Typical of the Times: Growing Up in the Culture of Spectacle

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We’re So Famous was my first published novel, but it is not the first novel I wrote. I originally attempted to emulate my hero F. Scott Fitzgerald, attracted to and influenced as I was by his narratives about sad young men, a thread I’d pick up later for my trilogy about Charlie Martens. But when my first novel failed to sell, I cast about for another theme that interested me, and didn’t have to ruminate long before recognizing my intense interest in the culture of celebrity. It seems naive to claim that back in the late 1990s, celebrity culture was a relatively new phenomenon, but fame for fame’s sake seemed new and curious to me—previously those who wanted to become famous aspired to be athletes or actors or musicians or models—and so it was the perfect subject for a novel in that moment in time before the Internet truly became the enabler it is for any and all attention seekers. (As proof of how pre-Internet this novel was, I remember a late-night trip to the record store to confirm the spelling of the name of one of the singers in Bananarama, at the behest of the copy editor.)

As I contemplated the afterword for this new Bloomsbury edition, I tried to transport myself back to that time and place in my life when I was obsessed with and amazed by fame, to create a little sketch meant to provide the context in which the novel was written. Instead a torrent of words issued forth over the course of a month, and when I was finished, it was apparent not only why I wrote We’re So Famous, but also that it was a book I was destined to write.

Jaime Clarke

that vanessa williams thing was right around the time of the mcdonald’s massacre you couldn’t turn on a television without hearing about those poor innocents just eating lunch and then a circumstance occurs like earlier when the teenage sears security guard shooed away the kids gathered around the in-store video game console and the youngest boy whose father would become the host of america’s most wanted ended up dead at the hands of a child predator or the time before that when someone was putting something in tylenol and that’s the prevailing fear in the backseat of the gray family ford ltd except maybe the troublingly named indian school road the map of phoenix a geometric marvel you don’t think you’ve ever seen a city made of a grid but over the years it will become apparent that unlike other places you’ve lived everything about phoenix was master-planned except the freeway to los angeles which ends in a pile of concrete and slumbering construction vehicles a block from the house on the west side your father and younger brother rented in advance you and your youngest brother and mother staying behind in rapid city for reasons you may never know like all the childhood questions that just remain questions like why did everyone mail away for those free gum balls made out of a new kind of sugar and you suspect the answers are unsatisfying as answers anyway and so you don’t bother two bryan adams concerts in one summer is the result yes you dreamed at the first concert in rapid city of meeting a girl and had no idea that months later at your second time through the set list that you’d be holding hands with a girl who would ultimately get you kicked out of phoenix veterans memorial coliseum but you think the move to the empty upper deck is for something more than hand-holding and not for smoking cigarettes which security would spot pretty quickly yes you had broken up with your first phoenix girlfriend on her birthday while lying in the dark on the phone unaware that your chronic nosebleeding wasn’t tears on your cheek all those afternoons going over to the first girlfriend’s trailer across from your new school how many new schools you didn’t care to remember the first girlfriend’s mother was always home and let you hold hands on the couch while watching television but you weren’t allowed down the hall except to use the bathroom and only when the first girlfriend was firmly stationed in the front room or sometimes the kitchen the first girlfriend’s friend who lived in the trailer park had one of those arms that wasn’t all the way an arm more than the def leppard drummer after he crashed his corvette into a brick wall but still not like everyone else and you didn’t care if people stared but she did yes you broke up with the first girlfriend for the reasons time immemorial that men break up with women but you didn’t yet understand that until you did that one afternoon when the girl-who-would-ultimately-get-you-kicked-out-of-the-bryan-adams-concert’s sister stalked into the bathroom and poured cold water on you both in the shower parents that both work is a thing you have in common including an overwhelming interest in sexual exploration her lost fake fingernail found in your boxers at the rest stop on her family’s trip to california you imagined you were daniel and she agreed she could be ali from the karate kid when you snapped pictures at the same golf n’ stuff as in the movie her grandmother made you sleep on her couch in indio and the curios and doilies were unnerving and you asked to bunk in with her older brother much later the grandmother’s house is confused in your mind with that of the actor ray milland when you learn he died in indio madonna sings her new song like a virgin at the video music awards wearing a wedding dress and a bustier vh1 debuted a couple of hours after the def leppard drummer crashed his corvette come to think of it the time the girl was inconsolable when her five-year-old stepbrother was killed run over in the street is the prevailing memory of that time also the eighth-grade graduation trip to disneyland purchased by selling tom-wat door-to-door because a lot of kids will never graduate high school the teacups and the hotel with piss-stained elevators and strawberry hill and california coolers after curfew because the basketball coach is on watch california coolers with the basketball coach that one time he drove the starting five from the basketball team to magic mountain you sandwiched between the center cradling a barrel of unwrapped smarties double lollies and the team’s point guard nursing the wine cooler so his allergy to alcohol didn’t flare or the time with the limo driven by the basketball coach his side job for the actual graduation stumbling out of the limo for more wine coolers spotted by someone who knew the girl’s mother the girl’s mother telling your mother in the checkout line at the alpha beta but the time the girlfriend was inconsolable is the prevailing memory that was when everything was new and burnished for memory keeping moving to phoenix the day before classes start a new kid yet again after being new again and again and again memories in boxes the kids in south dakota didn’t seem to know anything about what happened to john lennon that made all the teachers at your school in north dakota hang their heads or all those hostages they let go or when another someone tried to impress that actress months later or when kiss came on without makeup or fractured fairy tales or the bloodhound gang and vice versa the kids in williston were left void of knowledge of the girl from somewhere in the east being invited to russia after she wrote a letter to yuri andropov which made you start writing letters to celebrities to see if they’d write back though they mostly sent signed pictures of themselves or the handful of videos on the new music channel or michael jackson’s thriller video or what happened to michael making that pepsi commercial or the first woman on the supreme court or when that famous actress fell off the boat and died or the first test tube baby it all happened after none of it connected in your mind at least important to remember all the new names easier to make friends if you seemed like you were always there call out someone’s name make them feel known so that you can be too first calling attention to yourself in some way that wasn’t too obvious was always the next step not like ozzy and the dove or lawn chair larry in montana it was reading the most books and winning lunch with your teacher the batman skit the previous year performed with the assent of your second-grade teacher the jar of ash from mount saint helens you swept from your driveway the nude poster you claimed to have of the actress who played daisy on the dukes of hazzard in north dakota it was lighting fires with the neighbor kids learning hey jude on the piano as a favor to your neighbor who was mad like your teachers about the john lennon thing the variety show like the mandrells’ you proposed to emcee in the gym to impress the girl who tantalized you by giving you a pocket radio and telling you to listen to dr demento at the same moment she was lying in bed listening in south dakota it was fingerprinting the teacher’s assistant you were in love with making your parents drive you to the local bottling company for enough carbonated water to make strawberry soda as a science experiment for your class racking up the high score on pac-man and dig dug and centipede and donkey kong at the arcade showing the older kids how to seesaw a comb across your hand to quickly toggle the buttons for defender marathon sessions of space invaders and breakout on the atari at home waiting for your parents to come home from work writing the hardy boys–inspired novel you bragged about writing to your teacher who called you on it and who agreed to type it up and send it to publishers who all rejected it which burned more when that kid published his star wars quiz book the music teacher knew you were lying when you said you went to a country music convention at the civic center and that you’d gotten up on stage and sang a conway twitty song made you sing a song in front of the class to see if you could sing dating the seventh grader at the junior high your sixth-grade teacher passing notes to her one neighbor to another you and your younger brother each play a song on the piano on television your piano teacher arranging it your name glowing from the television as you play silver bells it seems like magic learning the moonwalk to go with the beaded glove you and your friend billy fashioned for the purpose of walking around rushmore mall getting stares writing and directing your own version of the tv show whiz kids with the av equipment from the junior high after seeing wargames a hundred times and the milwaukee 414s on the cover of newsweek also because the world stopped for the final episode of m*a*s*h you still can’t think of it without welling up when you think of hawkeye’s inability to say good-bye he only had to say it once change is sometimes change but sometimes it isn’t in phoenix the first order of business is getting out of the gifted and talented program really just a place to hide away the restless and hyperactive kids the bus would come for you in north dakota in the middle of the school day to transport you to the high school where the gifted program was high school kids throwing snowballs hard at you at recess the new kid new again but just on thursdays locking the gifted classroom door on the way out with the teacher’s purse and keys inside does the trick in phoenix as does the unrevealed fact that the eighth grade in phoenix is a repeat of the seventh grade in rapid city which means coasting academically speaking everyone thinking you’re some kind of genius but you only care about being freed to reinvent yourself shedding all the computer nonsense in favor of sports and music a pantomime of the guitar solo in let’s go crazy you standing on a chair the yardstick quivering in your hand like prince’s ax wins unanimous approval from all who witness it and naturally you form an air band with some newly made friends from the basketball team for which you’re a starting guard by virtue of being tall the air band you call phantasm after the horror movie you watched with the team on a friday night at the basketball coach’s house sworn to secrecy about the booze the basketball coach a former phoenix police officer but something funny about the story never really know for sure but don’t care as long as he keeps offering discounts on limos from his family limo company it always seems cool when the basketball coach shows up as the limo driver means he’ll buy for you too like the night everyone had their wits scared away from watching phantasm which rumor had it was directed by a teenager and then you want to make a movie too but after the band which wins the school talent show handily you lip-synching the words to open arms and don’t stop so convincingly that you incur a fan club among sixth-grade girls who start turning out for the home basketball games and then again in the bleachers during softball season phantasm is asked to headline the next parent-teacher dinner and the keyboardist drummer and lead guitarist agree with your suggestion of performing a couple of bryan adams songs run to you and heaven make the cut the whole band shops for stage clothes at the millers outpost at westridge mall keeping the receipts and tucking the tags in so everything can be returned the following day there are perks to celebrity you come to know when you follow some girls into the bathroom as a joke and even though you get hauled into the principal’s office nothing happens you sell the box of lunch tickets the printer dropped and no one wants to believe it’s really you doing it you toilet-paper the gym teacher’s car and he knows it’s you and your friends but nothing happens you break curfew at the hotel in anaheim on the graduation trip to disneyland and again nothing happens not just the basketball coach watching your back but other teachers too except for your homeroom teacher who notices and you can tell she’s unamused at all the free passes but then you rise through the ranks of spellers and represent your school at the state competition lasting a few rounds before going out on the word yawl which you spell with an o instead of an a but even that defeat is treated like a victory and back at school there are congratulations aplenty someone jokingly asks if you’re on the recording for we are the world and you laugh but there’s also menace in the joke and you think careful careful careful you don’t really understand backlash until that spring when new coke debuts and even though the soda delivers everything it promises there’s such a stink about it that they bring back the old coke and there’s a rumor that the guy who came up with the idea was fired and you think about that maybe more than you should when you’re selected as the valedictorian speaker and over the summer as you think ahead to your freshman year the summer of repeated viewings of back to the future and miami vice reruns if only to stay out of the crushing heat waiting for the sun to set to walk the neighborhood with your boom box playing van halen’s 1984 crashing party line for however many cents a minute at night the summer all the girls dressed like madonna consternation that the like a virgin tour wasn’t coming to phoenix the rumor that madonna had a revolving bed onstage while she was singing or maybe it was prince another tour that wasn’t coming to phoenix though it didn’t matter because you had to be seventeen to go everyone wondering why wild sexual rumors as guesses the kid who had a copy of purple rain on betamax the kid who asked where’s the beef so much people started avoiding him that was the summer of live aid the kids starving in ethiopia phil collins playing the london show and then flying to america on the concorde for the other show the same day jack nicholson everywhere that day too everyone cooing over a band called u2 taking the job at the fish and chips down the street from your future high school slinging monsterburgers dixie dogs fish sandwiches fries with everything using the money to catch weird science your new favorite movie replacing st elmo’s fire your other favorite movie but tied with the breakfast club and better off dead then the rock hudson jokes but no jokes about ryan white the kid born the same year as you whom they wouldn’t let go to school because he had aids from a blood transfusion parents of other kids and teachers scared out of their minds john cougar and michael jackson and elton john and kareem abdul-jabbar became his friends alyssa milano gave him a kiss ryan white proved you could get aids if you weren’t a homosexual which some people seemed to fear more than aids but he was just a little boy another innocent in a circumstance like the girl who wrote the letter and went to russia then died in a small plane crash somewhere back east right before you start high school and you think how can someone get all the way to russia and back only to die in a small plane crash in america it doesn’t make any sense but it recalls the not-too-distant past in rapid city when your entire sixth-grade class wrote letters to lyle alzado the l.a. raiders football player your teacher knew from when she tutored him in college no answer to the letters which didn’t upset you except you thought maybe your teacher one of your favorites was embarrassed that someone she once knew and helped had turned his back on her now that he was famous like madonna had to her own flesh and blood the year of madonna really desperately seeking susan marrying sean penn sean penn firing at swarming paparazzi in helicopters waiting in the parking lot of a 7-eleven to ambush someone safe but sympathetic who could buy you the penthouse magazine with madonna on the cover the photos not as good as the ones you’d seen in rapid city on rodeo weekend the dumpsters full of magazines you’d never heard of a hierarchy quickly developed oui penthouse playboy penetration the difference maker in your mind but not just yours madonna is the first celebrity you’ve seen fully nude and even after you’ve hightailed it out of the 7-eleven parking lot you can’t believe what you’re seeing like the time someone on the basketball team had a vhs copy of faces of death or the film you needed a permission slip to see in junior high the choose your own adventure about how babies are born everyone says michael jackson now owns all the songs written by the beatles which is confusing the question about whether or not your grade-school popularity will transfer with you to high school is answered pretty quickly as you become an anonymous freshman face in the small mexican town on the outskirts of phoenix the high school mostly mexican too but white kids bused in from everywhere until the mexicans are a minority again those mexicans you get to know through your after-school job at the fish and chips some of them even recognizing you from over the summer especially those you began to favor with free food including the security guard a local you’ve cultivated the saxophone that has lain dormant since the seventh grade reawakens in your first-period band class marching season that fall playing halftime at home and away games riding the bus hassled at work for needing friday nights off the busiest of the week don’t you know but band is your entrée into the world of upperclassmen who take a liking to you like others in south dakota and north dakota and montana did previously and you don’t try to analyze it just say yes to hanging out with them at their houses late into the night drinking their parents’ alcohol or to the midnight showing of the rocky horror picture show some of the upperclassmen are in the drama club too throwing toast and rice at the screen after your shift at the fish and chips has ended then driving around until all hours of the night looking for alleged parties sometimes in other school districts someone knows someone who is having a party or not breaking into the resorts ringing camelback mountain to use the pool if all else fails that fall you adopt wholeheartedly the fashions of sonny crockett which gets you noticed in good and bad ways but mostly good when it comes to girls and the blonde whose locker is on your row and who doesn’t wear a bra finally gives in to your badgering her for a date when you ask her to the ac/dc concert your colleague at the fish and chips who spent the summer drawing in pencil the scene of the seven dwarfs all puffing from the same bong offers to drive for a ticket to the concert he’ll even throw in a bottle of southern comfort but he hits on the blonde all night annoying the hell out of you but it doesn’t really matter because she’s gone by the encore falling in with some older friends she knows from you don’t want to know where but you have better luck with the junior who is the section leader of the flutes your first high school girlfriend and she takes some guff for dating a freshman but any who know you are okay with it same for whoever nominates you for homecoming prince you feel like it’s a lock everyone saying it’s going to be you but then it’s not and not even really close a local kid whose friends apparently all voted for him wins and you file that lesson away all music must come with warning labels now if the lyrics are graphic you watch huddled around the television in the classroom as the challenger explodes upon liftoff there’s an atomic meltdown at chernobyl a place you don’t really know where that is campaign season and your friends suggest you run for sophomore class president make your mark for jaime clarke on your signs and out of your mouth and when the lopsided victory is yours there’s yet another lesson about which is coveted more the beauty contest for homecoming prince or the academic honor of being class president the difference between duckie and blane even on the makeshift stage at thomas mall before it is demolished strutting with the other teenage models booked through the dubious agency you joined with your friend the surfer who orders his clothes from the international male catalog the agency books you for a commercial for an italian restaurant says bring your saxophone you never know if the commercial runs never pay for anything the only money exchanging hands is yours for head shots dressing up in various costumes against various backdrops your vanity from the time the girl in the water park in south dakota thought you were corey hart and other instances like that and maybe even the lost homecoming prince election driving you to believe but you tell no one and your surfer friend is equally mum there’s a lot of talk about who is going to be participating in hands across america the guy from st elsewhere coming to phoenix to be part of the chain the idea something ferris bueller might come up with like yours to take the senior girl you meet playing in the orchestra pit of the high school production of the hobbit on a one-day trip to disneyland limo to and from the airport courtesy of your old friend the basketball coach airline ticket courtesy of your fish and chips fortune you can’t believe when she says yes but then the day is overwhelmed with the gesture the spontaneity second-guessed with questions about if you do things like this all the time and you say no even though you know you do and when you’re not you spend too much time daydreaming grand schemes that you desire with all your heart to come true you always the star of the show another self-aggrandizer like that fake jimmy swaggart who gets wal-mart to pull rolling stone magazine from its shelves or all those celebrities in the antidrug stop the madness video including old friend and noncorrespondent lyle alzado the world is full of attention seekers it seems sean penn punching a musician at a club in los angeles eg or anyone on entertainment tonight or a current affair which becomes obsessed with the preppy murderer in new york only because he’s handsome but new york city is as far away as the moon from the hot and humid summer you spend working and scheming about your sophomore year at a loss when not actually in school an environment you thrive in the endless possibilities not true of the summer or school vacations which are all just work boredom work sophomore year starts off with the inxs concert at the mesa amphitheatre the pastel-colored crowd sweating in the summer that won’t end and when it’s over some of the crowd follows the limo you and your friends rented to ferry you to and from the party thinking maybe you’re the band but your friend sticks his head out of the window and the jig is up and the cars fall back everyone laughing but some annoyed not to have teased the ruse further to at least see if any girls were in the trailing cars no one can answer the question about whether or not max headroom is a real person or not the freshman sax player in your section agreeing to become your girlfriend which is mostly ceremonial since she’s a mormon and can’t date until she’s sixteen and even then only in groups of other mormons is the word but it hardly matters your relationship mostly revolves around band practice and traveling to away games and band competitions you going to her parents’ house after school but before your shift at the fish and chips to shoot pool and listen to music or watch movies while her mother lurks somewhere her mormon friends like you and vice versa the good crowd from school the kids all the teachers like even the security guard who catches you and your girlfriend and some other friends off campus during school hours your idea all the way not realizing residents in the small town would look out their windows and call campus security but them not realizing you have campus security in your back pocket feeding them and their families for free at the fish and chips your girlfriend panicking her reputation surely taking the biggest hit but the security guard recognizes you and gives everyone a ride to the edge of the football field as the bell for the next class rings he’ll say he couldn’t find anyone and you’ll continue to repay the favor for as long as you work at the fish and chips wishing you had the same influence over the security guard at a rival high school when he finds you hiding in the men’s room while your friend and fellow student council officer searches the campus for her boyfriend to confront him about cheating the security guard seems pleased to drag you to the principal’s office the principal yelling about calling the police charging you with trespassing and as your friend arrives in the clutches of a second security guard you remember that a girl from a party you found yourself at over the summer is on the student council at the rival high school and you claim to be her cousin from south dakota the security guard not buying it but the principal seeing a way out of the mess that threatens to turn an otherwise ordinary day into a vortex of procedure and you pretend to cower under a tongue-lashing the security guard escorting you both to the parking lot a tale that becomes as legendary as the flames shooting from your saxophone at halftime of the homecoming game your section leader rigging camping stoves in his and yours passing a lighter at a key moment on the field everyone astonished even the band teacher who is both angry and awed by the pyrotechnics you didn’t consider that he could get in trouble with the school but you and your section leader disappear the camping stoves and no one asks you about it you try for another piece of legend when in your official capacity as assistant to one of the chemistry teachers during your free period you leak some test answers not knowing that there are two sets of answers so when the girls you’re trying to impress answer their test with the exact sequence of answers for the test they’re not taking you get busted and your free period is converted to detention for the rest of the semester said detention held in the band room and run by the band teacher who lets you practice or leave early the papers full of oliver north and his secretary fawn hall and iran-contra the term plausible deniability floating through conversations a term you like there’s a rumor rob lowe is dating the secretary and also a rumor about richard gere the heavy metal group judas priest is ordered to stand trial over two teens in nevada who shot each other on a playground one of them dying instantly the other maimed and living a few more years their parents think they did it because of subliminal messages in judas priest’s music the mormon car salesman elected governor without a majority cancels martin luther king jr day calling it an illegal holiday also calling black children pickaninnies and telling black people they don’t need a holiday they need jobs oh and the time he told a jewish delegation that america was a christian nation and boy did those japanese businessmen’s eyes get round when they found out how many golf courses arizona had and the retribution is sure but slow playing out for months and years to come the kid in your class who disappears for long stretches of time is liberace’s protégé and the proximity of celebrity at your tiny high school in a tiny town on the outskirts of phoenix is unbelievable there’s a rumor his hands are insured for millions no one really seems to know him one kid calls him a fag like liberace and the protégé punches the kid with his million-dollar fists the protégé presents an interesting shot at political redemption after the disastrous first semester of your reign as sophomore class president not outwardly disastrous but a failure in your eyes the homecoming float the largest piece of legislation on each class’s agenda your idea to get a corporate sponsor met with confusion and more confusion when said corporate sponsor is the local mcdonald’s so that the sophomore class offering is a floating advertisement for mcdonald’s during construction in the jv quarterback’s backyard everyone working diligently to re-create the golden arches out of chicken wire and crepe paper you’re amazed both at how bad the idea is and how readily everyone was willing to undertake it the spring class fund-raiser is a chance to erase those memories and after approaching the protégé with the idea you present the protégé in concert as your class fund-raiser some officers had no idea about the protégé and some don’t know who liberace is but once again everyone just goes along and so the concert is booked the lone apple macintosh that constitutes the school’s computer lab is used to create the promotional flyer ads are taken out in the local papers the protégé has a piano delivered to the school auditorium he’s contractually obligated to use only a certain brand of piano and the night of the concert you pace with the protégé backstage as the auditorium fills to half its capacity the protégé says i can fill radio city music hall but not a high school auditorium and you give a nervous laugh but he’s not really kidding much later you’ll think about this over and over and over but then you go on with the show by parting the stage curtains and introducing the protégé whose playing mesmerizes the audience the success of the fund-raiser inspires you to fill a notebook with the names of bands you intend to contact via letter about playing at your high school raising even more money ac dc yes u2 of course quiet riot and duran duran and depeche mode and then a list of bands possibly looking for a way to expand their audience but the absence of congratulations on arranging the concert with liberace’s protégé is disappointing it’s like the concert never happened except for those in the audience no students really by the way just adults who enjoyed liberace’s music and absent the accolades the whole thing feels hollow unappreciation leads to some bitterness and the sudden realization that your friends will be graduating leaving you among your fellow sophomores most of them not your friends most of them resentful of your friendship with upperclassmen or indifferent but regardless there’s no way to come back into the fold and your one other friend from grade school the one who went to private school appears as a lifeline and the private-school friend arranges a shadow day where you follow him around campus and attend class with him the private school is an all-boys catholic school which is full of non-catholics since it’s one of the only private schools in phoenix and is generally regarded as the best the words college prep in its name the giveaway the private school sits on central avenue the dividing point between east phoenix where the haves live and west phoenix where the have-nots like you live the school is populated mostly with the haves which suits you just fine though in your heart you know you’ll never really be friends with any of them and that your friends will be have-nots like your private-school friend but that’s okay because you really just want the association not to have to pretend that you’re a have though you and your private-school friend angle to get a pair of fake rolexes from mexico and hoover up all the polo shirts at the used-clothing store after your application is accepted for the fall why you failed to mention either your shadow day or your application to your girlfriend balloons as a glaring cruelty when she learns about it from someone else the confrontation one of the terrible moments of your life up to that point you have no answer fumbling with an excuse that you didn’t think you’d be accepted though you never doubted that for a minute looking good on paper will become an obsession your girlfriend is never fully assuaged even though you promise you never thought of it as a betrayal and you craft a good joke about dating a mormon girl while attending a catholic school which gets you both past it also you remind her about your newly minted driver’s license which means no more hitching rides to her house after school meaning you can visit more often which you promise to do and mean it at the time you utter it not realizing the true freedom a license and the used ford mustang ii your parents give you bestow the preacher on the sunday-morning tv show loses his job because he drugged and raped his secretary along with another preacher which completely validates and supports everything you think about religion same again when the other preacher gets caught with a prostitute months later and same again but this time about politics when the photo of the senator running for president and the model on his lap is everywhere everything is just a cloak for attracting people’s attention sometimes sexual attending the baptist church with your private-school friend a megachurch down the street from the private school mostly to use the phenomenal exercise and sports facilities in an effort to curb the toll nightly meals at the fish and chips are taking on your body surprised to see the rocker alice cooper in the front pew with his family his daughter’s baptism on the agenda of the program in your lap you really don’t have any idea who alice cooper is but know he’s someone famous who lives in phoenix but he just looks like a father and a husband in church after watching your friends graduate and leave high school behind forever you move a little farther west into a neighborhood being terrorized by a rapist the starlight rapist is the name named for the neighborhood but it sounds like an album and no one goes out after dark only men are walking dogs suddenly you and your private-school friend go for jogs because you highly doubt that anything will happen to you and you both openly hope to catch the pervert roaming the streets talking tough about the violence you’re capable of everyone listening to the new u2 album the first few bars of the first song everywhere like weather someone initiates a recall of the mormon car salesman governor and then the news becomes just about that the story advancing incrementally sometimes without any new facts just everyone’s anger and embarrassment especially when the governor digs in and doubles down like politicians always seem to just like the senator with the girl on his lap did when everyone said he was finished they’re always the last to know you trade the ford mustang ii in on a midnight blue volkswagen rabbit a wolfsburg edition which just means the color and seat covers are different but feels important for the start of your new school akin to owning a nagel painting your parents are upset because the mustang ii was almost paid off but you can’t go to a fancy prep school in a mustang ii you and your private-school friend get vanity plates too yours is my hare and his is beemer for obvious reasons your junior year starts and it’s like moving again nothing that happened before really happened or is relevant and everything is in the now saying the private school’s name perks every listener’s ears and for maybe the first time in your life you feel the benefit of exclusivity membership in a club you want to belong to but know you probably don’t and never will your grades were good enough to get in but only because the public school was easy and probably only really because your teachers wrote stellar recommendations but the private school is hard harder than you anticipated and then because you live on the west side of phoenix and not the east you don’t really enjoy the social aspect of your new peer group certainly not the company of the girls who attend the all-girls private school adjacent to yours no one has heard of the area where you live and because you didn’t go to any of the same middle or junior schools as the other students and because your family doesn’t know any of the other families you’re marked as an outsider from day one and you take note of the fact knowing it’ll come into play for the rest of your life but rather than be daunted by it you just let it go you aren’t even sure what it is you hoped to gain by becoming friends with rich kids you don’t need a loan for chrissakes and they have no idea how or why they’re rich they just enjoy the designation even the son of one of the phoenix 40 a list of the rich and powerful in town who offers to sell you some cocaine at lunch somewhere in texas a baby falls through the tiny opening of an abandoned well and for two days the television documents the rescue the baby miraculously okay when she’s pulled free your english teacher the one who kisses the ass of the kid whose father is a famous golfer and the other kid whose father is a state politician and has a terribly lame joke about meeting his wife she was a stockbroker and he was looking to invest and the joke is he went in looking for stocks and came out with a bond assigns the great gatsby and you devour it thinking it’s a book about you astonished by the similarities between your story and jay gatsby’s and you become convinced that your girlfriend is daisy at least narratively and you adopt the attitude that your love for each other is doomed especially as you seem to be spending less and less time together owing to your commute downtown and then your racing back west to work your paycheck suddenly suffering the heavy tax of keeping up appearances at the private school but also because you frankly spend time cruising the east side of phoenix a part of town previously unknown to you exploring the roads lined with expensive homes even wending to the top of camelback mountain where the priciest homes of all are perched and also the biltmore area with its boutique shops and exclusive restaurants and the difference between this world and yours solidifies all of it bifurcated by the private school that resides geographically between the two and maybe not just geographically just like the two eggs in gatsby though you start to think less of jay gatsby and more about f scott fitzgerald famous and rich and then broke and forgotten in the same lifetime but immortal in death and that seems more desirable than money something to really strive for but the how is too hard to parse and you drop it until you’re watching the credits roll on the midnight showing of less than zero and see that the movie which you consider powerful for its examination of the importance of loyal friendships is based on a novel and later you do a little sniffing around the phoenix public library and learn that the author is more like fitzgerald than not and maybe that’s the blueprint you read the author’s second book which isn’t as well received as the first just like fitzgerald and it’s about the doings of kids at a college in the woods of vermont and you truthfully can’t make much of it but the striking difference between the author photos of the first two books is something to note the party scenes in the book exceed anything you experience hanging out with your graduated high school friends in their new digs in tempe the college town built up around arizona state university one friend living in a dorm with beer bottle caps pressed into the ceiling of the hall so many they gleam like a metallic rainbow and the other moving into a newly built pink stucco apartment complex across the street from campus for students only miles better than the other apartment complexes which are really just old cinder-block motels repainted and repainted all with crumbling swimming pools ringed with coeds catching rays it’s quickly clear that all the cool kids will be living at the new complex the rental application asks for fraternity affiliation so rival frat members aren’t accidentally booked into the same four-person apartment the complex deciding who will live with whom the only drawback but no one seems to mind for access to the sand volleyball court and the sparkling pool but really for the weekend parties so legendary that kids at your new private school have heard of them the apartments are identically furnished so that while the locations of the parties are different each weekend the parties have the feel of having picked up where the other ones left off all of the faces nameless to you and to everyone you think but no one cares you first hear about the u2 concerts at sun devil stadium at one of these parties and the notion that the tickets are only five dollars seems like drunken rambling but radio stations all over town start broadcasting that the band will play two shows on consecutive days to film a documentary and to ensure the stadium is full both nights all tickets are only five dollars word is celebrities from hollywood are driving through the desert in their limos to attend and you and your private-school friend score some tickets excited at the prospect even if the seats are terrible all the way up toward the top of the bowl some kids have tickets for both nights which you find slightly annoying but you also wish you could go both times but when you’re actually at the show you’re distracted by the murder of the owner of the fish and chips two nights prior someone knocking on his door while he was sitting down to dinner in his apartment the owner always lived frugally even though his chain of fish and chips was successful and mostly all-cash operations and while the apartment where he lived was in a better part of town he was still shot point blank through the chest when he opened the door his dinner still cooling on the table and in the days after leading up to christmas it becomes known that the killer was after the sack of silver coins commemorating the fish and chips’ fortieth anniversary the owner kept in his closet the local pawn shops are put on alert and just like in the movies the killer tries to pawn the coins and is arrested and revealed to be the investigator hired by the insurance company the fish and chips owner had applied to for better rates the recall election of the car salesman governor is set and your private-school classmate’s dad who is a congressman agrees to run though before the election can happen the car salesman governor is indicted for this and that and removed as governor you actually like the classmate he was the kid who sat in front of you on your shadow day way back when and he actually spoke to you unlike the others and you identified him as an all-right guy right off though you never really became friends with him or the kid running for student government who gave his campaign speech in the gymnasium and listed one of his hobbies as being an avid beaver hunter and everyone shrieked ending the kid’s candidacy and earning him a week’s suspension but also a bit of legend which far outweighed the punishment though not so for the senior who appeared on camera during a news investigation about boondockers in the desert kids gathering with illegally purloined alcohol and then scattering drunk and whatever else behind the wheels of their cars the senior agreeing to be interviewed on camera and telling the reporter that nothing could stop them from partying which although it was probably true did abruptly end his studies at the private school when he was expelled as not representative of the school’s student body you have more pressing concerns though as you realize your relationship with your high school girlfriend has completely crumbled you never see each other there aren’t enough hours but also maybe you’re just a little more interested in your reincarnation as a private-school student the part-time job at the law firm down the street from the private school another piece of the new puzzle the idea of quitting the filthy fish and chips job the ultimate goal but for now you must work both especially since you traded in the new volkswagen you’ve hardly made any payments on for a red nissan pulsar nx with t-tops and a vanity plate that reads o2b yng taking on an outrageous monthly car payment but appearances are becoming more important every day exhausting as it can be the two lives being lived simultaneously and so you initiate the breakup with your high school girlfriend in a cowardly way by writing a letter and asking her to meet you a month later to give everyone time to think about everything and when the month is over you’re kind of surprised that she shows up at the time and place you suggested but the surprise quickly turns to chagrin when you realize she’s rightly been simmering for a month and pulls out her own letter and reads it to you cataloging all your sins and drops it at your feet you knowing you deserve every word but the devastation is sudden and uncontrollable and you can barely remember driving the freeway back home your old friend who looks like anthony michael hall attempting to flag you down from his front yard as you turn onto your street but you don’t want him to see you that way not knowing it’s your last chance to talk with him never knowing what he wanted to say to you that day or why he shot himself months later his parents quietly moving back to colorado you are excused from classes to attend a seminar on teen suicide held at the convention center and your friend thinks it’s a great ruse for getting out of class and tags along so the experience becomes a goof and not the chance to heal or at least to be a little less bewildered your private-school friend has a friend who lives in rancho palos verdes outside of los angeles and you both bomb through the desert to the cool foggy shores of the rich suburb your friend’s friend is a nationally ranked motocross racer who tours the country on his sponsor’s dime which is in your mind pretty legendary except you don’t care anything about motocross but traveling here and there to perform before adoring crowds as a teenager engenders some jealousy but the motocross racer is a cool guy and he takes you and your private-school friend to a couple of parties sneaks you into the local yacht club though you get caught and escorted out the ocean air filling your desert-dried lungs hey there’s a nude beach nearby the motocross friend says and you park above overlooking the beach but it’s the opposite of what you hoped for just families frolicking in the surf without any clothes a bummer for sure but you’re perked up by the motocross racer’s saying that lyle alzado lives in his neighborhood and as you pass in front of the palatial white estate behind a tall iron gate the distance between where you are and where you’ve been feels oceanic and it makes you a little sad to think of your sixth-grade self penning the unanswered fan letter and you think maybe it would be funny to ring the doorbell and bring it up with alzado who has retired from football to become an actor but who will really become famous a few years later when he dies from a brain tumor he claims was brought on by his steroid use but you don’t that fall your history teacher wants everyone to volunteer for a political campaign during the current election cycle the incumbent democratic candidate for senator’s office across the street from campus the obvious choice but just to be contrary you answer an ad for the republican challenger someone you’ve never heard of a financial planner of some kind who hasn’t a prayer of winning and when you report to the financial planner’s house in the gated biltmore estates you learn the campaign team is just you and the financial planner’s son who has dropped out of the university of arizona and put his band’s music on hold to work on his father’s campaign the mission that day is to put up campaign billboards but the posthole digger is impotent against the hard desert floor and you don’t get one sign up the incumbent wins by a couple of hundred thousand votes and you feel no way about it not like you did in the mock vote for president in the fourth grade when you were sure carter would win and woke up to the complete opposite the credit for working on the financial planner’s campaign can’t offset the reality of your college algebra teacher holding you after to tell you that you are failing and might not graduate in the spring you beg for another chance and he says there are two jaime clarkes which one will show up and you promise the right one even though he never does and you’re ultimately busted down to a lower-level math class that you almost don’t pass though you get an a in your christian service class which has you volunteering at the children’s crisis nursery where kids are taken when the police remove them from their homes for whatever reason the popular volunteer spot is the state mental institution the stories of all the loonies acted out back on campus to slack jaws and disbelief and mocking laughter but you know you won’t last a day there and so the children’s crisis nursery it is just playing with kids during your shift and they’re just kids and love having fun and it’s sad only when you remember the high chain-link fence around the building and the orders not to let any parents who might be wailing outside in to see their kids the investigator for the insurance company who murdered the owner of the fish and chips goes on trial and the schedule is arranged so that you and your private-school friend can attend along with some other employees the murderer looks like someone’s grandfather the windowless courtroom antiseptic and overly acoustic and simply boring there’s no doubt the guy did it the procedure is just to string together the narrative in a cohesive way so that everyone can put the matter behind them before christmas the year punctuated by news that one of the popular wrestlers back at your old public school has asked your ex-girlfriend out to the christmas formal and blind with jealousy you undertake a successful campaign to win her back which is a win you needed everyone needs a win it seems not just your new private-school friend who is living in his own apartment off the freeway hiding from his deranged father but also the woman and her young daughter living in the economy housing next door to the new fish and chips location you transfer to when you and your private-school friend have a falling out over your going back with your high school girlfriend the private-school friend annoyed to lose you as part of a recent foursome with two vietnamese girls you’ve been spending quality time with you just as a wingman but you put the kibosh on the whole thing which sends your private-school friend to the moon and you don’t speak ever again necessitating the transfer to the new location where you get your new private-school friend a job the new private-school friend’s deranged father learns he’s working there and shows up waving a gun on the sidewalk you roll the metal window guards down and cower by the fry cookers waiting for the police who come and your new private-school friend watches while his father is placed in the back of a squad car the woman and her young daughter ask you about it later they weren’t home when it happened and you shrug even though you were for a moment fearful and change the subject and ask them if they have their christmas tree yet and the mother says it’s either the tree or something to put under it which guts you and you play santa and buy a big tree with lots of ornaments and tinsel and surprise the woman and her daughter who seem embarrassed and then you are too when the tree won’t fit easily into the tiny apartment the awkwardness increased when the little girl shows off the christmas tree hanging on the wall made from toilet paper tubes and cotton balls the last time you see either of them because they quit coming around a serial killer everyone describes as handsome is executed in florida you and your high school girlfriend easily fall back into the old routine of never seeing each other especially as you start spending more and more of your free time with your old public-school friends out in tempe hatching a plan to move in with them in the summer after your high school graduation a plan you’re up front about with your high school girlfriend but it’s theoretical and besides she’s never been to your house or met your parents so what does it really matter the relationship is kept within the confines of the school you no longer attend and her front room which you frequent less and less and church dances different from the rave you attend at an old warehouse in downtown phoenix with adults you don’t know your college friend procuring the address the streets dark and crime-ridden so you slip out to move your car under a streetlight and when you return you see a large black man dancing naked and when your eyes adjust you see others are naked too and your friend grabs you and says it’s time to go the actor who played the older brother on diff’rent strokes is arrested for shooting someone in a drug den in south central los angeles the president or whatever of iran puts a bounty on a writer you’ve never heard of right around the time you start to think more about the author of the book that the movie you liked was based on and you crank out a handful of short stories some only a few pages long and show them to no one even though you’d like to publish them as a book the last time you wrote something your fifth-grade teacher typed it up for you offering editorial suggestions and even helping you send it off to publishers in new york city most of them not responding but a few sending along form rejections the seriousness of the endeavor left an impression on you writing seemed like something that impressed adults but so did a million things one story you wrote a humorous piece for your high school girlfriend full of puns about having sex with her is found by her mother and you’re not allowed to see her for a period of time even though you get an audition with the mother to plead that the story is fiction nothing but which seems to matter not the commercial pepsi paid madonna millions to make debuts during the cosby show but the next day the video madonna made for her song like a prayer debuts and the two side by side are a study in extreme contrasts suddenly christians are supposedly not drinking pepsi you talk the night manager of the fish and chips into cosigning for a car phone for your new ride you wouldn’t dare ask your own parents and tread on the freewill parenting plus you know they’d say no the car phone is installed and you pretend to be talking on it whenever you pull in and out of the parking lot of the private school even letting a kid use it at recess the yellow-lit buttons lighting up with a satisfying beep when you turn the key in the ignition you’re not sure if it’s the phone or not but you inch into another group of private-school friends and when you’re invited by the kid with the black mercedes to ditch and go see president reagan at arizona state university you agree and zip to tempe with the others in the black mercedes which you note has a car phone too a point you bring up casually you learn the others are all in a young republicans club which doesn’t interest you until you learn it meets at the house of one of the girls at the neighboring private school and you agree to join them though you forget about it completely when you hatch a plan to join the mormon church in order to enliven the same stale route your relationship with your high school girlfriend is headed down unsure how else to keep the relationship going and also you have the sense that you’ll probably get married or at least it’ll come up soon because mormon girls start talking about marriage at a very young age and you know you can’t marry her unless you’re mormon and so the math works out even though math is not your strong suit but you never admit it is a stunt even when your high school girlfriend prompts you to do so when you start attending church regularly on sundays and again when you arrange for meetings with the missionaries in her cousin’s house mostly so your parents won’t find out you don’t tell your friends either and the enormity of the situation doesn’t hit until you’re wet behind the ears having been dunked into the baptismal waters standing at the pulpit in front of the crowd of mormon friends and their families smiling up at you during the command performance you give the attention welcome and familiar but the words coming out of your mouth invented for the occasion forgotten before they’re uttered shortly thereafter a terrible thing happens to a jogger in central park in new york city which is all the news can talk about until it comes out that the actor rob lowe is in a sex tape everyone wants to see but no one has any idea how you hardly have time to practice your new mormonism before you graduate and move into the tiny converted office in the one-bedroom apartment of your old public-school friend who ripped up the carpets without the landlord’s consent and spray-painted the concrete floor black the summer filled with parties put on by the foreign exchange club and you heartily attend you feel like a fish out of water too just like the college-aged foreigners far from home but you don’t find kinship at these parties mostly because the foreigners close ranks and you don’t blame them knowing it’s for their own protection a television actress from a show you’ve never heard of is murdered on her doorstep in los angeles by a crazed fan from tucson and the papers drop the tidbit that the actress became the object of the crazy’s obsession when his first obsession the girl from back east who wrote the letter to the russian president died in that small plane crash and it seems weird to share an obsession with a crazy person and you’ve never considered that the false intimacy celebrity creates could be dangerous two brothers in beverly hills murder their parents with shotguns in the family tv room and try to convince the police that it’s a mob hit related to their record producer father’s business but the police don’t buy it and the brothers are ultimately arrested you put the fish and chips behind you for good when you accept a job as a runner for american continental corporation the parent company of lincoln savings and loan in california run by the already notorious charles keating jr who made national headlines when he tried to buy influence with a cadre of u.s. senators the clip of the question to charlie about whether or not he hoped to be buying influence and charlie’s answer that he certainly hoped so a sound bite the press loves also the papers can’t get enough of charlie or his lavish lifestyle his beautiful secretaries are referred to as charlie’s angels and he lives in a mansion on the same property as his daughter and her husband parents of a kid who attends the same private school you barely graduated from the kid a nationally ranked swimmer and future olympian your job as a runner is to handle the phone calls and open the mail and rotate the company’s fleet of mercedeses through the car wash and stock the supply rooms and fetch the catered lunches for the three floors of lawyers all working on the giant bankruptcy case charlie filed to protect himself and his assets from the federal government which has accused him of looting lincoln like it was his personal piggy bank not even the fall of the berlin wall or the fact that the u.s. government has noriega holed up in the vatican or that the mayor of washington dc is arrested for smoking crack or the pictures of the oil-drenched wildlife in alaska the result of the exxon valdez oil spill can distract the local headlines from charlie and his ongoing battle against the government old stories about charlie taking on larry flynt the publisher of the porn magazine hustler back when charlie was an antismut crusading prosecutor in his native cincinnati as well as newer stories about his calling former p.o.w. and arizona senator john mccain a wimp for not standing up to bank regulators on his behalf or the fact that all of the officers of american continental are related to charlie either by birth or by marriage a news truck is always parked out on the sidewalk in front of the american continental offices on camelback road one time they pull into the driveway and you are sent to ask them politely off the property which they do but not before asking if they can interview you but even after only a month of working for charlie you are in the cult and the idea repels you there’s some pleasure in denying the request charlie is summoned to washington to testify before a committee about lincoln savings and loan and when he takes the fifth the news goes wild and the phones in the runners’ room light up the mail full of indictments and threats the one correspondent who faithfully sends a package every week with epithets and pictures of his father who lost everything when lincoln failed and took his own life the manila envelope like finding a rattlesnake in the mailbag every time it appears when you actually ask what it’s all about people shrug and say that maybe elderly investors in california were persuaded by lincoln employees to move their savings from safe and guaranteed but low-interest accounts to high-yield junk bonds so that charlie could then use the money to build the lavish phoenician hotel at the base of camelback mountain and for other purposes too the dispute seemingly is whether the investors were greedy or the bank employees were illegally aggressive and misleading no one will ever know the truth about that or the rumor that the government blocked a sale of lincoln that charlie had orchestrated which would’ve kept it from failing and from all those people losing their money you don’t see too much of charlie as his office is up camelback road at the phoenician but one day you arrive at the american continental offices and the parking lot is full of moving vans the caravan idling among the clamor and whispers of charlie’s back and you learn that the government has seized the phoenician and evicted charlie your sudden proximity to the boss is invigorating and when you discover a box of yellow buttons that proclaim i like charlie keating you wear them as part of your uniform even on errands like the daily court filings downtown and the airport runs for the cadre of lawyers from beverly hills charlie has hired picking them up on mondays and dropping them off on fridays the one lawyer the lead one telling you how much he regrets not following his first love and becoming a veterinarian which you doubt because of the rolex on the lead lawyer’s wrist you wear the button even when you’re not working like the party at one of charlie’s developer friends’ estate where the pips are performing and you notice local celebrities like the center for the phoenix suns and the guy who reviews movies on television people look at you askance but in your heart of hearts you’re doing it for the attention you couldn’t care less about charlie or his problems but you like the association except when your high school girlfriend’s mother bans you from the house because of your employment but by then you’re skipping a lot of classes you camped out overnight to sign up for at the registrar’s office your first college semester a nonevent and you’re seeing even less of your high school girlfriend the ruse of attending church on sundays slipping too the whole enterprise coming apart though you can’t see it just yet and when you take stock you apply the corrections suddenly finding your way to class and bombing back and forth between your apartment in tempe and the west side where you find places to meet your high school girlfriend outside of her house adjusting your shift at american continental to accommodate both always in transit and all facets of your life seem to be in a state of equilibrium until you wake up in time to see the metal bumper of the rusted suburban stopped at a red light you’ve somehow successfully driven off the freeway exit from another crosstown trip but you can’t apply the brakes in time and the nose of your sports car the one you still owe many monthly payments on wedges under the metal bumper throwing you against your seat belt as the front of your car disappears the windshield cracking but the radio still blaring as you jump out and wait on the sidewalk to see what comes next that it’s saturday night and your roommate can’t be reached by the emergency room to come pick you up when you’re diagnosed as being fine just a little shaken up and a lot sore is of less importance than the fact that your father warned you to renew your car insurance the previous friday so it didn’t expire and it isn’t until you’re without it that you realize your car was the most important piece of the life you were living and without it everything is in doubt you can’t get to work without catching two buses for a two-hour ride each way forget about trips to the west side to visit your high school girlfriend and the punch line is that without insurance you owe the total outstanding amount of your car loan immediately the answer to the vexing problem appears in the classified ads of the campus newspaper an ad about striking it rich working on a fish boat in alaska but the ad is really just to sell you a directory of 800 numbers for ships and canneries and you have to do the legwork but you plunk down the twenty bucks anyway and start making the long-distance calls from the switchboard at american continental after everyone else has left for the day all the jobs are taken have been promised since early in the semester but then one offers to hire you if you can be at sky harbor airport that night a ticket will be waiting for you at the counter and in a desperate few hours you call your high school girlfriend to tell her that you’re leaving and have one of your fellow runners drive you to your apartment to pack a bag and then to a barbershop to have your head shaved quitting your job without notice your bewildered family and high school girlfriend meeting you at the airport that night when you say good-bye you have no idea when you’ll return the first leg of the flight to salt lake city is like hurtling through a decompression chamber the stress of your recent problems releasing so that you fall into a deep sleep on the second leg from salt lake to anchorage alaska and with some solid sleep you realize that you might’ve made a huge mistake as you climb aboard the third leg the puddle jumper that will ferry you from anchorage to dutch harbor the village in the aleutian islands where your boat awaits the propellers on the puddle jumper are so loud you can’t think and the cabin is cold and you try to stay focused on all the money you’ll make enough to buy back things as they were the landing strip at the airport in dutch harbor is barely that the terminal not much more than a shack and the two norwegian fishermen sent by the ship to pick you up don’t speak english so your panic-induced pantomime about a tragedy back home and how you must return immediately falls untranslated and after you receive the news that your bag hasn’t come through you squeeze between the fishermen on the bench of the old ford pickup truck and cruise the harbor of ships gearing up for the sea the ships becoming smaller and smaller as you go until you reach yours the smallest among them and you’re awarded a matching blue tracksuit with the words dutch harbor alaska stenciled in yellow down the right leg as clothes until your bag can be found you’re instructed to help load the supplies stacked on the dock for the journey men of substance both fictional like jay gatsby and real like charlie keating have about them the myth of the self-made man and you buck in under this pretense the money earned over the summer will be more than you’ve ever made in your life and you’ll use it as seed money to reinvent yourself when you return to phoenix a dream that is quickly deferred when the ship’s captain tells you your job is not on the line where cutters who gut the day’s catch are entitled to 1 percent of the haul each time the boat docks but in the kitchen as the cook’s assistant and at an hourly wage significantly below what charlie keating was paying you the wood-paneled boat quickly becomes a floating tomb and you spend the first two days at sea in the cabin you share with the government inspector whose job it is to ensure that the boat is catching only the type of fish each season allows the windowless cabin enveloped in a fetid stench finally the captain appears in the swaying doorway to tell you that you need to start contributing and you spend all day in the galley working with the cook who plays the appliances tightly strapped to the counter like a maestro though the meals are marginally better than prison food albeit more plentiful you’re surprised to learn that you’re on trash duty which consists of grabbing up all the bags of trash and heaving them over the side of the boat the captain and crew sit at a wooden table on one side of the kitchen and the rest of you at another under the television wired to an old vhs machine the only two movies are teen wolf too and a mob movie with sean connery and dustin hoffman and matthew broderick and without wondering why and how the movies found their way on board you watch them in a heavy rotation during the downtime between meals when the cook rests in his cabin you run your hand over your shaven scalp to feel your hair growing back incrementally one of the cutters shatters the afternoon routine by appearing with a hook from one of the fishing nets caught in his ear a trickle of blood running into his yellow raincoat he asks you if you can pull the hook out and you tell him you don’t think you can and he soldiers on to find someone who can help it quickly becomes apparent that you’re to be relegated to the kitchen for the entire summer and when the captain tells you that you are also in charge of cleaning the bathrooms you haul in the power hose used to clean the fish guts off the line and douse the bathroom causing the drain to back up the captain livid a story you try to relay to your high school girlfriend on the ten-dollar-a-minute ship-to-shore phone calls that will come out of your paycheck along with the tracksuit you’ve been wearing day and night and when your high school girlfriend says maybe it’s better if you stay for the entire summer you jump ship the moment the boat docks after two weeks at sea spending five of your last dollars on a cab ride from the ship to the airport leafing through a discarded people magazine about marlon brando’s son murdering his sister’s boyfriend while your father tries to get you a ticket on the last plane back to civilization which he does you’re back home for a week or so before anyone knows you’ve returned and in your solitude you hit the books and do extensive research on your thesis that the mormon religion is completely made up by white men and stumble across a documentary called the god makers that proves the salient points of your argument armed with it you show up on your high school girlfriend’s doorstep the look of surprise on her face the first clue that you are no longer welcome in her life but she lets you in and you present your case the look of surprise changing to a look of horror the god makers a known enemy propaganda and when you produce it begging her to watch it she asks you to leave and you do hearing through friends that she leaves that summer for an early start on her college career at brigham young university and you’re overcome with the idea that you’ll never see her again you ask for and get your job with charlie keating back some just assuming you were away on a two-week vacation though you’re more weary than when you left the rest of the summer filled with news of the persian gulf war and worry among your friends about what will happen if the draft is reinstated some talk about fleeing to canada but it doesn’t come to that the actor who played the older brother on diff’rent strokes is acquitted on manslaughter charges for the shooting in the drug den in south central los angeles you try to focus on your schoolwork as the new semester starts but just as school begins you get interested in writing television scripts and ferret out the advice that you should take a favorite tv show and write an original script on spec to use as a calling card the idea of moving to california to write for television immensely appealing you send away for a sample script for 21 jump street and then work on your own about a white supremacist modeled on a recent local news item involving a high school kid and his plans to kill minorities in churches and at schools which would be a perfect case for an episode of 21 jump street but the idea stalls on the page you take charlie keating to the airport in his custom mercedes so he can fly to los angeles and enter a plea in answer to the charges the state of california have made against him with regard to the failure of lincoln savings and loan with instructions to pick him up later in the day but you never see him again when the judge in california surprises him with a five-million-dollar bail he can’t pay the controversial rap group 2 live crew is tried and acquitted on obscenity charges in florida stemming from a concert performance secretly recorded by two undercover police officers a few days before they’re acquitted a federal judge declares their best-selling album obscene the government installs a trustee at american continental and a wave of charlie loyalists quit but you sense opportunity and agree to be one of the few runners who stay on the chaos at work is mirrored in the chaos of the atmosphere surrounding the national football league’s unprecedented rescinding of the super bowl they previously awarded tempe when arizona voters reject an initiative to create a martin luther king jr holiday the loss of the super bowl means the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars and also black entertainers have called for a boycott of the state which loses more money the shadow of the used-car salesman governor lingering over the gubernatorial election that november which is billed as a fresh start but under the new laws meant to prevent a repeat of the election of the used-car salesman without a majority neither of the two new candidates receives a majority and a runoff election is scheduled for the spring the mayor in washington dc who got caught smoking crack in a hotel room and who has remained mayor all through his trial even running for reelection is sentenced to six months in prison a few days before the election which he loses the musical group milli vanilli are outed as lip-synchers and stripped of their grammy award which causes the kind of outrage found hardly anywhere else the date on the calendar when your ex-girlfriend returns from college for christmas break looms and when she readily agrees to see you you interpret that to mean that she’s missed you as much as you have her but when you go into the windup of your apology for everything you’ve done and say words meant as a means to an end she so easily accepts them that you’re taken aback and when she receives a phone call as if the moment is scripted her whispering into the phone it reveals the extent to which she’s moved on from you and without explaining the interruption she lets you finish ghosts of your high school romance chase you away as you make a pleasant good-bye knowing you’ll never ever see her again there’s no one to share your pain with in that your parents and brothers never really knew her and your college friends have long forsaken your collective public school past for new adventures which you attempt to do by moving into the pink stucco apartment complex across the street from campus so notorious for partying everyone watching the war on television it looks like a video game you played as a kid you apply the same nonchalance to the start of the spring semester going stretches without showing up for class but making sure to attend the days of quizzes and tests your new volunteer job at the campus safety escort service keeps you on campus a little more you think it might be a good way to meet women since the girls who turn up at parties at your apartment complex are primarily interested in fraternity guys but you mainly escort married women to their cars after dark sometimes on foot and sometimes in a golf cart you and the other escorts race around campus in during downtime you continue to take two buses each way to your job working for the government trustee installed to wind down american continental and sell its assets for the benefit of its creditors your eyesight goes a little and you need glasses and even though you can’t afford them you purchase a pair from the little optique in tempe because the girl behind the counter is cute she seems like she’s flirting with you who can tell but on the chance that she might be you ask all the women you work with at american continental to vouch for you by writing the girl a note about you and how she should say yes when you ask her out you collect the notes and have them delivered and then call the girl seems genuinely flattered though she claims she has a boyfriend but agrees to a friend date you borrow your father’s pickup for the date which is just dinner at chili’s which goes okay you don’t seem to have too much in common except your stunt and on the way to drop her back home you drive over a median you don’t see because you suddenly realize you probably shouldn’t be driving at night which freaks the girl out a little even though you make a small joke about adjusting the glasses you bought from her saying good night is the last time you’ll see her you know the video for madonna’s new song is banned from mtv and the guy on nightline asks her if she’ll make even more money from the song now that it’s banned madonna says yeah so what the harvard-educated businessman wins 2 percent above 50 in the runoff election and becomes governor but is immediately embroiled in litigation over his involvement with a different savings and loan from the one charlie owned the girl who played the sister on diff’rent strokes is caught robbing a video store in vegas where she is living and working at a dry cleaner’s a girl at one of the parties at your apartment complex mistakenly dives into the shallow end when she’s drunk and comes up with a bloody face and no one seems to know what to do everyone too drunk to drive and you would offer but you don’t have a car the girl from new jersey who lives upstairs from you and who you think maybe likes you from the road trip you made to mexico with her and her friends offers to drive but the bloodied girl says she’s fine and disappears bret easton ellis the author of less than zero the book that the movie you liked as a teenager was based on publishes a new book about a stockbroker who is also a serial killer and his name is all at once everywhere his handsome photo plastered all over the newspaper and in magazines something about his original publisher canceling the book over the violence and another publisher quickly cashing in on the controversy which brings the author a slew of death threats and his fame reignites your long-buried interest in becoming a writer everyone watches the video tape of the rodney king beating on television you are haunted by the image of the famous guitarist’s toddler son falling to his death out an open window in new york a high school teacher in new hampshire is found guilty of ordering one of her students who is also her teenage lover to murder her husband warren beatty musing about how madonna doesn’t exist if there’s no camera the kid from the partridge family who is a radio dj in phoenix is found cowering in his apartment closet when the police come to arrest him for beating up a transvestite prostitute word is gangs from los angeles are infiltrating phoenix and a series of shootings on the freeways seems to confirm the fact two shootings in two weeks and then a third a pregnant woman rumor is gangbangers are driving around at night with their lights off and if you flash them to let them know they come after you so no one flashes anyone after twenty years of marriage your parents decide to divorce both of them young enough for a second act boxer mike tyson is arrested for raping a beauty queen in a hotel room a man running down the street in milwaukee with a handcuff on one arm flags down police and he leads them to the apartment of the man who tried to hold him against his will and the officers find an apartment full of horrors you stop listening at the detail of four decapitated heads you stare at the photo of bennington college the school in a small town in vermont that bret easton ellis attended in the library’s copy of peterson’s guide to colleges and universities the tuition is outrageous it’s one of the most expensive schools in the country and you become obsessed with transferring there the gradeless curriculum the answer to your drowning at a public university and when you ask your latin teacher for a letter of recommendation she reminds you that you’re barely passing her class that summer pee-wee herman is arrested for masturbating in an adult theater in florida where he’s been visiting his parents and the news explodes across all forms of media pee-wee goes into hiding his career ruined for what some deem hypocritical reasons but the jokes are funny unlike the joke made by the supreme court nominee about his coke can the television endlessly fascinated with the testimony of his former subordinate who claims she was sexually harassed by the nominee some people incredulous that the subordinate followed the nominee from job post to job post even after being harassed but she passes a lie detector and the nominee doesn’t want to take one and on and on magic johnson arranges a press conference to announce that he is hiv positive and will retire from basketball immediately and as his team the lakers are perennial tormentors of the hometown phoenix suns some fans are not as compassionate as they could be magic goes on his friend arsenio hall’s late-night show to assure everyone he is heterosexual and not gay which gets a standing ovation from the crowd lasting minutes you make the application to bennington college with the same conviction you’re always able to muster when you want something to happen and you’re momentarily elated when someone from the admissions office calls to request an interview which is the next step but even before you hang up you know you can’t afford the flight to and from vermont especially because of the monthly payments for the car you’ll never drive again and you reluctantly tell admissions this and they arrange for you to interview with a local alum a woman who is a doctor in downtown phoenix you make an appointment with her and then don’t keep it and figure that’s that a girl who works with your college friend shows up at a party at your apartment and while she likes your friend he has a girlfriend and so he wants to introduce her to you and you hit it off immediately the fact that she’s still in high school no big deal at least to you but maybe a little bit to her parents when you turn up at her house in scottsdale driving the car your parents bought at an auction of old rental cars you start spending all your time with your new high school girlfriend meeting her friends who are also in high school the kick of being the oldest in the group refreshing your outlook more than it should your new high school girlfriend wants to be a writer too and that feels like a real connection one you’ve never had before but you try not to make too much out of it one of the kennedy relatives goes on trial for raping a woman at the family compound in florida the movie about jfk’s assassination fires everyone’s imagination especially those who have been living with so many unanswered questions for so long and for you and your friends it becomes the gospel truth about what happened though others are quick to point out that it’s simply making an entertainment out of history but it’s a compelling and persuasive argument about the events from so long ago but also why would all those famous people in the film agree to portray such historical inaccuracies their celebrity lends a powerful credibility to the whole thing and you check out every book in the phoenix public library about marilyn monroe and her death hoping to unearth some previously ignored kernel of information that solves the mystery surrounding her demise but even though you keep the books long past their due date you don’t do more than leaf through them looking at the pictures everyone watching a tv show on mtv called the real world but you don’t see much tv and don’t have one when you move into the cinder-block studio apartment in the shadow of the pink stucco complex where you wasted time at so many parties none of the faces becoming friends or names you can remember there’s a tv in the break room at american continental an old back-projection big screen that you fire up during your lunch and where you learn about an extramarital affair committed by the democratic candidate for president the candidate going on 60 minutes with his wife to do damage control and also the boxer-who-raped-the-beauty-queen’s trial and quick conviction the rich texan with the funny name and funny voice who announces his bid for the presidency on a nightly cable talk show even though he doesn’t belong to either of the two traditional parties an allegedly new narrative some people get excited about but what little you know about politics doubts the texan is doing more than grandstanding especially when his candidacy is dependent on volunteers getting him on the ballot in every state which is a pretty good gimmick you have to admit the tennis player who contracted aids from a blood transfusion driving home after a late night with your new high school girlfriend it comes across the radio that the comedian sam kinison has been killed driving to las vegas just a few days after his wedding ceremony and it comes out later that a kid swerved across the lane and killed him and there’s a rumor that the kid offers up his autograph for anyone who wants it not out of spite but because of his newfound fame charlie keating is sentenced by the state of california to ten years in prison and everyone says it’s not a country-club prison but a real prison and he still has the feds to deal with but no one at american continental openly discusses charlie anymore especially the southern lawyer whose apprentice you’ve become you don’t realize until much later how much you counted on becoming charlie keating’s apprentice at least in terms of a meteoric rise but also because of the tales of charlie’s previous lieutenants all of them making six figures a year to do charlie’s bidding but all gone before you were hired the southern lawyer is much more grounded and less egomaniacal than charlie certainly or any of the other lawyers you’ve encountered he takes an interest in your academic work and rides you about it until you admit that you’re not paying it the attention it deserves and you feel some shame about the fact for the first time all of american continental moves from its original compound on camelback road into half a floor of an office building a few blocks away and you agree to become the sole runner and switchboard operator so that the staff can be further downsized you also become a boy friday for the southern lawyer when he buys out of bankruptcy a mansion at the foot of camelback mountain formerly owned by a pair of nursing home administrators errands to home depot and letting contractors in to work you sometimes stay in the guesthouse on the property and you’re allowed to use the pool anytime you watch a little of los angeles burning on the tv news borrow the southern lawyer’s white mercedes given to him by american continental as one month’s pay to take your new high school girlfriend and her friends to the prom staying in a hotel in downtown tempe near the mormon church on the asu campus whose wooden sign you recently destroyed in a drunken rampage when you learned that your mormon ex-girlfriend was getting married that summer a teenage girl on long island shoots but doesn’t kill the wife of the guy who works on her car when she brings it in to his auto body shop the friend of the actor who played colonel hogan on one of your favorite shows as a kid hogan’s heroes is arrested for colonel hogan’s murder at an apartment complex in scottsdale the murder happening sometime in the late seventies long before you even started watching the show and you wonder at the complicit silence among the adults who knew that the actor had had his head bludgeoned in his sleep and possibly as a result of his sex life which included homemade pornographic movies and swinging and who knows what else the friend who is arrested all these years later was always the prime suspect and there’s doubt that the evidence will stand up but the news repeats all the salacious details for those not in the know the summer is mostly spent at the southern lawyer’s house running various errands and using the pool including some skinny-dipping with your new high school girlfriend and her friends the time you come over and the southern lawyer’s current girlfriend is sunbathing nude you sneak back out the way you came but not immediately you continue your work as a boy friday for the southern lawyer to earn some spending money the southern lawyer tells you to bring a copy of your latest work you wonder at the motor home idling on the recently paved circular driveway a large group gathered under the awning filling their plates with food a fleet of rental cars parked two deep rings the motor home a miniature race car is parked where the southern lawyer’s mercedes and land cruiser are normally parked and he motions you over and introduces you as the writer to someone who turns out to be the director of the film they’re making at the southern lawyer’s house the female lead a dark-haired woman in her thirties picks at a fruit salad while the male lead an englishman with a crew cut talks rabidly about the miniature race car he apparently brings with him on every location the director is not that interested in your writing it seems but he gives you his card telling the cast and crew five minutes while the southern lawyer excuses himself to make a phone call you follow the crowd up to the guesthouse which has been transformed into a movie set the sound guy having built a booth just outside the sliding glass doors inside a small camera track circles the queen-size bed the male lead motions for you to take a seat and asks you where you’re from he sounds like james bond or at least to you and you tell him you’re from montana originally the female lead brushes by in a red satin robe and you turn to the male lead to tell him a funny story about the mulching pit you built behind the guesthouse out of railroad ties but the male lead stands talking about his desire to travel to montana while he slips out of his clothes and it becomes obvious what kind of film they’re shooting in the guesthouse though you’re surprised by the elaborate production the female lead points at you and says that it’s a closed set and so you don’t see a thing searching the main house for the southern lawyer but he has for the moment disappeared as does the director’s card before you can send him some of your work which oddly you’re interested in following through on you promise yourself you’re going to spend more time on your classes this go around but your new high school girlfriend means a lot of late nights especially the ones where she sneaks out of her house and so your grades fall off a cliff immediately and are on life support the rest of the way just like your finances so you take a night job manning the desk of the campus law library helping people look up statutes but mostly just reshelving books pulled down by law students too absorbed to reshelve them you lay your hands on madonna’s sex book the moment it goes on sale at the local barnes & noble the large-format book with metal covers and spiral binding comparatively tame to what you know about madonna and you give the book to the southern lawyer who wants to give it to a conservative friend as a gag gift you hammer out a couple of short stories including one about a polygamist mormon and his three wives arizona voters approve a statewide holiday for martin luther king jr and are rewarded when the national football league awards the state the right to host the super bowl three years on the actor who played the older brother on diff’rent strokes is arrested when he’s pulled over by police who find drugs and a loaded gun the dream of becoming a writer finally trumps all else and you leave the aftermath of the collapse of charlie keating’s empire behind and tempe and arizona state university and your old high school girlfriend too and move ninety miles south to the university of arizona to finish your undergraduate degree in their creative writing program taking an apartment just off campus down park avenue which you think is funny you have no furniture no car hardly any money save for what’s left over in student loan aid after each semester’s tuition but the redbrick campus has a unifying effect and for the first time in your short academic career school becomes the main focus your new high school girlfriend visits a couple of times on the greyhound bus but you both sense that the relationship has run its course no hard feelings charlie keating is convicted again this time by the federal government michael jackson appears on oprah winfrey’s talk show and claims to have a skin disease and that he doesn’t bleach his skin like some claim a truck bomb explodes at the world trade center doesn’t do what it’s supposed to knock one building into the other but it does kill a handful of people the actor who played the older brother on diff’rent strokes is arrested for stabbing a guy renting a room from him when he tells the guy to quit yelling at his girlfriend but he’s later cleared when the stabbing turns out to be self-defense the little kid from diff’rent strokes everyone loved wins a lawsuit against his parents who squandered all the money he made the actor son of the famous martial artist is killed on a movie set when a blank is fired at him same as it was jon-erik hexum years before you aim to model your writing career primarily on bret easton ellis’s since he is a young and famous writer and you want that too so you begin work on your first novel called the vegetable king which loosely resembles a mash-up of fitzgerald’s the great gatsby and bret easton ellis’s american psycho the television in the student union plays the raid at the waco compound on a loop everyone gathered around as if it’s homework a tennis player is stabbed during a tournament and at first people assume it’s because of her nationality but really the stabber is just a fan obsessed with the player’s rival the campus literary magazine wants to publish your short story about the polygamist leaving a note on your door about it since you don’t have a phone tucson empties when summer arrives and you work eight hours a day on your novel sometimes treating yourself to the dollar movie on campus regardless of quality or to an hour in front of the television in the student union where you watch news unfold incrementally prince changes his name to a symbol and nobody knows what to call him the woman in beverly hills who is arrested for running a prostitution ring involving celebrity clients the white house lawyer whose body is found in a park dead from suicide something to do with the real estate scandal involving the president that no one seems to know the specifics of the boy whose father accuses michael jackson of molestation though it might just be a shakedown basketball superstar michael jordan’s father going missing his body turning up in a swamp a couple of weeks later the menendez brothers’ trial broadcast minute by minute on a cable channel the two dressed in colored sweaters to make them look not like the kind of kids who could level shotguns at their parents you also kill some of the summer at the free wine receptions at the poetry center which is just a little house on cherry street where you hear some great writers including a graduate fiction writer whose first story was published in esquire magazine because the esquire editor happened to be subbing in for the instructor who was his wife and the graduate student’s story happened to be up for workshop that day a lucky story that gives you great energy and hope and by the fall you have a finished version of your novel it takes a week to print it out though because you don’t have a printer and the monitors in the campus computer labs are tight about how many pages anyone can print at once so you put the different labs on a loop knowing when the monitors change posts so that you can print out a copy of the entire novel which you mail straight off to random house the biggest publisher and the one who publishes your idol every admirer is one part assassin you spend a lot of time wondering what random house thinks of your book while golfing a tennis ball into cups you’ve set up in your barren living room the golf clubs formerly belonged to your friend who looked like anthony michael hall and you were always meaning to return them and when you finally did after your friend shot himself in the head his mother said he’d want you to keep them even though what she was saying was that she didn’t want them in the house you’re tapped as the fiction editor for the campus literary magazine and in turn ask a girl in your creative writing class to be the coeditor and she agrees and you set to work on the slush pile trying to make fair judgments on the work submitted a job you come to appreciate as next to impossible though it doesn’t assuage your disappointment when a ups deliveryman shows up on your door with a package from random house you momentarily think contains a contract and a check why else would they send it ups but really just contains the copy of your manuscript and a letter saying thanks but no thanks the fibers from your ripping open the ups envelope catching in your carpet and without a vacuum cleaner you have no way to clean them up the actress winona ryder offers a large reward for the little girl from ryder’s hometown who is kidnapped from a slumber party your friend from maryland who is as much a fitzgerald fan as you tells you that river phoenix died outside a nightclub in hollywood owned by johnny depp and while there seems to be an insinuation in these facts it’s just a terribly sad thing that happened the girl in your apartment complex who tells you the dirty joke you don’t understand until much later has a copy of the rob lowe sex tape and shows it to you and after all the years of hearing about it and even the coy allusions to it in that movie rob lowe made as a comeback after the scandal the video of what happened in the hotel room at the democratic national convention in atlanta years previous is tame and a little boring the body of the little girl from winona ryder’s hometown who was kidnapped from a slumber party is found your friend the fitzgerald fan goes to the inaugural insomniyakathon with you twenty-four hours of readings at a bar in tucson which you consider a pretty genius gimmick not unlike the entire career of howard stern the dj in new york whose book sells out in a matter of hours with millions more sold thereafter the book signings like carnivals with people in costumes and it seems like stern will say just about anything but you sort of get that he’s doing it to do it and it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that it’s all an act but even more curiously the book seems to be a springboard to movies and television deals stern is on everyone’s lips the novelty of so many people who wouldn’t normally be reading books suddenly reading one seems only a mockery stern stages a pay-per-view new year’s eve special called the miss howard stern new year’s eve pageant where women do things like eat maggots and put plastic bags over their heads and while the special grosses a ton of money hollywood executives who have been considering stern for the job of replacing chevy chase as a late-night host change their minds and so too do movie executives interested in bringing some of stern’s ideas to the screen an olympic skater is attacked whacked in the knee and it turns out to be a hit ordered by her rival skater your application to be an intern at the university of arizona press is granted and your curiosity about the publishing side of writing brims and maybe they’ll even want to publish your novel but after a week it’s clear the press doesn’t publish books like yours and really doesn’t publish much fiction and while the different phases editorial layout cover art publicity are interesting the internship becomes a thing around your neck and you don’t get credit for the class when you don’t write the final paper about your experience as required radio personality howard stern announces his candidacy for the governor of new york madonna is a guest on david letterman’s show and her appearance has to be heavily edited to be shown diane sawyer is sitting in for your favorite news anchor peter jennings and the words coming out of her mouth on the television given to you by your parents cannot possibly be true but it’s all over all the other channels too the lead singer of the band nirvana is dead of a suicide in the room over the garage in his house and the facts and rumors and lies about the story consume everyone you know for days and weeks a woman sues the president claiming he sexually harassed her in a hotel room when he was governor of arkansas the issue of the campus literary magazine you helped edit comes out you and your coeditor agreeing to disagree about a postmodern story you want to include just to have one even though it’s subpar compared with some other realist fiction stories submitted something about the variety appealing to your nascent editorial sense rumor has it that kojak’s son is a student at the university of arizona and that his girlfriend tori spelling has been seen around tucson and that tori spelling’s castmate from 90210 jennie garth is from phoenix which matters to devotees of the show you’ve never seen it though you know all of the characters’ names the rumor that you just need to take the university’s math placement test in order to have a score of some kind to then be admitted to math x a class for artists and writers that satisfies the university’s math requirement for graduation turns out not to be true a fact you learn only after you’ve breezed in and out of the test penciling in random answers based on your test score you won’t be graduating that december as planned because you need two years of math classes to reach the class you need for credit the test score locking you in also you’re so derelict about your studies that while you know you need latin 202 to complete your foreign-language credit you fail to see the obvious that it’s only offered in the spring and not between now and when you’re supposed to graduate so you make sure you’re the first to sign up for the summer class even though the lease on your apartment is up at the end of may you intended to go back to phoenix for the fall semester arranging all your classes on tuesdays and thursdays with the idea of attending just on tuesdays to save the money you don’t have for an apartment but the more pressing problem is the college algebra class there’s really no point in taking the summer latin class if you can’t solve the college algebra problem the answer is found the week after oj simpson murders his wife and her friend and then leads the police on a slow freeway chase a mailer for a brand-new community college opening in phoenix arrives in the mail and almost as a dare you call the number on the mailer to ask if you can enroll in college algebra and to your astonishment the voice on the other end takes your credit card information and just like that you’re enrolled in the monday/wednesday/friday fall college algebra class at the new community college oj simpson offers a $500,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the real killer or killers of his wife and her friend radio personality howard stern withdraws from the race for governor of new york rather than publicly reveal his financial statements all of the apartments in tucson are sublet for the summer and after multiple dead ends you scour the dorms on campus for any last-minute cancellations and find luck in that a group of native mexicans enrolled in a summer language immersion class at the university have some missing students and you’re given a bunk in a white cinder-block room with a guy who speaks no english but seems good natured enough you never see each other you can’t stomach the cramped quarters which remind you too much of your room on the alaskan fish boat and though you don’t have any money or a car you find ways to be out of the room either going to dollar movies or walking the halls of the air-conditioned buildings on campus or reading in the library or browsing the new books and magazines in the campus bookstore where you spot the new issue of vanity fair with the article titled who’s afraid of bret easton ellis all about what the author has been doing since his controversial book was published a few years earlier and also announcing the publication of his new book a story collection called the informers and even though you can’t afford it you buy the magazine so you can read and reread the piece and stare at the caricature drawn of the author you can’t afford the new story collection but read it surreptitiously in the campus bookstore you can’t make much of it but who are you to judge you write a letter to the editor of vanity fair in support of the author’s place in contemporary fiction not sure why but probably mostly because if they print it maybe ellis will see it your last college semester begins and you live ninety miles away so you can concentrate on your monday wednesday friday college algebra class at the new community college on the west side of phoenix you living back home your father dropping you at sky harbor airport on monday nights so you can grab the shuttle to tucson for your other classes on tuesdays you bunk on the couch of your old high-school-aged girlfriend who has just started after a year of community college back in phoenix it’s the first time you have any kind of relationship with an ex-girlfriend and there’s something dependable about a friendship with someone who knows you so well and you begin to look forward to those nights they break up your otherwise monastic existence the bad reviews for bret easton ellis’s book start rolling in and you’re not sure why but you write a letter to the editor of entertainment weekly in response to one of the harsher reviews and to your surprise they print it the thrill of your name in the magazine matched only by the message on the answering machine at home that vanity fair is going to print your letter as well the stars aligning when you happen upon a flyer on the fourth floor of the modern languages building on campus where all your creative writing workshops are held for a new low-residency mfa program at bennington college you take in the news stunned a little and then steal the poster so that no one else sees it before you can get your application in you include your latest short story written from the ashes of your failed novel your favorite creative writing professor told you after class that it was probably a publishable story and so you spent an afternoon licking envelopes and stamps to mail it off to all the literary magazines listed in the back of the latest best american short stories collection the book your professor used in class there’s a lot of hope and optimism the federal government grinds to a halt and shuts down something you didn’t know could even happen though the finger-pointing is less of a surprise former president ronald reagan announces that he has alzheimer’s the last the public hears from him one night a few weeks before your december graduation you’re out at the pool in your ex-girlfriend’s apartment complex and it strikes you that you have no alternative plan should you not get into bennington that you should’ve applied to a handful of places arrogance isn’t to blame you just aren’t interested in pursuing the course of study if it isn’t at bennington in the shadow of bret easton ellis the coming new year is a blank slate you have no idea where you’ll be living what you’ll be doing for work nothing the vacuum created by the absence of any kind of schooling too frightening to contemplate vanquished by the phone call from the director of the mfa program who calls during dinner to tell you that you’ve been accepted and will start in january and then more great good luck the editor of one of the literary magazines in new york city you mailed your story to sends a handwritten note in pencil saying they’re considering publishing it so that by the time of your graduation from the university of arizona please stand and turn your tassel along with thousands of others congratulations good-bye your life as a graduate student and possibly a published author has begun you gather your father and two brothers under the same roof in a rented house in a master-planned development in phoenix built around a large man-made lake the first time you’ve been in the same house in you can’t remember how long there’s no money to furnish the five-bedroom pink stucco house as it should be but everyone has their living space and you use the extra room as a writing office you’re so eager to start your first ten-day residency of the low-residency mfa program at bennington college that you take a red-eye to albany not realizing that you’ll have to wait until dawn to hire a driver to take you to the secluded campus in the woods of vermont the slatted sunshine its own miracle as you are expelled from the covered bridge at the foot of campus which is deserted at this time of the morning you survey the landscape you’ve seen only in pictures the red barn structure that houses the administration the white seventies-style architecture of crossett library the clock-towered commons at the head of the enormous lawn buried under crisp snow that runs out to the end of the world so named because the lawn drops off like a runway your vision taking flight over the green mountains green-and-white clapboard dorms line the lawn and you wonder which one bret easton ellis lived in eager to commune with his ghost you set your bag down on a picnic table and scan the horizon for signs of anyone else bret easton ellis probably sat at this picnic table you think you let yourself into a near dorm all the doors unlocked it seems and think bret easton ellis probably partied in this common room and as your head hits the pillow in an unlocked room the first real sleep since you left phoenix you wonder if he even perhaps lived in the very room you’re in it’s a possibility until you learn otherwise when you awake dazed to the sound of clanging heaters you get your correct room assignment and scurry off to the welcome reception in the commons disappointed that most of the other writing students have not heard of bret easton ellis or the ones who have just smile talk revolves around the poet robert frost or the writer bernard malamud both dead and lionized and decidedly not very interesting the next day after breakfast served in the commons at communal tables with your fellow students and most of the writing instructors you wander as a lark into the alumni office and tell the girl working the counter that you’re a student and want the address of an alum the girl seems skeptical since all the undergraduate students are away in january for winter break and after some discussion with her boss about whether or not mfa students have the same privileges as other students she writes bret easton ellis’s address and phone number on a yellow post-it note and hands it across the desk you vamoose before she can recall the information securing the post-it in your wallet after memorizing the address in case the post-it somehow gets lost fresh from victory you head to the library and search the computer for ellis’s books and learn that the library has on deposit ellis’s student thesis called this year’s model which you don’t immediately recognize as a song title by elvis costello but you do recognize some of the stories from the thesis as those from ellis’s latest collection the informers you also put a request in for the thesis of ellis’s classmate donna tartt whose novel the secret history you loved tartt dedicated the book to ellis for helping her and for recommending her to his literary agent which you hope he’ll do for you too you fall in love with the other writing students the feel of immediate family permeating the workshops and lectures you volunteer to organize some student readings and choose the laundry room as a suitable venue when no other can be secured the laundry room readings becoming something of a legend severe separation anxiety overcomes you as you board your flight back to phoenix the resumption of your life akin to coming to periscope depth oj simpson’s trial for murdering his wife and her friend begins in los angeles you need a job and gravitate toward the camelback corridor where you worked for charlie keating at american continental and randomly put in an application at the family print shop near the old american continental offices remembering how you and the other runners pitched in to buy flowers for the stunning girl who worked the counter the one time someone at american continental wanted some color copies from the print shop the girl had tattoos which you normally didn’t care for but she was flirty and it was enough to spring for the bouquet the card signed simply the runners at acc when you get the job at the family print shop running the xerox machines you relay the story to your boss and he remembers it the girl was his girlfriend and the story suddenly doesn’t seem so funny though the girlfriend is long gone the print shop is a boon in terms of your being able to photocopy your work for sending off to literary magazines and to the teacher assigned to you by bennington for the semester a writer you’ve never heard of but whose book you buy with the intention of reading it the literary magazine in new york city that was considering publishing your story writes to say they’re accepting it for publication and you pin the acceptance on the wall above your desk next to the yellow post-it note with ellis’s address and phone number one of the customers at the print shop runs a mail-order russian bride business and you leaf through the yearbook of women he prints thinking a bunch of different thoughts at once another customer is the daughter of the famed russian ballet dancer vaslav nijinsky whom you’ve never heard of but you come to learn his life’s story as the daughter is working on a book about her father and when she arrives at the print shop you know the next hour or two will be spent helping her copy old news clippings and photos you gather that nijinsky was famous for being the only male ballet dancer who could perform on his tiptoes like you saw michael jackson do on that motown special when you were in grade school everyone wowed by the new dance jackson called the moonwalk you play a practical joke on the good-natured designer who works at the print shop an admitted and avowed marijuana smoker you conspire with your boss who has become one of your closest friends to announce upon the designer’s return from his marijuana-fueled honeymoon that the print shop is switching health insurance companies and everyone has to take a drug test you go down to the arizona department of health services claiming to be a college kid doing a research project and in need of a drug test kit the department of health services worker tells you that he can give you the forms and cup but that he has to write the word void across the forms which he does and which is no problem as you and your boss re-create them back at the print shop the designer learns about the test and confides in you that he’s going to run out at lunch to buy a masking agent at a smoke shop which he does but back at his desk the masking agent makes him defecate involuntarily and he has to go home for the day the practical joke taking on a life of its own the designer takes the drug test the next day and when your boss tells him he’s failed it and his only option is to enroll in drug classes the designer’s face gets red and he says no way he’s taking classes but that night his wife lets him know that he will in fact have to take the classes so when he comes to work again his face a little hangdog he accepts that he has to take the classes and you and your boss stop the whole thing before it can go any further and the designer is relieved but his wife is angry and calls your boss and gives him an earful oj’s houseguest tells about going to mcdonald’s with oj the limo driver meant to take oj to the airport rang the doorbell repeatedly before oj appeared looking sweaty the guy tricked into meeting his secret admirer for an episode of the jenny jones show learns the secret admirer is a man and murders the admirer a few days after the show the singer selena is murdered by her assistant who it turns out was stealing money from her the newscaster refers to her as the mexican madonna someone blows up a truck in front of the federal courthouse in oklahoma the galleys for your first short story arrive from the literary magazine in new york city and you stare at them in disbelief your words arranged by an unseen editorial hand three thousand miles away the daughter of actor marlon brando whose brother murdered her husband commits suicide a forensic specialist testifies that the odds against the dna found at the crime scene being anyone else’s but oj simpson’s are astronomical the actress who played samantha on bewitched dies of cancer the actor who played superman is thrown off his horse and paralyzed from the neck down you spin in circles at an old ice-packing plant in downtown phoenix while former porn star traci lords plays music in her new incarnation as a dj summer in vermont is hotter than you expected but your second residency is made uncomfortable not by the heat but by the secret knowledge you’ve been carrying that you didn’t do the work prescribed by the program between residencies not because you weren’t eager but because the writer assigned as your mentor quit responding to your monthly packets and so you quit mailing them all of which is exposed when the writer is fired rumors about a divorce hampering his teaching and it emerges that the other students assigned to the writer had the same experience as you and you’re called to account with the administration who threaten not to give you credit for the first semester which is a problem because you’re on financial aid and can borrow only so much money surely not for extra future semesters the mercurial irishman who directs the program and whom you once considered an ally seems like the head instigator in your not getting credit the whole thing a cloud over you upsetting because you were so looking forward to seeing everyone again after living your surface life in phoenix but one of the other authors who teach workshops hears of your plight and then something happens that you never really understand and the matter drops with the caveat that you’ll have to do two times the work in the upcoming semester and you agree and get on with the residency working late into the nights on the daily fake newsletter some of the students conspire to publish contributing a column under the byline f not fitzgerald late nights at the end of the world under tiki torches you lacquered in bug spray an endless can of beer in your hand sweaty dances in the carriage barn or in the tiny pub on campus flipping through a copy of details magazine in the air-conditioning of crossett library you find a profile of the actor val kilmer by bret easton ellis and feel an electricity of stumbling across ellis’s name while being on campus a continuous circle of a kind photos of oj simpson’s wife and friend in rivers of blood on the saltillo tile of your youth are all over the news oj tries on the bloody glove a police officer found on oj’s property but the glove appears not to fit one of charlie keating’s lieutenants is discovered in the early morning in his lexus parked in the parking lot of a toy store a bullet in his brain a few days later another of charlie’s lieutenants does the same in his home a handsome actor whose movies you haven’t seen is arrested for soliciting a prostitute in los angeles the world agog as the handsome actor’s girlfriend is a world-renowned model and actress screen legend lana turner dies a couple of days later but the handsome actor and the prostitute dominate the news oj’s doctor says he’s too hobbled from football injuries to be able to commit a double homicide but a recent videotape of oj working out while touting an arthritis remedy counters that you read a handful of short stories each week as makeup work and begin writing as many short stories of your own as you can to put yourself back even with the administration at bennington a north carolina judge blocks oj’s lawyers’ attempt to force a screenwriter who interviewed the police officer who found the incriminating glove for background on a screenplay she was writing to testify to the fact that the police officer is a racist you write a story about a narrator who visits the small town where he was born and finds himself surrounded by racists the north carolina court of appeals grants oj’s lawyers the right to hear the tapes of the screenwriter interviewing the police officer you write a twenty-page story that’s all dialogue a phone conversation between a man and a woman the news is infatuated with pictures of oj wearing a famous brand of shoes like those that left prints at the crime scene you write a story about a stranger visiting his friend and abusing his friend’s girlfriend in some indeterminate way the tapes of the screenwriter interviewing the police officer are played in court but not in front of the jury the officer is heard using the n word constantly contrary to his own previous testimony that he never used it the police officer swiftly invokes his fifth amendment rights there’s some debate about whether or not newspapers should publish a rambling antigovernment manifesto by the unabomber a terrorist the government has been after for years the unabomber promises more bombing if the manifesto isn’t published in the new york times and the washington post oj simpson applies to trademark his name standing in line at the grocery store getting groceries for you and your father and brothers you pick up details magazine and flip to the last page which features two blond girls posing and giving short answers to a q and a and you can’t tell what they do or why they’re in the magazine and you come away with the idea that their sole purpose as a quote-unquote group is to become famous and you consider how weird the concept is that someone could be celebrated for just being celebrated and you write an eight-page story called we’re so famous around the idea everyone gathered around the small television on top of the xerox machine at the family print shop when they announce the verdict in the matter of the people v oj simpson which you’re convinced will be guilty and something akin to shock sets in when it’s otherwise and you contemplate for the first time really how much mental energy you expended on the narrative even though you had no stake in the outcome personally a feeling like fatigue settling over you in the following weeks and months as everyone traipses around either in elation or frustration you’re all the way back in the good graces of the administration at bennington when the january residency begins you can’t believe you’re halfway through graduate school when bret easton ellis was your age he’d published two novels and was working on his third the one that would make him famous all over again an unused part of the campus has been rented by a shakespearean theater company so unknown faces known to be aspiring thespians turn up in the dining hall from time to time the one next to you in line complaining about the dining hall running out of strawberries for strawberry shortcake turns out to be the actress raquel welch you make a sympathetic remark about the strawberries before you recognize her but she doesn’t seem to hear you madonna reluctantly testifies in court against the man who broke into her hollywood home and threatened to slice her up if she didn’t become his wife we’ve made his fantasies come true madonna admonishes the court which compelled her to testify sitting right in front of him instead of by videotape or some other method one way to meet a celebrity on your terms one of the producers who made all the big movies of the eighties like flashdance beverly hills cop and top gun is found dead in his bathroom from a drug overdose and there are whispers that a botched penile implant is to blame magic johnson comes out of retirement to play for the lakers the hard contacts you’ve been wearing don’t seem to be working and your eye doctor tells you that you have a condition that causes your corneas to elongate weakening at the tip and you’ll need a corneal transplant to correct the problem you get on the waiting list for a donated cornea your case different from most in that you need a relatively young cornea and so you’re essentially waiting for someone your age or younger to pass away the procedure is outpatient you’re awake during it though they put you under to drug up the eye and then bring you back so you can alert them to any problems but it all goes smoothly and your eye doctor tells you seriously not to get into any pillow fights or allow any kind of trauma to your eyes and you wonder how you’re going to get through life without violating that mandate howard stern announces that he’ll star in the film version of his own book to the delight of his fans the rapper snoop dogg is arrested for allegedly murdering a rival gang member the summer before the arrest taking place after snoop presents an award at the mtv music awards you keep your head down reading and writing in the little office above the garage in the house you’re sharing with your father and two brothers enjoying being under the same roof even though you’re all living your own lives your youngest brother attending the local high school your other brother and father working everyone home most nights for the dinner you prepare trying to learn how to cook a month or so after your corneal transplant the eye doctor tells you to lean forward and keep your eye open so he can begin removing the tiny stitches your friend from bennington’s husband is an actor traveling with a play coming to gammage auditorium in tempe and you offer to put him up he looks like christopher reeve which he gets a lot especially after the accident you see the play with one of your friend who you can tell has an immediate crush on him but he probably gets that a lot too the play goes to los angeles and you and your friend from your charlie keating days drive out to see the actor and his wife your friend from bennington staying with them in the old fifties hotel converted into apartments filled with struggling actors the kidney-shaped pool at the center of the tahitian-themed complex going unused you love the idea of all the little compartments filled with ambitious people trying to realize their dream and feel a sort of kinship even though back in phoenix you continue to keep your head down don’t date don’t see your old friends who have all scattered here and there no one believes the story the menendez brothers tell about the abuse they suffered at the hands of their father and they’re found guilty of murder don’t eat meat or you’ll catch mad cow disease charlie keating’s conviction is overturned and he’s released the unabomber is arrested when his brother recognizes the rantings of the manifesto published in the newspapers as those of his crazy brother living in the woods in montana the rapper mc hammer files for bankruptcy and you think man where did all that money go the actress from the superman movies is found hiding in some bushes in a suburb of los angeles with all her hair cut off and ranting she was apparently in the bushes for days you spend what time you do spend socializing with the manager of the family print shop who has unexpectedly become your closest friend the def leppard drummer with one arm is arrested for choking his wife for a small fee you can purchase a vhs tape directly from oj with his side of the story but no one seems to want it the summer residency at bennington is the penultimate residency for you and you feel a mild panic about what will happen to you after you graduate you can’t imagine hanging on any longer in phoenix you never felt at home there always a double life and now you have the vocabulary to express it but you also can’t imagine leaving your family a vexation you express to one of your mentors on a walk through the woods at bennington and he encourages you to do what you feel is right but you think easy for him to say though you never really know if your family’s dependence on you is real or imagined the host of the family feud game show is found hanging in the closet of a hospital where he went for mental observation one of the best customers at the family print shop a psychiatrist with an office in downtown phoenix shoots himself through the heart with a handgun you can’t stop thinking about how he must’ve been alive for a few minutes right after the actor who portrayed one of the leads in the film version of bret easton ellis’s first novel less than zero which you saw in a midnight showing is arrested for being under the influence of drugs and then arrested again a couple of weeks later when he’s found asleep in a bedroom of the house next door to his assault charges against the old guy who played colonel potter on the television show m*a*s*h are dropped after he completes an anger management course for beating his seventy-year-old wife the year before fans of the rock group van halen are overjoyed when the original front man returns but his second tenure is brief an all-girl band from england records a song that blares from every speaker and the interesting fact is that the band was manufactured as an answer to all the boy bands in pop music different from the usual origin story about a couple of musicians inviting others to join them in starting a band this group was culled from hundreds of applicants who answered a small ad in london a sheep not born but cloned is introduced to the world a jetliner filled with passengers headed to paris and then rome explodes just after takeoff from new york and the television is filled with pictures of burning debris floating in the ocean some eyewitnesses allege seeing a missile fired into the jetliner a bomb explodes at the olympics in atlanta and the eyewitness who is at first hailed as a hero is then arrested as the chief suspect and vilified in the press as a lonely wannabe the singer rick james is released from prison after serving time for assault everyone is trying to guess who alanis wrote the song about your high school friend whose sister you briefly dated in high school is murdered in the parking lot of an after-hours club in scottsdale in the police account a kid pulled a gun on your friend and his friends and your friend said you’re not going to shoot me but then the kid with the gun did you think back to when you last saw your friend at a grocery store in phoenix buying something for his infant daughter and you feel ashamed that you tried to avoid him but he found you in an aisle anyway and you tried to catch up a little remember the old days you having no plausible explanation for what you were up to only because you were hedging about the fact that you had a foot in two worlds and were conflicted about making the leap everyone doing the macarena at the democratic national convention the rapper tupac shakur is shot in las vegas after attending a boxing match miraculously the letter you wrote to bret easton ellis asking to interview him for your graduate lecture at bennington which is to be a recitation of your literary journey to date is answered your father telling you that someone named bret left a message on the machine and when you return it ellis invites you to come to new york to conduct the interview in person and you immediately agree to the plan tupac holds on for almost a week before dying rumors that he’s faked his own death abound the mother in texas who hired a hit man to kill her daughter’s cheerleading rival’s mother in an effort to get the rival to drop out of contention is sentenced to prison the mississippi review a small but prestigious literary magazine run by the acclaimed writer frederick barthelme accepts your short story we’re so famous for publication the story chosen for the prize issue judged by mary robison another acclaimed writer and the feeling that having published one previous short story was a fluke recedes a little denied a seat at the presidential debates ross perot goes on larry king afterward to rebut the detective who found the bloody glove on oj’s property enters a no-contest plea over his lying about not having used the n word in a decade or more in prepping for your interview with bret easton ellis you call the exclusive private school ellis attended to request any info and before you can say ellis’s name the woman who answers the phone assumes you’re calling about the actor matthew perry you arrive in new york city a day before your scheduled interview with ellis landing at your bennington friend’s apartment in queens amazed to find yourself in a place you never thought you’d be the cacophony makes you giddy the landmarks you previously viewed only through the lens of a television screen or imagined from the pages of books big as the sun up close you scope out ellis’s apartment in the east village too anxious about the interview but overprepared too you arrive early the next day with your tape recorder and notebook too early and you’re made to wait in the lobby but then you realize you have to pee and the doorman points you in the direction of a bathroom down a hall and you start to worry that ellis will come looking for you and find you in the bathroom meant for the maintenance crew but when you return to the lobby the doorman tells you that you can go up and you didn’t consider that ellis wouldn’t in fact descend to the lobby to retrieve you the ride to the second floor is quick and when you land the elevator opens on a small hallway ellis’s door slightly ajar and before you know it the shy author is shaking your hand and inviting you into his brightly lit but sparsely furnished loft there’s no table and so you use a third chair for the tape recorder and the question-and-answer session lasts all afternoon and into the fading light you’re astonished at the depth of his answers and your admiration for him grows tenfold he walks out with you when it’s over to fetch some corona and limes from the corner deli and when you part he tells you that new york city is a great place to be a writer and it all but seals the matter in your mind bill clinton is the first democratic president since franklin roosevelt to win reelection michael jackson’s longtime friend who is also a nurse in jackson’s dermatologist’s office is pregnant with his child and they quickly marry prince now wants to be called the artist a pint-size beauty queen is found murdered in her home right around christmas and no one seems to know who did it your last residency at bennington begins amidst the january snow with an incident involving a drunken student sexually harassing one of your poet friends so that you have to intervene not knowing the residency will degrade further from there after the student is asked to find accommodations off campus which he does at his in-laws’ house your journey from the midnight showing of less than zero to the alma mater of bret easton ellis culminates with your lecture about said journey you hand out a lengthy xerox of the full q and a of your interview with ellis courtesy of the family print shop back in phoenix and deliver your graduating lecture in the subterranean auditorium known as tishman the doors clattering when you reach the part of your lecture about why and how ellis’s notorious novel american psycho was canceled by its publisher when some of the more violent passages are leaked to the media only to be published by a rival publisher you read one of the violent passages as an example your friends alerting you to the fact afterward that some people walked out when you began reading the passage you just shrug thinking whatever but then a chain of letters appears on the bulletin board in the campus mail room decrying your having read the passages out loud and you get a little taste of the kind of controversy that surrounds ellis’s novel but so what but then someone posts a letter about burning your handout of the q and a and the campus erupts in a first amendment controversy that has you looking over your shoulder and hiding in your dorm room the faculty silent on the matter mostly you think because it involves ellis and not a writer they care about each day more terrible than the next in terms of rumors about what you’ve done you call ellis and tell him what’s happening and he just laughs and says it doesn’t surprise him and you adopt his cool attitude while trying to dodge karen finley the artist who was one of a handful who notoriously had their nea artist grants vetoed on the grounds of subject matter she and the other artists sued and won but the end result was the nea folded ending grants to artists someone on the faculty tries to arrange a summit between you and finley but the idea embarrasses you and you avoid her successfully until she sits down at your table at lunch and asks you about your side of what she’s been hearing you tell her little and she says maybe you should make a return visit to your birthplace in montana which came up in conversation you go to the movies off campus just to get away from the morass and run into the director of the mfa program heading into a screening of the people vs larry flynt and the first acknowledgment of the brouhaha comes when he says he’s preparing some remarks for graduation that’ll be the final word on free speech at bennington which he delivers to the confused crowd of parents who have come hundreds and thousands of miles to see their own graduate and know nothing of the controversy the president of the college approaches you after the ceremony to assure you that she’s aware of the situation and that bennington will never tolerate censorship of any kind the student who burned your handout is kicked out of the program and you can feel people staring and pointing at you during the graduation dinner and after and the twinning of your narrative with ellis’s is the only interesting residual thought you take away as you pass through the gates a graduate on your way to you don’t know where oj simpson is forced to take the witness stand in the civil trial brought against him for the wrongful death of the murdered friend of his wife by the murdered friend’s father who promises to haunt oj until the end of oj’s days and oj brands his ex-wife a liar about all the domestic abuse she claimed to have suffered over the years at his hands his ex-wife unable to defend herself or tell her side of the story because she is dead bill cosby’s son is murdered along the freeway in los angeles when he stops to help a stranded motorist the jury finds oj is probably liable for the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend and is ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars to the families of the murdered some employees of michael jackson’s neverland ranch sue him for wrongful termination they claim was retribution for cooperating with the grand jury looking into allegations of child molestation by jackson word leaks the reclusive author j d salinger is going to publish a new book or at least a book-length revision of one of his old new yorker short stories a teacher in washington state is arrested for having sex with her twelve-year-old student she’s pregnant with his child howard stern stars in the film version of his book private parts and is everywhere heavily promoting his story about growing up a kid listening to the radio to being on the radio and raising his profile via shock-jock antics the rapper biggie smalls is murdered in california after a party at an auto museum just like tupac shakur was killed in las vegas one car pulling up next to another and firing the murders are maybe related tit for tat three dozen or more people commit suicide together in an upscale house in san diego by drinking vodka laced with drugs and tying plastic bags around their heads in an effort to board a ufo they believed was trailing the hale-bopp comet you decide to make the move to new york city which means the end of your family living together in the same house your father and youngest brother taking an apartment and your younger brother moving in with friends your friends warn you that the thousand dollars you’ve saved for the move is hardly enough but you’re impatient to go and the fact that you have a one-way ticket is an echo of the one-way ticket you had to alaska and though you were able to get home from that debacle you need the move to new york to be permanent returning the way you did from alaska will crush your spirits and leave you without options to live your life as you’ve dreamed the notion of the creative class burnished by your time at bennington you feel the pressure and the same night you land at your friend’s apartment in queens you open your laptop and work on the novel you’ve started you like the symbolic gesture of moving to new york to write a novel based on the short story published by a new york literary magazine during the day you work on the novel but by midday you hop the n train into manhattan and waltz around famous landmarks like the empire state building the new york public library central park the plaza hotel poking your head into the oak bar imagining fitzgerald at the bar a gin in hand imagining the anecdote about him and zelda drunkenly splashing in the fountain out front you spend whole days walking up one side of manhattan and down the other riding the staten island ferry back and forth to see the statue of liberty you follow your friend’s actor husband on errands to his agent’s office to pick up scripts or to auditions waiting outside the apartment of the actor paul newman and his wife joanne woodward who are casting for a play you look up old friends from bennington who can’t believe your talk about moving to new york wasn’t just talk you visit one of your favorite faculty members susan cheever whose family you came to know at bennington you tag along with susan when she goes to pick up her son from school or join them on playdates the semblance of family welcome she invites you to her friend’s house for coffee and the friend is a photographer who snaps a couple of pictures of you while you’re not looking susan also invites you to a panel she’s on at freds at barneys the posh restaurant in the basement of the famed department store on madison avenue the other panelists are the legendary newsman pete hamill and the actress isabella rossellini who you loved in blue velvet back in high school you can’t stop gawking at the actress her skin so white it’s translucent a few weeks into your move you realize in horror that your finances have dwindled to a couple hundred dollars well south of what will be required to secure an apartment of your own and a panic sets in about being deported back to arizona reprieve coming in the form of one of your bennington friends who lives in a farmhouse in concord just outside of boston offering up her basement apartment until you can figure out your next move you spend some of your last money on a bus ticket to boston promising yourself that the exile is only temporary the musician jeff buckley jumps into a river in memphis for a swim and his body washes up a week later a judge says mcdonald’s needs to stop aiming its advertising at children another judge says the joe camel cigarette ads must be pulled for the same reason new york giants legend frank gifford is caught cheating on his wife with a flight attendant paid by a tabloid to do it the widow of malcolm x is burned by her grandson the person responsible for blowing up the truck in front of the federal building in oklahoma is found guilty and sentenced to death the boxer mike tyson bites off a piece of the ear of his opponent in a highly publicized boxing match and spits it onto the canvas stopping the fight concord is a wealthy hamlet that looks like a movie set the town center built around an ice cream shop a bookstore some restaurants and an old inn with history dating back to the american revolution you settle into the basement apartment and offer babysitting services for your friend’s two small children in exchange for a quiet place to write the novel is coming along you think but the days are long and the summer days especially your friend lets you borrow her car to drive into the town center you notice a group of young people drinking at the bar at the colonial inn and fall in with them they’re au pairs blowing off steam europeans working for the summer you’re drawn to one in particular the belgian au pair and the summer quickly becomes not one of writing your way back to new york but of afternoon barbecues car trips to race point beach on cape cod a jazz festival in montreal you give in to the fact that you haven’t had a girlfriend in half a decade and surrender to the welcome notion that someone likes you the way you’ve been liked before odds are long on you and the belgian au pair having a relationship not just because she’s there only for the summer but because she has a boyfriend back home though without any prodding on your part you learn that the boyfriend back home is a long-expired relationship awaiting termination which encourages you but the boyfriend is also coming to america for a planned trip to hike the grand canyon of all places and as the date draws near you’re surprised at how jealous you are even though all assurances are given by the belgian au pair robert mitchum dies from smoking and the next day jimmy stewart dies after he refuses to change the battery in his pacemaker the fashion designer gianni versace is murdered on the steps of his mansion in miami after running out for the morning paper the murderer identified as a serial killer on a spree from somewhere in the midwest for a week or so after everyone wonders where the serial killer is and then he’s found hiding on a houseboat firing a bullet into his mouth as the police descend hundreds of virgins converge on the white house to celebrate abstinence the former receptionist at a little rock hotel who claims she was escorted by then governor bill clinton’s bodyguard to clinton’s hotel room and asked for sexual favors gets a trial date for her lawsuit against the president as the date of the belgian au pair’s trip to the grand canyon with her boyfriend looms you find yourself in a state of despair then disbelief when your old friend the manager of the family print shop calls with the offer of flying you home to work for a week while he takes a family vacation cheaper and easier than hiring a temporary worker to take his place you agree immediately and the belgian au pair is apprehensive worried that you’re engineering something but you swear you aren’t though you can’t believe your luck the belgian au pair and her boyfriend fly to phoenix ahead of you to take in the city you try not to think about it though you recommend some places worth seeing when you arrive you realize the boyfriend doesn’t speak any english you volunteer to drive them to the grand canyon on the two-plus-hour trip north the boyfriend looks up every time you look in the rearview mirror he can’t speak a lick of english but he clearly knows what’s going on the belgian au pair is in dismay and you learn later that it ruined their trip which you swear to god was not your intention though you underestimated the tells of your body language and feel sorry for the verbal jabs and fights she had to endure while in the grand canyon back at the print shop for a week is old home week you’ve been gone for only three months and the fear that your attempt to move to new york is a farce drives you to fax your resume with your friend in concord’s address and phone number to every literary agency in new york with a fax machine during lunch with your old friend the southern lawyer you lay out your adventures and the southern lawyer loans you three thousand dollars on the spot against whatever you sell your first book for to help get you back on your feet in new york city princess diana is killed when the car she’s riding in crashes during a high-speed chase in paris to elude paparazzi as you leave phoenix for concord the governor who barely won election is convicted of extortion and bank fraud and resigns you and millions of others watch princess diana’s funeral on television the two little princes walking along behind their mother’s coffin it breaks your heart elton john’s song about marilyn monroe that your younger brother loves becomes a song about the late princess only one literary agency calls about an interview in answer to your faxing but it’s a famous one whose name you recognize you kiss the belgian au pair good-bye at the airport promising that you’ll see each other again the first chance you get making tentative plans to reunite during the holidays on the bus ride back to new york city with the summer behind you and three thousand dollars minus a little in your bank account you interview at harold ober associates on madison avenue the clacking of typewriters greets you as you step through the door stenciled with the name of the firm perhaps as it was back when it was founded in 1929 your interview is with the president of the firm and you learn that the previous president a woman who worked directly for harold ober himself has just passed away you learn about the agency in full how most of its clients are long-dead famous writers like f scott fitzgerald sherwood anderson pearl s buck james m cain agatha christie william faulkner langston hughes joseph mitchell dylan thomas and of course j d salinger who isn’t dead but just disappeared the interview takes place in the president’s office under the low lighting of desk lamps and through a cloud of cigarette smoke which you guess must not be legal but everyone seems to be smoking and though you don’t you don’t mind you’re offered the job but ask if you can start on september 24 not just because it’s fitzgerald’s birthday but because your old friend and fitzgerald fan from college who lives in princeton now wants to go on a pilgrimage to fitzgerald’s grave in maryland your new boss is amused and all is agreed upon you take the train to princeton and the next morning you and your college friend light out for rockville maryland where the fitzgeralds are buried one on top of the other the closing words of the great gatsby etched in stone on a beveled flat marker where someone has left some cigarettes and an empty fifth of whiskey what you know about fitzgerald’s funeral comes to you as sad a scene as gatsby’s funeral a man who spent his life as an amusement to friends across two continents buried with few to no witnesses you can’t believe the small catholic cemetery is surrounded by busy streets and commerce in the distance you can make out the sign for a furniture store and there’s something plainly ignoble about the final resting place the end is the end is the end no matter who or where you wonder if fitzgerald ever daydreamed about his final resting place full of melancholy as he was you know he probably did and you wonder at the gulf between his imagination and reality though it hardly matters you and your friend grab a quick meal for the trip back to princeton eating on the trunk of her car in a shopping center designed by the grandfather of the actor edward norton whose family is from the area or so your friend thinks you take the train from princeton to new york just as fitzgerald did while he was in college so many of fitzgerald’s observations about being on the outside looking in resonate and you think about him being from the midwest and you being from the west and now you ride the elevator to the tenth floor of the building on madison avenue just as fitzgerald did when he pushed through the same door you push every morning to start your day toiling in literary matters your job is little more than clerical sorting and distributing the afternoon mail answering the switchboard while the receptionist is at lunch transcribing your boss’s daily dictation answering permissions requests to reprint material by ober clients the names and titles of books you love or at least have heard of adding a measure of intangible glamour to the position also a firsthand glimpse of the publishing game wrapping each manuscript as if it were your own anxious to hear back from the editor your boss sends it to disappointed if the manuscript is returned via courier with a declining letter exuberant when a book sells eager to let the author know all of it an inspiration to finish your novel you stay late after eating dinner at your desk so that you can work but also because you’re camping out in the west village in the spare bedroom of a friend from bennington the former drummer for an indie rock band everyone loves and his artist wife and you don’t want to be intrusive you’ve been pretending to be a student looking at the apartment postings on the board at the new school and other places but there’s nothing you can afford and your friends are nice enough not to mind your residency in the spare room which has already been let to a high school kid who goes to school in vermont and comes to the city only sometimes his parents paying the rent so he’ll have a place the kid tells you it’s cool with him if you crash in his room and it seems like the perfect temporary housing the apartment is on the first floor above a twenty-four-hour deli on sixth avenue itself a carnival at all hours of the night you have to walk through the deli to the back to reach the stairs to the apartment sportscaster marv albert goes on trial for sodomizing and biting a women he’d known for years the tabloids full of details like a woman grabbing albert’s toupee only for it to come off after four days of testimony albert pleads guilty to a lesser charge the promise keepers a christian organization for men founded by a former college football coach march on washington some suspect the group uses the bible to assert men’s superiority over women especially in marriage a handful of women allegedly sexually harassed by president clinton are subpoenaed by the lawyers for paula jones after a month of looking you can’t find an apartment share you can afford you’re only making seven dollars an hour at harold ober but in truth it’s a job you’d do for free and plus there’s a line of people behind you figuratively who would love to have the job so you accept the invitation of a girl you know from bennington who lives with her husband and infant in a suburb of connecticut it takes two trains from grand central to reach the apartment but you have to agree and you don’t mind the train ride though you smirk about being the only one without a briefcase or laptop but the worst part is the last train out of new york leaves at 10 pm so if you miss it you have to sleep at the office and if you miss the connecting train you have to pay for a cab to take you to the apartment the singer john denver is killed when the plane he is flying runs out of gas you go to see the writer denis johnson read from his new book at the new school and wonder if he remembers a time in the not-too-distant past when he visited the university of arizona and you asked him a couple of questions raising your hand when no one else would out of nervousness or whatever a girl you meet who works for george plimpton the legendary writer and founder of the literary magazine the paris review invites you to one of the equally legendary paris review parties at plimpton’s house overlooking the east river the room filled with names and at least some faces you recognize from the literary world a famous television personality bumps you off the corner of the pool table doubling as a buffet table to get to the food you muster up the courage to approach plimpton and immediately invoke bret easton ellis’s name and plimpton asks how bret is these days and looks at you as if you and only you can provide an update on bret’s health and well-being and you shrug and say fine you say some complimentary things about the paris review and then beg off you feel like a fish swimming in the stream even if you’re just a little fish the proximity of the big fish is reassuring inspiring you to keep moving on your novel which is almost finished you communicate by fax with the belgian au pair a fax always awaiting you in the morning because of the time difference phone calls are too expensive though the international faxes come out of your paycheck the longing on her end is palpable and you feel the same way and you promise to figure out a way to visit at thanksgiving though you have no idea if you can some friends from arizona visit and you take them to minetta tavern in the west village the dark-wood low-lit bar a block from the apartment of your friend the former drummer–turned–writer who introduced you to the place where you know the bar manager and his brother who is a waiter the bar has a long history the walls covered with drawings of the people who frequented the place all the way back to the 1800s when it was called the black rabbit some recent pictures too of brad pitt and other movie stars who have graced the booths the bar is busy for a sunday but starts to thin you and your friends inebriated thanks to the kind pour all night long the bar manager asks if you and your friends want to go to ac and you exhale loudly and shrug trying to buy time to figure out the code you’ve learned that half of everything in new york is pretending to be in the know even when you aren’t your friends from arizona aren’t shackled by the custom and ask what ac is and the bar manager announces that he’s leaving in a limo with his brother the waiter for atlantic city and that you’re welcome to join them you know you have to work the next day you know it’s well after midnight already but your desire for the adventure with old friends overrides all rational thought and you pile into the white limousine when it appears the bar manager grabbing a bottle from behind the counter which you pass around as the limo leaves manhattan having never been to atlantic city you inquire as to how long the trip will take and are dismayed to learn that it’s some two hours away your friends doze off and then you do too until you feel the contents of your stomach sloshing working their way back up your esophagus you ask about opening the moonroof for some air which you think might do the trick and you plunge your head through the opening a few minutes later a stream of cartoon vomit spraying from your mouth as the wind whips around you the sign for asbury park is the last thing you see before falling back into the limo and passing out when the limo pulls up under the casino portico the bar manager and his brother tell you to meet in a couple of hours if you want a ride back they’re off to the high-stakes rooms you and your friends quickly lose some money on the slots ordering some free drinks that no one seems to want the sun is starting to rise it’s after six with no sign of the limo or the bar manager if you leave right now you can still make it back to work you lean your head against the bus window your friends sleeping in seats across the aisle you sprint from the port authority on the west side of manhattan across fifth avenue to your job on madison avenue only to be excused by your boss who spying the vomit on your shirt asks if you’re ill miracle of miracles you finish your novel based on the first short story you published and bret easton ellis agrees to read it and give you some feedback and you can’t think about him actually reading your work without getting your hopes up the lead singer of the band inxs which you saw all those years ago in high school hangs himself in a hotel room maybe it’s an accident maybe it’s something else even a scurrilous rumor about autoerotic sex gone awry your inability to save any money lends credence to your suspicion that you’ll be run out of new york by the end of the year unless you can sell your book for some decent money a good word from bret easton ellis would help but still you buy what you can’t afford an airline ticket to belgium to visit the au pair somewhere in all the faxing you’ve become boyfriend and girlfriend she talks about selling the house her parents made her buy as an investment when she was young and moving to new york to study poetry which makes you nervous on a number of levels you portray new york as a hard place to live which it is though you suspect it’s harder for some than others you haven’t spent enough time with the au pair to know which camp she’s in you pass through customs at the airport in brussels flashing the passport you procured for the trip the transatlantic love affair feels like the most romantic thing you’ve ever done though you’re not sure what the immediate future holds but you also try not to think about it the airport reunion is joyous and you both laugh about how it’s been only twelve weeks since you’ve seen each other but it feels like forever the summer in concord a memory the personalities already ghosts in your memories even though you’re exhausted on the drive to antwerp you’re too wired to rest hungry too you stop at a small outbuilding just outside antwerp and you both point at rolled meats under fluorescent lights that are quickly dropped into a deep-fat fryer you both happily munch at the kitchen table of her one-bedroom house drinking beer which she reminds you has a higher alcohol content than american beer you’re just two lovers playing house making plans for the next couple of days which include meeting her parents for dinner at their house you do a little laundry before the short trip to her parents’ but stuff too many clothes into the dryer so that your nice black shirt isn’t dry not even close when it’s time to leave so you put it on wet hoping no one will notice her father a small but sturdy man looks you in the eye as he grips your hand pumping it casually you’ve been warned that her father is stern which immediately puts you in mind to win him over her mother smiles nervously as you are introduced her sisters less nervous than curious you take the chair set out for you in the living room and they gather around to ask you questions the au pair translating back and forth though everyone seems to understand english everyone sits down to chinese food and you tell the story about your wet shirt and soon you are offered a warm sweatshirt also offered glass after glass of wine her father leaving the table and returning with another bottle more than once you are twice the size of anyone in the room and are sure you can hold your liquor so when you wake the next morning back at the au pair’s house it is a surprise that at some point you slumped over at the table much to her father’s amusement you’re assured her father likes you and that is really all you were going for why do you sleep on couches she asks disdain in her voice you can’t find the words to express how much you love new york how it feels like home to you even though you have no home to call your own it makes no sense to her and you get into a small skirmish when you decline her offer to move in with her you can’t imagine what you’d do all day but she offers that you can write which sounds ideal but something instinctively tells you it’s not the answer but she feels like you’ve made a choice between her and something else no one can put a name to when you part at the brussels airport you promise to come back in a few weeks at christmas hoping that you’ll receive a christmas bonus large enough to cover the trip the actor chris farley is found dead in his chicago apartment from a drug overdose paula jones’s lawyers subpoena a former white house intern in jones’s ongoing sexual harassment suit against the president the director woody allen marries the adopted daughter of his former lover the actress mia farrow who played daisy in the film version of the great gatsby when you pack for the trip back to belgium at christmas you let your friend in connecticut know you won’t return and you’re not sure if that means just to her apartment or if it means something more you’re welcomed like a long-lost son-in-law by the au pair’s family when you return but outside of a nice christmas dinner at their house you don’t see them your old high school friend from phoenix flies to london and you and the au pair meet him there for a planned trip to celebrate hogmanay the new year’s celebration in edinburgh you and your high school friend have always talked about attending but first you stop north of london at the house of a girl your friend met in his travels abroad the house is in willoughby waterleys a small village with a pub at the end of the lane the girl’s house is a two-story georgian called the old rectory and she’s there with her mother and sisters her youngish father having recently and tragically died while working in the garden the house cast in a pall but in english fashion you’re received and put up in the part of the house that has heat you’re asked to sign the guest book and you notice the actress helena bonham carter has recently signed it too the next day is spent mostly in the pub followed by a lively dinner with the girl and her family conversation ranges from american politics to european art and you have fun playing the cosmopolitan delivering one-liners and laughing at zingers the au pair excuses herself from the table and after she’s gone for an uncomfortably long time you offer a meager joke about her having gotten lost and go after her you find her in your room packing her bag what are you doing are you sick you ask i don’t know you she says hatefully concentrating on her packing you ask what she means and she says listening to you at the table she had no idea who was talking about all these things you were talking about where do they come from she demands to know you do your best to calm her down you say you have no idea what she means but intuitively you know you’ve been speaking to her in clipped sentences and simple thoughts which started as a shorthand but has become how you communicate you snatch her passport now you can’t leave you say playing for laughter i’m leaving she says emphatically you get her to agree to sit for ten minutes in silence with you and if she still wants to leave you’ll help her figure out how and after ten minutes she announces that she’s going to bed in the morning you and the au pair and your high school friend light out for the house in crawford-upon-john another village with a pub but this time in scotland where your high school friend has rented a house for hogmanay assuring you that you’re welcome to stay too the housemates are of various nationalities german swedish dutch and they greet you and the au pair warmly a trip to glasgow planned for the following day is scuttled by the ferocious winds that rock the house imprisoning everyone trapped everyone resigns themselves to a day of board games and drinking you sniff some commentary from the other dutchman in the house that the part of belgium the au pair comes from is considered backward and uncosmopolitan comparatively you ignore the taunts exuberant after a restless night to finally be on your way to edinburgh desperate to escape the glumness pervading the house the atmosphere in edinburgh is festive and as the day expires the city center swells with eager faces you and the au pair set up camp in the window of a pub on the royal mile and began drinking in earnest your high school friend wants to float down the river of people but the au pair is happy where she is you promise not to be gone long as you’re swept up in the momentum of the human parade you somehow swim back to the au pair before midnight when auld lang syne issues forth the hogmanay tradition of kissing everyone around you for the duration of the song commences and the au pair is besieged with kisses before you step in for your own private celebration your high school friend kisses his way down the royal mile and has a nasty cold sore in the morning as proof saying good-bye to the au pair at heathrow you truly have no idea when you’ll see her again the novelty of the transatlantic romance seems to have worn off for both of you and now real decisions must be made one of robert kennedy’s sons dies when he hits a tree while skiing in aspen your friend the former drummer–turned–writer and his wife the artist with the apartment in the west village once again rescue you by letting you stay in their spare bedroom and you promise them it’s only temporary that you’re going to find some kind of permanent living situation you’re surprised when bret easton ellis returns the copy of the manuscript you gave him and it’s covered with edits in black ink you can’t believe he read the novel so closely and you set about spending all your free time in the conference room at harold ober working on the edits one night one of the agents spies you working and asks what you’re working on and she says to let her read it when you’re finished sonny from sonny and cher dies when he hits a tree while skiing in nevada the teacher in washington state impregnated by her twelve-year-old student is released from prison early and told to stay away from the student monica lewinsky files an affidavit in the paula jones lawsuit denying she had a sexual relationship with president clinton and a week or so later president clinton gives similar testimony in addition to the helpful line editing on your novel bret easton ellis has suggested some wholesale changes to the structure which you accept without question someone named matt drudge runs an e-mail newsletter about politics and hollywood gossip and he includes an item about a story by a newsweek magazine reporter about some secretly taped conversations that monica lewinsky’s colleague at the pentagon recorded where lewinsky admits having sexual relations with the president drudge’s story is just about how the newsweek story was suppressed internally but a couple of days later the scandal hits all the press outlets at once it seems bret easton ellis even suggests some lines to add here and there and you add them all a group of texas cattle ranchers sue oprah winfrey over a show she did a couple of years earlier about beef production in the era of mad cow disease the cattle ranchers claim the show cost them tens of millions in lost beef sales you write a letter to charles scribner on ober letterhead asking if you can meet with him to discuss the scribner history as it relates to harold ober you’re thinking about compiling a history of harold ober and he agrees the old scribner building is a block away but is also a clothing store now but scribner’s current offices are in the neighborhood and you keep the appointment the third-generation charles scribner is affable and lively as he regales you with some clearly well-worn chestnuts about the golden days of publishing but you do learn something you were ignorant of before the fact that fitzgerald dealt directly with scribner on the contracts for his books using harold ober only for the sale of his short stories because there was so much money in short story sales and very little in the sale of books you’re incredulous but when you check the ober files for the contract for the great gatsby you see it’s true president clinton reiterates his denials about a sexual relationship with his former intern the only question the press wants to ask him your boss helps you arrange a phone conversation with harold ober’s son to learn a little more about his father who is described as a blue-blood yankee from harvard and you both chuckle about what he must’ve thought of fitzgerald that ober was exactly the type of person fitzgerald was envious of his whole life the son encourages your nascent project and asks you to keep him posted which you promise to do the last living ober client who knew fitzgerald personally lives in concord your old stomping grounds and you write a letter asking to interview the writer the letter is answered by his daughter who tells you the writer is ill but is looking forward to talking to you on the train to boston you admit what you’ve been denying about the au pair that the relationship has probably petered out the international faxes becoming less frequent though she still professes to love you but your concern is that the more time you spend together the more ill-suited you seem and how can anything be known with so many miles between you your bennington friend picks you up from the train station and you realize how nice it is to get out of the concrete city and into the green suburbs if only briefly you call to confirm your arrival the next day for the interview and the writer’s daughter tells you the writer passed away the previous weekend and that the writer thought you were supposed to come the previous weekend the unspoken idea being that he’d been holding on long enough to talk to you but when you didn’t show that was that the daughter is distracted by her grief and doesn’t hear your apologies the teacher in washington state on parole for having sex with her twelve-year-old student is arrested again when the two are found having sex in her car where she becomes pregnant again monica lewinsky postpones the deposition she was to give in the paula jones case now that the whole world is watching you turn in the finished version of your novel to the agent who asked and she reads it over the weekend professing her love for it and the following week she begins submitting it to publishers you can’t believe you have a manuscript being read by editors in new york city but you have to keep a brave face when the first editor the agent queries turns the book down there are plenty of other editors you’re assured and so the long process of trying to find a match with an editor begins monica lewinsky wants immunity from kenneth starr who is leading the investigation of president clinton and his alleged misdeeds a white male in his thirties is arrested at sky harbor airport in phoenix for verbally abusing an airport employee and it turns out to be axl rose the front man of guns n’ roses that no one has seen in years the rumor is he lives in a mansion by the ocean in california and never leaves it just rehearsing and rehearsing music no one will ever hear the au pair surprises you by showing up unannounced in new york for valentine’s day since you’re just crashing in your friend’s extra room you scramble to pay for a hotel with money you can’t really afford to waste which sets the tone for her visit you refusing to move to belgium her refusing to believe that you don’t want to or at least wouldn’t benefit from the stability you can’t find the words to explain to her that your life in new york is just beginning or so it seems but also it feels selfish to admit that you’re more invested in that narrative than the one that began the summer before and a few days after she returns home you say into the phone that it’s best if you both call it off she refuses to agree telling you that you’ll have to hang up on her because she’s not going to agree and you beg her not to make you but she repeats herself and you replace the phone in its cradle and wipe your slick cheeks before returning to work president clinton argues that paula jones’s lawsuit should be thrown out or at least delayed until he’s no longer president more editors send polite rejection letters for your novel but you continue to hope for the best knowing it could take a year or more for the agent to work her way through all the publishers big and small a homemade sex tape of the actress pamela anderson and her husband tommy lee the drummer for the heavy-metal band mötley crüe stolen by a disgruntled electrician working on their house becomes available to the public for purchase the actress and the drummer claim the tape has been leaked widely enough that the only recourse is to strike a distribution deal to receive a share of the monies for the video you saw it when it first came out at a brunch thrown by the music video editor for atlantic records you met through your former drummer–turned–writer friend the video lives up to the hype but you can’t decide if tommy and pamela are truly that exhibitionist or if they knew in their heart of hearts that others might one day see the video an editor declines to publish your novel saying if he were still working at the previous house where he’d worked he’d publish it in a second which seems like a compliment but doesn’t sit like one kenneth starr subpoenas the bookstore where monica lewinsky shops and learns that she recently purchased a copy of vox by nicholson baker a book in the form of a phone sex conversation the agent representing you comes to your desk and says she shouldn’t tell you this but she just got off the phone with an editor who is halfway through your book and knows he wants to buy it the publisher is one of the smaller ones so the money wouldn’t be spectacular but the publisher is well regarded which could mean some critical success you have a hard time refraining from mentioning this bit of intel to your friends who are curious how it’s going the judge throws out paula jones’s sexual harassment suit against president clinton one half of the disgraced musical duo milli vanilli the ones who had to give back their grammy when it was revealed they were lip-synchers is found dead in his hotel room from a drug overdose on the eve of the release of milli vanilli’s comeback album featuring actual vocals from the duo there’s no word from the editor who wants to publish your book but the agent says to give him a little more time a show from britain called teletubbies debuts on pbs and everyone gaggles about how weird the teletubbies are wondering what exactly they’re supposed to be and why they have televisions for stomachs the anxiety about the silence from the editor interested in publishing your novel is distracting and your agent finally places a call to see if there’s any news and she looks ashen when she reports that the editor left suddenly to go work for aol his office having already been cleaned out you’re devastated but relieved that you never mentioned a word of it to anyone and you put all your hopes on the editors who are still considering the book a man follows the pop singer george michael into a bathroom at will rogers park in beverly hills and says show me yours and i’ll show you mine and when he does the man who is a cop arrests him for engaging in a lewd act drinks with friends at minetta’s for your birthday and you’re standing at the crowded bar trying to get the bar manager’s attention and when you look in the mirror behind the bar you see the actor who played ferris bueller is standing next to you and it takes everything you have not to turn to him and tell him how much you loved ferris and fancied that you were him when you were in high school and when you wake in the morning with a concussive headache you’re proud of yourself for having not said a word president clinton holds his first public press conference since the lewinsky scandal broke and is livid about the inquiry initiated by kenneth starr frank sinatra dies and the empire state building is lit up blue as a tribute you stumble to the subway after a night of drinking and all the bars are blasting sinatra music your colleague at harold ober the other assistant has been asking if you want to hang out he’s a lot younger than you are just like all the assistants in publishing and so you put it off but then one night agree and end up shooting pool with him and his friend who is an assistant to one of the editors who read your novel the friend really liked the novel and says so which means more to you than it should the comedian phil hartman is murdered in his sleep by his wife while their two children sleep in their rooms in the same house the wife flees and brings back a friend to try to help her figure out what to do and when the friend isn’t looking she locks herself in the house and commits suicide a friend who runs the print shop at memorial sloan kettering cancer center scores two tickets to the yankees game which stops with a rain delay you don’t know anything about baseball but know the history of yankee stadium however the awe wears off the more it rains and the drunker everyone gets the game finally restarts and the opposing team the hated rival boston red sox score right away and your friend being from boston cheers them on to the dismay of those around you and some guys want to make an issue of it but your friend won’t back down and you sit tense wondering what will happen next but then the yankees start winning which is the balm the situation needs you’re starting to become a regular at george plimpton’s place on east seventy-second street this time for a book party for a novelist who dedicated his book to bret easton ellis which is your only interest in attending save for the free food and drinks you meet the writer jonathan ames who is in awe of plimpton and fitzgerald and seems to emulate both not just fitzgerald’s sensitivity but also the tenets of plimpton’s participatory journalism plimpton having written about the time he quarterbacked for the detroit lions or pitched to willie mays or took a bullet from john wayne you recall fitzgerald’s advice to his daughter when she professed wanting to become a writer you can’t do something for the sake of writing about it but george plimpton surely could and did the writer at bennington who helped save you from the debacle of the teacher who disappeared is reading at the national arts club a private club that once boasted mark twain as a member you’re concerned about the dress code when you see a sign that gentlemen must wear jackets after 5 pm but the only true hassle is the bartender who refuses to see you your boss at harold ober agrees to let you train to princeton on fridays to root around in the ober archives for your history of harold ober project you stroll the princeton quad passing students roughly your age wondering if they mistake you for one of their own you stand before the house on prospect avenue where fitzgerald lived as a student hunting fitzgerald’s ghost in every corner of campus the irony of his being one of princeton’s most famous alums even though he never actually graduated you finally settle into a chair in firestone library and summon the first box of the ober archives gingerly flipping through files of yellowed typewritten letters surprising in their lack of detail about ober the man letters devoid of gossip or news of the day your hope of preserving a romantic history fluttering away as you comb through the boxes and you end up canceling the weekly train trips a few weeks into the project one of the spice girls ginger spice announces that she’s leaving the all-girl supergroup in order to launch a solo career a respite in the cobbling together of beds and couches comes in the form of a room to rent inside a warehouse in an industrial section of brooklyn called dumbo an unfortunate acronym for down under the manhattan bridge overpass dumbo is little more than artists squatting in their studios there are no services and at night the streets become deadly quiet but the room is cheap and so you move your stuff into a building with a helmet factory on the fifth floor the window in your small room overlooks the power plant next door the east river just beyond and you think about how just up the river is george plimpton’s opulent apartment and how that’s worlds away from where you’ll be resting your head your roommate is an artist friend of the artist going out with the former drummer–turned–writer which is how you heard of the sublet your roommate’s art is across many mediums but one of the more recent ones is her painting her body in latex and then performing at local burlesque shows stripping down and then stripping her skin you see one of these performances on a videotape you mistake for a movie one day when you’re home sick from work president clinton is subpoenaed in the lewinsky matter a few days later lewinsky meets with kenneth starr and admits to a sexual encounter with the president the very next day lewinsky is granted immunity president clinton agrees to testify voluntarily lewinsky hands over one of her dresses which rumor has it contains some of the president’s dna on it the little kid from diff’rent strokes everyone loved is arrested for punching a woman who asks for his autograph while he’s shopping for a bulletproof vest for his job as a security guard paula jones’s lawyers appeal to have her lawsuit against the president reinstated bret easton ellis invites you to dinner at the bowery bar a chic bar and grill a known haunt of actors and models bret also invites two other writers he knows one of them you know as a writer whose work bret discovered as a zine in tower records bret recommended the writer to someone and the writer got a book deal so you’re naturally a little jealous but you honestly think the writer’s work isn’t very good but maybe that’s just jealousy the other writer is someone bret attended bennington with and you’re starting to feel like a fish out of water until bret favorably mentions your as-yet-unpublished novel to the others and they pepper you with sincere questions about it and wish you good luck trying to get it published and you admit that you suspect it’s not going to happen they suggest starting something new and whether or not you will feels like a test of your confidence in your first novel finding a publisher immunity in hand monica lewinsky testifies before the grand jury you relax on the porch of the davis alumni house at bennington college taking in the summer landscape as you and your friend from boston await the arrival of your fellow benningtonites the former drummer–turned–writer and his artist girlfriend as well as the woman who lent you her basement apartment in concord the five of you chipping in to rent the house to get some work done faced with the reality that your first novel has been seen by every publisher in and out of new york without garnering any interest you know you need to start a new writing project the consistent criticism about your first novel being too dark stung even though books that are dark or called small are considered literary the preferred label of most writers you know your time as a student at bennington impressed upon you that literary distinction is preferable to money or wide readership a theory that your job in publishing has all but erased you wonder if it isn’t possible to shoot for both and you have this in mind when you spend your week at the alumni house casting about for ideas for a new book lighting on the notion of using your second published story we’re so famous as a springboard for a novel the short story is only eight pages long so there’s room to enlarge the narrative around the theme of celebrity obsession you’re thinking about a gentle criticism of society’s infatuation with frivolity and minutiae about celebrities nothing overt or harsh especially since you’re in no way above the fray though part of you feels manipulated into being interested in things you wouldn’t normally care about you use the first-person voice of the short story and just start writing and by the end of the week you have close to eighty pages having taken breaks only for dinner and nightly carousing with the others you’re so excited about the new pages that you show them to your agent back at ober hoping she’ll be excited too but she frowns and complains that the book makes women look dumb you’re so upset that you put the pages in a drawer and try to forget them instead researching small foreign publishers who might be interested in publishing your first novel outside of america which you’re fine with president clinton becomes the first sitting president to give testimony to a grand jury investigating him he goes on television after giving his testimony and admits that he had an improper relationship with monica lewinsky but did not have sexual relations with her there’s a rumor in the press that the president has submitted a dna sample to kenneth starr and word about monica lewinsky’s unlaundered blue dress leaks out major league baseball players mark mcgwire and sammy sosa are in a race to break the long-held single-season home run record and mcgwire finally does in a game against sosa’s team kenneth starr turns in the results of his investigation and calls for the impeachment of president clinton whose four-hour grand jury testimony is leaked to the networks who air it in full bret easton ellis calls you at work to tell you that you’re mentioned in a new york times article about kgb bar where you and your former drummer–turned–writer friend will be reading your short stories published in literary magazines you run across the street and buy a copy showing everyone in the office the full-page article staring at your name in print the woman who previously stalked late-night host david letterman stealing his porsche and sleeping near the tennis courts of his home in connecticut kneels in front of a train in colorado the house of representatives authorizes an impeachment inquiry against president clinton sportscaster marv albert’s criminal record is wiped clean after a year of good behavior two teens in wyoming pretend to be gay and lure an openly gay kid to a remote area and beat and rob him and chain him to a fence where he’s discovered eighteen hours after he dies less than a week later from his beating president clinton signs legislation meant to prepare the government for the upcoming millennium-bug problem something about banks not being able to recognize the year 2000 because they previously used only two digits instead of four when writing computer software not just banks but lots of problems maybe on the horizon some say it’ll be the end of civilization when computers think the year 2000 is really the year 1900 the actor michael j fox who played that kid you loved on that show when you were a kid and all the back to the future movies too announces he has parkinson’s disease the new york tabloids are ablaze with headlines about the comedian jerry seinfeld and a woman he met at a health club who was recently married to the son of a prominent theater family the woman ends the marriage after four months and begins dating seinfeld president clinton settles with paula jones over her lawsuit without admitting any wrongdoing among your cherished responsibilities working at harold ober is opening the mail as a kid you would join fan clubs and send away for things just to have a reason to run to the mailbox at ober the mail arrives in two or three mailbags every afternoon and it’s your job to sort the query letters manuscripts royalty statements fan mail and the like the most interesting mail is always from j d salinger bearing a typewritten return address somewhere in vermont the envelopes usually stuffed with items salinger considers a nuisance or matters he needs his agent your boss to handle directly the cover letter to his agent your boss is never signed though salinger prints his name anything with his signature is considered valuable and owing to some contracts recently stolen from the agency that handles his foreign rights you spend a couple of days photocopying all of ober’s correspondence and contracts involving salinger and shredding the originals under the eye of your boss there is something admirable in the way salinger refuses any of his work to be reprinted or adapted the television show freaks and geeks writes for permission to use a copy of the catcher in the rye as a prop in a scene and ober responds with salinger’s long-standing policy against such a thing hoping the producers wouldn’t ferret out that when the mel gibson julia roberts movie conspiracy theory asked to use the book as a central prop to the movie and were told no they realized they didn’t need permission a start-up called amazon sends over a script for a proposed television commercial featuring delivery of a box to a house in the woods wherein the house’s occupant merely slats the blinds as the delivery person walks past a mailbox emblazoned with the name salinger which ober declines even though you all laugh about it around the office but any whiff of infringement is no laughing matter the fbi has been involved in a case going back to the 1970s when someone offered for sale a book of all twenty-two of salinger’s short stories selling them all over the country out of the back of a vehicle no one could describe by a bookseller that no one could identify the burgeoning internet provides an avenue for further sales of the bootleg book and when ober notices it for sale on the auction site ebay we write them a letter demanding they remove the item ebay’s initial response is the standard fare that outside of body parts and other egregiousness they are not responsible for the content of auctions transacted on their site but a second letter warning them of their complicity in trafficking in copyright infringement brings the desired result and you are assigned a new daily routine perusing ebay for illegal salingeralia the question you field the most from friends is whether or not the catcher in the rye will ever be made into a movie and you say not in the author’s lifetime it’s his wish for all his work that none of it be adapted for film some story about a disaster the time one of his short stories was filmed with his permission so when an advance article appears in the new york times about an iranian film festival at lincoln center that will feature a film based on salinger’s franny and zooey the ober forces mobilize quickly the attorney ober keeps on retainer on salinger’s behalf is apprised of the situation and though there’s no copyright convention between the united states and iran preventing the making of the film the fact that the film is being shown on united states soil will make it easy to quash on the grounds that it is a violation of salinger’s copyright your boss lays this out in a letter to salinger with the note asking for further instructions from him the timing is bad though as your boss is leaving on one of the scarce vacations she takes so in her letter to salinger she tells him just to call and talk to you about what he wants to do your boss tells you that the author is suffering from some deafness and that you’ll have to shout into the phone if he calls you don’t think he’ll really call so you’re surprised when you pick up the phone at your desk and the deep gravelly voice on the other end says your name with a question mark at the end in an accusatory way and then says salinger here i think we ought to do something about this thing you tell him you’ll give the message to the lawyer and salinger says very good and then good-bye when you hang up you are a little shaken by what has just transpired the same as if you’d seen a ghost the lawyer stops the showing at lincoln center and the whole matter disappears just like that your friend from bennington who lives in brooklyn has been working on a memoir about drinking in bars every night and to celebrate the near end he invites everyone he knows to mcsorley’s old ale house where he’ll be in residence for twelve straight hours you go for a lot of it happy to celebrate the success of his fieldwork but also the end of another year in new york for you with all its ups and downs bret easton ellis invites you to his annual christmas party one of the more exclusive holiday parties and you make the mistake of attending alone thinking that you aren’t allowed to bring anyone but when you arrive you see that bret’s loft has been cleared of all furniture save for a stereo system in the corner screeching at levels making conversation intolerable bret shyly hiding in the corner near the stereo console while people approach him you also bring a christmas gift a photocopy of the contract for the great gatsby but no one else has brought anything and you submarine the manila envelope near the catered food and get in line for a drink nodding at bret who maybe does or doesn’t see you recognize some faces but not the girl who is standing next to you hanging on the extremely tall guy you recognize as one of the editors behind the new york literary magazine open city but then the girl turns in profile and you see it’s the actress parker posey and you just smile and nod rather than make a fuss about how great you think she is the population of the loft doubles and triples it seems and you think there’s no way all these people were invited and without finishing your drink you escape grabbing your coat from the coat check bret has set up in the lobby of his building president clinton is impeached by the house of representatives for lying under oath and obstructing justice only the second president in history to be impeached after andrew johnson who was impeached for removing the secretary of war and replacing him with ulysses s grant the new year opens with clinton’s senate trial by now the facts and alleged facts of the matter well known basketball player michael jordan retires for the last time and for good you head up to bennington with some friends to hang around the residency see old teachers and participate on a publishing panel extolling what you’ve gleaned about working in publishing without trying to sound too defeatist you don’t let the reality that you’re an alum with a novel that failed to sell ruin the homecoming back in new york you see the writer jonathan ames in his one-man show oedipussy and witness firsthand how much ames idolizes george plimpton the show an incredible bridge between ames’s work and his persona you think about how having a persona is oftentimes the difference between the mortal and immortal especially when it comes to writers there’s always some memorable backstory stories outside the covers of their books that keep authors alive in everyone’s imagination none more than fitzgerald but also bret easton ellis whom you have drinks with the following night bret amused by all you tell him about jonathan’s show you also let him know that your first novel failed to find a publisher and he encourages you just to move on from it and you remember the pages of the new project you shelved and look them over devising a way to revise the material so that the entire novel isn’t told from just one point of view which you suspect is what turned your agent off the televangelist jerry falwell warns parents that one of the teletubbies the one called tinky winky is really gay and bad for children a twenty-two-year-old immigrant from guinea is shot forty-one times on the landing of his apartment in the bronx by four police officers who mistake him for a rape suspect and further mistake his reaching for his wallet as him reaching for a gun you place another short story with a small literary magazine which gives you some much-needed confidence as you dive into the revision of we’re so famous the senate votes to acquit president clinton of his impeachment charges the thing over except for everyone’s divided opinions about it you pitch the idea of editing an all-interview issue of the mississippi review using your interview with bret easton ellis as a centerpiece and are awarded the commission you tap your closest bennington friends to come on board and interview their favorite writers everyone excited about the project the film critic gene siskel who owns the suit john travolta wore in the movie saturday night fever dies from complications after surgery for brain cancer your friend from college your former literary magazine coeditor blows through new york with her best friend who happens to work for notorious boxing promoter don king and who can get tickets to practically anything and invites you to the broadway show cabaret featuring the actress jennifer jason leigh attending the show you realize there are whole swaths of new york you know nothing about the broadway district one of them that cabaret is based on the writings of christopher isherwood a writer you’re vaguely familiar with comes as a surprise you’ve previously given no thought to the idea of musicals being based on literary works doctor jack kevorkian the euthanasia booster present at a number of suicides over the years is arrested when he actually helps someone commit suicide the magician david blaine is buried in a plastic coffin under a tank of water for a week across the street from trump plaza everyone stopping by to have their picture taken with the entombed magician you move out of the warehouse in dumbo and back into the spare bedroom in the west village apartment of your friend the former drummer–turned–writer and his artist girlfriend the rapper puff daddy is arrested for assaulting the manager of another rapper over a crucifixion scene in a music video you and your friend the former drummer–turned–writer are asked to teach a hemingway story to a class of high school students at the kennedy library in boston for the hemingway centennial the hemingway room at the kennedy library is a memorial to the writer and his life and works you’re not much of a hemingway fan having long ago chosen fitzgerald’s side of the literary contretemps promoted through legend though you recognize that the idea of having to choose sides is ridiculous same as the east coast/west coast rap thing two seniors dressed in trench coats walk into their colorado high school and open fire killing twelve students and a teacher and injuring almost two dozen other students before committing suicide in the school’s library the all-interview issue of the mississippi review comes together easily and you turn everything in eager to see it in print on the eve of being retried by the government your old boss charles h keating jr pleads guilty to wire and bankruptcy fraud and receives a sentence of time already served ending the legal proceedings against him you sell another short story to a literary magazine a little bit of a roll happening the girl who played the sister on diff’rent strokes dies of an accidental overdose love letters between j d salinger and a college girl he famously seduced are sold by the college girl at auction at sotheby’s and purchased by a software magnate who returns them to salinger via harold ober and you shred them while your boss watches you turn in the final draft of your new novel we’re so famous to your agent but she still doesn’t like it well enough to represent it but you beg her to try a few publishers just to see agreeing to drop the matter if the editors concur the agent agrees sportscaster marv albert is given back his old job at nbc bret easton ellis invites you to drinks with jay mcinerney at a bar called pop around the corner from bret’s loft in the east village and mcinerney makes a crack about bret traveling a long distance and you watch in amusement as they banter back and forth the handful of editors your agent sends we’re so famous to decline the manuscript and that’s that though you still feel strongly about the book you send it on your own to your colleague’s friend the one you shot pool with and who said he liked your first book but the manuscript comes back your colleague’s friend having left his job the small plane piloted by john f kennedy jr goes missing on a flight from new jersey to his family’s compound on martha’s vineyard where he was to attend the wedding of a cousin president clinton orders u.s. navy warships to assist in the search and the wreckage and bodies of kennedy and his wife and the wife’s sister are found five days later you take the subway down to the loft apartment in tribeca where jfk jr lived to see the shrine of flowers and photos and notes no one can figure out for sure if the movie the blair witch project is real or not you see it even though you don’t really like horror films and you can’t tell but think the marketing campaign is to blame for the confusion which is the filmmaker’s intention and everyone proclaims the use of the internet in this way as genius the government pays the heirs of abraham zapruder tens of millions of dollars rather than relinquish the footage of kennedy’s assassination they confiscated that november day in dallas a couple you don’t know personally but who are friends of friends abandon their apartment in queens for a better apartment the rent all paid up on the old place so you buy an inflatable mattress and camping lantern and sleep on the floor of the empty apartment the early-morning light streaming in through the curtainless rooms when the month is over you’re able to crash temporarily on the couch in the upper east side apartment of your agent who spends most of her time upstate the literary agent’s boyfriend a bartender and the father of the actor dylan mcdermott is your roommate though you hardly see each other the calendar turns to october and you’re out of couches and connections to places to sleep so you move your meager possessions into the harold ober offices the hardest part about living at ober is fooling the twenty-four-hour doormen whom you simply befriend rather than insult they look the other way when you sneak a bag of laundry out of the building or when you duck out early in the morning to grab a shower at the health club you join on a trial membership for just that purpose you sleep on your boss’s floor because of the padding under her rug which is the most comfortable spot a dancer you meet through your bennington friend writing the bar memoir is called away on tour and you sublet her tiny studio apartment in brooklyn while she’s away michael jackson’s wife debbie rowe files for divorce a new show on television that claims to be unscripted debuts apparently people are stuck in the wild and have to participate in rounds of challenges to earn points for the right to stay the learjet carrying golfer payne stewart from florida to texas veers off course and the fighters that scrambled to escort it see that everyone inside is dead they follow the jet north and rather than shoot it down they wait for it to run out of fuel which it does and crashes in a field in south dakota you track down your colleague’s friend who liked your first novel who is now working at a different publisher and send him we’re so famous the mississippi review selects a short story you wrote for inclusion in their prize issue when the dancer returns you’re homeless again and your agent lets you stay at her place again as she’ll be away for most of november and december for the holidays after some serious deliberations your friend the former drummer–turned–writer and you decide to join the movement of literary magazines being founded in new york by starting your own you use what contacts you have to learn about distribution subscription drives how to keep databases and how to avoid production nightmares you both assemble a staff made up of friends from bennington and from your travels in new york one of the fiction editors suggests calling the magazine post road since half the editors are in new york and half are in boston and all the founding editors are excited for the venture the rapper jay z is arrested for stabbing a record executive your boss throws a christmas party at her apartment and you meet ira levin the longtime harold ober client who wrote rosemary’s baby and other famous books you shower him with praise even though you haven’t read his work a practice that has now become rote but levin’s humility strikes you and you engage him in a conversation about the history of harold ober of which he says he’s proud to be a part the beatle george harrison is stabbed in his home by an intruder the rapper puff daddy and his girlfriend the actress jennifer lopez are at a new york city nightclub where a scuffle breaks out shots are fired and the rapper is arrested as the clock counts down to the year 2000 the overzealous wait with bated breath for the end of times but when the calendar turns to january all that really happens is a couple of credit card machines refuse to process sales and a bank of slot machines at a casino in delaware all quit working a friend of a friend knows someone in williamsburg brooklyn where your friend who is writing the bar memoir lives who needs a roommate and you move in your room is fully furnished with the stuff from the previous tenant the best friend of your new roommate but best friend no more as he started sleeping with his friend’s girlfriend who was also living in the apartment the friend and the girlfriend having decamped the common bathroom has no lights so you buy some battery-powered lighting for use in the middle of the night you’ve all but given up on hearing from your colleague’s friend and the new year brings the sober reality that you’re starting from square one writing-wise but then an e-mail arrives in your inbox from your colleague’s friend in his capacity at bloomsbury usa the american publishing arm of the british publisher that has made piles of dough publishing the harry potter books asking if you’d be interested in having your novel published as a paperback original meaning it wouldn’t come out as a hardcover and meaning that there wouldn’t be a lot of review coverage since paperback originals are hardly reviewed but you hardly care about that and you say yes definitely and your colleague’s friend answers that in that case he’d like to acquire the book and publish it your new editor writes back with effusive praise for the novel and says he’ll get an official offer to you in a day or two having seen publishing deals at ober fall apart you keep the great news of your impending publication to yourself also genuinely afraid of jinxing the prospect an idea you think ridiculous until your editor seems to disappear two days three days a week goes by with no word you don’t want to start your publishing relationship off panicking about the offer so you busy yourself at work glad that you didn’t say anything to anyone about the e-mail the colleague you have in common with your new editor has long since left ober and so you have no insight into what’s going on you think about whether or not the book deal is real every second of every minute of the day the rapper puff daddy is charged in the incident in the nightclub with jennifer lopez all of the post road editors begin soliciting work for their respective sections fiction poetry nonfiction theater criticism and art the band rage against the machine plays a concert on wall street and the swelling crowds cause the markets to close early for security reasons you look up from your desk to find the film agent and the foreign-rights agent two colleagues that have like everyone at ober come to seem like family the agents smile and hand you the fax from bloomsbury usa with the offer for we’re so famous word leaks out quickly and everyone congratulates you your new editor e-mails to say he’s faxed the offer apologizing for the delay but he was out for two weeks with the flu offer in hand you tell your friends who all convene at minetta’s in the west village to celebrate a reality show called who wants to marry a multi-millionaire airs to enormous ratings the contest pits fifty women one from each state against each other for the chance to marry a millionaire they’ve never met at the end of the show the bride is chosen and marries the millionaire right then and there walking off the set with a three-carat diamond and tens of thousands of dollars in wedding presents because bloomsbury usa is a small office in new york you negotiate your contract with the uk office which means by fax and the old routine you used to employ to communicate with the belgian au pair resumes this time with the woman in the contracts office in london your colleagues at ober help you negotiate a fair contract and the back-and-forth with london is nothing but cordial there’s some question as to whether or not the millionaire from the reality show is actually a millionaire and it comes to light that the millionaire is using a fake name and his former girlfriend had to file a restraining order against him when she ended their relationship bloomsbury uk decides to publish a british edition of we’re so famous in the summer and you’re assigned a british editor as well mostly to work on the cover the bride of the millionaire wants the marriage annulled and tells everyone that the relationship was not consummated on the honeymoon all the police officers who riddled the immigrant reaching for his wallet with forty-one bullets are acquitted the rapper puff daddy pleads not guilty to charges he tried to bribe his driver into saying the gun used at the nightclub shooting was his the video producer for atlantic records that you met through your friend the former drummer–turned–writer has offices in midtown near harold ober and she invites you over for lunch in the atlantic records cafeteria and you can’t believe the smorgasbord available for pennies on the dollar to those who can afford otherwise your editor takes you to lunch to celebrate your signing the contract and you meet for hangar steaks at les halles a parisian brasserie on park avenue near your editor’s office in the flatiron building proximity is not the only connection the restaurant enjoys its executive chef is anthony bourdain another bloomsbury author bourdain brings your hangar steaks and chats for a bit before disappearing back into the kitchen his ponytail the last you see of him your editor who resembles a young john f kennedy jr reiterates his praise for we’re so famous and you touch on what’s ahead in terms of copyediting and designing the cover and asking writers for blurbs you say you think you can get a few blurbs easily and he leaves that task to you the marriage between the bride and the millionaire is finally annulled after a late night of drinking with your friend who is writing the bar memoir you’re stranded on the subway platform far from brooklyn with a sudden urge to urinate you drift away from your friends and the crowds of people walking into the tunnel a little ways and relieve yourself when you walk back into the light a half a dozen or so off-duty police officers also waiting for the train pull out the badges they’re wearing around their necks and you’re arrested and released with a ticket on the spot much to the amusement of your friends your editor commissions a photo shoot in a limousine with two girls dressed in ’80s clothes for the cover of your book the first part of advance payment from bloomsbury arrives and you write a check to the southern lawyer back in phoenix who loaned you the money he couldn’t be more surprised to be repaid so quickly a cuban boy whose mother drowned trying to cross the waters into florida and who has been staying with his relatives in miami is seized and returned to cuba to the boy’s father the tug-of-war between the united states and cuba over the boy won by cuba you concoct the idea of an oral biography of bret easton ellis much like george plimpton’s book about edie sedgwick you plan to talk to all of bret’s friends and contemporaries excited about the idea you bring it to bret who smiles and assents to your exploring it telling you to keep him posted the rapper eminem is arrested twice once for assaulting a man he witnessed kissing his estranged wife outside of a nightclub and another time for waving a gun at rival rappers insane clown posse the copyediting of your book commences you’re given a printout of your manuscript with queries from the copyeditor most of which you can answer easily but one about the spelling of one of the singers in bananarama you’re not sure about and you hunt through some local record stores for the answer a concorde flight takes off from paris and crashes immediately killing everyone on board an agent in the midst of a divorce rents an empty office at harold ober and you ask him to represent the oral biography of bret easton ellis and he agrees to send it around for you the rapper eminem records a song wherein he describes killing his estranged wife you ask bret for a blurb for we’re so famous and he gives you one that nails what you’re trying to convey jaime clarke pulls off a sympathetic act of sustained male imagination entering the minds of innocent teenage girls dreaming of fame a glibly surreal world where the only thing wanted is notoriety and all you really desire leads to celebrity and where stardom is the only point of reference what’s new about this novel is how unconsciously casual the characters’ drives are this lust is as natural to them as being american it’s almost a birthright imagine britney spears narrating the day of the locust as a gentle fable and you’ll get the idea your editor loves the blurb too and says he’ll put it on the cover ditto the british editor and the british edition eminem’s estranged wife attends his concert on his promise that he won’t perform the song he wrote about her but he does anyway and she leaves distraught getting in a car wreck on the way home once home she tries to commit suicide by slitting her wrists the british cover for we’re so famous is a beautiful shot of the hollywood sign traced over in pink the writer and now raconteur jonathan ames also gives you a blurb darkly and pinkly comic this is the story of a trio of teenage american girls and their pursuit of the three big m’s of american life music movies and murder this is an impressive debut by a talented young novelist everyone is afraid of contracting the west nile virus which is spread through mosquitoes the bride who had her tv marriage to the millionaire annulled poses for playboy the last blurb for we’re so famous comes from bob shacochis a national book award–winning author you know from bennington like a make-up artist jaime clarke is a master illusionist in his deft hands emptiness seems full teenage pathos appears sassy and charming we’re so famous is a blithe highly entertaining indictment of the permanent state of adolescence that trademarks our culture a made-for-tv world where innocence is hardly a virtue ambition barely a value system eminem files for divorce from his estranged wife and she sues him for ten million dollars for defaming her in the song he wrote about her all of the pieces that constitute the first issue of post road are gathered by the editors and your friend who runs the print shop at memorial sloan kettering and who is also the theater editor and publisher begins laying out the magazine you head to the print shop every day after your job at harold ober to help with the design and printing all of the editors who can congregate at the print shop after hours and help collate and bind too you come home to your apartment and find all the furniture in your bedroom gone having forgotten that it belongs to your roommate’s friend and so you cobble together the couch cushions for the night before arranging for a new mattress to be delivered working the switchboard at harold ober late on a friday afternoon before you’re supposed to hop a train to visit your friend who works for the paris review at her parents’ house in the hamptons you answer a call for the divorced agent who is soliciting editors with your proposed oral biography of bret easton ellis the divorced agent is gone for the weekend and you say so and the caller reveals himself to be a reporter for new york magazine looking to track you down for a comment about an article they’re going to run about bret refusing to cooperate with the oral biography all your nerves are snapping as you pretend not to have any contact information to give and you get off the phone as quickly as possible brooding on the train about what’s going on if you’ve offended bret in some way worried that you’ve done something terrible the whole episode threatens the nice weekend you’ve planned with your friend who works for the paris review and when she picks you up at the train station she senses something and you blurt it all out she offers to help says she has a friend from college who is a hacker and who can get into the new york magazine server you say yes please and after an hour or so you’re holding a printout of the article new york magazine is going to publish called bret easton ellis evades history which reads bret easton ellis has always had a knack for getting press but young writers looking to hitch their wagons to his publicity mule should look elsewhere the american psycho author tells us he is refusing to cooperate with an oral history of his life and work being written by fellow bennington alum jamie clarke according to inside.com clarke intends to interview such literary folk as tama janowitz jay mcinerney and joan didion so why won’t ellis touch the project with a ten-foot pen a friend of his tells us he just isn’t in the mood but another tipster says that ellis was put off when he found out that a character in clarke’s upcoming debut novel we’re so famous is bryan metro a character from ellis’s the informers more bad news for clarke who could not be reached for comment comes from an editor at a top publisher who’s been pitched the project we saw the proposal and we were like no it does not make any sense to do this says the insider explaining that ellis is too young for his bio to make a good read the literary biographies that work are about the range of a person’s life unless you’ve got a writer in an older stage it’s hard to see any evolution well we’re sure clarke will dig up something you vow to avoid bret for a while and when you do see him again you ask if he saw the article and he smiles and says he saw it and that’s that a pop culture magazine called shout publishes an early excerpt of we’re so famous by arrangement with bloomsbury usa and the magazine editor asks if you want to contribute nonfiction and you pitch an article about how the rapper tupac shakur’s fans believe he isn’t really dead and will rise again on a date in the future you’re not much of a rap fan so you consult your youngest brother who is to get the facts straight shout loves the idea and runs the piece the whitewater investigation against president clinton closes without any charges being leveled the first issue of post road comes out and you arrange back-to-back parties in bars in new york city and boston to celebrate both attended by most of the editors and a lot of writers who welcome the magazine into the literary world mister rogers from mister rogers’ neighborhood is diagnosed with stomach cancer and announces the end of his show he’ll tape a handful of episodes to wind the show down that will air in the coming months your roommates sit around the television giggling about how they voted for ralph nader for president but then disbelief sets in as they watch the election results roll in it all coming down to which candidate vice president al gore or texas governor george w bush wins the state of florida most of the television networks call florida for gore but a couple of hours later they retract and think maybe the votes mostly belong to bush early the next morning gore calls bush to concede but on his way to thank his supporters his aides tell him that florida is too close to call so he doubles back to his campaign headquarters and calls bush to rescind his concession because the margin of victory for bush is so slim the state of florida initiates a recall next day the popular vote totals are released for the election and gore has about 150,000 more votes than bush but neither has enough electoral votes to win gore asks for a hand count in some counties but the results have to be certified within a week and the secretary of state admits they’ll be lucky to make the deadline two days later bush wants an injunction to stop the hand recounts next day the hand counting expands to more counties next day a judge rejects bush’s injunction to stop the hand recounts one of the larger democratic counties votes against hand recounting next day florida officials vote to delay further recounts until they can clarify if they have the right to undertake the recounts also a judge in palm beach hears a case about poor ballot design which might’ve led some voters wanting to vote for gore to actually vote for a third-party candidate the secretary of state certifies the election results in bush’s favor next day the large democratic county reverses itself and decides to recount the secretary of state files a petition with the florida supreme court to stop recounts bush joins the petition gore threatens to sue for a recount in all counties if bush doesn’t accept recounts of the contested counties the florida supreme court denies the request to block recounts the secretary of state says she will not consider returns from counties conducting recounts bush rejects gore’s proposal for a statewide recount as well as the suggestion that they meet face-to-face next day bush files an appeal with the federal appeals court in atlanta to stop the recounts in florida gore files a motion in opposition also filing an emergency motion with the state challenging the secretary of state’s right to refuse to certify some election results the florida supreme court says the state can go ahead with recounting next day the florida supreme court says the secretary of state may not yet certify results the court of appeals in atlanta denies bush’s request to stop the manual recounts next day bush’s lead over gore triples when all of the overseas ballots are counted next day another county opts to recount manually next day the florida supreme court hears arguments about whether or not the secretary of state should have to wait for all recounts to certify election results next day the florida supreme court rules in a unanimous decision that recounts may continue and that the totals must be included in the final results all results must be certified in the next five days next day vice presidential candidate dick cheney suffers a mild heart attack and undergoes an operation to place a stent in his narrowing artery bush petitions the u.s. supreme court over the florida surpreme court ruling about counting all ballots a judge in florida says hanging chads cannot be excluded from the recount the county comprising miami votes to halt its manual recount next day gore files papers with the florida supreme court to force the county comprising miami to resume recounting but the court rejects the motion the u.s. supreme court agrees to hear bush’s complaints about recounting next day bush drops a lawsuit he filed to force florida to reconsider ballots from overseas military members rejected on technicalities next day the secretary of state denies one county an hour-and-a-half extension of the 5 pm deadline to file totals and thousands of ballots are left uncounted the secretary of state declares bush the winner in florida but there’s too much in doubt for it to mean anything five hundred votes separate bush and gore in florida the governor who is george bush’s brother certifies the electoral votes next day gore officially contests the election results with the state of florida bush files a motion with the appeals court in atlanta to delay the start of the trial over whether or not florida has the right to recount next day gore asks a county circuit judge to authorize an immediate recount of tens of thousands of disputed ballots the judge wants everything the ballots the voting booths and voting machines brought to his courtroom next day gore and bush file briefs with the united states supreme court over bush’s appeal of the florida state supreme court’s authorizing selective recounts next day vice presidential candidate dick cheney announces the opening of transition offices funded by private money when the government refuses to release transition funds and office space to bush because of ongoing litigation next day the united states supreme court hears arguments about bush’s complaints about the state of florida initiating selective recounts the florida supreme court rejects gore’s request to immediately begin hand recounts of tens of thousands of ballots from palm beach and the county comprising miami the court of appeals in atlanta agrees to hear cases brought by private individuals that assert that hand recounts are illegal and unconstitutional the florida circuit judge who had ballots and booths and machines hauled into his courtroom holds a hearing about whether or not the tens of thousands of disputed ballots from palm beach and the county including miami should be recounted by hand two days later the united states supreme court overturns the florida supreme court’s decision to restart hand counting and asks for some clarification about the previous deadline for certifying election results the florida circuit judge who had the ballots and booths and machines hauled into his courtroom rules against gore saying recounts aren’t necessary in the disputed counties as they’re heavily democratic so the totals should stand two days later the appeals court in atlanta denies bush’s appeal to throw out manual recounts in some counties next day gore appeals the ruling of the circuit judge who had the ballots and booths and machines hauled into his courtroom to the florida supreme court next day the florida supreme court reverses the circuit judge’s ruling and orders statewide manual recounts bush seeks a stay before the recounts can begin and petitions the united states supreme court to intervene next day the florida supreme court refuses bush’s stay and begins recounts the appeals court in atlanta also refuses bush’s stay but the united states supreme court issues a stay and all manual recounts come to a halt two days later the united states supreme court hears arguments from both bush and gore lawyers on the issue of the recount bush arguing that the recount is a constitutional violation of the equal protection clause because there is no one standard for undertaking said recount and gore argues it’s just common sense that the recounting is just to show the will of the people the next day the florida house of representatives approves the twenty-five electors pledged to bush in the afternoon the united states supreme court overturns the florida supreme court’s ruling to restart recounting siding with bush that because the recounts are undertaken without a statewide standard for doing so it violates the constitution the next day gore appears on television to concede the election and george w bush becomes president your roommates are beside themselves and get squeamish at various news reports that third-party candidates like the one they voted for likely siphoned off votes for gore the rapper eminem and his wife reconcile the magazine editor at shout who ran your piece on the rapper tupac shakur invites you to a party in chelsea thrown for a new magazine edited by the daughter of the rolling stones guitarist keith richards neither of you knowing in advance that keith richards is going to be at the party the magazine editor says oh my god when he spots the recognizable silhouette of the legendary guitarist you tell him he should go say something to richards and the magazine editor admits the thought makes him so nervous he might vomit you roam a large circle around richards just to check him out and notice the subtle tabs his two bodyguards keep on you and anyone else who approaches richards’s immediate area you don’t really know anything about the rolling stones and so the glimpse of richards is just a curiosity once an editor you met at bret easton ellis’s christmas party said he was casting about for a writer to write a piece about how the rolling stones were the worst band ever and you volunteered for the assignment dropping it when you mentioned the idea to one of your colleagues at harold ober and he looked at you gravely and said you should not write such an article the foreign-rights agent at ober announces that he’s leaving publishing and he advocates for you to have his old job which entails securing foreign-rights deals on behalf of ober clients also flying to germany for the annual rights fair the job pays much more than you’re making and you covet the idea of being a kind of agent without being a full-fledged literary agent but your boss calls you in to tell you that you’re not getting the job and after three years at the agency you’re to remain an assistant you’re disappointed but don’t say so and decide to go part-time to work the other angle writing another novel but you and your roommates are notified that your apartment building is going to be gutted and renovated to accommodate the gentrification of williamsburg and the thought of trying to find yet another apartment coupled with what seems like your fading status at harold ober goads you into throwing in the towel you reluctantly give notice at work and sell what few belongings you have sitting on the bus to the airport you can feel the slow unwinding of your life in new york you know you’ll be back to celebrate the publication of we’re so famous in the spring but outside of that you wonder if you’ll ever see new york again a place that’s felt more like home than any other place you’ve lived but now you’re just one of the many people who have come to the city full of ambition only to be bounced back out you move in with your father in his new house back in arizona committed to finishing another novel one that you hope will lead you back to new york you still have a couple of thousand dollars left from your advance for we’re so famous and hope that perhaps more money will come in maybe from sales of foreign editions or even film options but for the moment you write eight hours a day on the new book about three characters on a scavenger hunt through bars in new york your editor faxes over the first review of we’re so famous by publishers weekly a trade magazine for publishers and booksellers publishers weekly reviews usually setting the pace for how many and what kind of reviews a book will get the publishers weekly review is as harsh as you imagine it can get in its attempt to skewer our obsession with celebrity culture this trifle of a tale about three teenage girls and their quest for fame and fortune only manages to injure itself narrated in three parts the novel follows the exploits of paque stella and daisy talentless teenagers from phoenix ariz with an overwhelming desire for fame obsessed with the british girl group bananarama paque and daisy are avid ’80s aficionados the two record an amateur single that gains notoriety when they are linked to a local murder case but this plot line is abandoned and their singing career goes nowhere following a disastrous live performance stella a struggling actress living in hollywood works in a dinner theater reenacting celebrity deaths her obsession with her new boyfriend an actor who can’t get beyond failed television pilots paque and daisy join her in hollywood to work on a no-budget movie with a no-name director will paque and daisy hit the big time will stella’s stalking of bad-boy rocker bryan metro bear fruit will readers be at all amused by the book’s incessant name-dropping pop culture factoids and the postmodern trick of slipping screenplays and faux fan letters into the narrative not likely although those who find nick hornby and bret easton ellis too challenging might be engaged for a moment or two satire needs to be smarter than its subject and unfortunately this fable is neither wicked nor clever enough to wade out from the shallows it purports to spoof a blurb from ellis probably won’t do much to boost sales after the first 15 minutes and it’s hard to tell who the intended audience is readers under 30 won’t be familiar with much of the ’80s arcana and those over 30 won’t have the patience for the puerile protagonists your editor says to give him a call and you do and he laughs the review off saying it must be an old girlfriend but the nastiness of the review does feel personal and you can’t help but wonder if it’s someone you know new york city is full of wannabe writers many of them taking jobs as critics and while you don’t care about a bad review you can’t shake the tone from your head you feel strongly that whoever wrote it should have to sign his or her name to it that publishers weekly shouldn’t be publishing anonymous reviews if someone feels strongly about a book one way or the other shouldn’t do so behind a curtain it shouldn’t be done behind a curtain also the review mentions bret easton ellis twice which makes you suspect he’s the real target of the reviewer’s disdain you immediately recall an episode at harold ober where the editor of the los angeles review of books called the agent of one of ober’s authors who publicly hated an author with a new book out the editor wanted to hire the ober author to review the author he hated a setup the ober author rightly declined but the fact that the editor initiated the request spooked you around that time you’d been reading a memoir by the long-dead legendary new york times critic anatole broyard who joyfully confessed that it was the job of the critic to bring writers down a notch which he had done time and again all of it swirling in your head as you brooded about the publishers weekly review for we’re so famous the review would likely kill any other reviewers’ interest in the book you imagine you are desperate to know the name of the reviewer and wonder how you can find out your friend who worked for the paris review with the hacker friend wouldn’t be able to find out because the reviewer’s name is likely not filed electronically you hatch a plan a stunt one that at first sounds ludicrous but as you consider it more and more you realize that even if it doesn’t reveal the name of the reviewer it will at least raise the profile of your novel and if you know anything it’s that a raised profile for whatever reason is better than naught so without telling anyone what you’re going to do you send an e-mail to everyone at publishers weekly offering the last thousand dollars of your advance money for the name of the reviewer you also openly cc all the media outlets you can think of and press send before you can talk yourself out of doing it you sleep fitfully that night expecting the time difference in new york to bring replies early in the morning but your barren inbox is a sign either that something is afoot or that no one cares you spend the morning rationalizing what you’ve done you don’t care what people think about you personally all the moving around as a kid erased that from your makeup over the years and you have no agent to disappoint your friends will stick by you you hope your family is family so when your editor calls and asks you what in the world is going on your heart sinks not realizing that publishers weekly would place a call over to bloomsbury usa your editor has been your champion all the way through taking a chance on you and your book and now you’ve embarrassed him and probably gotten him in trouble with his colleagues something you didn’t consider even for a moment mortification sets in and you apologize to him but he’s already written you off you can tell and you’re in the quagmire of your own making by yourself the publicist at bloomsbury usa calls and asks you not to answer any of the interview requests that are coming in about the bounty and you say you’ll do whatever she wants you to forwarding the requests that filter into your inbox straight to her so she can issue a no comment the rapper puff daddy changes his name to p diddy the magazine salon writes a piece about your row with publishers weekly called when authors attack you fly to san diego for a week to meet your friend from new york who is writing the bar memoir who is visiting his friend a hatter who owns a chain of successful hat shops in southern california the music magazine spin publishes a nice short review of we’re so famous which you see in a record store in san diego when you return to phoenix the publishers weekly thing seems like a dream until a friend forwards you a piece from time magazine called poor sport disparaging you and what you’ve done that the journalist is allowed to rail against you without comment from you seems an injustice but you’re trying to salvage anything you can of your relationship with your editor and bloomsbury usa a famous hollywood agent becomes your film agent and you know that his interest is a result of the thing with publishers weekly you bounce to new york for a party celebrating the release of the second issue of post road happy to have the distraction you spend a few days seeing friends in new york before taking the bus to boston where there’s a second post road party your publicist at bloomsbury usa wants you to speak with a journalist writing a piece about the publishers weekly thing and you agree the journalist starts off by mentioning the blurb for we’re so famous from bob shacochis saying that he hates shacochis’s work and you wonder what kind of setup you’re in for the journalist’s piece is called how to make literary journalists nervous and reveals his agenda a more studied approach comes from the novelist kurt andersen on his radio show studio 360 finally you hear some agree with you that reviews should not be written anonymously a point that’s been lost in the maelstrom you give your first public reading from we’re so famous at newtonville books outside of boston a bookstore owned by a friend of your friend from bennington and it’s a comfort to see so many friendly faces from bennington in the crowd including some of your former teachers the next day the village voice runs a long favorable review of we’re so famous which makes your reaction to the publishers weekly review look like an overreaction you travel back to new york as the official publication date nears for a scheduled reading at the astor place barnes & noble the book party will be a few days later and so your entire family flies out arriving at barnes & noble in cabs from the airport just as the reading is about to start you don’t see your editor in the crowd and are bummed out that he’s probably too mad at you to attend you begin reading to the crowd of friends and some people you don’t know and when you look up from the podium during the reading you see the actress molly ringwald cutting through the crowd finding a place in the corner after the reading you’re relieved to find your editor in the back of the room though your interaction with him is a bit awkward before you can launch into an apology about the whole thing and explain your side molly ringwald appears and it’s clear they are a couple and all else is washed away in pleasantries the editor stops by the book party which you’ve arranged at a ukrainian social club in the east village with the help of your friend who is writing a bar memoir and who is married to a ukrainian your friend from college the fitzgerald fan drives up and your family is there and you take a moment to appreciate everyone you care about being in the same room at the same moment you bounce back to arizona the next day and drive to tucson for a sparsely attended reading at your alma mater your former teachers attending one of them saying you didn’t waste any time which you think is a compliment but who knows you bounce to los angeles driving through the desert with your father staying in a pastel-colored hotel near the borders in westwood where you’re scheduled to read when you and your father check in there’s a party of some kind in the lobby bar and you see the actor who played crocodile dundee raising a glass at your reading at borders the next day no one shows up save for one former bennington classmate who sits next to your father but as the reading is about to begin the bennington classmate waltzes through the spacious bookstore and gathers up a few souls whom she deposits in the front row you start reading and a half a dozen men in expensive suits file in and stand at the back agents from the office of the hollywood agent handling the film rights for we’re so famous you say a quick hello when it’s over and they hightail it out as quickly as they arrived you land back in phoenix the small publicity tour for the novel done entertainment weekly publishes an unfavorable review of we’re so famous and you smile when you think of the bad reviews they’ve written about bret easton ellis’s books over the years and when the unimpressed new york times review appears it hardly matters though there’s vindication in the fact that the times reviewed the book at all as they tend not to review paperback originals a victory of sorts you take a data entry job at your mother’s medical billing business as the last of your money is gone bloomsbury usa sends a rejection for your new novel the one about the scavenger hunt and the tilt-a-whirl finally finally finally comes to a rest an intern in washington dc goes missing and the congressman from her district in california is questioned the actor robert blake’s wife is found murdered in the passenger seat of his car he ran back into the italian restaurant where they’d dined to retrieve his gun which had fallen out of his jacket to put a coda on the thing with publishers weekly you go on a local radio morning show and announce that you’re donating all the royalties from we’re so famous to a local literacy group it comes out that robert blake’s wife would send nude photos of herself to men as a means of supporting herself she also ran ads in magazines seeking companionship and then asking men for money which supported her lifestyle and gave her enough money to move to los angeles to pursue a film career that didn’t pan out though it allowed her access to celebrities including marlon brando’s son whom she wrote to in prison after he was convicted of killing his sister’s husband after his release she began dating brando’s son though she was also dating robert blake and when she became pregnant she thought the child was brando’s son’s but a paternity test revealed it was blake’s he married her and moved her and the child into the guesthouse of his home the local paper the phoenix new times publishes an in-depth profile about you which your friends see and you stop to wonder if your old high school girlfriend now married sees it too and all of that feels like a lifetime ago you bounce back to new york city and drive with friends up to bennington for an alumni weekend and feel some love for your novel which though it’s recently published feels like another time period you marvel at the fact that it’s been only four years since you graduated you spend a couple of days on cape cod with your bennington friend from boston and his family his father the former dean of harvard taking in that your friend and his family have been like a second family to you through the years of bouncing between new york and boston and you feel wistful on the flight back to phoenix bloomsbury publishes the british edition of we’re so famous and there are some nice notices you receive an e-mail out of the blue from a record producer in london asking for your address and a few weeks later an envelope arrives with a british copy of your novel signed by bananarama after denying it for months the congressman from the district of the disappeared intern admits that he was having an affair with her but that he knows nothing about what happened to her madonna announces her first tour in over a decade the drowned world tour and you think that about says it all you convince the band fuzzy who appears in we’re so famous to go on a tour of colleges with you in the fall and set about using your ample free time looking at maps calculating costs locating cheap hotels the idea that the tour will coincide with the start of the fall semester inspires you to contact some college english departments for help in arranging appearances but because it’s summer you don’t get a lot of feedback and the idea of touring college campuses fizzles you’re chagrined to learn that the film rights to your novel are being shopped selectively when a small producer asks for a copy and your hollywood agent won’t send it or even consider the producer the populist in you fires up and with the help of your brothers you create a listing on ebay offering up the film rights to we’re so famous to the highest bidder you also fax all the production companies in hollywood and beyond about the auction your hollywood agent calls enraged demanding that you halt what you’re up to but you don’t listen don’t care there’s nothing anyone can say at this point that will influence how you behave the singer aaliyah is killed when her private plane is overloaded with people and equipment and drops into the ocean right after takeoff the last episode of mister rogers’ neighborhood airs the monday you targeted for the start of your college campus tour passes and you’re spent all out of ideas for promoting yourself and your novel and then the unreal becomes real when you wake up the following morning and your father says there’s been an aviation accident in new york city and you watch the city you love the only real home you’ve ever known crumble and burn and people stop thinking about themselves at least for the moment while the man who gave away all of those free gum balls so long ago is put in charge of retaliating against those who ruined that part of new york and a lot of people’s lives forever but it doesn’t take long for everyone to wonder how long is appropriate before it is okay to resume the intense investigation of the insignificant and welcome the comfort of the trivial back into our lives