Chapter no 29

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

“Sadie! Marx! Get in here! We’re ten minutes away!” Sam called.

Marx came into the newly appointed Mapleworld server room, carrying a tray of champagne flutes.

“Where’s Sadie?” Sam asked.

“She’s around somewhere,” Marx said. “I’ll try her cell phone.” He hadn’t been sure if champagne would set the right tone, but in the end, he thought, screw it. Everyone had worked their asses off to get Mapleworld online. They were entitled to celebrate, no matter what the mood of the world in general was.

Unfair called the reboot of Both Sides: The Mapleworld Experience, or Mapleworld for short. Although they had been able to employ many of the graphics, environments, sounds, and character designs of Mapletown, the work to transform it into an MMORPG had been more extensive than Sadie had thought. Sadie’s metaphor was that it was like buying a house you liked in a bidding war, and then moving that house to a different country by boat, and then once you got the house to the other country, deciding that you liked the materials the house was made from but not, in fact, the house itself, and then building an entirely new house after painstakingly disassembling the old house piece by piece.

The team had worked through the spring and summer to prepare it for online play—everything from creating currency systems to figure out how the game would be monetized in the real world, to setting up its dedicated servers, to renting more office space to accommodate the additional staff. The additional staff (ten people to start, more if the game took off) would be engaged in programming new side quests, levels, and challenges; moderating the game world; and keeping it all going 24/7. Internet ads ran

that looked like Alice’s hand-lettered wedding invitations: “Attention: poets, dreamers, worldbuilders! On Midnight, October 11th, 2001, Unfair Games cordially invites you to The Mapleworld Experience.” A newly hired outreach manager had contacted each Mapletownie individually to make sure they were the first members of the Mapleworld community, and a letterpress paper version of the invitation had been created to send to the Mapletownies’ houses. All that was left to do was flip the switch.

Exactly one month before the launch, terrorists had flown planes into skyscrapers and other buildings, and in the wake of that, Unfair had debated whether it was the right time to launch Mapleworld. Whether it felt in bad taste, and whether people would even want to play a game like Mapleworld at this moment in history. The world seemed so chaotic, people so tribal, and their game was so soft. In the end, they decided that there was never a good time to do anything. Mapleworld would launch as planned.

Sadie came into the server room with a case of champagne. After she set the bottles on the table, she joined Marx and Sam and the rest of the Mapleworld team, who were huddled around the pristine servers.

The IT guy whispered in Sam’s ear, “Mazer, we need to power up the network before midnight, if we want it to be running by midnight, and not five after midnight.”

“Good point. Five minutes, everybody!” Sam announced.

“Dammit,” Sadie said, “I forgot the corkscrew.” She ran back up the stairs.

“Sadie!” Marx called after her, a beat later, “Champagne doesn’t need a corkscrew!”

But Sadie hadn’t heard him. Marx went up the stairs to retrieve Sadie as Simon and Ant were descending. Sam shook their hands. “Guys, really nice of you to come.”

“We wouldn’t miss it,” Simon said.

Mapleworld looks amazing,” Ant said. “Sadie was showing us some of it yesterday. We’re both going to join, and reach out to the CPH community to join, too.”

“We definitely need to go now,” the IT guy said to Sam. “We can’t wait, if it’s important to you to be on time.”

Sam knew so many horror stories about games being dead on arrival because they weren’t online when they said they were going to be. Mapleworld was his world, and it would be punctual.

“You wanna do the honors?” the IT guy asked.

Sam reached over and flipped the switch. “I feel like God,” he joked. “Let there be light!”

The group of tired programmers cheered. Sam thanked everyone for their efforts, and Ant opened the champagne bottles. This was when Sam noticed that Sadie and Marx hadn’t returned.

Sam thought that things had been good between him and Sadie during the months they’d worked on Mapleworld. Not exactly like old times, but not actively hostile either. Still, he felt irritated at Marx and Sadie for having missed the turning on of the server, even if the whole thing had been ceremonial.

As the Mapleworld support staff quietly retreated to their desks to attend to the business of moderating the newborn game, Sam headed toward the stairway. He could see Sadie and Marx at the top of the stairs. Sadie appeared to be removing a runaway eyelash from his cheek; Marx was looking at her and laughing. Sadie’s gesture was not especially intimate. Sam had not caught them making love, or kissing, or with their clothes in disarray. And yet, there was a tenderness to Sadie’s gesture that almost made Sam have to sit down, right where he was, at the base of the stairs. He could feel the distant throb of his foot, which he had not felt for over a year.

Sadie and Marx were in love.

She had said that Sam didn’t know her, but he knew her well enough to know what her face looked like when she was in love. Her eyes were softer and her expression was less arch and self-conscious; her hand, entitled, as if she owned Marx’s cheek; her posture, slightly canted toward him, relaxed and pliable; her cheeks flushed. She was pretty all the time, but she was beautiful in love. He knew her well enough to know: it must have been going on for some time.

“Samson,” Marx called down the stairs to him, “did we miss it?” He was all good spirits. They both were.

“Champagne doesn’t need a corkscrew,” Sadie said, laughing.

Sam could confront them now or wait to be informed later. But why did he need to be told? To have confirmed what he could plainly see? If it hadn’t been serious, they would have already told him. “I’m thinking about asking Sadie out,” Marx would have said. “What do you think?” Or Sadie might have said, “Funny thing. I’m seeing Marx. Don’t know what will happen.” The omission let him know it was fatally serious.

Sadie and Marx’s whole future was revealed to him. Sadie would probably marry Marx, and the wedding would be in Northern California, Carmel-by-the-Sea or Monterey. And at the wedding, Sadie’s grandmother would shoot sympathetic looks at Sam, because she had always been nice to him, and she would know he was brokenhearted. Freda would grab his hand with her soft, old hand, and pat it gently, and say, “Life is long” or some other unhelpful, old-lady wisdom. Sadie and Marx would buy a house together, somewhere in Laurel Canyon or maybe Palisades. And they’d get a dog—a big, rangy, mixed-breed thing, or if not that, a Borzoi called Zelda or Rosella. They’d throw big dinner parties. The house would be the kind of place where everyone wanted to congregate because Sadie and Marx had great taste. They were both great. And at some point, there would be children, and Sam would become sad bachelor uncle Sam, expected to give presents for birthdays and holidays. And every day, he’d have to see Marx and Sadie at work. He would watch them arrive together, and leave together, and he could imagine the drive, and the jokes, and the references that you only had with the person you shared your life with. And eventually, Sadie would be a stranger. And this would be a disaster for Sam. A tragedy. He would know that if he hadn’t been the person he was, terrified and cowardly and petty and insecure and sexually panicked and broken, Sadie might have been his. It wouldn’t have even been a question. He would have leaned across a desk and kissed her, and she would have led him to a soft surface somewhere, and they would have made love. Maybe the sex wouldn’t have been exceptional, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Because the

other things they had were finer than sex. Because he loved Sadie. It was one of only a handful of things that he knew to be a constant about himself. The greatest pleasures of his life had been when he was by her side, playing or inventing. And how could she not feel that as well? There would never be another Sadie, and now this one was lost to him. It wasn’t her fault. He had had years to figure out the solution, but he’d wasted his time making games with her instead. He had had years to contemplate the puzzle of himself. And now the old puzzle would be replaced with a new puzzle: How do I go on when the person I love most in the world is in love with someone else? Someone tell me the solution, he thought, so I don’t have to play this losing game all the way through.

“You didn’t miss anything,” Sam said. He smiled, but he could not bring himself to look at either of them.

He walked up the stairs and past them. “Where are you going?” Marx asked.

“I’ll be back down in a minute,” Sam said.

At first, he thought he’d go to his office to clear his head, but then he decided that wasn’t sufficient separation from Sadie. He decided to take a drive. Once he got in his car, he found himself heading east, back home to his grandparents and his dog, Tuesday, a stray he’d taken in the prior summer.

The drive from Unfair to Echo Park took about forty minutes, if traffic was good, which it rarely was. The first time he attempted it in the opposite direction, he had a panic attack where he could not feel the brake under his prosthetic. He had to get off the freeway and pull over to the side of the road. He pumped the brake overly hard, slamming his stump into the prosthetic and badly bruising his leg. He drove the rest of the way to Unfair on surface roads, and he was a half hour late to his first day back, and after that first day, he did not return for another month.

He went to see another therapist to help with his driving anxiety. Sam hated therapy, but he needed to get places, and so, therapy it was. The easiest way to conquer a driving phobia, the therapist said, was to drive.

Sam began to drive around Los Angeles at night, after work, and when he drove, he thought of his mother.

He remembered what she had said about there being secret highways that went from east to west and north to south, and he started to look for them. He had nothing else to do, and if he found one, he could spend less time commuting. He blasted classic rock that reminded him of Anna—the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Bowie, Dylan—and he wound his way through Los Angeles and its hills, looking for dead ends that might somehow turn into secret roads.

On one of his drives, a coyote darted out in front of his car. This was Sam’s second first summer in L.A., and the coyotes were everywhere. He would see them in the front yard, sunning themselves, languorously eating fallen fruit from the cherimoya and loquat trees. He would see them loping down the streets of Silver Lake and Echo Park, sometimes in couples or in families, sorting through the trash outside the vegan place on Sunset, hiking stoically in Griffith Park, nursing their young. The coyotes felt capable, canny, and strangely anthropomorphized, as if they had been endowed with human features by a team of animators. Their hair seemed artfully disheveled, the haircut of a hot, young actor playing a drug addict in an independent film. The coyotes felt more human than most of the humans Sam encountered, more human than Sam himself felt back then. Their constant presence made the city feel wild and dangerous, as if he weren’t living in a city at all.

Sam slammed on his brakes, and the coyote paused, but did not move. Sam opened the window. “Get!” he called. When the coyote still did not move, Sam got out of the car. The coyote was not a coyote. Or, maybe it was a coyote. Sam still didn’t know what the difference was. In any case, it was young, not much older than a puppy. It had the shaggy look of a coyote, but the muscular build of a pit bull. Its back leg was bleeding, and Sam worried he might have grazed it with the car. The coyote/dog looked scared. “If I pick you up,” Sam said gently, “will you bite me?”

The coyote/dog looked at him blankly, terrified. It was shivering. Sam took off his plaid shirt, and he scooped the little dog into his arms, and he

put it into the back seat of his car. They drove to an emergency veterinary clinic.

The dog had broken its leg. She needed stitches and would have to be in a cast for a couple of weeks, but she was strong, and she would recover.

When Sam asked the vet whether the dog might be a coyote, she rolled her eyes. She was just a dog, a mutt yes, but likely some combination of German shepherd, Shiba Inu, and greyhound. You could tell by the elbows, she said. Coyote elbows were higher than dog elbows. She brought up a graphic on her computer: a coyote, next to a wolf, next to a domesticated dog. See, she said, isn’t it obvious? It did not seem obvious to Sam. Nothing seemed obvious to Sam. Yes, it’s obvious, Sam said.

Sam paid the vet, and then he took the hurt little dog home with him. He posted flyers with her photograph around the area in the eastern

Hollywood hills where he had hit her, but he was glad when no one responded. He decided he liked having a dog. She distracted him from the discomfort he was in. Having never lived alone before, Sam was lonely, but contradictorily, his pain made him not want to be with people. He named the dog Ruby Tuesday, after the song that had been playing in his car when he’d hit her. He ended up calling her Tuesday.

After Tuesday had recovered from the broken leg, she could not sleep. Sam also had insomnia, so he couldn’t tell if she was just keeping him company. She paced his one-bedroom bungalow, looking haunted, occasionally baying. He took her to the vet again. The vet gave them a prescription for dog Prozac and suggested that they take even longer walks. That was what they did. They moved past the familiar landscape of their block and traveled uphill, into the winding, sidewalk-less hills of eastern Silver Lake. Sometimes, they would pass a coyote. The coyotes always seemed collegial with Tuesday, though Sam didn’t know if that was his imagination.

Tuesday was often mistaken for a coyote. When they were out on walks, people would regularly stop their cars to ask him why he was walking a coyote. He would inform them that she wasn’t a coyote, merely a dog. Sometimes, they would laugh at them; sometimes, they would argue.

Sometimes, they would insist on knowing what she was, as if they might trick Sam into admitting that he had lied and Tuesday was a coyote. Sometimes, they would seem angry, as if Tuesday and Sam were deliberately trying to make fools of them. For her part, Tuesday seemed unaware that she was the cause of so much controversy. “People,” Sam would say to Tuesday, shaking his head. In her silence, Sam sensed agreement.

They walked uphill and then downhill, until they were spit out at Silver Lake Boulevard, with its small strip of upscale stores and cafés. They would then head north around the reservoir, stopping when they reached the dog park.

On one occasion, Tuesday was socializing with an Akita and a standard poodle. The three of them took turns chasing each other, an interaction both complicated and dazzling.

The Akita was sniffing Tuesday’s ass when a woman’s voice called out, “There’s a coyote attacking other dogs in the dog park! Everyone! Get your dogs! NOW!”

There were twenty-five or thirty dogs in the dog park that day. Sam didn’t immediately see the coyote, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. Sam called Tuesday and leashed her. It had been her turn to reciprocally sniff the Akita’s ass, so she was reluctant to come. When they reached the entrance to the dog park, the woman who had warned of the coyote incursion looked from Tuesday to Sam. She laughed loudly and self-consciously then said, “Oh my God, is that actually your dog?”

Her laughter was irritating to him, as was her use of the word “actually.” “Yes,” he said.

“I honestly thought it was a coyote.” On the woman’s leash was a small, grayish, yapping thing, possibly a bichon. “I thought it was attacking those dogs.”

Sam told her it was a she, and she had been playing.

“Well, from where I was, it looked different. It looked like a vicious attack.” She petted Tuesday on the head. “Good girl,” she said, as if she

were offering Tuesday a benediction. “What even is the difference between a coyote and a dog?”

Sam stammered something about elbows.

“Well, these days, you can’t be too careful.” She said that her dog had been attacked by a coyote the week before. She described yelps, coyote saliva, a desperately hurled yoga block. Sam made noises of assent. “I need to go,” he said.

“Oh sure. Sorry about the confusion.”

It was annoying that she attributed her mistake to a collective confusion, but Sam wasn’t going to pick a fight in the dog park. The woman looked at him, waiting for Sam to say that he was sorry, too, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. She continued, “But if you don’t know what something is, it’s better to be safe. It’s better to have information, right? She could be, like, half-coyote, right?”

His heart pounded murderously. He hadn’t slept much that week on account of Tuesday’s insomnia and the pain he was in, and he felt a disproportionate rage come over him, the facade of civilization beginning to crumble. “Maybe you should look more goddamn closely at a thing before deciding what it is and running off your mouth.”

“Hey, screw you, man! I was trying to prevent people and dogs and children from getting hurt! You shouldn’t bring a dog that looks like a coyote to the park, asshole!”

“You’re the asshole. You’re an ignorant asshole,” he said. He gave the woman the finger. Tuesday and Sam headed back home. Sam felt defeated and an inane comeback kept echoing through his head: Would you have her wear an I AM NOT A COYOTE sign around her neck? Would that make things easier for you? But that would have required her to read the sign, and the woman had not seemed like a reader. Los Angeles, he decided, was a profoundly stupid city, and he felt a palpable, if irrational, longing for all things Massachusetts.

He walked back to his house, and he realized two things: Throughout the encounter, he hadn’t felt any pain. And the woman who’d yelled at him

must not have noticed or known he was disabled, and that had not happened to him in years. He decided he was ready to go back to work.

When Sam told this story to Sadie, she laughed, though she barely seemed to be listening. He had framed the story in a humorous way, smoothed off some of the edges of his hostility toward the woman in the park. But as he told it, he could feel himself back in that dog park. He could feel the dry California heat and the murderous pounding of his heart. Without warning, an anecdote he had meant to be amusing did not feel amusing. Anyone who had truly looked at Tuesday could not have possibly seen a coyote. But the woman had not truly looked, and the injustice of this hit him. Why was it acceptable for apparently well-meaning people to see the world in such a general way?

Sam was put off by Sadie’s laughter. He asked her what was funny. She was confused for a moment—hadn’t he wanted her to laugh?—and then she said, annoyed, “You get that this is a story about you, right? That’s why you lost your mind at a dog park. You’re Tuesday. You’re the incredibly special dog that no one can classify.” It was not long after their huge argument, and things were quite strained between them.

Sam told her that she was being reductive, and that her interpretation was insulting to both him and the dog. “It’s a story about Tuesday,” he insisted. “Maybe it’s a story about L.A., too. Maybe it’s a story about the kind of people that go to the dog park in Silver Lake. But it’s mainly a story about Tuesday.”

“The text,” she said, “perhaps.”

When he knew he would be out late, Sam left Tuesday with his grandparents. It was after 1 a.m. when he got to their house, but Sam knew Dong Hyun would just be getting home from the pizza place anyway. He let himself into their house, and Tuesday greeted him, soft and warm, and then Dong Hyun trailed behind her, still smelling of garlic, peppery red sauce, olive oil, and dough.

“I thought you’d be out all night,” Dong Hyun said.

“It’s over,” Sam said. “Nothing for me to do now. They’ll call me if they need me.”

“Are you okay?” Dong Hyun asked. “I’ve been better.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Dong Hyun’s kind, old face looking at him was almost more than he could bear.

“No.” Sam picked up Tuesday and put her on his lap. He realized he was crying when the dog started licking the salt off his face.

“What is it?” Dong Hyun asked.

“I love Sadie Green,” Sam said helplessly. He felt childish saying this, but there it was.

“I know,” Dong Hyun said. “She loves you, too.” “No, she loves someone else.”

“Maybe it won’t last.”

“It’s Marx. And I think it’s pretty serious, and I don’t know what to do. Sadie and I had a fight about a year ago, but I always thought it would come around eventually.”

Dong Hyun put his strong, dough-throwing arms around Sam. “You’ll find someone else to love.”

“Please don’t say there are a lot of fish in the sea.”

“I wasn’t planning on it, but now that you mention it, there are. What about Lola?”

“She’s nice, but she’s no Sadie. I don’t feel like anyone in the world knows me except Sadie.”

“Maybe you need to let more people know you.” “Maybe.”

“Sam, when your grandmother and I first opened the restaurant, did you know it was a Korean place?”

Sam shook his head.

“But there were too many Korean places in K-town, so we had to come up with something else. And that’s why we decided to make pizza. There weren’t any other pizza places in that part of K-town. It was scary, at first,

because we didn’t know anything about pizza, but then we set ourselves to learning about pizza. We didn’t have any choice. We had two babies and bills to pay.

“Your cousin Albert told me that, in business, they call this a pivot. But life is filled with them, too. The most successful people are also the most able to change their mindsets. You may not ever have a romantic relationship with Sadie, but you two will be friends for the rest of your lives, and that is something of equal or greater value, if you choose to see it that way.”

“I am familiar with the concept of the pivot,” Sam said, “though I don’t think it technically applies here.” He laughed gently; Dong Hyun was often regaling Sam with Albert’s business school curriculum.

But the unapt metaphor made him feel a little better, nonetheless. Sam could see that Marx had left him a message on his phone—he was needed, the Mapleworld team had questions. Sam kissed Dong Hyun on the cheek, and he and Tuesday got in the car to drive back to Abbot Kinney.

They were about a tenth of a mile from the freeway entrance on Rampart when Sam spotted a curious turnoff, near Filipinotown. It was the peculiar 2:30 a.m. light that enabled him to spot it—a broad, flat, dirt road, partially concealed by a flowerless jacaranda tree. As he drove closer, he noted that the road did not have a named street sign, but a dark green hexagon whose lone markings were a group of three dots in a triangle shape:



In a mathematical proof, this mark indicated “therefore,” but Sam didn’t know what it meant on a road sign. He’d never seen a sign like it before. He stopped the car, so he could look down the road. There was no definitive vanishing point. The road seemingly led to nowhere. Alternatively, the road could lead to somewhere. He could end up dead, or he could end up in Beverly Hills. (Though it was rarely so binary, was it?

Most of the time, when Sam pursued an unnamed road, it was a U-turn, and then back to where he’d started from.) “Should we try it?” Sam asked Tuesday. The little dog snored in the back seat and offered no opinion. Sam flipped on his turn signal.

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