Chapter 15

San Francisco : 2004


Charlie’s mother had gone to Portland to spend Thanksgiving with her sister and her sister’s family, so Charlie had invited Marin, Jorge, and Jorge’s law school friend Petra, a German woman with large bags under her bright-blue eyes, over for a holiday dinner in the downstairs apartment. Jorge, the unanimously designated executive chef for the day, gushed covetously as soon as he saw Barbara’s gas-on-glass cooktop, 27K BTU bridge burner, cast iron grill pan, and double 36-inch stainless steel oven.

Marin, Charlie, and Petra peeled, chopped, and diced the herbs and produce that Jorge and Petra had hauled over from Berkeley Bowl. Charlie uncorked a bottle of two buck chuck, and the sous chefs munched on pita and hummus and sipped red wine from Barbara’s bowl-sized wine glasses as Jorge marinated and then roasted a lamb shank; made mashed potatoes and gravy, chile relleños, and a pumpkin pie; and crumbled blue cheese into mesclun greens and tossed in Petra-chopped walnuts, Marin-chopped pears, olive oil, and balsamic.

Charlie had grown up in the three-floor Alamo Square Victorian. When his parents had gotten divorced (many years ago), his mother Barbara had gotten the house and primary custody of Charlie in the settlement. His father Jack had gotten to marry his pregnant girlfriend and move to Los Altos. When Charlie left for college in the mid-nineties, Barbara had immediately begun long-fantasized-about renovations, converting the top (third) floor into a two-bedroom apartment with its own kitchen and bathroom, and the bottom two floors into her dream home. A partner of the San Francisco office of a national corporate accounting firm, Barbara had excellent, expensive taste. Out had gone the chipped frosted glass entertainment center and beige suede couches; in had come the sleek ironwood coffee table, saffron chaise lounger, marble Ming end tables, and black silk rug. The kitchen renovations alone had totaled $81,000.

Barbara’s dining room table was covered with stacks of papers and other undisturbable Barbara mess, so Charlie and his guests ate their Thanksgiving dinner on the table in the kitchen, which was still much nicer than the eating areas of any of their own apartments.

After they sat and complimented the chef on the looks and smell of the feast in front of them, Jorge carved pieces of lamb for everyone. They passed around the other dishes and served themselves. Everything was delicious.

“This is why I love dating girls with gay friends,” Charlie said, holding out a piece of pink lamb meat on his fork before popping it in his mouth.

Marin cringed—not just at Charlie’s insecurity and need to otherize Jorge’s cooking talents, but his confidence that anyone would be anything but delighted by such crude stereotyping.

Once, after an awkward time with Charlie at a Kerry-Edwards fundraiser happy hour, Marin had looked up Asperger’s syndrome on the internet. As she’d read the description of the disease, imprecise and full of loopholes though it had been, she’d known that Charlie didn’t have Asperger’s. He was just kind of a douche bag.

“Isn’t that all girls nowadays, though?” Jorge said, winking at Marin.

“How many other gay men friends do you have, Petra?” Charlie asked.

“You’re kind of friends with Vince, right?” Jorge said. “That’s my law school arch-enemy,” he informed Marin and Charlie.

“Vince, like...” Petra said. “I think we are like friends professionally, like we will help each other get interviews and contacts? But we’re not friends, friends. He’s very intense into the law stuff sometimes, Vince.”

“So, two, including Jorge,” Charlie said. “And you, Miss Choo?”

“Oh, god,” Marin said. “It’s not like I keep a tally sheet at home or anything.”

“You should,” Jorge said, laughing. “Between me and Garcia, you’ll already have two Mexi-gays, and we’re the best kind. How is ‘Mr. Garcia’ these days? I haven’t talked to Benjamin since a few days after Día de los Muertos. And that was only when he asked me for the password to the PicView account that I set up for everyone to upload their B. and J. wedding photos to.”

Marin updated Jorge on the Garcia situation. Mud23 had bumped its November show for a month-long public exhibition of “Gil Garcia: G x G.” The sale of all seventeen works had gone through last Friday, with Marin wiring the money to Mud23’s account, and Phillip immediately drafting a check to Garcia for his cut. When the show ended in a week, the paintings and sculpture would be stored temporarily at Mud23 while Ben and Phillip worked with Marianna Rioja to arrange a special auction on December 20 at SFMoMA for everything but the two paintings that Marin had decided to keep (Untítlede #2 and Untítlede #5). Most recently, based on a photograph of the altar sculpture on Mud23’s website, a curator at the Whitney Museum in New York had placed an inquiry to Phillip regarding inclusion of the sculpture in a spring exhibition at the Whitney entitled “American Faith.”

“And how’s Benjamin holding up?” Jorge asked. “He sounded super, super tired when I talked to him.”

Marin imagined that Jorge still saw Ben as that charmed kid that floated effortlessly above it all in college. She didn’t want to alarm Jorge, and didn’t feel that there was anything to be alarmed about, but felt compelled to do some coded heavy hinting.

“Well, don’t feel too bad for him. I always suspected Ben of being a secret Type A,” Marin said. “I saw him about three times a week or more before the run up to election day, and he seemed to love being triple-booked. Although I don’t think that he was Mr. Familiar with his wife’s little anti-contraception coalition.”

“Wow. Do you think that Judith was afraid that Ben would tell you, and that you’d tell your dad?” Jorge asked.

“And ruin the only meaningful Democratic victory this election?” Charlie said. “Even if Marin had suddenly gone insane and decided to do that, I would have kept her distracted with my manly wiles until election day.”

“I don’t know,” Marin said. “I don’t really know Judith that well. I’m not sure she remembers or cares what my dad does for a living, and even if she did, would she really be afraid of a Fenniskrante regional sales manager in Chicago?”

Marin’s father had unexpectedly gone to Hong Kong for ten days. His two brothers, Marin’s uncles, still lived there with their families and Marin’s paternal grandparents.

“Petra, so what do you think of California politics?” Charlie asked. “Pretty nifty that we can elect a barely-literate Austrian action movie star as governor, huh? Bet the Germans are really glad they signed up for democracy now, huh?”

“Although in Germany we do not have the same level of reverence for film actors, per se,” Petra said, “such that someone like Mr. Schwarzenegger would be successful as a politician there, the foundation of representative democracy rests on not placing any superficial barriers to public office, including and even one’s prior career choices.”

The social dynamic for the entire rest of the evening—which included pie, after-dinner clean-up, half-hearted channel surfing from positions terrible for one’s posture, and an even more half-hearted perusal of Barbara’s movie library—was like this. Marin and Jorge would try to have a conversation that they really should have waited until they were by themselves to have, Charlie would interject with his unsolicited opinion or with a sudden and terrible question to Petra that was worse than not trying to include her in the conversation at all, and Petra would respond with a sincere and thoughtful answer that made Marin cringe all the more.

After Charlie and Marin had said goodnight to Petra and Jorge, sending them back to the East Bay with a heavy bag of leftovers, Charlie horrified Marin further by wanting to have sex on his mother’s saffron lounger.

“First of all,” Marin listed her reasons for NO to his proposition of saffron lounger sex, “I’m not sure how opaque your mom’s curtains are down here. Secondly, that sofa looks incredibly difficult to remove stains from. Thirdly, your apartment is upstairs!” Fourthly, Marin added silently, you say terrible, terrible things sometimes during conversations.

“Okay, Miss Picky, let’s go upstairs, then,” Charlie said, rubbing his neck. “There’s just something sexy about an empty house. I hardly ever come down here. I sometimes forget that it looks completely different from when I was a kid.”

Marin waited for him at the foot of Barbara’s stairs—it was two less doors and four less locks to deal with if they went to the second floor deck and walked up the outside stairs to Charlie’s back entrance—as Charlie turned off all of the first floor lights. During the renovation, a quarter-inch of bad paint jobs had been removed from the banister, revealing a sturdy dark oak, which Barbara had had sanded and varnished. Its dark surface now reflected light like one of Marin’s occult bookstore neighbor’s black-hearted orbs. The wall to the left of the stairs had been painted olive green and photos of old, industrial San Francisco hung on it in silver frames, ascending with the stairs.

Charlie was right: there was something sexy about an empty house.

The living room darkened, and Charlie came out from it and followed Marin up the stairs.

The power of suggestion: when they reached the second floor, Charlie tried his luck again, with 100% greater success, on Barbara’s Mondrian-patterned rug at the head of the stairs.

Charlie brushed his face in between Marin’s breasts afterward and smiled.

“You’re right, this was much more civilized than that orange couch,” Charlie said.

Marin smiled, put the fingers of her right hand through his brown hair, and took a deep breath of his apey oils.

The next morning, on Black Friday, Pac and the blogosphere were both closed, and Marin woke up under Charlie’s gray plaid duvet on the right side of Charlie’s futon, smelling Charlie’s smells. Charlie whistled Auld Lang Syne slowly and sweetly as he stroked Marin’s arm and checked his emails on his mobile communication device. The small white room, decorated only with framed Tech newspapers from Charlie’s year as editor-in-chief, flooded with light through the blinds and skylight.

The previous night’s awkwardness had been Marin’s fault possibly. Or no one’s fault: sometimes conversations between like-minded, not-awkward people just got weird.


A week later, Marin was certainly glad that she’d not broken up with Charlie over a few off-color remarks, if only because the Pac holiday party was suddenly upon her without warning (if one didn’t count three email reminders, the original email teaser, and the official gray cardstock invitation she’d received in the mail). Charlie, lovely man and boyfriend that he was, had agreed a month ago to go with her and wear the tuxedo that he owned and fit him perfectly.

If Jennifer Olyphant had not been exaggerating two years ago, the annual Pac holiday party was a black-tie Eurotrash rave with wonky policy discussions in the bathroom instead of drugs. Although Marin was curious to experience this recombinant social scene, she was not looking forward to socializing with her coworkers.

Marin had now worked on the sixth floor of Pac nearly twice as long as she’d worked on the tenth floor. Last Wednesday, the potentially gratifying situation of Kendra asking Marin for help with a regression analysis on a Laotian dataset took a strange turn when Marin realized that the dataset was the results of a project that she had signed off on two years ago as an RS. She hadn’t even realized it until she’d seen the researcher’s email address (

Marin had emailed back and forth twenty times with Hailey Johnson in October and early November of 2002, passing on to Hailey Ray’s edits to her proposal for a study of education and literacy in the Laotian countryside. Since November 2002, Hailey had had her proposal audited and approved by Budget and Standards, moved to Laos, gathered data about classroom sizes, student-to-teacher ratios, student retention rates, reading and math skills, and graduation rates in sixty-eight Laotian villages, and formally interviewed fifty-nine teachers in rural Laos as well as the country’s Minister of Education. Since November 2002, Marin had screwed around in Borneo for fourteen months, screwed around in mainland Southeast Asia for two months, worked in a windowless lab in downtown San Francisco for nine months, and bought sixteen paintings and a mixed media sculpture from a manic-depressive bicycle courier.

Marin knew that such a paucity of serious accomplishments in comparison to Hailey Johnson should bother her, but it didn’t. Disillusionment, Marin was discovering, ran in only one direction. Two years ago, she’d bought Will’s withering indictment of Pac as a gutless bureaucracy, and she bought it still, maybe more since her internment in the sunless cave of joyless tapping. Becoming also disillusioned with Will and the O/URC in the intervening years hadn’t reversed her initial disillusionment with Pac.

Garcia was not without flaws, but somehow the world seemed simpler after looking at his paintings: they were so clearly good; it would be so clearly good for the world to see them. Wiring that money away had been the easiest thing that Marin had ever done.

Marin had gone to Mud23 two days after the sale, stood alone in the room of art that was—at that moment—hers, and felt for the first time in a very long time like an operational part of the world.

The night of the holiday party, Marin packed into the sixth-floor women’s bathroom with ten other DatInf girls and changed into the green dress that she’d bought for the occasion. She then hurried to Union Square to meet Charlie. Ugly gray clouds that looked like cartoon smog filled the sky and promised imminent rain. As Marin walked up the steps to the elevated plaza, flat, short blasts of wind slapped her hair up into her chin and blew the hem of her trench coat back and forth in rapid jerks like an injured bird desperately attempting flight.

Charlie was standing in the very center of the plaza. He’d shaved close and looked, for the first time since Marin had met him, like Wall Street material. When he saw her, he smiled with his lips only and very slightly. He reached into his pocket, took out a silver dollar coin, tossed it in the air, caught it, and slapped it into the back of his left hand just as Marin came close.

“Heads or tails?” he asked.

Marin covered his covering hand with both of hers and closed her eyes, divining like a palm reader. “Tails,” she said, opening her eyes.

Charlie lifted the covering hands, revealing Lady Liberty in mid-stride, her right hand held out to the rising sun. Charlie pocketed the coin silently and grabbed Marin’s hand with both of his.

“I’m actually excited about this,” he said.

“You bloggers,” Marin said. “Awkward coworker interaction is so full of fun novelty for you lot.”

“A roomful of people who know who Wassily Leontief is... The question is not, ‘Why am I so excited about this?’ It’s, ‘Why aren’t you more excited?’

And somehow, with the doggy, dry warmth of Charlie’s hand in hers as they walked to the hotel where the party was, Marin started to become excited. By the lobby entrance was a foam board on an easel directing them to the twentieth floor. On the twentieth floor, the ascending and descending bleeps of a trancecore hook rippled over a complicated beat.

Marin and Charlie checked in with the HR assistants at the tablecloth-covered table in the hall, and they gave Marin and Charlie each a pink piece of paper with three columns of blank lines and the following printed on it: “PAC HOLIDAY PUZZLE 2004 (Most correct answers wins two tickets to Turandot.) Name as many Asian (NON-Oceania) cities as you can, typical current spellings, with one word names (NO hyphenates), each exactly 5, 6, or 7 letters long.”

When Charlie finished reading, he looked at Marin with an enormous, naughty smile on his face.

“I know you have a pen,” Charlie said.

“I know you don’t even like opera,” Marin said. She reached in her handbag and fished out a purple Respiatin pen.

Charlie took it from her. “You know, you should probably start saving these for eBay,” he said, indicating the pen.

“Beijing, Mersing, Kuching,” she said.

“Wait, wait, wait!” he said. He clicked the pen open, folded his pink paper in quarters, and wrote “BEIJING” in very neat block letters on the first line. “Okay, spell the other two for me.”

Inside the ballroom, strings of neon pink, green, yellow, and orange lights hung from the ceiling in varying lengths. The entire length of the far end of the room was filled with two long rows of slatted wooden lounge chairs with Thai triangle Khit cushions on them. At the other end, where Charlie and Marin had entered, a tall plywood pseudo-primitive architectural construction snaked around in a stretched-out “M” shape. About twenty silver-green hotel couches were arranged chaotically in its nooks.

Pac staffers in formalwear sat in small groups on the furniture and stood in the middle of the dance floor in small groups, and more than one couple was slow-dancing to the rabid techno music. There were several women (South Asian, East Asian, and Caucasian) in saris, but no men in any kind of ethnic dress. Nobody, it seemed, had gotten their hair done for the occasion. Every once in a while, someone would raise up a fist and open the fingers on it one-by-one, counting. They or their dates would take out a folded pink piece of paper, write on it, fold it again, and put it back.

The two bars on the perimeter were small and busy. Marin and Charlie waited on the long, fast-moving line of one of them, and ordered what every other heterosexual couple at the party had ordered: champagne for her, whisky on the rocks for him.

“OH MY GOD MARIN YOU CAME!” a very pregnant Jen Olyphant said.

A tall man with curly light-brown hair and wearing the same tuxedo as Charlie was standing beside Jen, carrying a glass of whisky on the rocks, a glass of ice, and a bottle of mineral water.

“This is my husband John,” Jen said. “John, this is our old RS, Marin, who works in DatInf now.”

Um, okay, how did I not know that you were with child?” Marin asked.

“I had a miscarriage earlier this year,” Jen said. “So I was totally, totally paranoid about telling people that I was pregnant. We basically didn’t tell anyone, ever, and I literally just started showing two weeks ago.”

“Then, blgghhhhtth!” John said, cupping his hands together and moving them slowly apart. He laughed.

“You can ask Ray, it really freaked him out,” Jen said.

“Well, congratulations. This is Charlie, by the way,” Marin said. “Charlie, this is Jen and John.”

“How many cities you guys got?” John asked.

“Thirteen,” Charlie said. “You?”

“Sixteen,” John said. “We’ve been here since six though.”

“Vipool won last year,” Jen said. “It was listing the top fifteen most populous countries in Asia, in order of descending population.”

“We only got five right on that one,” John said.

“China, India, Indonesia...” Charlie said.

“Oh no, we’re not doing last year’s game too,” Marin said.

John laughed. “It’ll torture you the rest of the night, sorry!” he said.

“Marin, I was actually thinking about calling you,” Jen said. “There’s a chance that I won’t be coming back after my maternity leave ends. It depends on if John gets the job that he wants in the Peninsula and if we find a house and about a thousand other things, but you should talk to Ray. I haven’t told Vipool yet, but probably will soon.”

“Wow, okay, yeah,” Marin said. She felt confused by Jen’s warmth and sorority. They had never been particularly close when they had worked together, and only talked to each other now if they ran into each other accidentally in the office. It was nostalgia plus incidental pregnancy affection, Marin supposed.

“Okay, better go take my many pills now,” Jen said. “Bye Marin. Nice to meet you, Charlie.”

Charlie and Marin walked into the middle of the dance floor together.

“You lied about our cities,” Marin said.

“All’s fair in love and... trivia contests,” Charlie said. “So are you going to take the pregnant chick’s job?”

“That wouldn’t seem particularly fair to Vipool,” Marin said. “Besides, I’m not sure if she was offering me her job, or Vipool’s job, which is actually my old job, and none of which she would be in any position to offer anyway.”

“Taipei!” Charlie said. He pulled out the pink sheet folded in his jacket pocket. “How could we forget the capital city of one of Asia’s brightest economies?” he said as he wrote “TAIPEI” on line 17 of the sheet.

Marin spotted Kendra and Joon and two guys of exactly average height, weight, and attractiveness walk onto the dance floor and form a cluster behind the group behind Charlie. Marin prepared appropriate compliments, grabbed Charlie by the elbow, and walked over to her labmates.

“Hey,” she said. “Have you guys met my other of significance Charlie before? Charlie, these are my labmates Kendra and Joon.”

The girls introduced their guys. Kendra’s was named Greg, and Joon’s was named Chris.

“I like your necklace,” Marin said to Kendra.

“Thanks, I hate wearing jewelry,” Kendra said. “I can’t believe they let Drew Doolidge build one of his retarded Burning Man sculptures again.”

“I liked the wells he built last year,” Chris said. “It reminded me of my favorite movie of all-time, Daffy Duck’s Fantastic Island. I just wish they’d put kegs inside.”

Chris and Greg were both drinking what looked and smelled like vodka on the rocks.

“As if you need help building your beer gut,” Joon said.

Chris put his arm around her. “You love my gut, don’t you, baby?” he said.

Joon wrinkled her nose and shook her head, no.

Greg started laughing and hit Chris on the shoulder. “The part in DDFI when Daffy wishes that the burrito gets stuck to Speedy’s nose?” he said. “So awesome.”

“The awesomest,” Chris said.

They clinked glasses and drank.

Just when Marin had thought that she’d met every kind of asshole that there was, new species mutated into being before her eyes. She named the new classic-cartoon-farce-appreciating, vodka-on-ice-drinking species “Chreg” after Chris and Greg.

“That’s a really cute bag, Joon,” Charlie said, startling Marin, as not only had she never told Charlie anything about her labmates, but “That’s a really cute bag, Joon” was also the very compliment, almost to the word, that she had prepared for Joon ahead of time and had been about to make.

“Oh, this is old,” Joon said, looking as frightened of Charlie as if he’d just cursed at her. “But thanks.”

“Oh my god, did you see Debbie Newhouse’s pink leather coat?” Kendra said. “I think she buys her entire wardrobe in the Castro.”

Debbie Newhouse was the DatInf woman who managed the physical archive. She’d worked at Pac for fifteen years, nearly her whole professional life.

Someone tapped Marin on her shoulder. It was her replacement on Ray’s team, Vipool Parashar.

“Marin Choo,” he said.

He had with him a beautiful, tall, bored-looking South Asian woman wearing a strapless bronze-colored dress and was himself wearing a very nice tux.

“Vipool Parashar,” Marin said.

“This is my girlfriend Radhika,” he said.

Marin introduced Charlie.

“You’re the man to beat on the pink sheets, I hear,” Charlie said.

Marin saw Joon, Kendra, and the Chregs head back out into the hall together. She saw Ray enter with Pac’s executive director Stellan Ralskjold through the same doorway.

“I just have a preoccupation with populousness that helped me in that particular instance,” Vipool said. “So Olyphant’s leaving to become a Silicon Valley soccer mom.”

Marin didn’t think that Jen had lied to her when she’d said she hadn’t told Vipool about her resignation plans yet; Vipool was obviously just one of those supernaturally involved people who know all of the office gossip first and accurately.

“So I heard,” Marin said. “But it’s not definite, right?”

“Olyphant has lost her mind. She wants five babies. She’s pretty much going to start trying to get pregnant again after she pops this one out. I’m taking over as Southeast Asia RA, although Ray knows that I do want to get back to the Central Asia side of things eventually. There’s a guy in Ralskjold’s office who’s angling for Southeast Asia RS, but Ray really wants you to come back. There’s some maneuvering that will be involved, though, because someone who had no idea what he was talking about promised the other guy the next open RS position when he almost left Pac last summer for a shitty research job at Brookings.”

Marin had a tangible feeling of not wanting to play the game. She was like the superhero in the movie who has lost his powers and tries to zap an encroaching enemy only to find himself zapless. She tried to be practical. She tried to be sensible. She tried to care about increasing the income and educational levels of the working poor in Asia, about finding and funding the small projects that work, about fostering long-term, sustainable growth and change. She tried to be the person that she used to be. But she was zapless.

“That sounds really complicated,” Charlie said.

Vipool laughed self-consciously, aware that he’d appeared to be enjoying the unserious aspects of his job too much.

“Anyway, I was counting on Marin to start popping my babies out soon, so,” Charlie said.

Radhika roared with laughter.

“He’s joking,” Marin said.

“Oh my god, too funny,” Radhika said, wiping tears from her eyes.

Vipool shrugged as if to say, what do I know?

Marin didn’t see why Charlie’s comment had been so funny to Radhika, but Marin was happy and proud that she had the less self-serious boyfriend.

“Anyway, talk to Ray if you’re interested,” Vipool said. “Good to see you, Marin.”

He and Radhika left.

Marin turned to Charlie and smoothed the collar of his jacket. “Are you funny?” she asked him, cocking an eyebrow.

“I’m just a smart ass,” he said, rolling his eyes.

She kissed him, sought out the fishy wetness of his tongue. Zap, zap, zap-zap-zap.

They disconnected, and Marin slipped her hand into his jacket pocket and pulled out the folded pink sheet. She handed it to him and said, “Suzhou, Chengdu, Tianjin, Wuhan.”

“You are one complicated woman, Marin Choo,” Charlie said, unfolding and refolding the paper to the next block of blank lines and taking the pen out.

“I sold some stocks,” he said. “I’m thinking of bidding at the auction.”

“The Garcia auction?” Marin said. “My auction?”

“Yes,” Charlie said. “It’s going to be huge. I might not be able to afford anything. I am, however, going to have a very rich girlfriend.”

“Well, don’t jinx me,” Marin said.

“Okay, I take it all back. Now, city me up,” he said, clicking the pen open.


At five-thirty on December 20, Marin once again went into Pac’s sixth-floor bathroom to change into her green dress, but she had her pick of stalls this time. She went into the first stall and hung her dress hanger on the hook on the inside of the door. She removed her work clothes and unzipped the green dress. She stepped into its center and pulled its thin straps over her shoulders. The thin silk and metal zipper were cold against her skin.

Garcia had quit his messenger job and gone to Mexico for a few weeks to think and paint. The only familiar faces for Marin at the auction tonight would be those of Charlie, Ben, Judith, Phillip, and the other Mud23 staffers. Marin was beginning to understand why Garcia had freaked out at the Día de los Muertos party. Over the past few weeks, she had been advised informally on the auction process by Ben, by Phillip, and by SFMoMA’s auction director, but Marin couldn’t make her jitters go away.

Marin didn’t understand why she was nervous tonight, when there was nothing for her to do, when tonight’s outcome was essentially a foregone conclusion, and when, one month ago, she hadn’t been nervous at all before, during, or after the signing of the twenty-two-page purchasing agreement and the wiping out of two whole digits from the balance of her bank account.

Ben was waiting for Marin in the museum lobby as planned. Wearing a dark orange sweater over a striped shirt and gray wool pants, he looked good. He was talking to the museum’s gorgeous, glamorous director Marianna Rioja, and it looked like he was instructing her on some matter. The day’s last herds of tourists milled around uncertainly, looking at their glossy museum maps.

Marin waved to Ben, and he saw her. Marianna left, and Ben walked over to Marin.

“Hey, how are you feeling?” he asked.

“Unexpectedly nervous,” Marin said.

Ben started walking her into the lobby. He opened a door labeled “Staff Only” and led Marin down an empty corridor.

“It’s going to be very fast,” Ben said. “The only thing we’re not sure about is the sculpture, but the paintings alone should go for over a million altogether.”

“That’s crazy,” Marin said.

They stopped in front of an elevator, and Ben pressed the up button.

“It’s very, very, very good,” Ben said. “Mud23’s cut will be 40%, as usual. SFMoMA’s fees will come out of our cut. Charlie’s upstairs waiting for you. I like him. He’s really funny.”

“He’s just a smart ass,” Marin said, but she smiled, remembering how deftly he’d handled her Pac coworkers at the holiday party.

The elevator doors opened, and Marin walked into its silver box.



On December 20, 2004, SFMoMA hosted an auction for the sale of 15 new works by Mission-born and -raised artist Gilbert Xavier Garcia. “Who?” you might be asking, and rightly so. Garcia burst onto the San Francisco art scene only last November, with a solo show at Mud23 Gallery that included the auctioned works and 2 other paintings. Garcia is a protégé of renowned street artist and painter Rocco Morris, and Garcia’s work vividly fuses traditional Chicano/a elements with painfully realistic renderings of the pills and bottles that hold the drugs that are literally the key to his future, as Garcia is HIV-positive. The 14 paintings sold for $70,000 to $200,000 each. The final lot of the evening was a 5’-tall wax sculpture in the shape of a Día de los Muertos altar. It sold for $210,000, bringing the evening’s gross to nearly $2 million.

Marin gave two weeks’ notice at Pac. She cancelled her Christmas trip home to Chicago to work through the holiday and finish all of her active projects by January 4. She actually enjoyed the work—it seemed like a much-needed penance for the immense sums of money being deposited in her bank account. At five o’clock on Monday, January 4, Charlie, who’d dutifully rented movies and bought and baked frozen pizza for their low-key New Year’s Eve, waited for Marin down the street from Pac’s building in his father’s Volkswagon Cabriolet, which they were taking to Carmel for the week.

They took 280, and the freeway’s vista of western junipers, black wattle acacia, and horse-tail beefwoods seemed as fresh and Californian as it had on Marin’s first drive through this stretch of the Pacific coast as an admit weekend pre-frosh seven years ago.

As they drove past Stanford and the Foothills, Marin’s phone rang—it was her father. She picked up.

“Hello?” she said.

“Hi, I got your Christmas present today, thank you,” Walter said. He sounded upbeat, back to his old self after several weeks of sounding distracted every time that Marin called. “I needed a new doorstop, ha-ha.”

Marin had gotten him a copy of The Power Broker, the one-thousand-page biography of former New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses.

“Are you at work?” Walter asked.

“No,” Marin said. “The reason why I was too busy to come home for Christmas was because today was actually my last day.”

“What? You quit again?” he asked.

“I’m thinking of going back to school,” Marin said. She didn’t know why she hadn’t told her father anything about Garcia. She didn’t know why successfully navigating the entire thing and coming out $1 million ahead hadn’t made it easier to tell him now.

“I’m coming to San Francisco in a few weeks to talk to an old rep about some things,” he said. “We’ll discuss this then.”

And he hung up.