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my glamorous life

episodes & recollections

#72 the velvet fist

FRIDAY

NEW YORK CITY: I attend a client pow-wow coated in another man’s sweat. The sweat producer is Carrie’s non-paying subtenant. On the advice of an attorney, we’re paying him to vacate the premises. (His plan was to stay in the apartment even though the lease had expired.) If he leaves today, we’re still out thousands, but our legal woes will cease.

It’s the hottest day of the year, humidity 100%. When we arrive to collect the keys, the tiny Gramercy Park apartment is still filled with his stuff. Carrie has a business meeting in 30 minutes. “I’ll handle this,” I tell her. Every man is John Wayne when he needs to be.

In the dinky Tandori oven of an elevator, the sweat of the non-paying subtenant drips onto my head, arms, and legs as I help him move his stuff out. He complains that his rented van has been ticketed. I shake my head sympathetically.

It takes half a dozen trips to finally empty the apartment. He surrenders the keys. I present him with a cashier’s check. We shake hands like old pals.

Wet and limp as a dishrag, I high-tail it back to my office, making my virtual meeting with two minutes to spare. On a conference call, nobody knows you’re sweating for two.

SATURDAY

NEW YORK CITY: Dawn. The PC laptop Carrie borrowed from her office refuses to cooperate. “That does it,” Carrie says. “I’m buying a Mac.”


SEATTLE: The cross-country flight takes five and half hours. Our hotel room is not ready.

We check our bags with the concierge and cab it to a lushly stocked Macintosh store in Seattle’s U District. An hour later we emerge with a tricked-out, top-of-the-line iBook plus assorted software and add-ons. A few miles of traffic later, we’re back at the hotel, where our room finally awaits.

We’d planned to spend our first night in Seattle sharing a romantic dinner at “our French place,” but room service and a king size bed suddenly look like better options.

SUNDAY

SEATTLE: We wake up on East Coast time — 4:00 am in Seattle.

(I will make no attempt to describe the almost holy beauty of the port city of Seattle, the charm of its markets, the sweep of its vistas.)

By afternoon, the park at the end of Pike Place Market teems with tourists, Microsoft millionaires, and the homeless. At an outdoor table, a gang of punked-out Native Americans sits swilling forty ouncers. One of them, very drunk, begins chanting the songs of his tribe. His voice cuts through the din of the market, startling the tourists. His song is unbearably sad.

Nearby, a white man is selling kids’ tents made up to look like tee-pees.

Around five we head to the conference center for a technical rehearsal preparatory to tomorrow’s conference. These things usually take all of five minutes, but this time it’s different. By the end of the rehearsal we know that Carrie’s iBook is defective. Either the video card, the VGA port, or the VGA connector will need to be replaced. She won’t be able to use the iBook for her presentation.

At seven, two Seattle friends, Byron and Pam, pick us up outside the conference center and whisk us away to their beautiful West Seattle home at the crest of a hill overlooking bodies of water whose names I forget as soon as Byron tells them to me.

A short hike through a vast nature preserve abutting their property takes us to the beach where Seattle was founded. Beside the water, lovers lie in each other’s arms, families grill chicken dinners, and children run circles around a miniature Statue of Liberty. At ten pm the sun is still shining over the water.

MONDAY

SEATTLE: Our first day of the conference. (I will make no attempt to describe Thunder Lizard’s Web Conferences, except to say that the speakers and staff are always wonderful; attendees are smart, open, easy to connect with emotionally; the topics covered are relevant to anyone in the business; and the conference heads keep things running smoothly.)

In the early evening, the conference founders take us out on a boat trip. We swim. We wave at Bill and Melinda Gates’s house. We feed ducks that venture out to the boat.

Darkness falls. Bulbs illuminate bridges, piers, pavillions, and the porches of houses built over the water. The boat becomes a charmed circle, connected to yet separate from the glowing world it floats through. We never want to get off.

TUESDAY

SEATTLE: Our second day of the conference. After viewing the attendee list, Carrie decides to do her presentation less formally than planned. Wearing a headset mic, she walks up and down the aisles like Oprah.

Between presentations, we FedEx the Gramercy Park apartment keys to Carrie’s ex-landlord. Skipping the day’s last session, we race out to the computer store to get the iBook fixed or replaced.

When we plug Carrie’s iBook into a VGA monitor at the store, the problem does not reoccur.

“Maybe it was just a fluke,” the salesman offers hopefully.

Twenty minutes into the test, the screen goes blooey and the operating system disappears.

“You do have a problem,” the salesman says.

The store has plenty of iBooks, but not the model we bought. For seven hundred dollars more, we can upgrade to a Titanium Powerbook. We say yes.

Then we can’t do that either, because the original RAM chip the store removed from the iBook needs to go back to Apple to make the upgrade legit. The chip is sitting in our hotel room across town. The store is about to close. We leave for New York in the morning and have a dinner appointment in fifteen minutes.

All appears hopeless until a cashier intervenes and phones her manager. If we promise to courier the chip to the store from our hotel before leaving town tomorrow, we can walk out with the Titanium Powerbook tonight. We say yes.

The store’s tech guys remove the extra RAM and Airport from the iBook, slipping them into the Powerbook in record time. We call a cab. We can still make our dinner if we hustle.

Any child in Seattle could take us to the address, but the cab driver cannot find it. Cussing in Russian, he drives us in circles, eventually shutting off the meter. Three cell phone calls later, we are able to direct him to the restaurant. The cabbie insists that we not pay the fare. We insist on giving him a twenty for his trouble. He takes it.

Hosted by Chris Nelson, editor-in-chief of New Riders, the dinner at Typhoon is magical, and eventually we’re able to unwind and enjoy it. Unwinding is immediately followed by exhaustion.

New Powerbook in hand, we stroll back to the hotel with friends from the conference, wishing we all lived closer to each other, grateful for the time together and for our continually surprising if hectic lives.

In our room I switch on the TV to turn off thought. Seconds later, we’re asleep. In the dead of night I wake to images of dissection and the sound of tortured screams, realize the TV is showing The Silence of the Lambs, and switch it off.

25 July 2002

previously: <life during wartime>


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“A gang of punked-out Native Americans sits swilling forty ouncers. One begins chanting the songs of his tribe. His voice cuts through the din of the market, startling the tourists.”