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E36. Lou Reed's Nephew's Narrator Sleeps In
How could I have been so foolish?
“What had I done?”
It hit me hard after I drank my coffee and found myself back on the couch, staring out our front windows. I woke up on the couch most mornings. I started in bed with Renata, then woke up around two, went to the bathroom, and moved to the couch in the living room, where our two windows looked out like a pair of eyes. There were trees right outside, but I didn’t know their names. That was Renata’s job.
The database Ulugbek and I were building contained places and events. Places have locations but no times, while events have times but no locations. Events inherit locations from the places where they occur. If a database contained all places and events, it would contain everything—except maybe people—and would be a powerful tool for finding things to do, and people are always looking for things to do.
Lately, however, it had become conventional wisdom that if a database contained all places and events, it would have to contain everything, including people. This was because, according to the thinking that was circulating on websites and in forums and in the rented cubes all around me, people are just a maddeningly complex species of event: events that have locations at various times. So, what if these events are contained within other events—the ones for which we had almost completely accounted. That made perfect sense since people need things to do. People-events would invariably be found at event-events.
This might not have worn so heavily on me, despite the delays, despite the problems of scale it introduced—Ulugbek was a genius at scale—except that I had left my previous job to set out on my own with Ulugbek in a rented cube across from Lou Reed’s Nephew over this exact issue, which had been percolating even then.
“People are not events, and never will be,” I said in my resignation email, to which I never received a reply. (My email address was disabled instantly.) In the email I detailed the dehumanization that would attend reducing people to events, no matter how complex. What next? People as places? I imagined people’s names—Jane and Emily and Andrea and Madisyn—in the same homely database that held zip codes and ticket prices. I felt queasy.
So, I lured Ulugbek to join me with more money and the belief that he agreed with me that people should not be events. I usually drank my coffee and shot out the door, but today I was struck by a paralyzing malaise, as if my body had been flooded with a sad, stupefying chemical.
What if people are just events? Hadn’t Margaux and Antigone proved this beyond a shadow of a doubt? Or what if it didn’t matter what people were if a database that didn’t include them—and their addresses and phone numbers and dates of birth and maybe their Social Security numbers and certain medical conditions—was worthless?
How could I have been so foolish? To leave the security of a job I’d had for eight years, inside the cold womb of a large corporation, for something as small as my conscience, which had proven to be such a restless, unpredictable thing. The pay was good. The healthcare was reliable. My retirement account swelled toward a day—distant but known—when I could stop working forever. The phones and printers worked and when they didn’t, somebody fixed them. At night, I imagined.
Now here I was, forty-three, owner of a potentially worthless business, a beautiful apartment with gorgeous windows and an expensive mortgage, and a trusting wife asleep in the other room who had no idea how badly I had fucked everything up. My past suddenly was suddenly large enough to walk around in. I could stand up in it and see the patterns, like the beige swirls on my cube walls.
I had so eloquently spoken up for my mid-career change, so passionately advocated for my vision, that Renata had no choice but to trust me really—just as she trusted me to distinguish Hawkwind from Molly Hatchet—and now I was in trouble. What sort of midlife psychosis had possessed me to make such a bad decision and, worse, to drag my wife—who could tell a daffodil from a lily at midnight—along for the ride?
I had been so careful. I had kept a watch out for the pitfalls of middle age. I had monitored my attraction to members of the opposite sex (even the same sex, given my history of heavy Morrissey-exposure), aware that, though midlife clichés seemed ridiculous, they must be cunning. They were so common. (I was careful to lose Margaux’s card—and to decline her LinkedIn invitation—though it had not kept her out of my dreams.)
I monitored my hobbies, my urge to write novels and launch podcasts, and had developed a high degree of confidence that I had arrived at an age-appropriate lifestyle I could maneuver into retirement and beyond. I had even slowly lost the ability to tell people under twenty-five apart if they looked evenb vaguely alike, the jettisoning of an unnecessary reproductive awareness—who can I have sex with and who might get in the way—like a burnt-out rocket stage.
At Lou Reed’s Nephew’s age, I would have thought this was impossible. I would have looked at myself now and thought, “I will dedicate my life to not becoming this person, and If I do, I will kill us both.”
But that’s not how life works. You ease into it.
I could not stay on the couch because of the terror, which collected near the back of my neck and bounced me to the floor.
I showered and sent Ulugbek a ticket.
“Are people events?” I asked.
“Yes,” he responded.
“Our database cannot be complete without people?”
“What if we started tracking people? Is that possible?”
“Already doing,” he responded.
I was confused.
“Who is already doing?”
“We are. I am. You are.”
I hurried to catch the train.