The Kiss I Ran From by Peter 9 Bowman

©2016 Peter 9 Bowman

Felice and I bring three-day old Michael home from the hospital and go from being a couple to a family. It’s not at all what I expect.
The Kiss I Ran From
The Kiss I Ran From by Peter 9 Bowman
After only one night it’s obvious our little studio apartment will never do. Michael’s clefts make it so hard for him to eat that he falls asleep exhausted after just an ounce or two of formula. That means feedings every two hours round the clock. Even though I take the nighttime feedings to give Felice a break, a baby screaming just six feet away at the resonant frequency of our skulls makes sure neither of us gets any sleep. I tell the nice, elderly, building manager who rented us our studio apartment we need a one-bedroom unit. She says in a stern, not so nice voice, “I can put you on a list, but we don’t move people around in the middle of their leases. You still have eight months on yours.” “We won’t live that long. We just brought our baby home and he has the lungs of Zeus. Neither of us is getting any sleep.” It’s a large building with hundreds of apartments. Surely something must be available. Her tone changes. “A baby already – isn’t that wonderful!” She looks in a ledger and flips a few pages. “Let’s take a walk, dearie.” She shows me a one-bedroom unit on the seventh floor. It’s roughly double the size of our current studio. It looks tired, worn, dirty – but it has a separate bedroom with a door that closes. “This apartment was rented by Joe E. Brown’s brother, rest his soul. It just became available. There are eight people on the waiting list, but didn’t you ask about a one-bedroom unit when we first met? Of course you did, dearie. I can have it ready for occupancy in two days – new carpet, paint, appliances.” “Where do I sign?” I show the apartment to Felice and we sign the new lease. Two days later we’ve moved into our new apartment. We put Michael’s crib in the bedroom and set up the rest of our furniture in the living room. On our first night, lying in bed, we hear the sounds of the city after dark – two drunks arguing, a gunshot in the distance, trash cans being dragged across the sidewalk. In our sixteenth floor studio we felt safe. We were above the violence down below. Now, only seven stories in the air, it feels as if a nighttime crazy might send a stray bullet through our window at any moment, a thief might scale the fifty feet from the roof of the parking garage below and come right into our apartment. I know the chances of a seventh story break-in are pretty remote, but the feeling of risk is there nonetheless. Even with our new apartment and me taking nighttime feedings, Felice is looking more frazzled every day. We have an apartment in one of the nicest buildings in Manhattan right across from Central Park. This is supposed to be fun – at least I want it to be. Where did the graceful, beautiful woman I married go? I’m getting worried. The downside of me taking night feedings is that I’m suffering from sleep deprivation. I stagger into work in a fog. More than once I fall asleep at my desk. It finally occurs to me that Michael isn’t just a crash project demanding all-nighters for a week or two. This project will go on for decades. Felice doesn’t complain, but the stress is obviously taking its toll. Not only are we not making out like we did when we were courting, we are now essentially not touching at all except for our occasional Sunday morning ritual. Michael must go from his birth weight of four-pounds seven-ounces to ten-pounds before his doctor will try to close the double cleft in his upper lip. It will be several months after that before he will try to create a palate for Michael by rearranging the tissue in his mouth. The nightly weigh-in is a nail biting event with his weight changing less than an ounce – sometimes up, sometimes down. Some evenings we feel progress – some despair. Is he thriving or wasting away? Six weeks pass. We at last have a weigh in at just over ten pounds. Felice calls Dr. Hogan and schedules the surgery. Closing his lip clefts will make it easier for him to eat and easier for us to take care of him – or so we hope. We show up at the hospital as scheduled and sign a dozen forms neither of us reads. Michael is tagged, weighed, and measured. And we wait. Michael still has very little control over his arms and legs – but when you look into his eyes you can see a mind at work trying to puzzle things out. Why are we here? What are those awful smells? Why does Mommy look so unhappy? Three hours pass. Someone wheels Michael out of the room. I ask Felice if she would like something to eat? No, she wouldn’t. Would she like something to read? No again. I know what she’s feeling. I’m feeling it too. Five hours pass. How long can this take? Felice and I exchange stressed glances. Something has happened. The anesthesia has left him brain dead. There is not enough tissue to close the clefts and he has been horribly disfigured. The scalpel slipped and destroyed a critical blood supply. The possibilities are endless – none of them positive. Another hour passes and I resign myself to the fact that Michael has died. We did what we could to make his stay on this planet as comfortable as possible, but he has moved on. My priority now is comforting Felice. How do I do that? An orderly appears with a gurney holding a small baby strapped down, head wrapped in bandages, arms in splints, and face covered in tape and gauze. Brown disinfectant seems to be everywhere. It’s Michael. He’s still unconscious. Every time he exhales he belches ether. Felice has to find a restroom to empty her stomach. She returns looking terrible. I tell her to go home and get some rest. I can take it from here. I don’t like ether any more than she does, but I’m there for her as much as Michael. He comes around and I touch his hand. His eyes seem to say What have you done to me? What have you let them do? I’ll never trust you again. There is nothing I can do to explain. The weeks pass and Michael’s wounds begin healing. His arms are taped to large tongue depressors so he can’t reach his face and pick at the stitches. Felice removes the splints only to bathe him. His urge to move his arms, rub his lips, even make a sucking motion are all denied. One evening, Felice is giving Michael a sponge bath. She turns for a second to get a fresh diaper. Michael rolls on the changing table and voraciously sucks on the corner of the plaster wall. No damage is done to his lip, but seeing how desperately he wants to suck something, anything, is heartbreaking. Tears run down Felice’s cheeks as she looks at me. Tears run down my cheeks as well. This is so very hard. In contrast to the difficulty of life at home, life at work is soaring. IBM has been selling GMAC bloated mainframes for years. Nearly eight-hundred programmers and analysts fuss and fume over dysfunctional code that is so patched and convoluted it now takes thirty hours to process a day’s worth of data. That six hour a day backlog has been building into a digital tsunami getting ready to tear the organization apart. IBM’s answer is always more hardware, more expensive systems, more profit for them. They keep a staff of four full-time sales engineers in the GMAC offices to pursue any opportunity to sell another mainframe. Their latest effort is to help create a five year, multi-million dollar plan for GMAC’s data processing needs. The head of accounting has no particular opinion about the five-year grand plan other than to say he can’t wait five years. He has a manual general ledger system that is ready to collapse. Isn’t there some way to get relief sooner? IBM says sure, and proposes a 370/135 mainframe with a twelve month development effort dedicated to the accounting department. I don’t know anything about general ledgers, but I know a lot about interactive computing. I discover a small company in Texas with one the first personal computers for business. A keyboard, display, two cassette tape drives, and a rudimentary processor are packaged in a typewriter-sized box. It’s called the 2200 and cost about a twentieth of what IBM is proposing. I offer to write the general ledger software. To be safe, I allow myself a month. The VP of Data Processing calls me into his office and says he is getting pressure from IBM to have me fired. They say I’m proposing an adding machine to do the work of a mainframe. He asks me to withdraw my proposal. I refuse. With the savings I’m proposing and pressure from the accounting manager he can’t just turn me down. He authorizes my project and also orders the 370 IBM has recommended with an option to cancel. He tells me my job is on the line. Felice has her hands full with Michael. I decide to not worry her with my battle at work. If I get fired, I’m pretty sure I can find another job before our savings run out. Nonetheless, I feel the pressure to deliver. I start putting in all-nighters. I am the only one in the office at 2:00 in the morning. I get to see the sun rise over Manhattan – early morning light reflected off tens of thousands of windows. The 2200 has only 8K of memory. I need to be able to sort thousands of postings using only two cassette tapes. I invent an algorithm and get the general ledger system up and running – in a week. The accounting manager is ecstatic, my boss looks like a hero, and the IBMers grit their teeth every time they see me. I don’t care. These guys may be black-belts at getting projects funded, but they don’t know squat about real programming. I create a slide show illustrating the benefits of the 2200 for managing the general ledger and show it around the organization. My boss approves – it makes him look like a genius. A dozen other programmers take a course to learn how to program the 2200. I accompany two of them to a Datatouch programming class in Texas. I bring my slide show. It turns out Datatouch is having financial problems. The VP of Engineering takes over sales, marketing, manufacturing, customer support and a few other roles. Nearly the entire sales force is laid off and sales offices around the country are closed. The company teeters on the brink of collapse. The programming class is being taught by Carol, the last remaining person in the marketing department. She is sharp, articulate, and has a physical presence that stops conversations when she enters a room. I present my slides to her after class. She asks me to show them to a couple of other managers. From there I get passed from manager to manager, repeating my presentation until virtually every senior person in the company sees it. I return home with an ego that barely fits through the door. Everybody loves me – except IBM. While I was gone Felice met the couple who moved into our old studio apartment. Dale and Bill are about our age, both very attractive, but apparently a bit further up the economic ladder than we are. They have a million dollar house in Massachusetts and have rented our old apartment simply as a place to stay when they visit the city. Bill says he is in the music business. In 1969, right out of school, he managed to get exclusive recording rights to a concert and produced a record that he says did pretty well. The concert was Woodstock. Dale and Felice begin exploring the city. They shop together, spend time in the park, and take beginner’s ballet lessons at Carnegie Hall. Especially with the time I’m spending at work, I’m a little jealous of the time Felice is giving Dale, but on balance pleased to see Felice enjoying herself with Dale. One evening I get a call from Ted who says he’s the new Datatouch VP of Marketing. He says, “Datatouch has secured a round of financing and we’re staffing up again. Everyone was blown away with your slide show and I’m looking for a Director of Marketing to manage everything but field sales. Is there any chance I might interest you in the position?” I’ve never marketed anything. I’ve never been a salesman. I’m a programmer – an inventor of elegant code and intuitive user interfaces. Director of Marketing? I think not. Ted apparently senses my reluctance. “Tell you what. Let me send you an offer letter and give you a little time to think about it.” I tell Felice about the call. Her only response is, “Texas?” Two days later a letter shows up. Ted is offering a fifty percent raise and stock options that will be worth millions if the company survives. He wants me to manage a staff of at least forty customer service, trainers, product managers, trade show and advertising people – all of whom I will need to hire. He offers a country club membership, health insurance, full relocation, a buy-out of our current lease, and any realtor’s fees for buying a new house. He suggests flying Felice and me down for a few day look before we have to make a decision. I’m excited. The money is nice – but we’re not short on money where we are. What really excites me is the opportunity to shape Datatouch’s personal computer product line. I’ve used the 2200 long enough to know what works and what I’d like to change. Felice asks, “Realtor’s fees?” “I guess they think we’re going to buy a house.” We at least have to take a look. We leave Michael with my mother and fly down to Texas. Ginger, a realtor Ted knows, greets us at the airport. On the way to our hotel she asks what kind of houses we might like to see. Felice says nothing. If we accept Ted’s offer, I’ll be making an executive’s salary. I want a fun, comfortable life for Felice, little Michael, and myself – and our house will be an important part of that. I say, “Something big, something different, something we can fix up and make our own.” Ginger picks us up first thing next morning to show us what she’s found. Felice seems to be more worried than excited. I assume she’ll get over her jitters once we start looking at properties and seeing the possibilities. We’re going to shop for a house – our first house. What a great adventure. Why is Felice so distant? Ginger gives us a quick ride through the city and begins showing us listings. Most of the houses seem average, boring. They’re recent construction, have three or four bedrooms, and sit on half-acre plots. I’m unimpressed. Felice seems completely neutral – no opinion either way. I say, “We want something extraordinary – something unexpected. If we’re going to make this move, it’s not going to be to an ordinary house.” Ginger smiles. “I know just what you want. There’s a listing about twenty minutes outside the city. It’s been on the market for a bit over a year. The couple who owns it is getting a divorce, so you should be able to get a really good price.” We drive north to a rural area with dried bushes and scraggily little trees. Cactus pops up here and there and we see more cattle than people. We enter a development of sprawling ranch houses on large lots. Some properties have electric fences with horses grazing in the front yard. Ginger hands me a listing. We’re headed to see a forty-year-old three-thousand-square-foot ranch with a stone exterior on a four-acre lot. We arrive and drive down a three-hundred foot gravel driveway. The land is mostly scrubby St. Augustine grass with several clusters of gnarled live oaks thick with wisteria vines clinging to the branches. I notice the driveway continues on to a large metal building a few hundred feet behind the house. I ask, “Does someone else live there?” “No. That’s part of this listing – a back-building where they used to weld airplane parts.” We approach the front door. I notice a fuzzy gray mass about two feet in diameter above the entrance. I ask, “What’s that?” Ginger says, “Daddy longlegs. They’re harmless.” The mass begins pulsing in and out. A few hundred giant spiders are in a scrum doing pushups together. Yikes! We enter the house. It needs a lot of work. The living room walls have odd scratch marks from floor to ceiling. I ask what it’s from. Ginger doesn’t know. The kitchen is a mess. There’s a bucket under the sink because the drain plumbing has rotted away. The dishwasher is beyond rescue, counter tops are chipped pink and black tile, and cabinet doors sag at random angles. The whole thing needs to be gutted. Mental wheels start turning. Instead of redoing the dilapidated kitchen, I can convert the huge attached three-car garage into a combination greenhouse, Ping-Pong room, laundry, pantry, and U-shaped kitchen with all the conveniences. The old kitchen can be turned into a dining room. I imagine a custom wall system separating the new dining room and living room with a giant saltwater aquarium, sound system, and room to display a few dozen of our favorite treasures. I can do the work myself. My father built our house with a hand saw and a hammer. I’ll use power tools. How hard can it be? I’m a hotshot computer wizard. Surely I can drive a nail, turn a pipe, run a few electric lines. It’s perfect. I try to hide my excitement to keep the price down, but I can feel my pulse racing in my cheeks. I take Felice aside and ask her what she thinks. She has no objections. She also has no enthusiasm. Something is terribly wrong. I ask, “Do you not want to make this move?” She takes a few seconds to answer. “I’ll follow wherever you have to go.” Her answer makes it sound as if moving here is something I’m doing and she’s putting up with. I want this to be an adventure we’re taking together. This isn’t my first house – it’s our first house. I don’t know what else to do. I feel as if I’m trying to make a puppy happy by wagging its tail. The job, the money, the house – this is all good stuff. Why is Felice so disengaged? That night I talk with Felice and tell her I’d like to accept the job offer and buy the house. She responds with, “Okay.” Okay. I really don’t understand. It’s not that she’s fallen in love with the Manhattan lifestyle. We still spend most of our evenings in our apartment watching television. Why is she not excited about our new house, our new life? Out of ideas, I call Ted and accept his offer. I tell Ginger we want to make an offer on the house. She suggests five-thousand less than the asking price, I agree, and a couple of hours later we have a contract. Ginger introduces us to a bank for a mortgage and a lawyer to handle the closing. A few weeks later the bank’s building inspector gives us his blessing. The company that sprayed for termites once a month for the last seventeen years produces a certificate that says the house is termite free. The house is ours. We move from a nin-hundred square foot apartment in the city to a three-thousand square foot house in the country. Everything we own fits into one small corner of the living room. The rest of the house, except for the master bedroom where we put our bed, is completely empty. So is the six car metal back-building. Our first night in our new house is unsettling. In Manhattan there were lights and sounds of trucks, cars, and people all through the night. Here, looking out a window, there is blackness and silence. It’s as if the rest of the world disappears when the sun goes down – not a streetlight, not a whisper, not a single trashcan being dragged across a sidewalk. What dangers are lurking in the darkness – coyotes, snakes, foxes? Morning comes. Sunlight streams through our bedroom windows and we dress. The doorbell rings. A fellow says he’s our butane supplier. I didn’t know we had a butane supplier. I just assumed the gas came from the same place that gas came from in all the other places I’d lived – a magic pipe in the wall. Butane heats the house and runs the stove and hot water heater. Apparently we have a tank buried in the yard that needs filling from time to time. The fellow at the door tells us that his company is no longer delivering butane. We’ll need to have the old tank removed and a new propane tank installed. He can do this for a special price. It turns out to be thousands of dollars. I know that home ownership entails expenses that renters are shielded from, but this cost should have come off the purchase price of the house. I tell him to go ahead anyhow. In the next few days I draw floor plans. I’ll need to move gas lines, water lines, drain lines, and run new electric lines. Kitchen cabinets are ridiculously expensive. I’ll build my own and glue and sand forty feet of maple butcher block countertop. No sweat. How hard can that be? More sweat is my challenge at work. The business is growing and I’m expected to hire forty trainers, product managers, support people, advertising people, and customer education staff. Forty – in the next month. There aren’t forty such people in all of Texas. This is going to be a national recruiting effort. The big layoff that came six months before I joined left the marketing department with a single person. Carol taught programming classes, did trade show support, answered customer questions, and was the liaison with our ad agency. Carol is in her late twenties, one of the most capable women I’ve met, has unbelievable energy, and exudes a farm-girl sensuality. Maybe it’s pheromones. Or her full lips, page-boy hairdo, athletic figure, or seductive smile. I do my best to keep our interactions strictly professional. For some reason I’m not privy to, I hear several other male employees refer to her as Thunder Thighs. Her husband, Richard, is an intern studying gynecology. My first day, Carol fixes me up with a sweet, industrious gal from the factory as my secretary. Julie is quiet, reliable, and considers being moved from the assembly line to the marketing department a huge break. Carol has done me a big favor. I come up with a plan of attack for our recruiting problem. It’s all hands on deck. I have Julie place ads for available positions in newspapers in New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and a half dozen other cities with significant tech populations. Julie screens candidates who call to make sure they have relevant experience and schedules one hour interviews with Carol and me in our target cities. Our first stop is Chicago. We’re trying to convince people to move to Texas and work for a company no one has heard of. I tell Julie to find us an upscale hotel. She books rooms for Carol and me at the Hyatt Regency hotel near O’Hare. We get on an evening flight. As soon as the no smoking sign is turned off, Carol lights up. She smokes – a lot. I try my best to hide my discomfort, but Carol picks up on it and tries to blow smoke away from me. It doesn’t work. The stewardess comes by and asks if we want drinks. I say I’m all set. Carol says, “I’ll have two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. So will he.” The stewardess produces four six-ounce bottles of wine and moves on to the people behind us. Carol answers my puzzled look with, “For later.” She opens a bottle and pours it into a plastic cup. “I was molested when I was fourteen by a guy I babysat for. I like to smoke and I like to drink.” Okay. I have no particular insight to offer on any of those topics. She finishes her first glass of wine and opens the second bottle. “Richard and I are trying to have a baby, so I’m not using birth control.” That comes out of left field. I’m feeling shades of Becky. Why tell me that? She finishes her fourth bottle before speaking again. “Do you know who has the highest incidence of extra-marital affairs?” No, I don’t. “Doctors’ wives. It’s true.” Okay. I’ll keep that in mind. “Richard says there’s sex for love and sex for fun. When he lived in California he belonged to a club where people went and had sex just for fun. They’d critique each other’s technique and try out new things.” Without thinking about it, I hear myself ask, “Is that where you met him?” I mean did she meet him in California. It occurs to me she might think I’m asking if she met him at that sex club. She smiles at me and nods her head yes. Yes what? California or the club? It makes a difference. We check in to the hotel. Julie has booked connecting rooms so we can easily pass candidates we like to each other. The hotel has dramatic multi-story atriums and bold walkways. It’s one of the most exciting pieces of architecture I’ve seen. I go to bed, close my eyes, and keep wondering California or the club? The next morning Carol knocks on the door separating our rooms to grab some breakfast before our first interview. She tells me she went down to the bar last night for a nightcap. California or the club? On our third night, after a grueling schedule of interviews running non-stop from 9:00 in the morning to 7:00 in the evening Carol suggests we order room service. After dinner and several glasses of her Cabernet, she says, “I brought a chess set. Can you teach me some openings?” Chess. I can do that. “Sure.” She goes to get the set she brought and I move a night stand between the two beds for us to play on. A few minutes later she returns and looks at the night stand. “We don’t need that. Let’s just use the bed.” Okay – I suppose we can do that. I have two queen-sized beds in my room. We set up the pieces on one of the beds. She lies down, propping her head up with one arm. I follow suit. She takes black. I show her the first few moves of Ruy Lopez, Sicilian, and Kings Indian. We’re only two moves into my favorite opening, Queens Gambit. She pushes her bishop’s pawn and I accept by taking it. It’s her turn. She smiles at me, her eyes fixed on mine as if she’s looking for some kind of reaction. After a few seconds I say, “Your move.” She puts her finger on the edge of the board and slowly pushes it off the end of the bed. The pieces scatter on the floor. All the while she’s holding my gaze and smiling as if she can see the lust leaking out my ears. Yes, yes, yes, yes, no! If she so much as brushes my hand with her finger I will explode. But I simply can’t make a first move – not even after what has to be her explicit invitation. It’s not discipline, not devotion, not fidelity. It’s pure fear of rejection. I say, “It’s getting late. We have to be at the airport tomorrow morning at 8:00. Time to hit the sack.” She seems to understand and heads back to her room. I lie awake in bed all night, wound up, apologizing to my libido. We spend the next two weeks traveling from city to city, interviewing over two hundred candidates. We find thirty-five keepers – close enough to declare victory. I return home and try to clear my head of interviews. I’ve recited the company overview more than a hundred times and the words keep repeating themselves in my head like a record with a scratch. Felice is particularly brusque with me. Nothing extra-marital has occurred on my trip – but it certainly could have. Actually, it could have pretty easily. The fancy restaurants, wine, adjoining rooms – and all that time to kill after the day’s interviews certainly created opportunity. Felice asks no questions and I offer no answers. How can I tell her nothing happened between Carol and me without my denial sounding as if it did? How can I tell Felice, after her years of unresponsiveness, how easy it would have been for Carol to have me if I weren’t so terrified of her advances? It’s Saturday morning. I’m home and it’s time to stop thinking about work – flush my mind. There don’t seem to be any more tools to buy so it must be time to get started actually working on the house. I’m going to convert a three car garage into five rooms. I remove a piece of base molding. My screwdriver slips and pushes straight through three two-by-twelve joists holding up the master bedroom. Either I’ve acquired super powers or something has reduced the lumber to tissue paper. Termites. I have this piece of paper from the exterminator that has been charging for monthly sprayings for the last seventeen years saying the house is termite free. Does that mean there are no termites or that I’m not being charged for them? I probe with the screwdriver in several other places. Twenty feet of wall appears to be held up by habit rather than lumber. Everywhere I stick the screwdriver I find something that looks like wood but seems to be filled with sand. I call our lawyer. He tells me I need repair estimates to make a claim on the termite company. He recommends a few contractors. While waiting for the contractors to show up I decide to crawl under the house to cut a vent for a future clothes dryer. Access to the eighteen-inch high crawlspace is at the far end of the house – a wooden panel some sixty feet away from where the new clothes dryer will go. I turn on my flashlight and enter. As I crawl I notice ten, fifty, hundreds of scorpions lying on the ground under the house. It’s winter and creepy-crawlies move extra slowly in the cold weather. The particular creepy-crawlies around me aren’t just slow – they’re definitely dead. Every so often I see a giant centipede, eight or so inches long, in the same state. Something has sucked the innards out of them and what remains are translucent shells. What killed all these nasty creatures? Is it still alive, down here watching me? One of us needs to be afraid of the other and I wonder if I’m holding up my end of the bargain. I put the idea out of my mind and crawl onward. Sixty feet of me dragging my body forward with my arms and I’m finally in position to cut a vent hole from under the house into the garage. I emerge an hour later vowing to never again make that trip – never. The concrete garage floor is a foot lower than the floor of the rest of the house. I build a foot high platform eight feet wide by thirty feet long that the new kitchen will rest on. I imagine a cover photo for Architectural Record showing my hand-sanded maple butcher block counter top going off to infinity. It’s going to be wonderful. The contractors my lawyer recommended appear to be busy. I’m having trouble finding someone to look at the house. I call contractors from the Yellow Pages without much more success. A few nights later I hear a noise and run from our bedroom to the garage to see what it is. I must have forgotten to close the garage door. A large possum is standing at the entrance. He’s staring back at me as if he’s never seen a human up close before. That makes us even, because I’ve never seen a two-foot tall possum before. It’s a nasty looking creature with a skinny snout and a mouth full of sharp snaggly teeth. I jump forward, raise my arms in the air, and shout to frighten the critter. I succeed – but not in a good way. It runs straight under the new kitchen platform I just built. My first thought is to leave the garage door open and hope the possum leaves on its own. But I’d never be sure it had actually left and might have a rotting carcass under my new kitchen that will stink for months. I roll down the garage door and lock it. I return to bed and Felice asks, “What’s happening?” “Don’t go into the garage. I’ve trapped a possum in there.” “Why did you do that?” “You don’t want to know.” The next day I buy a catch and release trap, bait it with peanut butter, and put it in the middle of the room. It’s only a matter of time before the possum is history. That night I hear the possum moving around. The trap door closes. I run to the garage and find the possum staring at the bait from outside the trap. It’s too dumb to figure out how to get in and eat the peanut butter. It sees me and runs back under the platform. I should have left the directions next to the trap. The next day I reset the trap and try again. This time I block the edge of the platform and snug the trap up to a gap. That night I hear the trap go off. I enter the garage and find the trap empty. Apparently the possum tripped the trapdoor before it was far enough in and the possum backed out. I need a smarter possum. I shine a flashlight under the platform but still can’t figure out where the creature is. The garage door is still closed so it has to be in there somewhere. There’s no other way out of the room – except for the little vent hole I cut for the clothes dryer. It connects the platform space to the crawl space under the house. But that’s so unlikely… The next night I hear odd noises under the house. It’s the possum. It’s moving around on the metal termite shield around the foundation. Not only did the termite shield fail to stop the termites, but now it’s mocking me by making sure I hear every step the possum takes. Morning comes and Felice tells me the electricity is out in the living room. Power goes out in the old kitchen a day later followed by a new room losing power each night. Finally the heater stops. The possum is eating the wiring under the house one room at a time. For the next week every night in bed I listen to the monster below destroying this circuit and that. I get no sleep. My greatest fear is that the miserable creature will die and I’ll have to crawl back under the house to fight whatever killed the scorpions for the carcass. I move the trap to the crawl space entrance panel and bait it with some more peanut butter. It’s a long shot, but just maybe… The next morning I inspect the trap. The wire cage holds my tormentor. I heard about how possums pretend to be dead to avoid becoming something else’s dinner. This one is really good at it. I approach the cage slowly and it doesn’t move a hair. I show Felice the trap. “Look! Ever heard of playing possum?” “You got it? You got the possum?” “There it is. Look at it just lie there still as can be.” “What are you going to do with it?” “I thought about releasing it on some empty land.” “Make sure it’s far enough away. We don’t want it coming back.” I carry the cage to the car. I can’t believe how good the possum is at playing dead. Flies are buzzing around its nose and it doesn’t budge. About five miles from my house I take the cage out of my car and open the trapdoor. The possum just lies there. I wait. And wait. It won’t move. I tilt one end of the cage up. Higher, higher. Finally it falls out of the cage on to the ground – still motionless. I nudge it with my foot. It’s stiff, its eyes are open in an unblinking stare. The damned thing is actually dead. It crawled into the cage, licked the peanut butter, and apparently had a heart attack when the trapdoor fell shut behind it. I return home from my possum release and find one of the contractors I called waiting for me. He just finished looking at the work to be done. “Looks like you got a pile of hurt here.” “What do you mean?” “The only reason half your house is still standin’ is on accounta the tile in the bathroom. It’s set in concrete. The whole supporting structure under the bedroom is gone. Termites ate everything there was to eat.” “But the house had termite service for seventeen years – sprayed the foundation every month.” “Right.” He sounds as if he’s seen this before. “Know the streaks on the living room walls – lines running up the wallboard?” “Yes?” “Termites. They done ate the paper ‘tween the paint and the gypsum. Whole front of the room needs new drywall.” It’s worse than I thought. “How much is this going to cost?” “It’s a big job but I’m afraid I ain’t gonna be able to help.” “Why?” “Too risky. Get under there, tap a wrong board and the whole house is comin’ down on top of you. You’re gonna have to find somebody else, friend. Good luck with that.” The gods have ended the possum plague so they have my full attention for their termite torment. I meet with three other contractors who all come to the same conclusion. The project isn’t worth risking their lives. We’re living in a structure so dangerous that contractors won’t even name a price to risk fixing it. We run extension cords from outlets in the only room the possum hasn’t eaten the wiring just to have light. We have no heat. This can’t be happening by chance. I’ve read about Job. I have to be the victim of some cosmic bet – some godly wager about how long I’ll last. Sadistic bastards. Each floor creak makes me think the house is about to collapse. I move our bed to the far end of the living room where the beams are still intact. This is really no fun. The next weekend a man pulls up our driveway in a rusted pickup. One fender is hanging loose and black exhaust pours out of the tailpipe. He has a boy with him, maybe twelve, thirteen years old. The man steps out of his truck and walks toward me. He has worn leather boots like you see in cowboy movies. He moves slowly, deliberately. “Got any work need doin’?” “How did you know I needed work done?” He stares at me as if the scorpion-eating monster under the house has sucked my brains out my nose. “Word gets ‘round.” I don’t know who he is or why he’s here, but I’ve exhausted the Yellow Pages and want to see what he thinks about my collapsing house. He tells me his name is Cody. I show him the problem. He takes out a pad and scribbles a few numbers. He finally speaks. “Eight-hundred plus lumber. More if we get in there and find more damage.” “You’ll do the job?” “Start tomorrow if’n that’s okay.” He smiles as if I don’t know my fly is open or something. I want to make sure we’re talking about the same work. “Some other contractors said it was too risky.” “Yup. Wouldn’t go under there neither. That’s why I have my boy.” What?! His son? “Are you sure?” “Start tomorrow first thing. I’ll need three-hundred in advance for supplies.” He holds out his hand to seal the deal. Two of his fingers are missing. Is this some kind of scam? Will I ever see this guy again after he has my three-hundred dollars? At this point I have nothing left to lose. He seems to be the only game in town. I don’t want to see his son get hurt but I’m past reason. I shake his hand pretending not to notice the missing digits. The next morning Cody and his son show up. Their cranky truck is loaded with lumber. The boy drags a two by twelve into the crawl space and a few minutes later props it up on the concrete sill while Cody nails it in place from inside the garage. The prospect of immediate collapse has been thwarted. It takes two full days to replace the joists and the streaked wallboard in the living room. I tell Cody about the damaged wiring. He takes out his pad. Three-hundred dollars later the chewed wiring has been repaired. We have electricity again. I ask for a business card in case I need any other work done. He says, “Sorry. Ain’t got none.” “How about a phone number?” “Nope. Just passing through. Don’t expect to be back.” Cody leaves. I wonder if he was really passing through or actually some kind of divine intervention – the god of first time home owners taking mercy on us and saying enough is enough. We resume the renovation. Felice takes on painting the new wallboard that Cody hung in the living room. She has a better eye for detail and is considerably more patient than I am. I busy myself cutting pieces of birch plywood for the kitchen cabinets. I set up shop in the back-building. There’s good electric service back there and I don’t have to worry about filling the house with sawdust. The downside is that I have to move every piece of lumber some three-hundred feet from the back-building to the house. I eventually figure out how to ride my Schwinn while balancing eight foot wide loads on my handlebars. A few pieces at a time I am moving several room’s worth of studs, molding, door frames, and cabinets. Felice’s mood has not changed. She rarely helps with the construction, shows no interest in what I’m doing, and refuses to comment on my proposed designs. At this point I’ve knocked down walls, removed the kitchen tile counters and cabinets, pulled the rotted plumbing, and begun wiring lights and appliance hookups. It’s not like we can turn back. We are committed to a massive redo. It feels as if she’s punishing me with her indifference. I don’t know what to say so I say nothing. Once the house is finished her attitude will change. I redouble my effort. Little Michael, on the other hand, is an enthusiastic helper. As I muscle a hundred pound cabinet into the house I try to kick a two-by-four in the middle of the floor out of my way. It only takes two weeks before I can feel my toes again. Michael has fastened the board to the floor with a dozen ten-penny nails. He’s a natural. Christmas is coming. Felice says we should get a tree and decorate it for Michael’s sake. I agree. The next day she finds a beautiful green tree and brings it home. We set it up and decorate it with balls and lights she got at a hardware store in town. It’s a big tree, but in the otherwise vacant living room it looks anemic. Even with just my sister and parents, growing up we had a more impressive display of wrapped Christmas presents than this. With Felice’s eight brothers and sisters, not to mention parents, aunts, uncles, and the occasional neighbor and local charity, all the combinations of who’s giving a gift to whom produce a room stacked four feet high with festive boxes. We have four medium-sized boxes under our tree. For such a green tree we seem to have a tremendous number of needles falling on the floor. I look more carefully at the branches. They’ve been spray-painted green. The actual needles are as dead and dry as dead and dry can be. This is a bonfire waiting to get started. Michael doesn’t understand why we seem to have dragged a tree into the house but he is excited nonetheless. Felice and I are eager to see his reaction to the lights. She plugs them in and – nothing. Not a single light comes on. What does come is a funny smell. I’m trying to figure out why the tree should smell so bad when I notice smoke coming from a section of the lights. “Turn it off!” I tear at the lights trying to get the smoking section of wire away from the dead branches. We came so close to setting the entire house on fire. Surely that would have given Michael a Christmas to remember. At work, Julie gets a message that O’Keefe, the president of the company, wants to see me – now! I’ve been there just six months and can’t think of anything that should get me fired so soon. In fact, I think I’ve done a solid job recruiting, coming up with a marketing plan, and organizing the product lines. Before Julie told me about being summoned, I was going to hit the men’s room. It will have to wait. It’s a ten minute walk from my office to O’Keefe’s executive suite. I spend it trying to come up with a way to break the bad news to Felice. This is not fair. I reach O’Keefe’s and his secretary tells me to go right in. I’m surprised to find Ted there as well. O’Keefe says, “Have a seat.” Both he and Ted look very serious. Ted hands me an envelope. I assume it’s some kind of pink slip. O’Keefe says, “I just finished a meeting with the Board of Directors. They have plans to grow this business into a major player. I presented your product plan.” How about letting me present my own damned product plan? O’Keefe may know finance, but he has no clue when it comes to computer architecture. I really have to pee. “That envelope you’re holding has a bonus check for six months pay. Everyone recognizes that you’ve done an outstanding job and we want you to know as you help grow the business you’ll be rewarded.” Ted says, “You look confused.” “A bonus. I thought I was being fired and I couldn’t figure out why.” On my way to the men’s room I open the envelope and look at the contents. It’s the biggest number I’ve ever seen on a check. I should simply be walking on air at such recognition. Instead I feel just a bit bought – as if I’d do just about anything for that much money. Or at least O’Keefe would assume I’d do anything for that much money. I push the feeling out of my mind and start thinking about how I’m going to tell Felice. There was no mention of a bonus in my original offer letter. This is a complete surprise. I could cash the check and fill a bucket with hundred dollar bills. I could pretend Michael dug up the cash in the back yard. I could buy her something outrageous. That evening I arrive home with a smile on my face. Felice is on the sofa reading and Michael is stacking blocks in elaborate balanced arches I’m not sure even I could devise. I say to Felice, “I got a little surprise today,” and hand her the envelope. She puts the envelope on the coffee table unopened and continues reading. I say, “You really need to look at what’s in the envelope.” She gives me an annoyed look, opens the envelope, sees the check, and says, “I have to go to the bank tomorrow anyhow. I’ll deposit it then.” That’s it? That’s all I get for killing the sabre tooth tiger and bringing it back to the cave? “Did you see how big that check is? Aren’t you a little curious?” Lucy would have knocked Desi over at such a surprise. What’s going on? “It’s a big check. Very nice. I’ll deposit it tomorrow.” I’m being punished. I’m not sure what my offense is, but Felice is going out of her way to deny me the thing I most want – her approval. Why is this happening? About a week later Felice says she’d like to plant a vegetable garden. I use one-by-eight cedar boards to fence off a sixty-four by sixteen foot patch of land in the back. I find someone to deliver cow manure and fold it into the soil with a rented tiller. It’s my first encounter with a tiller and I learn it’s not nearly as easy as it looks. Each hundred square feet tilled appears to be the equivalent of one sound mugging. Felice plants a dozen different vegetables, a few months later we have a great crop, but discover that the local raccoons like their tomatoes a day or two less ripe than we do. Same for the corn. I hit on a possible solution to the raccoon problem. I take an old battery powered radio, tune it to an all-night talk show, put it in a plastic bag, and leave it in the garden overnight. The next morning I look at the result and – it worked! Apparently the raccoons don’t like talk radio. Morning two I check again. The radio has been taken along with most of the tomatoes. The damned raccoons must have figured out how to change the station. At work my proposed distributed processing architecture is being implemented in bits and pieces. My staff continues to grow. I’m a twenty-five year old head of marketing with no prior experience to draw on. Everything I do is based on common sense and intuition. As the organization is growing it is changing. I have no experience with office politics and no idea what’s coming. One day Ted calls me into his office. “We’re getting ready to expand the marketing department again and O’Keefe wants to move you to the development group to help implement your new system architecture.” The development group. The Senior VP of Development is a great engineer, but he’s angry with me for challenging his vision of what the product line should look like going forward. Working directly for him is out of the question. What confuses me most is that everyone except the head of development acknowledges that I’ve been doing a good job creating a product vision for the future of the company. My bonus check leaves no doubt that people think I’ve been doing a good job. But there appears to be more to this than just setting an innovative product direction and getting my people to serve our customers well. In some way I don’t understand, my job has outgrown me. As much as I enjoy seeing our technology replace bloated mainframes at a fraction of the cost, it’s time to move on. I feel disoriented, unappreciated, confused, and more than a little angry. I update my resume and contact a head-hunter about finding a new job. On the home front, the house is beginning to take shape. For two years we’ve lived with sawdust and scraps of wood everywhere. The new kitchen is almost complete. I connect the sink to our septic system and I no longer have to haul a bucket of dirty water out back every night. My handmade maple butcher block countertop won’t win any prizes for flatness, but it is serviceable. With the prospect of needing to move, I begin cutting back some of my more grandiose plans in favor of just making the house presentable. My head-hunter calls and says Digital Equipment is looking for a senior manager. I’m flown up to Massachusetts for interviews with a dozen managers including Ken Olsen’s brother, Stan. The heads of a few product lines interview me, and, most importantly, an engineering manager whom has gotten crosswise with the organization and whom I am apparently supposed to help. They like me and offer me a job managing the product managers for all the display terminals the company makes. After being responsible for Datatouch’s small computers, managing product managers for terminals isn’t exactly my dream job. But I want out of Datatouch and this is an opportunity to make my exit. Besides, it’s a chance to break into Digital – the eight-hundred pound gorilla of the small computer world. I return home and tell Felice about the opportunity. It means moving back to Massachusetts – back to where her brothers and sisters live, back to her roots. She approves. My introduction to Digital is an exercise in culture shock. At Datatouch I had a spacious office with an eight person conference table, private secretary, and a view of a manicured golf course to remind me of my position in the organization and the world. At Digital I share a tiny, doorless workspace with an engineering manager. My desk is vintage World War I with a broken drawer. The Maynard mill is Digital’s corporate headquarters and dates from 1847. Digital prides itself on not wasting money on carpet or paint or other such frivolities. The less comfortable your workspace, the higher up in the organization you are. Cobwebs and bad lighting are a badge of honor. A month passes with me living out of a motel and Felice and Michael still down in Texas. We have not had a single offer on the house. It’s time for Felice and Michael to join me. I fly down to Texas, pack our car with items we don’t want movers touching, and begin the long drive to Massachusetts. Michael is sound asleep in his car seat as we enter the Mass Pike. Felice is driving and I’m taking a rest. Without warning, a snow squall hits and covers the banks of the highway in a blanket of white. Michael wakes up, looks out the window, and breaks into a huge smile. He’s never seen snow before. Pointing, he says, “Ice cream!” Living out of a motel room is fine for a few days, but it won’t do with Felice and Michael joining me. Felice arranges for us to move into her parents’ attic. The ceiling is low and sloped. There is no insulation. When the wind blows you feel it coming through cracks in the wall. Three of us sleeping in the same room offers no privacy even on Sunday mornings. Felice’s parents’ bedroom is directly under our attic space. At night Felice’s father lies in bed and lights cigarette after cigarette. The smoke rises, finds cracks in the attic floor, and turns our bedroom into something that smells like an ashtray. This is the first time since I started working I have no reminders that I’m doing well. My sound system, furniture, tools, and most other possessions are still down in Texas. My shared office is downright depressing. We are sharing a barely functional bathroom with twelve people. The only evidence that I’m making any contribution at all to my family is the number in our bank account that gets a little larger every payday. Felice and I are going on three months without an intimate encounter – without a hug, without a kiss, without a smile passed between us. It doesn’t seem to bother her, but I can measure the effect on my libido by the growing number of female co-workers I’d say yes to if given the opportunity. Of course, no opportunity presents itself. Even though we’ve still not had a single offer on our Texas house, I need to get us a place of our own. Since our down payment is tied up in our Texase house, it’s going to be a rental. I talk with Felice. A few days later, she says she thinks she found a candidate. It’s half of a duplex in Acton just a few miles from Digital. Peggy, the landlady, occupies the other half of the house. She is a recent divorcee with two little girls. She’s in her late thirties and has the body of a centerfold. My three months of abstinence may help the effect, but by any measure this woman has a stunning figure. We have our furniture moved up from Texas and move in. The first night in our new house we put Michael to bed, retire to our bedroom, and make love like the good old days. Felice is energized, gasping, mewing, and begging for more. I don’t know if it’s the house, three months of abstinence, or we’re using the other side of our queen mattress, but I try my best to remember our warmup. I try to recreate the moment the next evening but I must have missed some important detail. The wall separating our part of the house from Peggy’s has no sound insulation – a sheet of half-inch wallboard, three and a half inches of air, and another sheet of wallboard. It turns out our bedroom is just on the other side of hers. Pretty much anything going on in one room is audible in the other. We discover this one night as Peggy, her ex having taken her kids for the weekend, entertains a friend with screams and squeals and panting that would make any Doberman proud. Not that I need much encouragement, but the sounds coming through the wall put me in the mood for a little sound show of our own. Felice seems to have the opposite reaction. It turns out Peggy’s partner is a compact stud named Skip. Felice learns Skip has just come out of the Navy, has no job, and has persuaded Peggy to let him move in until he lines something up. Felice also learns that Peggy is giving Skip ‘gas money’ out of the alimony she receives from her ex. Skip’s arrangement includes meals, clothing, and sundries. It also seems to include nightly workouts on Peggy’s round waterbed. The encounters are no longer confined to weekends. I don’t know what she has told her daughters. As entertaining as it is to hear Peggy scream her lungs out two or three times a night, it really is time for us to find a house of our own and get on with our lives. We see several houses we like, meet the asking price, and are outbid by someone else. Digital’s growth has turned the local real estate market red hot. People are regularly offering more than owners are asking. Lying in bed after Peggy’s third performance of the night, Felice says, “I want to see a therapist. I’ve been doing such crazy things. Peggy’s given me the name of her therapist.” She sounds upset. There are so many questions her statement raises that I don’t know which to ask first. I’d like to know what crazy things she’s referring to but I’m afraid of what she might say. “If you want to see a therapist, that’s okay. But not Peggy’s. Look at how she is – that isn’t much of a recommendation.” The conversation stops there. There is no further discussion of therapists in the days that follow. I learn no more about the crazy things Felice thinks she is doing. I assume she has moved on – until I come home from work one day and there is an old vacuum cleaner sitting in our living room. I ask, “What’s this?” “I bought it from Skip. Peggy told him to leave and he wanted to sell it.” “We already have a vacuum cleaner.” She seems uncomfortable, searching for an answer. “I’ll give it to my mother.” “How much was it?” “A thousand dollars. It’s a very expensive brand.” “Don’t you think your mother would rather have the thousand dollars? Doesn’t she already have a vacuum cleaner?” The conversation ends. Crazy things. While I’m at work all day, Felice is home. So is Skip. I don’t want to know. The next evening Felice goes next door to Peggy’s and stays there for two hours. I wonder what they could possibly be talking about. Felice returns and tells me Peggy wants to talk with me about getting a job at Digital as a product manager. I’m sure I just imagine it, but it almost sounds as if Felice has struck a deal with Peggy and me hiring her was part of the bargain. I go next door. Peggy greets me at the door in a tight red sweater that leaves little to the imagination – actually, nothing to the imagination. She asks, “Would you like a drink?” and points to a liquor cabinet. “I’m all set. So Felice tells me you’re interested in being a product manager. What kind of background do you have?” “My ex-husband works for IBM.” I’m not sure that counts. She hasn’t worked in years, has no technical background, and I don’t think she has any idea what product managers actually do. She asks, “Mind if I smoke?” I mind very much but I’m so uncomfortable I don’t know how to say so. “No problem – go right ahead.” She lights up and takes a deep drag letting some smoke out of her mouth and sucking it up her nostrils. Mercifully, she exhales away from me. She knows the effect she’s having on me – it shows on her face. She’s had twenty years practice turning men’s minds to Jello just by showing off her perfect body. I wonder what it must be like to have that kind of power. I ask, “Have you thought about sales – real estate, yachts, Lamborghinis? You could get most guys to say yes to anything. There’s authority in your voice that would make you a natural.” I explain that all my people have working knowledge of the products they manage as well as the products of their chief competitors. It would take years for her to have enough technical expertise to direct a product development effort. She finishes her cigarette and rotates her torso ever so slightly back and forth as if checking to see if the invisible rays shooting from her chest need calibration. They don’t. I’ve been fully irradiated and am just a little embarrassed to stand up. I say, “I’d better get back,” and return to Felice. Felice greets me with, “Did you hire her?” “She’s not even close. Why would she think she can be a product manager with no experience?” “Did she say anything else?” “She asked if I minded if she smoked.” Felice looks relieved. I’m obviously missing something. We’ve been searching for a house of our own since we became Peggy’s tenant. It looks as if we’ve finally found it – a small house at the end of a cul-de-sac on the edge of several acres of woods. The couple who owns the house is divorcing and wants to sell as quickly as they can. We make an offer and they accept. The house is in pretty good shape but needs a new kitchen. With all the construction experience I have from our Texas house, I know just what to do. I hire a carpenter. He does the job in one week flat. It looks great. At work the decision is made to merge the display and printing terminal groups under a single manager. He wants to merge the product managers as well. Three of us are considered for promotion to the new group product management position. My two rivals pursue the promotion aggressively. I have a secret weapon they don’t expect – I don’t care if I get the job or not. I’m a software guy. I want to help design computer systems, not peripheral devices. To my rivals’ consternation, I receive the promotion. I have shifted my focus from bits and bytes to the people creating the technology. I partner with a couple of dozen engineers who have been in the organization long enough to have earned respect from their peers. On any given day I spend most of my time walking the old hallways of the mill sharing information and gathering advice from people who know their stuff but have failed to stay on top of the management structure as it grew. I have access to Ken Olsen, founder and prime mover of the company, and managers in marketing, production, sales, and engineering. Many view me as taking huge risks by supporting projects and people no one else seems to want. A second major merger occurs a few months later. Small computers are merged with terminals. I get promoted again. I am now managing product managers responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. I get a call from the head-hunter who placed me at Digital. There is a forty million dollar company on Long Island looking for a V.P. of Marketing. They want to move from manufacturing display terminals to small computers. My Datatouch and Digital backgrounds make me a natural. Another raise, another promotion, another block of stock options that could be worth millions if all the planets line up. I talk with Felice. She’s not enthusiastic about leaving Massachusetts but Long Island makes visits a good deal easier than Texas. I go for an interview, get an offer, and accept. While I get introduced to my new staff, Felice drops Michael off at my mother’s house in New Jersey and spends the next day with a realtor house hunting. At the end of the day we meet back at our motel room and I ask her how she made out. “If I have to look at one more house I’m going to scream. There’s a house in Dix Hills I told the realtor we’ll be making an offer on.” “We’ll be making an offer on a house I haven’t seen?” “It was the best one I saw.” “Do you think maybe I can take a look before we sign a contract?” “We have an appointment tomorrow at 9:00 in the morning. I’m leaving to pick up Michael from your mother’s right after that.” The next day we meet with the realtor and see the house. It’s a small three-bedroom cape with a one car garage on a quarter acre lot. The neighborhood looks nice enough, but the house has no room for a workshop, no room for a Ping-Pong table, no basement, and not even enough yard for a decent swing set. I am underwhelmed. I try as delicately as I can to suggest that I was hoping for something with a bit more room, a bit more flair, a bit more fun. Felice is annoyed. “I’m done looking. I’m going to pick up Michael and we’ll spend the night at your motel. If you can find a better house by tomorrow, fine. Otherwise we’re buying the cape. Take me back to my car.” It was clear that she was not interested in more conversation. I have what is left of the day to find a better house or we’re moving into the ordinary house on Mediocre Lane. I tell my secretary I need to take the day off and start driving. I decide to skip the realtor and scout neighborhoods on my own. I head north toward Long Island Sound assuming that houses near the water might be a bit more interesting. It’s amazing how fast seven hours of daylight goes when you’re looking for the house of your dreams. I have about thirty minutes of daylight left when I see a For Sale By Owner sign on the front lawn of a house in Fort Salonga. It is a large ranch with cedar plank siding set atop a ten foot incline in a development of similarly styled houses. I pull up the driveway and knock on the front door. A fellow with a frown on his face answers. “I’m sorry for bothering you so late but I saw your sign and it turns out I have to find a house to buy tonight.” “Tonight?” He looks at me as if I’m a madman. He’s probably right. “It’s a long story. Might I get a quick peek inside?” He looks me over and finally says, “Come on in.” A two story entry with a tile floor, family room with fireplace, large living room with a vaulted ceiling, formal dining room, laundry room, huge kitchen, two bathrooms, and four bedrooms – twice the house that Felice had found. Outside there is a slate patio with an in-ground heated pool, diving board, water slide, and a half dozen kids squealing with delight. “Why are you selling?” A look of regret sweeps across his face. “Divorce. You know how it is.” Actually, I don’t. “Is there any chance I can bring my wife to see the house tomorrow morning?” “No problem, but don’t you want to see the rest of the house?” “Rest?” He leads me down a flight of stairs to a huge wood paneled party room with more than enough space for Ping-Pong, pool, and shuffleboard all at the same time. There is a mirrored wet-bar and a fifth bedroom. We end the tour in an oversized two car garage with plenty of room for a workshop along one wall. “How big is your lot?” “One and a half acres – but it connects with woods that go straight into Sunken Meadow Park. 1200 acres and three miles of beaches on the Sound. Big enough?” “The asking price?” It turns out he is asking $5,000 less than the cape Felice found. I’m excited. “So you’re interested?” “See you tomorrow morning.” Felice shows up later that evening with Michael in tow. “Did you find anything?” “Actually, we have a meeting with the owner of a house tomorrow morning. I think you’re going to like it.” The next morning we have breakfast and then drive to the Fort Salonga house. Michael asks if the house is really in a fort. We approach the house the same way I did the evening before. Michael says the houses look like ugly log cabins. He complains about the bushes and the brick walkway leading to the front door. I don’t know what Felice has told him on her drive back from my mother’s, but he is obviously trying to support her. We go up the driveway and I lead Michael up a few steps into the backyard. He sees the pool, the waterslide, and the diving board and asks, “Can mommy live here too?” The first day of school is coming in four weeks. I don’t want Michael to start late. I make an offer on the Fort Salonga house meeting the seller’s full asking price if we can close in two weeks. The offer is reduced by $5,000 for every week past two it takes to close on the house. Over his lawyer’s objections, in two weeks we have moved into our new house. At work I have inherited a demoralized crew who has seen the marketplace reject the company’s two-hundred pound, seventeen board, three-foot by five-foot plastic desk computer in favor of faster, cheaper, and much smaller personal computers from a half dozen competitors. The public image of the company is based on a number of shareholder lawsuits against the chairman for stock manipulation. I find a PR firm and launch a series of interviews with trade press touting the company as the largest OEM supplier of CRTs. Our big customer is NCR. My efforts begin to pay off. Articles start appearing about our products instead of angry shareholders and I become the public face of the company. We run an ad with a photo of me, front and center, hands placed lovingly on one of our new CRTs. I am the Frank Perdue of display terminals. My secretary resigns after Ella, the personnel manager, accuses her of taking too long in the ladies room. Ella is a recent Cuban immigrant with a heavy accent and as fascist an attitude as anyone I’ve ever met. She is universally despised within the administrative staff of the company. With the amount of time I’m spending in the field, I need someone to be my anchor in the office – setting up meetings, taking phone calls, making travel arrangements. I can either try to hire someone from the outside or promote someone from within. The best secretary in my group works for Frank, one of my product managers. She is meticulous, enthusiastic, and presents herself like a Vegas cocktail waitress in heat – slim waist, bulging chest, black hair, heavy eye makeup, and legs made even more shapely by the stiletto heels she wears. I talk to Frank. Debbie is reassigned to me. It’s more a promotion in status than salary. For me too. Not the salary part but the status thing. I do my best to ignore Debbie’s physical charms. That’s not an easy task. We set about learning each other’s quirks and preferences. A few months after she starts working for me she asks if we can talk privately. We go into my office and she closes the door. “I think I should transfer back to Frank.” I’m caught off balance. “Why?” “I’m not sure you want me.” Want her? With the unenthusiastic physical relationship Felice and I have settled into, getting Debbie out of my mind as I return home every day has been a real effort. It occurs to me that the reason she behaves the way she does is to get attention – attention I am using all my powers to deny her. “Of course I want you. You do a good job, you enhance my status, you…” My rambling is interrupted by Debbie leaning forward and kissing me. I’m not very good at this. The softness of her lips takes my breath away. She’s only the second woman I have ever been kissed by. My pulse races and I feel my mind slip on down my spine from my head to my crotch. Part of me wants to ravage her right there on the floor – pleasure her out of her mind. Part of me wants to run away. There is no contest. “I have a meeting – gotta run.” Will I be able to resist? The answer is in the next story.

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