Ça Va – Flash Fiction

Posted on 3 min read 14 views

Walking through the 12th arrondissement, I find the café on the Rue de Charenton. She’s usually late so I settle in.

I resist the urge to look at my phone and instead order a coffee in broken French and watch a series of small dogs walk up and pee on the same small tree.

“Hey.”

I turn in my chair and see beautiful tan skin. I take it all in quickly: long black hair, dark circular eyes, almond shaped mouth, in a small frame.  

“I thought you’d be late,” I blurt out.

She smiles and pulls out the other chair. “Is that how you remember me?”

She has the same rich-kid Lebanese accent, a mix of French, Arabic and British English.

“Amongst other things,” I say.

I lurch forward to hug her, and then pause. She watches me and leans forward. We kiss on both cheeks.

“It’s really good to see you,” I tell her.

“You too,” she echoes.

“You look exactly the same.”

“A little heavier…” she says, putting her hand to her stomach.

“No way.”

“You haven’t changed at all,” she says.

“A few more stress lines,” I say, running my finger across my forehead. Then my eyes go wide. “Oh wait! Are you pregnant?”

A corner of her mouth turns upwards.

“How did that happen?”

“Um…”

“Stupid question. Who, uh, who’s the lucky guy?”

“My husband. Seb.” I glance down at the wedding ring that’s been there the whole time.

“Husband. Wow.” I force myself to smile. “I had no idea.”

“We eloped a couple months ago.”

“Eloped? I always imagined you having a massive wedding.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know… Lebanese thing, I guess.”

“It was more of a practical decision.”

“He’s French?”

“Parisian. So one of the families was going to have to travel.”

“How’d you meet him?”

“We were sitting next to each other on a flight.”

“Sounds romantic.”

“I wouldn’t say that. It was kind of a mess. I was in the middle of a massive breakup.”

“The Italian guy?”

“Yeah. No, wait. A different Italian guy. Not the one you knew.”

“What’s with you and Southern Europeans?”

“Similar cultures,” she says without pause.

“What?”

“They care about family. And you know, they’re a little more fiery.”

“Are you fiery?”

“I can be,” she says, flashing an unfamiliar smile.

“I don’t remember that side of you.”

“We were smoking a lot of weed back then.” 

I laugh and then she joins in. I take a sip of my coffee.

“How’s Francesca?” she asks.

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“It ended a couple of years ago.”

“So you lasted a while.”

“Four years. Not bad.”

“Do you mind if I ask what happened?”

“I work too much and she’s an Italian ballerina, so like… it wasn’t a very copacetic home life.”

“Similar cultures…” she says.

“I think it can work if you want it bad enough.”

“If both of you want it bad enough.”

I take another sip.

“What are you doing now?” she asks.

“Some cliché hedge fund bullshit.”

“No, I meant in Paris.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m here.”

“Oh… are you going to be living here?

“I’m thinking about it.”

“American guy in Paris,” she says smiling. “Such a cliché.”

“Oh come on, I’m not going to go to Jim Morrison’s grave or anything.”

“No, I meant for the French girls.”

“Ah. Then that’s ok,” I say, smiling.

Her hand moves to her stomach and rests there. It’s so inherent that she doesn’t seem to notice.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“You remember that night when we were studying really late at your flat? It was like 3 or 4 in the morning.”

“Yeah,” she says. “I remember.”

“What would have happened if I had tried to kiss you?”

“I probably would have stopped you.”

“Probably?”

“Well, we were a lot younger.”

I smile and look at my cup.

“Thanks. I’ve been wondering about that for a long time, and not knowing is so much worse than rejection.”

She laughs at me.

The waiter comes to the table and she orders a cappuccino, and then leans forward onto the table. We talk about the best neighborhoods in Paris to raise children as we wait for her coffee to arrive.

TRANSPARENCY – Flash Fiction

Posted on 3 min read 20 views

I walk in, gently sliding the heavy glass door behind me, and sit down at the table.

“Oh. Could you open the door?” he asks.

I look behind me at the glass walls and door. Everything translucent. I look back at his smiling face.

“Sure.” I stand up and slide open the door.

“Thank you Stephanie. Well, should we jump in? Great. Here were your quarterly goals.”

He pulls up my goals on a large screen television mounted against the only non-glass wall in the room, strategically visible to everyone outside of our glass box.

“You did a great job on these two.” He circles Q1 Tax Prep and Saratoga PMI. “Really, you killed it.”

“Thank you.”

“But we came up a little short on this one.” He circles, Transition to Full API Fulfillment.

He expects me to jump in and start justifying his perceived failings. I wait.

“Any thoughts?”

That’s better.

 “I think we made some solid progress. We were able to integrate with 80% of our fulfillment partners.”

“And it’s been a huge operational help. Do you think it’s realistic to finish the rest in the next quarter?”

I sigh. “Honestly, I don’t know. It’s the 80/20 rule. The 20% that’s left will take 80% of the time.”

That should buy me some time. Whether or not it’s true, it’s hard to argue with Pareto, a trick I learned in business school.

“I spoke to Andrew. Even though we didn’t hit all three of the goals, he agreed to release your full bonus.”

“Thank you.”

“He just wanted to get your commitment that we’ll get the rest of the integrations done this quarter.”

“We can do it. If he can throw another body at it, that’ll help.”

“Sure. No problem.”

“Thank you.”

“Well Stephanie, that’s it. Congratulations on a good start to the year.”

He stands up and holds out his hand. I stare at it. Then push out my chair and shake his hand, careful not to break eye contact. After, he sits back down and looks behind his screen, preparing for the next review.

I walk out and slide the large glass door closed behind me.

“Stephanie,” someone says.

I look over at her.

“How’d it go?” she asks.

“Easy,” I say. “Hey, do you have a sec?”

She nods.

We nonchalantly walk down the hallway and into a glass call booth that is partially covered in corporate decals.

“Did you know they’re doing the reviews with the door open now?”

“Oh yeah, after what happened with Sarah. It’s like a corporate directive.”

“The sexual harassment ordeal?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh. I assumed they were adding an element of public shaming to the reviews.”

“I heard everyone’s running scared. All the male execs refuse to do one-on-one’s without the door open anymore.”

“They act like women have nothing better to do then accuse them of sexual harassment.”

“Because it’s so good for our career.”

“In a month it’ll probably be group reviews,” I say.

“I hope so.” She pushes open the door. “Ok. I’ve gotta go.”

“Good luck.”

She winks.

I head back to my desk in the bullpen. It’s about seven down from Andrew, our departmental VP. The epicenter. He’s working with his headphones on, swaying back and forth.

If I can finish the API integration this quarter, I’ll most likely be in striking distance in the next office reorg.

Glasgow, First Impressions

Posted on 2 min read 73 views

The young Scotsmen waiting to board their flights all have the same haircut: buzzed on the sides, cropped short to middle length on the top. It’s jarring only in its mass coordination, as if an entire demographic decided to replicate a specific footballer.

The officer working passport control is friendly and chats with me about his trips to Minneapolis.  

“Welcome to balmy Scotland,” he says, as he hands the passport back to me.

The taxi drive into Glasgow is shockingly colorless. And it’s only after I’m dropped off at my hotel and I explore on foot that I begin to get a feel for the place. All the buildings seem either old and beautiful or old and ugly. Even the modern buildings look outdated. And then grimy exteriors open into softly lit and comfortable spaces, the architectural equivalent of not judging a book by its cover. This is heightened by it being the exact opposite of my Germanic experience, in which the exteriors are meticulous and beautiful, and then open into white and sterile interiors, with cleanliness often coming at the cost of comfort.

I packed for the trip like I do every other Europe trip, only to remember once I arrived that the outlets are different from the Continent. The front desk sends me to a store called Argos, which is in a dingy and nondescript building on high street. The escalator descends into a brightly lit and perfectly laid out grid of computer screens and catalogues. I walk in circles a couple of times and then punch in “converter” into one of the screens and nothing comes up. I walk up to the checkout counter.

The woman behind the counter tells me several times that I need to order from the catalogue, and then when she realizes that either the process or her speech is giving me trouble, she asks:

“What da ya want?” she says, smiling.

“A converter?” I say. “For an electrical outlet.”

“Ah an adapter.”

She punches the purchase into a small tablet, I pay ten pounds, and then she asks me to sit under a banner and wait. Within a couple of minutes, a pack of three adapters is sitting on the counter, and I’m simultaneously impressed with how inexpensive three adapters are and confused with why they would give me three.

As I hike deeper into the city, it gets more beautiful, while the grit remains. The restaurant where I meet my business contacts is a tiny two-story former fish market. I eat haggis for the first time, which pleasantly tastes like pate, and drink malt whiskey. The whiskeys are always one finger, never more. When the glasses of wine come, they look like small fish bowls.

That night I fall asleep enjoying the city, and the conversations, and wondering how the trips in the years to come will play out.

Leaving

Posted on 1 min read 85 views

Despite my best efforts, the anxiety is still real every time I leave Germany.

The morning starts like normal: my daughter waking me up and watching Curious George on the laptop while I drift in and out of sleep for 45 minutes. And then we play and eat breakfast, and there’s nothing at that point. But as the day continues, the ache in my chest telling me there’s something wrong (even when there’s nothing wrong), slowly starts to creep in. It grows despite my best efforts to ignore it, starve it to death, so that by the time I’m dropping off my daughter at her mother’s, I’m manic and I can barely see straight. This state of disbelief usually lasts me long enough to propel me to the outskirts of Amsterdam without caffeine.

Evolution of Place

Posted on 2 min read 88 views

I like to think that the evolution of Germany for me over the past three years, is like a microcosm of my human experience. What started as an antagonistic place that I tolerated (at best) in order to be with my daughter, has become a place of recovery. It’s a strange place to get clean, but that’s what it’s become for me: I eat well, work out regularly, write, and meditate. And that’s only the time that I don’t spend with my daughter.

When I first started coming here, I would leave as a husk of a person. I was mentally and physically demolished, and it took weeks to readjust when I got home. Now, I leave feeling better than when I arrived. There are some tangible differences in the present: buying a place instead of staying in hotels, joining a gym, and reliable Wi-Fi. And then there’s an element of necessary adaptation from my side.

It doesn’t change the fact that the people are still high-strung. I’m barely able to operate on a daily basis without being told what I’m doing wrong (as if to drive this point home, within an hour of getting to Germany yesterday, my brother and I were being lectured for not properly using the plastic dividers in the supermarket checkout line). Despite the locals best attempts at making it stressful, it’s become more funny than draining.

I don’t know what Muenster will be to me in the coming years. If you total up the sprints, I’ll spend a meaningful amount of my life there. And I’m starting to see how that’s not a terrible thing.

Travel

Posted on 1 min read 134 views

You get tangled up with all the travel. You see a clock and you don’t trust it. It should be light outside and it’s not. Today I’m staying on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation outside Phoenix (which resembles Phoenix in being one large construction site in the desert), tomorrow I’ll be in Memphis. Last week Aruba. Alien places. But it’s -28 in Minneapolis at the exact moment that I’m writing this, so whatever. 

I can’t decide if time moves fast or slow while traveling. The days are more distinct. At home, they can pass without me looking up from my desk. And yet, when traveling, a week somehow gets lost in airports and Ubers and the general friction of impermanent living. 

The only thing that seems definite is sleep. Whether home or a hotel, if I can sleep, that rising tide lifts all boats. However, it’s a challenge no matter where I am: the temperature, the light, the expanding and contracting of REM cycles. It should be easier in a familiar place like my home, but somehow it’s always unpredictable. 

Sociopathic Tendencies

Posted on 1 min read 176 views

Most of my life, many of my closest friends have been sociopaths. 

No. That’s too harsh: a large amount of my good friends have had sociopathic tendencies. They weren’t bad people, emotions just didn’t manifest naturally to the same degree that it does for others. Which is probably why they found someone that is often overwhelmed by their emotions interesting. You’re both off, and even though that doesn’t translate to empathy, you can relate to the confusion of not being able to trust yourself.

It also teaches you that emotions are not morality. From a distance, you would have been hard pressed to say who was who. My feelings and emotions often making me more unpredictable and noxious then my friends. 

At this point in my life, my closeness with people develops around the ability to understand and be understood. It seems the people that understand you best are the ones that are the most similar or the most different, and all the rest get lost in the static of normalcy.

And so I have to ask myself, where am I failing people when they need to be understood?

Flawed Characters

Posted on 1 min read 203 views

Everybody wants to like a seriously flawed character. But only as long as they are seriously flawed in a way that appeals to their emotions and personal beliefs. Today this is the cliché unbounded hard living renegade anti-hero.

Without their own personal beliefs (which inevitably exist within a larger societal context), you’re just the villain. Mix up these personal beliefs and see how quickly the constructs change. 

Human

Posted on 3 min read 95 views

On the way to Amsterdam I watch a movie called My Generation. It’s a movie that I simultaneously love, and that twists me into mental knots, because of the narrator: Michael Caine.  

On the way to Amsterdam I watch a movie called My Generation. It’s a movie that I simultaneously love, and that twists me into mental knots, because of the narrator: Michael Caine.  

In the absence of flesh and blood role models growing up, he was one of the replacements. I used to watch and analyze his movie scenes: how he would move through a room, where his eyes would go, and the words he would use. It probably didn’t build good life long habits.

Because that’s the nature of behavior. They’re products of their place and time. Long before the recent reckoning of male chauvinism, watching Alfie would make me cringe (which Michael tries to acknowledge by apologizing for calling women ‘birds’). 

But that’s also why Alfie is a good movie. Because it doesn’t give a shit about the cultural perception you have when watching it. And as repulsive as you might find it, something will resonate. And then you’ll have to reconcile what you’re drawn to in a personality that is in such direct conflict with your sensibilities.

I struggle to keep pace with the cultural changes. The parameters of guilt are determined at the time of judgement, not action. As a result, if I’m not guilty today, I will almost certainly be tomorrow. 

That’s the risk and the fear in working on a book for over a decade. It becomes a time piece, when you really just want it to be human. 

In the absence of flesh and blood role models growing up, he was one of the replacements. I used to watch and analyze his movie scenes: how he would move through a room, where his eyes would go, and the words he would use. It probably didn’t build good life long habits.

Because that’s the nature of behavior. They’re products of their place and time. Even before the recent reckoning of 90’s and 00’s male chauvinism, watching Alfie would make me cringe (which Michael acknowledges by apologizing for calling women ‘birds’). 

But that’s also why Alfie is a good movie. Because it doesn’t give a shit about the cultural perception you have when watching it. And as repulsive as you mind find it, something will resonate. And then you’ll have to reconcile what you’re drawn to in a personality that is in such direct conflict with your sensibilities.

I struggle to keep pace with the cultural changes. The parameters of guilt are determined at the time of judgement, not action. If I’m not guilty today, I will almost certainly be tomorrow. 

That’s the risk and the fear in working on a book for over a decade. It becomes a time piece, when you really just want it to be human. 

Gravity Fails

Posted on 1 min read 192 views

I’m at a coffee shop in RiNo. Looking up from my notebook I notice half the room is taking a picture. The room loses gravity.

I’m slipping through the air. They’re not even here, these people who are more concerned with how they look than what they’re doing. It’s like some sick Instagram satire that I’m unwillingly a part of. I look left and right for the cameras.

Come to Denver, take pictures, and then leave. Beyond the picture, it’s not clear why they wanted to be here in the first place. They don’t seem to realize that someday the servers will go down and whatever permanence it seems to provide will also disappear.

It took being gone for a couple of months to realize how much less grounded the atmosphere is here. Everyone is more beautiful than I remember. Certainly less flannel. Feels like LA without the beach. Are these the people that couldn’t cut it in SF and New York?

They can still be a big fish in a small pond here.