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Machine City

The artist makes love to the robot

I’m not an actor, but I was in a movie once. Bethany Blanket cast me in her student project my sophomore year at Yale. In one scene, I was made up to look old, with a wrinkled brow and a wig streaked white with talc. This morning, in the elevator at work, I saw that face again. A devastating start to the day.

Machine City was a half-hour two-hander. It screened the weekend before winter break, at an unheated auditorium in the law school. You could see your breath. The Yale Herald called it “baffling” but doled out three and a half stars—grade inflation. Tickets were four bucks. Sixty people came to the first showing. I don’t know where the money went.

I just searched for the movie online. No trace, thank God. The internet barely existed when I was in college. Email was an impractical novelty. You’d send someone a message, and weeks might pass before they saw it. The message invariably ran something like, just saying hello on this crazy machine, have a great day. You could only check email at a few terminals sprinkled around campus. No one had a modem back then, and the phones had coiled cords.



Bethany and I crossed paths thanks to the god of student housing, that minor deity who put us on the third floor of Entryway D of Saybrook College, overlooking Elm Street. Each floor held a pair of suites plus a single. The bathroom was unisex. I roomed with two of my freshman year roommates, Anselm (econ) and Sang (biology). Anna, Steph, and Eunice were in the mirroring suite. Bethany, a junior, had the coveted single.

My Bethany Blanket knowledge was scant. I knew she woke to the hopped-up strains of “Two Princes” at 6:30 every morning to go jogging in East Rock. She had an Anglo surname, but I sensed nuance about the eyes. I’d seen her lounging on Cross Campus with her California friends, whose rad intonations constituted a foreign language. She had a T-shirt that said Got Milk? Later I found out her dad was an attorney for the U.S. Dairy Farmers.



The first time I said more than hi to Bethany was a brisk Friday in October, and now everything leading up to that moment comes back to me. I remember going to the dining hall with Massimo. The son of an Italian diplomat and a Mexican plastics heiress, he was born in Jordan, spoke with a faint German accent, and had attended a prep school near D.C., where he’d led a barbershop quartet and played lacrosse. To his parents’ dismay, Massimo wanted to be a writer. He was revising a story for his advanced fiction seminar. He was going to work on it in the Saybrook library afterward. He had written “Untitled” at the top.

“You’ve got to put something there,” I advised cheerfully.

“That’s the title,” he sniffed. “‘Untitled’ is the title.”

He was in a seminar taught by Trevor Stoops, author of Trapezoids. Some classes, Stoops would come an hour late, then dazzle everyone with insights about their work. Other times, he appeared nervous and sad, once breaking down in tears and moaning, “Martha, Martha.” He made up for it by bringing homemade cupcakes to the next class, students’ names frosted in red.

“Can I take a look?”

“It’s a work in progress.”

I handed him my Walkman. “Listen while I read.”

For the past few weeks, I’d been playing Nevermind nonstop, trying to decide if I liked it. From my backpack, I took out the cassette box. Massimo snorted at the cover: a baby in a pool, reaching for a dollar bill on a fishhook.

“Is this a joke?”

I didn’t think so. As far as I could tell, Nirvana had no trace of irony or playfulness, usually a sign of bad art. With a superior air, Massimo slipped on the headphones and pressed play, while I read “Untitled.” The story was about a day in the life of a teenager, “M.” It was told in the third person, but I could easily spot the protagonist’s resemblance to Massimo: he was also a baritone who played midfield. The writing was flat, and the dialogue sounded off, but I understood what was going on. But after two pages, it shifted register so abruptly that I thought a page from a different story had been stapled on by mistake. It turned out that everything I’d just read was taking place on a giant video screen aboard a UFO shaped like the moon. Aliens were watching life on Earth unfold, bored out of their “cog-sacs.”

“Huh,” I said. I flipped back to the first page. Maybe I’d missed something. Meanwhile, Massimo pursed his lips in distress. Thirty seconds into “Lithium,” he looked decidedly unwell—eyes bulging, skin gray—and by song’s end he was a gibbering wreck.

“No, no, no,” he said. The headphones came off and he staggered away, in search of a new cog-sac.

I got a second dessert and steeped some tea, then sorted through the table tents. This was the primary method of advertising events around campus: colored xeroxes, folded across the middle so they could stand up. The Yale Film Society was showing the director’s cut of Brazil. The Alleycats, an a cappella group, would be hosting a “jam” over in Davenport. There was an audition for Measure for Measure and a study break sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. A student improv troupe, Just Add Water, was performing at the Calhoun dining hall at nine. I had gone to a show once. They asked us for a vegetable, a historical figure, and the title of a book, and crafted a hilarious skit on the fly involving rutabaga, Abe Lincoln, and the Kama Sutra, but later Anselm wondered if they’d put plants in the crowd.

That night there was a double bill of Tom Stoppard one-acts, a night of traditional Indian dance, a lecture about the meat industry by a Scottish ethicist: nothing appealed. Frankly, I was envious of my fellow students’ creative and organizational abilities. I had entered Yale with aspirations to go into architecture or journalism, but who was I fooling? I was a history major, planning to apply to law school down the road. I vowed to do a lot of pro bono work, make peace with my soul.



On the bulletin board by our door, Sang had scrawled an invitation to a rolling pickup game at Payne Whitney. I was no great shakes at hoops, but it seemed a solid last resort. The game started at seven and went on forever. I could drop in any time. Presumably, Anselm would be with him.

I have to add this one thing. Back in the spring, on the last day before they kicked us out of the dorms, a group of malingerers had convened in one of the common rooms on the first floor of Wright Hall. Sang had already left for an internship at a biotech firm in Boston, leaving Massimo, his funny roommate Corwin, a track star named McVick, a violinist named Pearl, Anselm, and me. Everyone left was mellow after having survived our first year. People drifted in and out of the room that night, displaying hidden talents. McVick picked up a guitar and played “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” “Just Like Heaven,” and “Heaven” by Bryan Adams. Pearl did card tricks; I’m not good at describing clothes, but she wore vintage stuff as she performed a coin trick on an upturned box, passing her hands over a quarter, dime, nickel, penny, keeping up a stream of old-timey patter. At the end the change was all piled neatly in the center, in order of circumference.

“Damn,” I said. “What’s the trick called?”

“Chink-a-chink,” she said, in a faint voice.

“Excuse me?”

The name was so crazy it made us crazy. We gasped and cackled, rolled on the floor, slapped ourselves on the cheeks. I saw Pearl and Massimo wrapping their arms around each other.

“Chink-a-chink!” Corwin shrieked into my face, tears streaming. “What the hell!”

I punched a hole in the box that the coins were on. It seemed the right thing to do. Eventually we all stopped heaving and hooting. Anselm confessed he’d had a weird dream in which our roommate, Sang, sat on his lap and played with his blonde tresses. That was all he remembered. Anselm asked if I thought he had an Asian fetish, a term that Sang—Korean like me—used when he saw a white guy going out with an Asian girl. I said it depended if he dreamt it more than once.



But back to meeting Bethany. Dinner had made me sluggish. My plan was to shower, make it through more of The Gothic Image, then hit the gym for b-ball. It was a book for my medieval history class, about religious art in France. The previous owner had highlighted a single sentence in the introduction: “Work of the thirteenth century interests us even when inadequately executed, for we feel there is something in it akin to a soul” before giving up. So far, I understood that one line perfectly, but not much else.

Since a painter can paint a painter painting a painting, could we ourselves be paintings, painted by some larger, divine painter—i.e., God?

The third-floor bathroom had two showers, though when one was on, the other was reduced to a dribble. I entered the first stall with my shampoo caddy. The water came out full blast, and I stepped aside before the cold spray hit. That’s when I saw the camcorder on the wall between the showers, secured by half a roll of packing tape.

The camera appeared to be off, and in any case was aimed down into the other stall. I entertained dark thoughts about Sang, who’d actually gone AWOL from his internship and spent that precious summer in Boston taking pictures of street performers and old tombstones. Was he an innocent shutterbug or a peeping Tom? He was pretty religious—his dad was a pastor in New Jersey—but you never could tell.

I stepped out, threw on my robe, and opened the other curtain. Bethany was asleep on the tiled floor, in a dark blue bathing suit and white swim cap, a pair of goggles perched on her head. Her stall was bone dry. She held a pen-like object, attached to the camera by a black cord. She opened her eyes.

“Hello, Sang,” she said.

I corrected her.

“Sorry. You look like Sang.”

“Racist,” I said. “Not all Asians look alike.”

“That’s true, but you two do.” She rolled her eyes. “I’m half, myself.”

“What are the halves?”

“My mother’s from Hong Kong, and Dad’s, like, ninety percent Dutch, ten percent we don’t know.”

I helped her up. Her fingers were cool and thin. The top of my robe slipped open as I pulled. The belt would give any second. She picked a black thread off the shoulder and dropped it carefully in the trash like a mama bird bringing a worm to the nest.

“Why were you on the floor?”

“Waiting for the sun to come through.” She went over to the window. Above the standard issue panes was a half-circle of stained glass, muted colors melding like a mound of sherbet, showing a scholar or maybe a dragon. “When the sun hits at a certain angle, the colors stream right into the shower. Noticed it a week ago. It was like swimming in a rainbow.” She peeled off a three-inch strip of tape from the sticky mass securing the camera. “My plan was to turn the shower on, then right as the water came out, I’d trigger the camera with this clicker.”

Her recorder looked too small to capture such a sublime sight. “What went wrong?”

“I conked out.” She yawned. “I pulled two all-nighters this week.”

“I went to bed at three,” I said in sympathy. “I had a History of Dada and Surrealism paper due today.”

“I thought I saw you in that class.”

My paper was on René Magritte. Lately I’d been captivated by any work of art that contained a work of art within it. A play within a play, a book within a book, a painting that depicted another, smaller painting. Was the interior work of art less “real” than the surrounding work? If so, why does our mind attribute levels of reality to what is, after all, just color on canvas? Since a painter can paint a painter painting a painting, could we ourselves be paintings, painted by some larger, divine painter—i.e., God? It was a good question, even though it wouldn’t help me get into law school.

“I saw something like that at the Rep two weeks ago,” Bethany said, attacking the clump of masking tape again. This was the first time I’d seen a woman with unshaved armpits. The hairs were cute, like soft tufted animal ears. “A playwright writes a play in which a playwright writes a play.”

“That’s the spirit.”

We were like a mythological creasture, designed to play a specific role in an undergraduate allegory.

I’d finished a draft Wednesday, but late Thursday night I asked Anselm if it was too academic. (“We’re literally in the academy,” he said.) The subject was the painting La condition humaine, which depicted an easel in front of a window, showing the landscape we viewers assume is behind it—beyond the glass, “out there.” How to convey its profound unease?

I gave Bethany the blow-by-blow. Just after midnight, I decided to interrogate the artwork’s reality by framing my original paper as a mere translation of an essay by a fictional Belgian critic. I wrote a brief “preface” under my own name, then credited the rest to one Monsieur Hans de Krap. Were these my real thoughts on the subject if they were spouted by an invented writer? The idea of unstable reality would be reflected in the form of the piece.

“Woah,” Bethany said. “I love that shit.” She unpeeled a strip of tape and stuck it on my shoulder.

“I’m worried my TA won’t get it.” There were only two papers for the class, and I couldn’t afford a low grade.

“The concept is what’s important.”

My TA, Win, had been a New York scenester before heading to graduate school, a staple at the Factory a few years before Warhol died, doing silkscreens and “people watching.” Win was a tweedy, debate-team-looking guy, who wore pinstripes and tortoiseshell glasses, but this biographical information suggested hidden depths.

“What did you write about?” I asked Bethany.

Un chien andalou.”

In the first class, Professor Burton showed us Dalí and Buñuel’s film, a collaborative dream from 1922. A girl dashed out of the lecture hall when the man on screen ran a razor across a woman’s eye. Nowadays, a teacher might give a trigger warning, but professors back then grasped the pedagogical value of shock. That a seventy-year-old work of art could inspire revulsion delighted Professor Burton. Next class, she proudly announced that ten students had dropped the course.

“I thought it would be interesting to run Un chien backward, see if it made more sense,” Bethany said.

“Like looking for satanic messages in ‘Stairway to Heaven.’”

“The scene where they split her eye open now comes at the end, so it’s like putting the eye back together. That was rad. Are you an art history major?”

“Just regular. History without the art.”

Bethany swore. She’d broken a nail in her attempt to liberate the camera from its perch. “Here—lift me up.”

“How did you even get it up there?”

“That tall chick Anna helped.”

I held her by the waist. She was small as a bird, but I could barely move her.

“Not like that.” I could feel her breath on my face. “Put me on your shoulders.”

Moist legs clamped my neck, thigh-flesh warming my cheeks. She was heavier than I thought, for such a small person. Bethany whistled “Two Princes” as she clawed at the tape.

My head had a limited range of movement. I stared at the tiles and the drain. It was unspeakably gross. We were like a mythological creature, designed to play a specific role in an undergraduate allegory. Her leg muscles tightened to maintain balance. Soon there was a satisfying rip from above, then another, as major strips came free.

“Done,” Bethany said. “It’s easier with a little leverage.”

I crouched to let her down. We studied the camera’s flip-out screen to see if anything had been recorded. Nada. She ejected the small cassette, frowned, put it back in. We exited the bathroom at last. Someone had left a rambling note on the whiteboard tacked to her door. I couldn’t make out the message, just the word Sorry!

“Everything all right?”

“Today’s your lucky day, Joon.”

“My name’s Ed.” She must have seen last year’s photo directory, which mixed up my middle name with my first. My grandmother in Korea was the only one who called me Joon anymore.

“Your stage name should be Joon.”


“You’re going to be in my movie.”

“I’m not an actor.”

“We’re all actors, from the moment we step out of our rooms.”

“Not me.”

“Put on some clothes, and let’s get cracking. A solid top, just not black or white.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’ve passed the audition.”



My alternatives to ad-hoc stardom were basketball or closing the gap with The Gothic Image, so I changed into a sweater and jeans, and busted out the J. Crew barn jacket my mom had sent me. When I came out, Bethany was in a yellow tracksuit, a Got Milk? baseball cap on backward. A fuzzy hand-loomed bag was slung across her shoulder. The air was turning crisp, and the days were getting short.

“How much am I getting for this?”

“I’ll treat you to Claire’s.”

Claire’s Corner Copia was a vegetarian place that I disliked because it reminded me of Tina Cho, my hostile ex-girlfriend. She was the first vegetarian I had met in my life, let alone Korean vegetarian; we had gone out for a couple months freshman year, but her parents pressured her to break up with me. Something to do with the province where my parents were originally from in Korea. I imagined our ancestors living in rival villages, stoking a centuries-old blood feud. Over the summer, I sent Tina a twenty-page letter explaining why we were meant to be together, with a few paragraphs of NC-17 content. She replied with a Buddhist parable about filial piety in which a daughter cut the flesh from her leg to feed her starving father.

Naturally, as soon as we got to Claire’s, I spotted Tina in a corner booth, holding court with three other officers of KASY, which stood for Korean American Students at Yale. She had some standing in the group and looked to be prepping for a coup. I kept my head down. Bethany Blanket ordered a Mexican salad for herself and coffee for me. She looked more Asian in the murky lighting, the Dutch side relinquishing control.

“I don’t drink coffee at night,” I said.

“You’re going to need it, cowboy.” She checked her watch. The waitress came by with a huge pale dinner roll. “Shooting might go all night.”

I was getting cold feet. Had I lost my mind?

“Don’t worry, there’s no nudity.”

“Your loss.”

She snickered. “So what’s the problem?”

“I don’t like hearing myself on tape,” I explained. “Seeing myself on camera will be worse.”

“No one’s forcing you to watch. You can do it and never think of it again.”

I hadn’t thought of it that way. Bethany lit a cigarette. You could still smoke in most restaurants then, though I’m not sure about Claire’s. I looked across the room at Tina Cho, who was staring at me. I turned to study the menu on the wall.

“Do you know her?”


“Crazy-looking chick.”

“No comment.”

“In the Benetton sweater.”

“Never seen her.”

“She looks familiar. Is she in Saybrook?”


“Busted. Stay right here.”

Were these my real thoughts on the subject if they were spouted by an invented writer?

Tina’s friends had dispersed. Already I could see what was going to happen; I thought about how the Surrealists switched theaters halfway through a movie so they could catch part of another feature, the start of a newsreel, a few gags in a comic short, then stitch the bits together in their mind into one exquisite thing. The coherence of incoherence. I wanted to skip to another story, but I was trapped in this one, the one in which Bethany summoned Tina to our table and asked disingenuously if she’d acted before.

“Not since high school,” Tina said. “I was Major General Stanley in Pirates of Penzance.”

“That’s a dude.”

“It was an all-girls’ school.”

Right.” Bethany tore apart her dinner roll and gave me half. “Do you know Joon?”

“I’m Tina,” she said. “Hello, Joon.”

My head felt light. What was going on? Tina’s playful side was coming out. I couldn’t remember whether I liked that or not.

“Hi,” I said, continuing the charade. We shook hands.

“Joon’s majoring in Dada and Surrealism. How about you?”


“Good choice,” Bethany said. “You can do anything you want with that degree.”

That’s when I noticed the camera was welded to her face. “You’re filming this?”

“Keep going! Don’t mind me!”

“It’s just a screen test,” Tina said. “Right?”

“Mm-hmm. Act natural, Joon. Not so uptight. Act like you would if you were just meeting a pretty girl.”

“I would act uptight,” I said, “if she were pretty.”

“Come on, dude. She’s a knockout.”

Tina tilted her head coquettishly. She looked the same but different. She was wearing earrings, a chunky necklace I hadn’t seen before.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” I grumbled. To Bethany I said, “What’s the movie about?”

“Don’t talk to me, talk to her.”

“I have nothing to say to her.”

“Good. Use the aggression.” She didn’t know about the breakup, the anguish, the intergenerational provincial prejudice. She wiggled her fingers in a more, more gesture.

“Excuse me,” the waitress said to Bethany. “You’re not allowed to film here.”

“I have a permit.”

“Restaurant policy.”

Bethany trained the camera on the server, who happened to be Eunice from Entryway D.

“Seriously, I’m going to call security.”

“Seriously, I’m going to call security,” Bethany mimicked.

“Also, no smoking.”

“OK, Mom.”

“My life goal,” our director said, leading us back toward campus, “is to make twelve movies. Real, full-length features. Then I’ll stop.”

The statement was at once swaggering and modest.

“You don’t want to wear out your welcome,” Tina joked.

“It’s not that. I like the idea of someone watching all my movies, back to back. A true devotee. If each one is two hours long, then that’s one full day out of that person’s life.”

“A Bethany retrospective,” Tina said approvingly.

“What’s your favorite movie?” I asked.

I wanted to skip to another story, but I was trapped in this one.

“Tell you later. I don’t want you to have any preconceptions.” She started a new cigarette. “We should be mysteries to each other. My pet peeve is when I see an actor in one movie, playing a pirate, say, and then in the next one he’s a doctor or farmer.”

“That’s called range,” Tina said.

“Sure,” Bethany said, walking to my right. The camera was back in her hand. I hadn’t noticed we were rolling.

“But in my head, I can never totally forget the earlier roles,” she continued. “I can only fall in love with a movie when I have no preconceptions. A totally fresh experience.”

“So in your perfect world,” I said, “an actor would do a single movie and retire?”

They don’t have to retire. I just don’t want to see anything else they’re in.”

We stopped for the light. Three big leaves blew past us on the crosswalk, moving end over end like a dance troupe hurling itself into a big finale. When we could go, Bethany faced us and walked backward, shooting. “Make sure I don’t trip.”

“Does this movie count as one of the twelve?” Tina asked.

“Probably not.”

“A dry run,” I said. It made sense, of course, but I felt obscurely hurt that our project wouldn’t be included in the tally. Tina looked sore, like maybe she’d bail even before it began.

“Promise us this will be one of the twelve?”

“I can’t promise that.”


Bethany made the more, more gesture. She was pushing our buttons. We were passing Payne Whitney, monstrously tall in the dark. I thought of Anselm and Sang and the basketball game inside. I could ditch Bethany and Tina, abandon this impromptu shoot.

“Where are we headed?” I asked.

“Machine City.”

“Eww.” Tina wrinkled her nose. I had to admit, she was cute. “Why?

“That’s the title of the movie.”



Machine City was the nickname of the gloomy lounge under Cross Campus Library. The library, plunged below ground, was morose to begin with: clinically lit, with gray carpet and a series of concentration closets known as weenie bins where you could nap uninterrupted. But Machine City was the next layer of hell. You never went there willingly. It looked like a holdover from a seventies dystopian flick, the bunker where humanity’s last survivors huddle before melting into radioactive goop.

Chainsmokers kept the air warm. Sadistic TAs held office hours here. Students crammed for exams at Formica tables, ringed by the vending machines that gave the place its name. I’d seen ice rinks with more appetizing selections. Littering the glass fronts were outraged notes from those who’d fed coins and received no sustenance. The water fountain never worked, and the microwave made a strange noise if you entered a time greater than fifty-nine seconds. The name of the space was ironic: this was where technology came to die.

“I can’t do this without a script,” Tina said, somehow even more luminous under the crap fluorescents.

Bethany gave her a single piece of paper with the title printed at the top. She popped out the tape, put in another, capturing it all. I’d never seen videocassettes this small—half the size of my Nirvana tape. She could shoot all night.

“This just says, ‘The artist makes love to the robot,’” Tina griped.

“It’s a prompt.”

“Which one am I?” Tina asked. “The artist, or the robot?”

Bethany gave me a look, my cue to explain.

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” I said, and proceeded to give a brief history of Dadaism. Professor Burton’s lectures had left a big impression, and I proved a faithful parrot. “Basically, the sex drive is reduced to a mechanical process, as seen in all those paintings Picabia did of coffee grinders.”

“I have no idea what you’re saying, as always.”

“It’s a starting point,” Bethany said.

Tina considered the premise some more. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s do this.”



We stayed in Machine City till closing. Bethany changed her mini-tapes two more times. At one point she paused to pull props from her bag. She gave me a wig and made up my face to look old, while Tina stayed young in a lavender sweatsuit. Tina was the robot, ageless, and I was the decrepit artist. The tiny words on her jacket said Got Milk?

Bethany didn’t give much direction. She was content to let us talk. Half the banter had some basis in reality; the rest we made up. Tina conjured a decent crying scene.

Toward the end, Bethany said to Tina, “Wear the sunglasses. Now say something true.”

After a dramatic pause, she said, “I’m seeing someone. Someone you know.”

“Okay,” I said. Tina had a sad, superior air. She wanted me to think. To name her partner. “I give up.”

“You see him every day.”


She mimed a barf.

“Ken Griffey Jr.?” Sang had a poster of him by his bed.

“What? No. It’s Anselm.”

My Anselm? Are you out of your mind?”

“We have a lot in common.”

“Sure you do.”

“Don’t be a jerk.”

“Anselm has an Asian fetish.”

“That doesn’t exist,” she said confidently. “There’s no such thing.”

“Oh, Anselm,” I sighed. “I should have known.”

“He’s meeting my parents next weekend.”


“It’s parents’ weekend.”

“Wonderful. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled his family isn’t from the wrong province or whatever. They aren’t even from the same continent. Just perfect. I’m so happy for you.”

“Anselm thought you’d be cool with it. I told him not to say anything. I knew you’d be a fucking maniac.”

I turned to the camera. “Am I being a maniac?”

Bethany said, “And . . . cut!”

That night, alone in bed, my mind raced. I had acted in a movie. I had said too much. Was the character a sympathetic one? Well-developed? We had talked a lot, Tina and I, more than we had since the term began. Now there was this Anselm situation. Life was complicated. I thought of Massimo hearing Nirvana for the first time, and of his untitled story. I thought of René Magritte in Brussels, wearing a bowler hat, putting the finishing touches on La condition humaine. I thought of Dalí and Buñuel, procuring a calf’s eye to cut with a razor. How did they get it, who took it out? I thought of the lyrics to “Lithium,” or really just the part where Kurt Cobain sings, “I’m not gonna crack.”



All of this is ancient history. Tina and Anselm stayed together through graduation, moved to Minnesota, where the trail goes cold. Sang I’ve kept in touch with. We grab lunch or a drink once in a while, talk sports and home renovation projects.

After Machine City finished its weekend run, Bethany and I barely saw each other. Later someone told me she had a new boyfriend who was a mason in Hamden—not a secret-society Freemason, but a guy who worked with bricks. She spent spring semester in Rome, moved off campus senior year with some crew buds. I ran into her just once, outside of Atticus Books. She said something about making another movie, but it wasn’t an invitation.

We never followed up, but in my defense, it was harder to stay in touch back then. I can’t count how many messages I erased by mistake, and I already told you what email was like. In truth, I hadn’t thought of Bethany in twenty-odd years, until catching my aged reflection in the elevator this morning. Now I’ve spent a day wading through memories, clicking through the web. The alumni site says they tore down Machine City over a decade ago. I had no idea. The one photo I can find doesn’t look real, more like a picture of a picture.

It’s late where I am. Everyone left the office hours ago. The rain has stopped, and I’m alone with my view of the shipless river. A week ago, I put a bid on the sweater that Kurt wore on MTV Unplugged, and there’s thirteen minutes till the online auction ends. I just upped my max bid. They let you set your ceiling till the last minute. Then you’re locked in.

This laptop’s so hot it might burn my leg. In all my years at the firm, I’ve never done pro bono. From what I can tell, Bethany moved back to LA after graduation, where she worked on some movies you’ve heard of; others went straight to video. She never made a feature of her own, let alone a dozen. IMDb claims she popped up in some early-aughts cop shows, as a pretty corpse or distraught friend. Google tells me she has a degree in social work. LinkedIn says her last job was three years ago, marketing for a jewelry company. We all end up doing something.

I’m going to try to raise the ceiling one last time.