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Mon, 17 Jun 2002 11:28:55
You don't know me but sometimes you see me on the street, wearing wraparound shades and the uniform of a bicycle messenger. I guess I shouldn't say "the uniform of" -- the truth is that I am a bicycle messenger now -- it's how I'm employed. I used to be a hot-shit marketing exec but now I'm just a grunt charged with materials too important to be fedexed across town.
We get coffee at the same Starbucks, right about 8AM, give or take 120 seconds. You must go in to work earlier than is really necessary since your office is right down street. Either out of obligation or more likely out of a need for solitude, a need to slowly sip your coffee, maybe check your hotmail. You get a latté and I get an espresso doubleshot. Neither one of us are picky about the beans, we both say "house" before they can ask us. I've got a little bit of a gut and you've probably noticed that I look a little silly in the lycra. But speed is important and it really helps, even if you're not in the best shape. I'd describe the look on your face when you look over at my uniform as one of bemusement, not mockery. My helmet is yellowjacket yellow. I hope that at some point when you've had a chance to process this we can sit down and have a cup together.
The reason I write this is that I notice you've been wearing black for a week, and it appears that even the weekend didn't help. Your eyes looked kind of forlorn this morning, kind of lost, there was a kind of scared rabbit look in your eyes that just tore me up inside. Because I know why.
We have a friend in common. I should say we had a friend in common. He's not my friend anymore. That's not true, he's still my friend, he'll be my friend after he's gotten some help and they let him out, but right now he's damaged. Right now I can't approve of what he did to you, or to any of the other women whose hearts he twisted round his finger like so many pieces of yellowing string.
And my shame is that I was his silent accomplice. My shame is that I didn't put a stop to it before it went too far.
People respond to unemployment in different ways. Some jump right back in, take their suits to the dry cleaners, get their resumé in shape and pound the pavement religiously every day from 9 from 5. Some retreat into the soap operas. Some drink from noon until dusk. Some folks catalog everything they own and then sell it on eBay. Some of us become bicycle messengers.
Berto's thing was history and drawing, and I couldn't see any harm in that. At first.
Berto and I were part of a team doing marketing for Enron as they were gearing up to open dozens of walk-in customer storefronts across the midwest. We did good work, Berto and I so needless to say it was a pretty serious kick to the groin when we found ourselves out on the streets, just another set of victims of those cowboy fucks in Houston.
And did they feel our pain? Did they know what it was like to feel the boot and land on their asses in an unforgiving '02 job market that would take one look at you and decide it would rather eat the shit sandwich instead? Hell no, most of them got jobs in the EPA or the Bureau of Land Management, and are hard at work on our nation's new energy policy, plotting oil wells in the Moab Desert when they're not out golfing with Uncle Dick.
Well Berto, you know Berto, he's kind of an idealist, kind of a romantic, but also kind of a company man. He actually believed that we were going to change the world by making better signage for Enron storefronts, that we could help the kids by making them chuckle during a thirty second spot for the one true 21st Century energy concern. He at least half bought it and he was damn proud of being a firstclass copywriter, and he invested too much of his energy, too much of his identity, into being the best copywriter money could buy.
And I don't know you, I really don't, but I don't think you're the kind of woman who would hear a guy's hard luck story and toss him to the curb. But Berto, he lost something there, he couldn't get around it, he couldn't come clean and just tell you the truth that the pain of the 21st century was gnawing at his ankles, and he just didn't know where to go from here. He couldn't face you as an unemployed male of the species.
And I said Berto, Berto, she'll understand, you're not alone in this Berto. But then he told me of his plans to escape into another century, to love you from afar, to pour his heart and soul into his pen and keyboard, to become unique to you by living at one level of remove. I'll be her knight in shining armor, he said. But that armor was covered in pigfat, Susanne. That armor was just the refuge of a troubled soul.
I don't know what drove him to this; I don't know what bitter herb made Berto twist the way he did. And you weren't alone, Susanne. Every ex-girlfriend in his book was getting those emails, with slight variations to account for their personal circumstances. And he bcc:d me on every email. He even made me a character in his fictions.
At first I thought it was a good outlet for the guy. And well a joke kind of a funny joke. That's sick, that's sick that I thought it was funny for a while. When Berto was laughing at it, he wasn't really laughing because he thought it was funny, Berto was really laughing because he knew it was sad, sad, sad.
Still, maybe if he'd been able to pull himself out, maybe if he'd have been able to find a time machine in the castle, maybe then you would have had something to laugh about on your next date, maybe even when you were old and grey.
About two weeks and a half into it, I finally told him that I thought he'd gone too far. Besides, the unemployment would run out soon and dammit he just needed to pick himself and get a job. I even offered to get him a job as a bicycle messenger, but if he wanted to get on with his life he just needed to stop sending those emails because somebody would get hurt.
And every morning I saw the hurt in your eyes.
I told him that if he wouldn't stop I was going to tell you.
Then he flipped out, Susanne. He just completely fucking lost it. I was locking up my bike, and he grabbed the kryptonite lock from my hand and bashed it against the side of my skull. Repeatedly. You can still see the bruises. I got in one good shot to his face and he was drooling spit and blood in my face as he muttered. YOU WILL NOT TELL and the bar of the kryptonite lock was crushing up against my throat YOU ARE NOT FIT TO BE A KNIGHT.
Well the rest of the week had emails about how I was a thief and the baddies were after the whole company because I was a thief and then the next thing you know some asshole with a broadsword has decapitated me and that's the last I email I got.
And you know what? He was right, I was a coward, because I saw you everyday getting your latté and I couldn't say a word.
Berto was my best friend. I don't fit in with the other bicycle messengers, really, though they seemed to gain more respect for me when I showed up with all the purpleblack facebruises.
I went to go see Berto this weekend, Susanne, because Berto and I are friends from way back. I can't replace him, and I thought well maybe I've been a little hard on the guy.
There was an eviction notice on the door and something smelled like rot. A CD (Gregorian chant?) was skipping, skipping, skipping, skipping. So I was worried and maybe I shouldn't have but I bust the door in.
Catshit and weeksold cartons of Chinese scattered around the floor, empty cans of Jolt. Blinds drawn tight. The cat eating from the cartons of fetid sweet and sour pork. A monitor shattered, a hammer and broken glass, and Berto in the middle of the floor, fingers covered in blue ink. An unspeakable mural in blue ink on the white walls, evisceration, decapitation, drawn and quartered lifesize figures on the wall. An anatomically correct heart torn in two. Beneath it your name.
Berto glossy eyed, foamy spit crusting on dry lips. He looked dehydrated, emaciated, like he hadn't eaten for a week. He wasn't saying a word. I took him the shower and tried to help him wash up, but he wasn't there Susanne, he wasn't there and now he's at Rush Presbyterian and they have him under observation.
I'm sure he'll pull out of it some day, our Berto will be back, our plain old 21st century fox Berto.
So I don't know, do you forgive him? I don't know, he was sick, maybe it's me you shouldn't forgive, I knew and I didn't tell and I'm sorry. So I don't know, maybe if you want to visit him go, or don't.
Do what you want to do, do what you can. I'd like to buy you dinner as a kind of peace offering, if you're the forgiving kind. I know a nice Italian place on the Northside, it's quiet and we can talk with the candles flickering in our eyes.