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E7. Lou Reed’s Nephew Takes a Day Off
We were deep into a metaphorical tunnel, Ulugbek and I. The light was receding but we couldn’t turn back.
The next day, Lou Reed’s Nephew was gone. He had gone on a retreat, he informed me, to evaluate his “revenue mix.” I went about my work, his absence reminding me of how things had been before he arrived.
Ulugbek and I were building a database. Ulugbek was in Uzbekistan, and I was across from the cube that came to be occupied by Lou Reed’s Nephew. The database contained places and events. Places had locations but no times, while events had times but no locations. Events inherited locations from the places where they occurred. If a database contained all possible places and events, it would contain everything and would be a powerful tool for finding things to do, and people needed things to do. That was the idea, but we were months late. We had been at thirty-days-to-go-live for 245 days, which had taken its toll on me. There was tension as the first few deadlines passed, but then it subsided, or seemed to. I got used to it. I no longer noticed it, except in occasional tidal waves of anxiety and how it affected my sleep.
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Renata noticed. She noticed that I no longer slept through the night in the bed next to her. She found me on the couch in the mornings and even when I was awake, she said, I seemed to be somewhere else.
I sent her the article from Procrustean Beds to reassure her. Everything would be fine.
But we were deep into a metaphorical tunnel, Ulugbek and I. The light was receding but we couldn’t turn back. No one could. Everyone in the building of rented cubes—except for possibly Lou Reed’s Nephew—was building a database. The same database of places and events. It had not always been clear we were all building the same database—or parts of it—but it became clearer every day as we hurtled past go-live dates and toward the vanishing point where the final database—the database of databases—was completed by someone.
We had all started differently. Some had started with places. Some had started with events. Many had started with subsets of places and events. Places and events for throwing hatchets at walls, for example, or for smashing plates and office appliances with sledgehammers in a sealed room with friends. (None of the places and events in the database were particularly important. They became important when, and only when, you had assembled all of them.)
Our database, the instance of the database that Ulugbek and I were working on, expanded every day. A new database became available and we integrated it, or we found a database company we liked, bought it—with the small amount of money I had collected from investors, including Renata’s brother, who worked in TV—and integrated that. This kept happening, which is why we were late.
Ulugbek didn’t think that’s why we were late. He thought the project itself was impossible.
“The project itself is impossible,” he told me not long before Lou Reed’s Nephew arrived. He told me this via ticket. We communicated exclusively via tickets, at Ulugbek’s insistence. I had never met or talked to Ulugbek. I had never even seen a picture of him. Other than Renata, he was my longest-term relationship.
I sent him a ticket back telling him to integrate a new database we had acquired, but by then it was five o’clock in Uzbekistan and he had left. He left every day at five o’clock, just as I was getting started.
This new database was a complete list of places where one could learn how to make things out of beads shaped like imaginary animals. Unicorns and yeti and pegususes. Renata used it—she hoarded beads in tight bundles stored in spaces I could not see—which is how I found out about it. It was surprisingly large, both Renata’s stash and the database. Renata and I agreed not to talk about the former—it was her only vice—and it was good luck that our credit card statement had unearthed this trove, which Ulugbek integrated while I read about how the Sumerians invented writing to catalog sexual positions at The Imp of the Perverse.
The next day, the cube across from me was empty. My opening looked across the aisle into its opening, where there was now only a pair of chairs and a few thumbtacks. There had been two young women there before. Women Lou Reed’s Nephew’s age with hair dyed grey and pulled up in handkerchiefs, their arms marked with tattoos. I couldn't entirely make them out, the tattoos, but they appeared to be images of tools torn from dictionaries.
The South African came by to sweep up the thumbtacks. I asked what their business was.
“Database.” he said. “Like you. They sold out for big money. Bigfoot beads. Who knew?”
The cube stayed vacant for a few weeks, which concerned me. Had the database market softened? Had we held out too long? Then, one day I arrived later than usual, after five o’clock in Uzbekistan, and as soon as I stepped off the elevator, I heard him—Lou Reed’s Nephew—muffled only a little by the security door.