public, in San Francisco basically,” he slurred. He clenched his shoulders, his eyebrows. He checked his very active phone and then his music player. Lily pouted sweetly at the wall, batting her eyelashes. “We’re in Carmel.” “There are probably homosexuals here, too,” I said. Lily smiled and, snapping her fingers, made us pound another glass. After passing us a long gaze, the Mexican pressed the turquoise stone between her lips and slipped from the bar, past me. She slid open the glass door and stepped onto the plank patio, releasing the sound of hammering and sawing, a man calling in Spanish, birdsong, before the door slid shut. “Lily, I saw you taking pictures in the car. Come here and tell us about photography.” Cyan had become very drunk now. He grabbed Lily’s wrist, leaned her against the bar, and stared into her eyes. “I’m sorry, I forgot,” he said. With an embarrassing laugh he let her go. First a finger-twister, he currently breaks all her limbs, gouges out her eyes, and leaves her thus to live, 326

WINE COUNTRY diminishing her sustenance day by day– “I once went birdwatching in Africa,” he said. “Where the birds have AIDS,” I said. “Where I saw a red and yellow barbet.” “Where the birds have AIDS, where diamonds grow, where the blacks overthrow,” I sang. “I too watched birds, as a wee tyke.” “Why? What’s the point?” asked Lily. She was blindly coiffing her hair. “It was breeding season,” I said. “Free porn with every pair of binoculars.” “Pornography! I think it’s because you are bored with humans.” “I’m not bored.” “But you aren’t the type of person who, say, would want children.” “Look what can happen.” Reaching over, I gave her a poke in the ribs, then turned around and poured myself another glass of blush. “You’re the mastermind. Why we’re all so drunk.” “Do you know how I know that Jake wouldn’t want any,” she told Cyan. “We’d have to get married first. Lily,” I said. “But do you know how I know?” “No, but let’s talk about it.” “He’s ashamed in bed.” There was a pause. “There are a thousand occasions,” I informed them, “when one does not want a woman.” “Premature ejaculation. Impotence. Apathy. They’re all the same thing. Do you know that Jake 327

THE PENINSULA can’t get it up?” Silence. Cyan looked at me and huffed a humiliated smirk and my mind was reeling. You look for truth in peoples' eyes and words, and the truth you find is that you are small and weak and do not give them much beyond contempt. “Disgusting,” Lily whined. “He doesn’t realize, Cyan, that the major problems with his social skills are being far too self-focused and not paying attention to others’ needs or reactions. Also, exerting a desperate amount of energy, boorishly pushing the line too far, drinking too much, and opening his mouth without reason.” She caught her breath and finished her wine. “Now take me outside, I want to have a cigarette.” Cyan squinted darkly into his glass, then looked up the hall to where Emma had disappeared. “I’m going to wait here,” he mumbled. A breeze of sawdust as we stepped from the chamber. Beyond the patio, the workers lounged in the shade of the olive grove up the hill, eating bag lunches. The Mexican sat to the side smoking a cigarette, drinking red from a glass she'd filled at the pyramid of barrels against the wall. She sat cross-legged in a metal deck chair, elbow on a dirty glass table. Lily, her ears sharpened to points, smiled. Wrinkling her nose, applying her unnatural sense of smell, she asked the Mexican for the pack and she took two cigarettes. I took one, lit both, and plopped down into the deck chair, breathing deeply air that was drenched in wine. 328

WINE COUNTRY “I’m sorry,” she said. “That was cruel of me.” “I didn’t know you smoked,” I said. I put the cigarette between her fingers. “Well, I’m not really from California,” she smiled. I lit again off of hers, swallowing. “Thank you.” I looked up into the grove, where a pack of wrens hurled through the branches and over the deck. One halted in the neck of the tree, strutting and preening, before carrying on. The wind rose over the house and the leaves swayed and whistled, releasing the birds. Far up the coast, blue storm clouds had started to gather. “Everything’s all right? You’re acting funny,” she said. “I’m worried about your health.” “You’re delaying for some reason and it bothers me. What about the files? Tell me what you found. You said you would tell me.” “We’re here to have fun! You’re always so serious.” “No one is having fun.” Then I drew too hard, suffering a blast of smoke that turned my eyes red. “That’s not my fault.” She paused, eyes crystalline, the glass midway to her lips. “I mean, it’s almost as if–” I choked. “Oh no.” She set the wine down, her lips tightening. “Do you want to talk about it? Do you want to have a talk? That would be fun.” “No.” I fished a stick of ash onto the deck. “Because–” “No, forget it. You’re right. But I want you to show me what you found. It’s important.” “Of course I will,” she laughed. “I’m not an idiot. The files are with my things. You look so pale!” 329

THE PENINSULA The Mexican, watching us, pointed and laughed to her fellows in the shade. The man with many tattoos lifted a copper arm and waved to us, and his companions murmured in Spanish, looking on. I tried to smoke again, blurting out more coughs. Lily had already finished her cigarette, and screwed up a puzzled catlike glare. I could not stop coughing. The circle of workers burst out laughing, gesturing at me from the shade with their sandwiches. And with them, all of a sudden, Lily began to snicker. Her face assumed a mask I had not seen before on a woman – some desert animal, a hyena or a leopard, peered out of her for an instant. Then she pressed her cheek to my hair. “Let's get you a drink,” she soothed. Fleet-footed and feeling with her hands, she padded across the deck, drawing another glass with syrah; she passed it over and settled back down, crossing her legs and facing me. The workers, amidst another colossal joke, burst out laughing again, and a colder breeze ran through the trees. White-faced Cyan appeared at the door, mouthing something, but I waved him off as I wiped my eyes. “I don't want any more,” I said, crossing my arms. “You have to. It's the best vintage we have. There,” she said, rubbing her wrist with the rim of one of the glasses. “Have some more. It's hard with close friends, everyone in each other's hair. It’s hard.” “You walk so quickly. I mean, I’m embarrassed to ask, but how do you get about like that?” “You have to realize I know this place and that I’ve 330

WINE COUNTRY developed very good spatial memory over time. When I was a girl we came here so often–” “To get drunk with your uncle?” “You know,” she interrupted, “no one appreciates your jokes.” “What jokes?” I tried to look at her, but I could not see. “But I'm sure it will be all right with them,” she told me softly, stroking my hair. “You're a group.” “I don’t even like them. I just want to be left alone. I just wanted to be with you–” “Will it make you happy, calm you down, to take a picture of us? I would like a picture of us, a useful keepsake.” A swift barking laugh like her uncle’s. “I don’t want to.” Clucking her tongue, she slipped my arm around her and lifted the small camera from her purse, bumping her face into mine. Yet as she crumpled, an abrupt exhalation of dust from the hillside reported two sharp jerks of the land, a tremor, and the glasses fell, splintering into crescents. “Oh!” she cried. The vineyards shuddered and rolled, grapevines riding the plate, and the lights within the house died. The workers shouted and scrambled from beneath the trees as the second burst came. And two of the stacked barrels groaned, spurting blood from sudden cracks in their ribs. The cerise veil flowed from the casks over the patio. The door flung open from within, and white faces stumbled out. “How exciting! How Californian!” laughed Cyan. 331

18
In the little earthquake the power had gone out. “We have to go up the cliffs,” Lily stated. “And feel the air. We have to go. Jake, take me up there.” But I wanted only to think, to be alone. They would not let me stop drinking. What did any of it matter? It was pointless, facetious. But it was how I lived. “Let’s go on the cliffs,” she repeated. “I want to feel the sea. You’ve showed me your childhood haunt, now it’s my turn.” I wanted to sleep but no – so we took the dog Callie, which a Mexican brought by her lime leash, and went out by ourselves. As we walked I stuck my hands in my pockets, but Lily’s twined around my arm. The noon lingered in metallic shades, and the light fell on the sandy rocks and went over the sea. Up we went, where trails crawled through the heath: up towards higher rocks that looked out over the green surf booming the beams of sand. It was not a long walk, but the sun burned behind us. A dire wind came through the palms on the cliff and Lily held to me and 332

WINE COUNTRY we went ahead, faster now. Dead bits of frond flew on the wind, and the sun lit them and filled me with sadness. Lily’s brow knotted, and my fists closed in my pockets. “Callie,” she called the dog, and up the ridge curlews rose in tumult from the cliff at her voice, hooplike in trajectory, soon vanishing in the haze, and Callie a dark shadow snuffling down the path, a sphere of ash: down down the dog turned her withers, shouldering the leash, and pulled Lily on. Remiss, I fell behind, and I watched her move, bundled in her grey wool coat, tailing her blond hair in the wind. A cloud or airplane’s shadow passed swiftly upon us and was gone. “Yes,” she said walking, following Callie. “I have walked this so many times I don’t even need her.” “Is something wrong?” I called. “Wrong,” she said, and abreast I caught up with her following in the dusty wind from the cliffs the anus of the dog quivering through the golden grass. Lily staggered over a boulder marbled in the dust. I reached for her but she turned away. “I feel like something is wrong,” I told her. “No,” she sighed. “Well, shall we get on a computer? I want to look at those files.” “There’s nothing like that here,” she said and now stopped. At the crown of the cliff a boundie leaned over us, wormy with carvings, and in its lap a splash of heather whipped blossoms down towards the sea. Lily sank onto the knoll and pulled her knees up as Callie spun 333

THE PENINSULA loose, her leash free in the sedge. The dog went rooting and snuffling around. Off the coast bobbed a massive tanker like a deck of rusted cards, and the faroff lighthouse revolved blindly. “Isn’t there?” “Jake, I am going back to Hong Kong tomorrow,” she said, pursing her lips and facing the sea. “California is nice, but it’s provincial.” She turned her head and brushed through her platinum hair with one hand and held it there like a comb as she went on. “It isn’t for me. I thought it would restore me, but I’ve never felt so exhausted by other people. All these people, striving so hard to work and make money! It’s pointless, more pointless than anything. But you do affect me a little. Don’t think it’s that.” She took my hand. “Okay,” I said. “So you come too if you like, but I can’t stay here.” “We can talk about this,” I told her. “But give me the password, let me take care of it.” The sea wind took her hair in a mane and white birds passed up over the bluff. “I won’t.” “What?” I balked. She reached into her purse and removed a book. “Remember this? It’s the poetry I was reading you.” Gallehault was the book: she had closed it and the spiders in the sedge advanced before the wave of dead sun that was the afternoon. She put her palm on the face of the Braille and paused, and somewhere a spiderweb spit through the air onto a joint of grass, and a fat body dragged without sound through the golden air into shadow. Dust covered us, and the spiders paused 334

WINE COUNTRY and looked. Down the golden fingers of the cliffs clutched through the brush, earthquake stone enlaced in grass and the eyelets of poppies, like giant fossils. For some reason, at that moment I could not stop thinking about the land. Tall deer chopping down the stone shells towards reams of fodder. “I remember,” I said. “Your stupid Italian legend. Well, you do what you like. I don’t want a fucking book from you. Where’s the password?” Now I grabbed her wrist, but the fire in my eyes had gone out, and I let her go. Gallehault was the book and that day we read no more: she did not remove her hand from the scar on her palm on the face of the book, and, at this point so burdened, so encumbered by thought, I felt defeat. My shoulders slumped. The spiders clicked in their nests and wove and wove, and dripped their fluids, and what their pasty eyes saw they moved towards over the open earth. “Jake I really do like you,” she said. “And I hate my uncle. I want you to know that I hate him.” “Where is it?” “Can you acknowledge that?” “Give it to me.” “But I can’t do that to him. I can’t do that to our family.” I stared at her. “I suppose you think he’d make a fine father,” I said. “He wouldn’t, he won’t. You just have to let me talk to him first, please–” 335

THE PENINSULA “You’re concerned about your reputation.” “Oh, I’m so confused! Yours as well. It’s too much for us to bear at this age. It’s too much of an encumbrance, to worry about this, to go striving after it. It’s only money. Isn’t it better if we just let it go?” “Give me the password.” “Because that is what you and I are good at, and everyone like us, letting things go. And that is what our whole lives are about – just moving on, never paying too much attention to the present. Well, it’s a nice way to live! Plenty of people would kill to live like we do.” I turned away and walked off down the trail, leaving her. “Come back,” she called after me. “Oh don’t be so angry. You’re always so angry! What does it matter!” But I saw how it was. Halfway down I tripped over a badge of rock under the furze and my wallet fell out of my pocket. I was up to my ankle in mud and rooting around in the ditch with the wind up ferocious now, all things caught in it. Cursing, I left it there and went on – it was empty anyway. Below, in the red wet earth finger-roots knotted up, and I was drawn down through clouds of hot leaves struck up on the wind. I heard the roaring of the beach. When I got down to the house the Mexicans told me that Cyan had gone out to meet Medine at Pebble Beach for a late game of golf, and I was to go too. The car stood waiting for me and they said I had no choice but to go, they said that I could not go upstairs or downstairs or anywhere but out, and two brawny Mexicans 336

WINE COUNTRY had the audacity to stand in my way when I tried to step past. I wrung my hands, I paced, I told them what they were. Overhead Emma peeped through the railings, her face sniveling, and my cheeks burned. The Mexicans’ wrists were thick with work and they looked at me silently, and I went outside and got into the limousine, cursing them. The fever roared. Inside the car another Mexican waited for me, crosslegged. He was wearing a purple polo and his head had been shaved in some savage pattern, and on his wrist gleamed an oyster watch. The Mexican looked at me and the car went on. For a time I felt certain I was about to be murdered, but the Mexican said nothing and the car took the slow public road to Carmel town, down the cobblestone avenues and among the prim little shops, and I assured myself Medine would not be so stupid or so obvious. Nevertheless they locked the doors on me, and as we rode the Mexican wore the blank expression of force. And the surf at Pebble Beach boomed over the seawall, the dunes sitting in limpid sun as the ice clacked in wineglasses and Cyan drank beer while striding and was drunk, permanently drunk. “For the love of Christ let’s get out of here,” he cried. “Jake let’s go,” he said, staring at the Mexican, who trailed behind with his giant hands in his pockets. “We just had a great game and wow it’s so beautiful out here, but let’s get off the course because it’s going to rain.” “Not much I can do about it. I just got here,” I said. “Look, something funny is going on. Did you talk to him about the stock?” 337

THE PENINSULA “Do you know how rich we are, Jake? Don’t you see the storm’s coming in?” he goggled. “Are you crazy? Lightning hazard, big time. Why is that guy here? It’s raining money!” “We’ll be fine,” Medine called from the blanched first tee, where a second set of silver clubs lay prepared for me. He had been bent over practicing his swing, his long arms wrapped in wool that flexed and rippled in the wind. “Cyan, head back to the house. We’ll be out here.” The storm lurked bruised and contorted over the waters of Monterey, still far off. The pristine dunes would suffer extreme unction here, death and rebirth in the winter rain. Cyan, stunned by the command, tromped smiling across the green, mild and terrible. A poisonous pink alligator was sewn on his breast and a new, cackling giggle flexed the lungs of a young man aging faster and faster. As he went he ranted themes of parenthood and marriage, praising his money, while I turned and fled from him, striding towards the course with my forearms tensed and hands over my ears. The fever roared, the burning fever! Without looking back, Medine drove cleanly off the tee and I hooked into the sand trap. We walked, the Mexican lurking some distance behind, saying nothing, down the crisp fairways as other golfers fled the course before the storm. “Bruise number one,” called Michael as, shivering, I missed the ball. “By tonight you’re going to be all brown.” His scalp gleamed through his shock of hair. He took out the pencil and the scorecard and stood 338

WINE COUNTRY there. I stared down into my bag and glumly retrieved the pitching wedge. On the gravel path leading to the fifth hole, I made my first attempt at him. “What is the purpose of this?” I asked. “Why are we out here?” “Golf should be walked,” Michael replied. “It’s good for you and good for the course.” The afternoon waiter at the tea pavilion next to the sixth hole told us, sirs, that by every report available the storm would be coming in minutes, but that it was nothing to worry about if we, as healthy dues-paying members of the Pebble Beach Golf Club, wished to continue our game. Then the waiter cowered onto a stool, looking off towards Carmel. The hills on which the course lounged swept out a vast crescent, a dusty cradle planted heavily with wealth. Monterey was far off to the north, a tiny shimmer in the afternoon haze. Miles out, a bruise-colored band eliminated the eastern horizon, the breath of the squall moving in from the Pacific. The holes ahead, a chain of tidy green segments routing away from the clubhouse, were dotted with caravans of people chipping and putting and pitching and driving, and we could hear their voices coming down to us as they began to turn back. “Besides, you can play golf in rain,” Medine said, handing me a ball, “we won’t let the weather ruin our day.” “Tell me what you want.” “Just to play!” He let out his seal laugh and clapped me on the back and behind us the Mexican shuffled his feet. 339

THE PENINSULA By the seventh hole the storm had rolled onto the beach, plastering everything with the wall of leaves it heaved over the land. The leaves were not from the trees on the grounds – they were dark, torn, wet leaves stripped from faraway trees – leaves carried from strip farms, American forests, unmanicured and sticky, lashing in the winds. On the eighth I failed to drive off the tee because the wind took the ball, and after blaming my driver I ended up using an iron to get down the fairway in four strokes. “We have to get off,” I told Medine, “or we’re going to get soaked.” But we had come very far. Soon the rain began its slow acceleration, quickening into a downpour, stopping again, and Medine took us under the oak by the side of the fairway. The Mexican stood on the green staring at us, his hands still in his pockets. He would not come near Medine. Everything grew dim. The front came in over the lip of the sea and raged onto the hills, a fast, umbery thing flushed by the sun. Bullets of water whipped horizontally and the tree peeled back like a hangnail. I could barely open my eyes in the wind. As the Mexican flexed in the gale I held the trunk and staggered to the lee side. The bags slammed over and the clubs sped away, and the big driver Medine went spinning into a water trap. The Mexican ran after it, thick limbs heaving. And in that instant, like the nimbus of an approaching star, electricity crackled through the clouds, glowing arcs colliding and joining into a single fork 340

WINE COUNTRY that split the horizon far away. The flash illuminated the land and Medine looked out from his golf course and looked at me. Then he settled back on his haunches and kicked me as hard as he could in the kidneys. Everything shattered. His big leg hit me like a tree trunk and sent me vomiting onto my hands and knees. The wind intensified and the roaring branches deafened us to all sound. The course began to delimit in the darkness, its boundaries blurring into the shadowy landscape, and when it could no longer be distinguished from the hills and the groves, all became indistinct against the sky, and what remained distinct was insignificant, effaced by fever and apathy. “Do you know the implications of wealth, Jacob?” Medine asked me. I was sobbing on hands and knees, and he kicked me again, twice, three times, stomping on my back. It is the thread and the needle it binds it unwinds inscriptions in a camel’s eye, a quarter note a hope. “I don’t know,” I coughed blood. “I don’t know.” “Do you know what it does?” His thin lips palpitated with rain and he gripped the iron, driving its blunt head into the muck. “You’ve heard,” I cried, cowering in the wind. “Jacob I have a great deal of respect for you,” Michael continued, letting the club stand upright where he had rooted it, and crossing his arms. “But do you know the withering that accompanies wealth?” He took a step towards me and kicked me again, square in the shoulders, and I collapsed in the mud. “The outright aging that goes along with it? How it causes everything 341

THE PENINSULA to make less sense? Money being a process of aging, the getting of it and the spending of it.” “One should have enough,” I bawled, shivering, on all fours again. He planted a knee on the crook of the tree, then an elbow on the knee, hefting the iron with a loose grey wrist. “Enough? Because wealth is a process, not a quantity. It matters how you get it. What nobody realizes is that after you get it the process continues.” “And how did you get yours?” I glared back up at him. “Do you know what that process is? It is a process of isolation. A man with no money has everything in common with the world, but give him a thousand dollars, pull him one rung up the pyramid, and his separation begins. Do you understand? Do you understand what it is like to be at the very pinnacle of that pyramid, separated, completely isolated, from everyone else in the world? Growing old? It’s chaos!” Water dripped off his chin in silver chains. Twisting my neck, I stared out into the cloud, and saw the Mexican’s lashing form. “Do you even know the difference between old and new money?” Medine said. “Do you know that one blows away like irrelevant dust? Do you know what it is to be bred into centuries of wealth? Do you know what is left to prove after it has blown away? It is more than money and more than blood, it is responsibility. Your mother is complicit and she is ready for it.” “I think she is ready to hear from me,” I laughed. “From you? From her ungrateful runt son who has 342

WINE COUNTRY never spoken to her honestly one day in his life? From the profligate wretch who steals money from her and embarrasses her before anyone and everyone she meets, who is a living joke in the community, who scorns his studies and makes his life a pleasure-filled circus? You barely pay attention to anything! From the fool who thinks he can get by without working, who not once mentions his dead father except to demand money, who doesn’t seem to care that his father died–” “That’s not true!” In the roaring his words seemed to cast me down on the grass, wriggling in the muck. Clearing his throat, Medine straightened. Pulling out the club with a pop and laying it on the grass, he turned away to stare into the storm. “When in the thick of voluptuous delights, one takes an even keener pleasure in torments! I’m sure that you know this principle, which is called apathy, so perhaps you can forgive my bouts of sadism. Don’t look at it as deprivation Jacob, my coming into your family. Look at it as a benevolent act, a partnership. Otherwise I would not be able to do it, not in my heart. Believe me,” he went on, “I have given this a great deal of thought, and being a Bessemer, a steelmaker, you are more important to me than you realize. Just, you have proved yourself difficult. Very difficult, but also useful!” “Useful?” The storm roiled around us sheets of rain. Over on the bluffs cypress trees pitched and whorled, kicking in cloaks of ash. “It is a good thing to trust one’s family, and a challenge to trust anyone else’s,” he said. 343

THE PENINSULA Rolling onto my back, I snickered, then laughed, looking at him. “So Lily has told you.” “It certainly isn’t your problem any more. That is what we are out here to discuss, while she takes care of everything, like the good and faithful girl she is.” I wrapped my hands around my sodden knees. “But Lily hates you–” “Do you think hate and submission are mutually exclusive?” Michael sighed, dripping rain. “You of all people should know that. If you had kept your hands off her you might understand a little more. Do you know, for example, that I read that stupid note you found in your papers? Do you even know what is in that safe?” “What?” “It’s the patents themselves, Jake, which, you, of all maggots, currently own. Have you ever heard of the Google PageRank algorithm? You own a very small portion of the proceeds of that piece of code. It was your father’s relationship, some harebrained angel investment he made – I wouldn’t have it so he did it himself without the fund.” “You’re–” “That’s fine. No one will believe you, either, because that was the only physical evidence of the agreement. There was an electronic one, though, hence the password and why your friend is here – a very nice boy who’s helping Lily to delete those files. Of course he doesn’t know it.” He paused. “When I acquire your trust I will have it. And then I will be able to sell the partnership. For the good of all of us, except the ones 344

WINE COUNTRY who are dead.” His silver eyes reflected the storm. “Is that why you are marrying my mother?” “Love is complicated,” said Medine, squatting down next to me. “I’m sure you know. I think she will make a decent bride.” Of course he had planned this too, my crawling away. He knew my temper. Out I sloshed across the puddles, through the frightful gale, and the Mexican began to laugh at me as he stood in the torrent. Black curls hung from his doghead, pitching back to let his throat out. He laughed with an old, creaking brass laugh that came like a desert song through the whipping of the trees, and from him I fled more in terror than rage. I looked like a madman – soaked, bloody, reeking of wine – tripping crazily over the grasses, shin-deep in mud, and the storm around me laughing. At the edge of the forest I plunged between the trees, where a road led up into the hills. And on the road waited the limousine and strong hands. They kept me in the car for a few hours, and then, at five, utterly frozen, nearly dead of fever, let me into the house. Michael had taken the girls out to dinner. Fresh clothes lay out for me, and Mexicans scampered about setting fires and coffee pots and electric blankets. The fever and the chill combined in apathy, and I felt nothing except the desire to sleep. We’d been left a great batch of salmon to cook up, and Cyan set about this with abandon. My discomposure aroused little of his interest – he was still drunk, and all he would talk of was the stock deal. He laughed 345

THE PENINSULA when I told him the story, laughed at me like I was making it up. He told me I did too many drugs, that I had some strange ideas. I found a phone and called my mother, but she simply laughed and laughed. And the police – would you believe it? – they laughed too, when I told them where I was. I couldn’t get the story straight; it seemed twisted in my mind. Exhausted, I fell face down on the bed in my room and closed my eyes. I had to find Lily and convince her, but I was too weak to get up. Two hours I slept, the rain sinking into my bones, and I awoke with a fever so bright it filled my mind with illusion. Darkness fell and I arose and went into the night, wrapped in a blanket like a monk. I reasoned that I had to get out. The mansion overlooked two others in a row down the coast, and, standing on the hall balcony, I saw down into the pool of the one adjacent. A lithe girl in a black and white tigerstriped bikini stretched her hips and dived perfectly, emerging in a sheet of water. She swept her black planar hair back with both hands and flared her chest striding through the water, and caught me watching her. Leaning on the balcony, I called to her. “Help!” I cried, piteously. “Help me!” But, afraid, or laughing, she withdrew. The fever burned in my mind and I trembled. “Jake,” Cyan clacked from the kitchen as I slid the door closed. “Are you all right? Gosh, you’re being so dramatic. Will you help me chop these, will you help me?” He leaned stiffly within a paisley blue apron, 346

WINE COUNTRY prim, a sight from a consumer magazine, and dusted with blush, a light perfect layer of it. He smiled with cerise lips, sparkled his eyes at me, a wilt of money. And I took the sharp blade, fused entirely from a single piece of steel, and looked into his eyes and without smiling began to chop leeks, the stiff fibrous leeks popping and splitting syncopated, gassing onion. “Of course, let me know how you want them,” I muttered. “Cyan, we’ve got to get out of here.” “What? This house is so nice,” he said. “These people are so nice.” “Are you insane?” “Michael’s going to buy the stock. We’re doing so well,” he said. “We’re doing so well.” And in my imagination I took his wrist and held him while slowly slitting his spine open and by working my thumbs pulling out his lungs flapping froglike and herpetic behind him as he writhed. But instead I looked up into his eyes directly. And he reached down and luridly kissed my cheek, tasting of scotch, and pulled back fast and shy and smiling from the dusty cracks of his cheeks. “Thank you,” he whispered. I staggered in shock. My fever nearly knocked me to the ground. “You faggot,” I stuttered, my heart pounding meat, my face burning. “Oh great, dinner’s nearly out, very nearly!” As he lisped and laughed his eyes were pink. We sat down to eat and Cyan emerged and everything rushed and rushed – in my horror I could not focus on anything and 347

THE PENINSULA the sensations took me by the neck: thack cluck he said not hungry and he said well it’s a big plate and I said yeah its big. But he said no it’s not big and I looked and I saw the wine in his eyes and the way the words rolled off his forked tongue eat it. His sentences belonged to a snake and it was in that moment his mask cracked and oh God spilling out serpentine in his envy and hatred of masculine me. Syss the hooded eyes, the propped tongue and gesture of the head click click like some squinting old cobra, frantic but venomous in reticence, and he struck because the wine was in his eyes. And I looked and the snake across the table was smiling head half-cocked lick lick but he was weak since masks take a long time to build and he was still too young. But don’t be insulting he said, he could hear my thoughts, and the old cobra wriggled back into the mask. Oh I was kidding, it’s because I was drunk he later said. My mind swirled. I nodded and dozed. Over the table a plaque bearing an enormous seahorse gazed at me, frozen dry and brittle, an orange whorl protracted in its death, glaring from black eyes upon the table and somehow smiling its snout. The lights of Carmel twinkled beyond and the overlook turned revolving slowly as a Mexican parrot in pink loped past. So I said nothing at dinner, seething like a lunatic, and feeling like one, and afterwards I drank hot milk with two teaspoons vanilla extract, trying to slow the pace of my mind against the fever. I whicked the milk with a spoon and rushed it around in my teeth to feel 348

WINE COUNTRY the bubbles frothing, but my mind burned on. Mostly I exist for the bubbles making it sweeter or at least more full of gulp gulp the smell of flesh. I drank several cups to stay awake, since sleep has always come quickly to me syllogism somnambulism and thoughts congealed and melted away from the books I had read. I had to lock myself in my bedroom. I would sneak past them at night and take Lily. But Cyan wanted to go into the hot tub and he would not leave me alone so I went with him yes I did what else can you do against the night? Plotinus became Plato became Neo-Plato became Arsenic ring and hello Master stuck in Limbo between the poles Polaris the north star: six and twenty thousand years. Gasping, tottering I walked downstairs through the halls. Deep cobblestones carved out beneath Medine’s floor, patterns unknown click, emblazoned on themselves, like Braque paintings all of them. Gone between them now, cut through them and I looked and could tell their corruption one from the other. Hello, master. You want to be a dom but you don’t know what it’s like to dominate. You just don’t know. You don’t know I just do I always get it. I could not stop my thoughts from coming, could not sort them out. Stillness when I went slow. So I did go slow, feeling my way along the hall. I could hear the clap clap of men in television sets plasma or LCD? Deep or wide screen he glowed I like both and the fall of the leaf behind me click whirr whine of the greaseless squeaky 349

THE PENINSULA wheel gets the grease oh freedom. Waste of breath and it probably click. Wind when you go fast but you miss it in the cold and noise rushing. The fever rose. Blood had turned to ice and my mind ran on and on. Squirming, I could not escape: ugh the death of the individual, the rise of the collective – it isn’t unity when solitude is the day of the word. My thoughts reversed again, spinning like blades. Click click whir separate entities separate them yeah going all fast now together. Separate the one together. Play with words, voices, networks finding voices forging selves. Network theory. Assembly theory. Theory this theory that, theory of the acrobat. Hiss, water. Hot tub. The rich way to get warm. As I soaked, Cyan came in repulsive in a pale blue Speedo, and I said nothing to him. The girl across the way popped up her head and called across the void hi and how do you guys know each other wanna play. Pornographers, I callously lied and in the awkward silence she receded laughing to stop by later. The storm had cleared blowing northeast over the land, but off in the immense tassel of the night lightning sputtered up the coast. Over the hot water came rain. Cyan leaned back and drank scotch and became swiftly drunk again and drops glistened like varnish on his thin silver limbs as he sunk below the waters. I looked off down the beach where a curl of revelers perched tiny and happy around a fire. My mind slowed. My gaze followed the wagging bottom of the girl zigzagging zebralike down the faroff steps towards her own mansion, and she did not look back. 350

WINE COUNTRY “Ah ha,” said Cyan, “I meant to have a word with you about the stock sale. I called Mark, while you were asleep, and I don’t think we’re going to go in after all.” What-what-whatever you say. “No, not joking I’m afraid.” “What are you talking about?” I asked him dumbly. “It’s just that Jake we think we can get liquidity elsewhere, we’ve had a few offers, a few conversations, and an IPO may not be too far off in the future for us to wait. It was good of Michael to establish a price for us, though. That will be big. Mark’s going to help me exercise the options for a little cut. It’s a better deal for me.” “We almost even signed the papers,” I wondered. “Didn’t we?” “I know Jake, it’s not a good situation, and you know I want to help you out in any way I can. You need to take it easy, though. We’ll figure out something good so that you get a cut. I want to help Michael, so he doesn’t become a stalking horse – the Medines are nice and all, well, a little weird, but nice. I wanted to tell you first. Are you okay? You’re white as a ghost, trembling. You should go to bed. It’s just that all this legal business really could be a problem for us and we can’t have a journalist writing an article about politics in relation to Facebook, were anyone to find out I mean.” “No one could find out Cyan, the money’s not going through Michael, it’s going through the Gina fund.” It doesn’t matter. A cherry glow had spread across his cheeks. “Still 351

THE PENINSULA Jake we’ve decided not to proceed. And I’m sorry about earlier. I just read you wrong. It’s probably best if I leave now – I’ve already called a taxi.” “Do you have a laptop here, Cyan?” “Yes, why?” “Did Lily or Emma ask you to help her with something earlier?” He looked at me blankly. “Oh, your little security problem, I forgot. Yeah, we figured it out, it was easy to clean that up. Tech support to the rescue – why do you ask?” I sank underwater, staring at his lolling white feet as they plopped up and off into the night. Somehow Medine had ensnared my mind. It was a sea of flame. All theories blabbered to noise in sleep which was the evocation of dreams. Do not let it overcome you. Clanking hours, sweat-soaked, passed. I awoke in my room, delirious, the sheets drenched. Flies had found some sort of spawning ground beneath. They rushed up through small creases in the boards and through the crack in the cellar door. They clustered in furry black bunches all about the screen door to the sea and I could not help but stare terrified at those flies, those hairy invaders reeking of death and death had made his presence known. I saw him in the faces that turn to me as I passed queues in the cobbled halls of Stanford, in San Francisco, in the madness of all my experience on this Earth, but more in everything that is a disguise, which is everything the wealth touches. I shook my head and the flies disap352

WINE COUNTRY peared. I could not sleep, snoring in a fuming cloak, shivering, thinking, above all, and the moon pressing upon the windows. Viridian bottles slumbered on the dresser, their injections muddying my veins; the drugs which had delivered me all my life from madness rested there, cold isolate and poisonous. I couldn’t take them. Even when I shuttered the blinds the moon peered around the corners, so that it seemed I slept within a shadow box inturned from the day. No in all this I could not sleep and I tore the blankets and moaned, my mind ablaze. A shadow is the molecules of the earth darkening, yearning for the sky. Whether the shadow travels like a nether wave, as a state or property of energy, the molecules themselves only rolling, or whether the shadow is encumbered by the burden of actually being a thing-in-itself, the distinction does not matter, implies the existence of a human mind observing and defining the shadow and obscuring its yearning to live! My idiot thoughts drove me up, suffocating me! By all that I had ever suffered I had to find out where Lily was, and show her. I sat up, full of rage.

353

19
No lights shined in the midnight mansion and the utter silence restricted any motion but thought. A person is three cats in a bag called the bag, and two of my cats called me to sleep but the third it said find her and would that I had ignored it but I raged ahead. Beneath the main staircase, the vestry flooded with silken light, laying eggplant shades to crawl like spiders along the floor. The night stilled in the storm's eye, and space enclosed the mansion. By then it was two o'clock, and I cannot stress the stillness of that hour. If an insect moved in the house you would have heard it, but I could hear nothing above my roaring mind. And the Mexicans had gone, or were lurking outside, lurking in shacks and around their campfires. I could leave! Breathing deeply, I passed through Medine’s star room and paused, staring into the telescope, watching a space station pass over. A small blaze the intensity of 354

WINE COUNTRY Jupiter moved in a perfect circle around the horizon, coming out of the northwest. I first mistook it for an airplane, but as it swung low towards the hills and the Earth's shadow, I went to the window watch it disappear along its orbit. It faded slowly into storm. Out the crystal-studded door and down the halls I padded the dark carpet, down the stairs to the underground level, down the rufous carpets and down more steps and through the halls until I came to Lily’s door. A crack of light showed underneath, and then I heard the noises. She lay perpendicular across the grey fur of his chest, her legs stretched behind her in a silver vee open to his ring finger, which wormed blindly inside her. Her eyes were shut, purple shells, as she wrapped him in her mouth, gagging and gasping. The ruby walls oversaw this matter, eyeless, hidden from the world, and the brass lamps seemed to emit a fission of pain. Coils of silk entwined her claws as her head moved from this position to kiss his thigh, dutiful and blind. But when I saw the other sister bent double beneath the bed my madness broke and I cried out in shame. There was no intercession between my horror and Lily’s – instantly she sprang up from her couch, fully naked on the bed. She kept her eyes bunched shut. A white silk slip hung from her shoulders, exposing her flushed breasts. She stood still for a moment, then opened her limpid eyes. She stepped off the bed, and some awful purpose seemed to ignite in her – God knows she could see – but she kept her mouth shut like she had been taught. 355

THE PENINSULA Her sister shook and turned her face to the floor, bound by a leash. Only Michael did not move: only he who lay sprawled like a statue on the sheets, whose lame granite priapus lolled from his form, he did not lift his head to regard me: he stayed fast in apathetic sleep. Pale as a ghost, Lily swept off the bed, hands wet and clawed. She stared beyond. Then, crying out, she rushed and bounded into the darkness of the hall, arms outstretched madly, and I caught her hot wrist but she tore off, drawing me with her and calling her name. And the darkness enveloped our passage and all was fever in the night as, her feet hammering the cold twined hair of the carpet, she fled before me, a white shape internal external giving off comet-trails of light. Twice she banged into the walls, shattering a vase in an alcove, falling to a knee but tearing on. Across the dark foyer the corridor to the star room lay trespassed, its door ajar. I heard something slump to the ground. I halted, then went ahead, creeping open the door. In the purple shades a pale small form crumpled beneath the windowsill. And in the awful night I seemed to see within her mind. Steak caked under my fingernails, I grip the carpet, not thinking of him – I’m turned, hunched, thinking about werewolves, and he says something, acting surprised. How maudlin, dramatic, how human. I'm wearing only my body. I'm totally naked. Can he understand how sensitive my body is? Can he see that, the faggot. Inside me is Him and He is inside me. Still. Always. I don’t hear him. Something is flitting, vibrat356

WINE COUNTRY ing on the edge of my hearing, a fly or something, something rhythmic in the night, and I want to find it, to tear it up, but the warm boy is desperately standing there – I turn my chin up to where he must be, coldly, testing my fingers on the bottom of my thighs. I can understand why he is here. He whispers, “What are you doing?” The whisper is a torrent, a wail. I suppose he is upset because I haven’t called him to join – he is mewling even before he speaks – he should have asked permission to come, should have been politely ignored, and should have left me, most importantly, undisturbed. My brain, filled with a month’s worth of used, rotting condoms – nearly forty – and wadded paper, began to stink like a skunk last night, and I blamed the smell on the clutch of owls outside my room. That was the effect of fucking him. I am too impressed with the condoms to dislodge them. He steps towards me, two steps I feel on the floor, then one back, and he says something else but I’m not paying attention. Someone is singing behind us behind the door, which has closed – closed us in. Emma. Emma is singing, or crying. Emma the singing minstrel, necessity in this uncouth partnership. Just now I hear, on the glass of the skylight, a branch has fallen and rests suspended like a hand. Could eyes, telescopes, see through that? My thighs have my grease smeared on them and as his hands grip my shoulders, I jerk like a doll another whiff of the skunk stench rising from my mind. I hope he smells it and understands, because the condoms must be spilling out of my ears and onto him, and it would make a dynamite story. How ridiculous, 357

THE PENINSULA this metaphor of filth, but my mind can craft up ridicule. And I smile politely and say, quietly, in perfect Californian, “What’s up, dude?” This faggot never had anything on me. A chunk of air – he always expects, always wants something, demands attention – believes his dick, tongue, dollar mean anything to me. His words are empty: his praises hide selfishness and fear, and when he tries to hurt me I make a game of laughing to myself and crying to him. Hopping up on one foot, I bolt past him, swatting away his hands, turning right. I hold my hand out to where his heat is coming from. I tie my hair, I let it play behind my shoulder blades – I’ve been told it’s important hair – he says something again, his pale hands raised. He is utterly terrified. He is American. He asks questions. He seeks some reference to him I’ve made, an explanation, something to use, something to remember. He wants to be mentioned. He’s a very typical boy but there is only Him there is only Him there is only Him. Now I go over and throw my arms around his neck and kiss him, letting him smell my neck scent, how filthy I am. Does he want me does he want me still? I feel my grease-fingers stain his shirt, and my mouth is glinting with his sex. No he doesn’t no. He tries to hold me and I brush him down with my chin, and he sort of slobbers up across my jaw, then recoils. I kiss him. I ask him if he wants to fuck. Would he like to be inside my cunt with All That Entails. He is fighting against his disgust. I can’t stifle a laugh under my breath, and he starts, desperately: “What? What?” Something in the broken bone of his soul. 358

WINE COUNTRY I hold him by the cheeks and kiss him again, and feel with my fingers his eyes shutting: he is believing, I know, believing in my Potential For Salvation. His masculinity demands it. His mind reels. I can never close my eyes when I kiss, and He tells me how black they look that close. Well good because black is all I know. I give this faggot more, feel his tongue squirm desperately, and then I am back playing with my hair, my shoulders turned. He can have nothing and it is probably better for him. He cannot understand me. All my life the years wore on, and I trudged quieter and quieter. My legs broke, I had outwalked them both. I had not eaten, except for ashes, and I had drank nothing but vomit. I fell exhausted amidst a savage grove, alone except for the moon’s reflection in the slime of that place, disconsolate, my youth beaten, my self-love replaced with something sallow and crawling, something as much hate as love. And my brain somehow saw itself, saw a body twisted by loathing, hunched terribly thin and set with luminous eyes, in love with itself, the last thing it could see. And He came. He came and took me in His terrible arms. “Lily,” the fag moans, poor boy, and I slap him angrily and sink my teeth into his flank. We are done and done and I could not be more bored. Have we ever fucked? We have not. I don’t remember. I hate him for ruining me. I hit him once more and try to recall where I was going. Yes. Yes. Now I turn and run. She spun from me and took the lamp off the desk, and as I stepped forwards flung it through the window, where she had been feeling with her fingers, and went 359

THE PENINSULA barreling after it, leaping through the glass, landing on all fours on the deck outside, where she went loping away like a wolf. A trail of blood splattered after her. “Lily!” I called. The wind nearly took me as I pushed down the deck stairs onto the loam, an ocean gale swinging in the genitals of the storm. Branches and twigs sniped through the darkness, ripping my skin. I could not think or stop – my eyes found the moon at the top of the hill. Another light seemed to wink there; but Lily had disappeared into the trees, and the gale annihilated everything. Blackly I charged after her, hands shielding my face. Around the side of the house, mud and leaves spattering, everything spraying water, I heaved through a clawing oleander, the spearshaped leaves slashing blood from my hands and I kept on. The hill was steep, an ancient embankment of lime and crushed sandstone covered with centuries of loam. I saw a dark shape go struggling up over the top of the bank, and I followed as best I could. The stuff came apart as I pushed up the slope, my purchase hopeless, leaning and scrambling with my hands. Far overhead she crashed fleetly through the thorns, oblivious to pain. I blindly grasped a slug and cast it away in disgust. The embankment shifted and my right leg plunged down the slope. As I slipped, I fell against the leaves and saw again the back wall of the house and its shattered window, still illuminated by the moon. I began to make out something looking at me through the orifice, some pairs of eyes, when a gust of 360

WINE COUNTRY ocean wind cast a huge branch down into the bushes. Bark chips slashed my face, and I covered my eyes with my hands, twisting around and kicking my legs, squirming madly up the slope again. Though I had come some hundred yards up now, it seemed to me that the light had grown no brighter, and though I saw now it glowed behind the highest barrier oak that faced the ocean, I could not perceive its source. The stars bore down from a suddenly clear sky, wisps of the storm running west. Roaring: the crashing of the boughs and the distant pounding, roaring, roaring. I grasped a fallen trunk, heaved, kicking my leg up over the moss, and clambering down the bank into that cliff clearing. Where amazed I saw Lily hunched like an ape, obtect, swallowed by the roots of the great oak on the precipice. Her white throw had disintegrated in the storm; a filthy tatter clung around her naked body and the wind took it like a flag. The lighthouse blazed a circuit behind her, irradiating the cloud. “Go away,” she wailed when she saw me, raising her arms from the slough. Then she began to cry, great sobbing peals of pain which rose from her white heart and roiled into the night. I stood pale at the break in the woods, the hall of trees behind me. Gale winds took to whipping the branches, and the grove unhinged, a living being. “Jake help me,” she sobbed. “I can’t move.” I leapt over the log and through the puddles to the tree and the sea jerked and pitched beyond. Far up the cliff the lighthouse revolved in a shrine of light: it pro361

THE PENINSULA vided light upon us and dispelled the rays of the moon. Lily's white ankle disappeared mud-bound into a cord of roots, and she grasped the rocks and tugged herself. “Lily–” She trembled in a sobbing heap. She stopped and started again. The black trunk, solid in the gale, seemed to be drawing her backwards, as a great star annexes a lesser one, and though she lay flat she seemed inclined, and her lolling halfopen eyes, deranged by black streaks, saw me and for all of my madness I could feel again, and I took her arms and tried to lift her up. She clung to my neck, but as I turned to carry her from that place she struggled, kicked her legs, and broke free. She staggered back from me towards the cliff, holding out a red hand. “Don’t touch me!” she shrieked. “Lily I didn’t know–” “Don’t touch me, you stupid murderer. You filthy bastard! You filthy fucking traitor you murdered your father and fucked your mother, you arrogant pig! Loveless when you were born, you slave, you apathetic coward – love, love, loveless!” Her words came rhythmic, as if spoken by another or memorized. Her skeleton staggered back another step, shining, dragging the twisted ankle, and tears streamed down her face. Now the cliff behind her opened, and in the void gleamed stars. I stepped towards her and I knew love then, how to love her – not with the sensuous fire that burns, scorches and tortures, that inflicts more wounds than it cures – 362

WINE COUNTRY flaring up now, at the next moment extinguished, leaving behind more coldness than was felt before– “Don’t come near me,” she sobbed. She kept turning to and fro, flinging her eyes. –rather through the element that lies like a soft but firm hand on the maddened beings of the Earth, ever unchanged in its sympathy, without wavering, unconcerned with any response it meets. Love that is comforting coolness to those who burn in the fire of suffering and passion, that is life-giving warmth to those abandoned in the cold desert of loneliness, to those who are shivering in frost, to those whose hearts have become as if empty and dry by repeated calls for help. Love that is a sublime nobility of heart and intellect which knows, understands and is ready to help. Love that is strength and gives strength and is the highest. “Lily!” I reached out my hand. In her pale, frightened face her mad eyes calmed and grew black and heavy. Wavering she took my hand and the white wind whistled between us. “I–” she said in the night. “I’m sorry about your family, Jake–” “Lily,” I said. “Come here.” She paused, lacing her fingers into mine, but a blaze of ice seemed to go through her. Her black eyes swelled. “I’m sorry, but there is no reaching me,” she ended. Her eyes fell and sank swimming, obsidian black and heavy with tears, pulling her down to the stone. Then she drew her old sardonic smile and gazed past me. 363

THE PENINSULA The gale passed between us but silenced within the ocean’s roar. She bit her lip and with a muddy paw rubbed her nose. “Please!” I cried. Then she stepped, spider-laced through my grasp, stepped backwards, without sound and only smiling, off the cliff-edge, down, and, illuminated once by the lighthouse eye, she fell straight far down into the black waters of the Pacific Ocean, where in a white stipple of foam she inverted, disappearing without end.

END OF FILE

364

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful