Chapter 22

San Francisco : 2005

Marin

The officiator of Ben and Judith’s wedding looked over Marin’s resume, uncapped blue ink pen in hand.

“You speak five languages?” Deepna Rasjani said.

“Two and a half dialects of Chinese, Tagalog, and English,” Marin said.

“Still,” Deepna said, circling all four Asian languages at the bottom of the resume. “Very impressive. And we do see a lot of clientele for all of those dialects and Tagalog as well.”

“So why did you leave Pac?” Deepna said.

“The first time or the second time?” Marin said.

Deepna smiled. “The first and the second times,” she said.

“The first time because I was given a unique opportunity to work at a constituent organization overseas, and I knew that I would always regret it if I didn’t take it,” Marin said. She was not too proud for feeble doublespeak—if that was what was truly required to earn a woman like Deepna’s trust in this context. “Also, I had other misgivings with the organization at that point: the bureaucracy and internal politics come with the territory, but I also had started to doubt the real world efficacy of some of our—Pac’s—loan projects.”

Deepna scribbled something in a narrow shorthand next to the first Pac Development Bank block on Marin’s resume.

“A week and a half after I moved back to San Francisco last year, by chance I ran into my former boss at Pac, Ray Marcos, at a restaurant one night,” Marin said. “He told me to email him about jobs, and, since I didn’t have anything lined up yet, this seemed like kismet. Pac, for all its imperfections, is a great organization, and its data/information department is the second-largest source of validated statistics on the Asia-Pacific region in the world. I learned a lot at Pac—both with Ray and in DatInf, but I know that I can do more.”

“Okay, so after out-growing Pac, you left again in January. Right now it’s August. The past seven, eight months have been, what?” Deepna asked.

Marin’s role in the Mel White/Gil Garcia hoax had been recounted (in excruciating detail) in most of the in-depth media coverage of the hoax, but Marin wasn’t surprised that Deepna did not appear familiar with it. Marin would not have been surprised if Deepna had never heard of Gil Garcia at all. Deepna lived in the real world.

“Right around the time that I had been thinking of looking for a new job, Berkeley’s extension program announced that it was hosting a political philosophy seminar with a Princeton professor who’s kind of a rock star in his field,” Marin said.

Deepna named the professor.

“Yes, so you know,” Marin said. “It filled up in the first hour that sign-ups for spring classes went online. Well, I got in, and I’m glad I wasn’t coming to it after eight hours at Pac because the class was fabulous. I also taught myself MySQL and took an intermediate Mandarin class at that time and have been tutoring the SAT twenty hours a week since May.”

Deepna nodded and made a note next to the second Pac block on Marin’s resume.

When Marin had come to the Mandala Women’s Refugee Center for Ben’s wedding last September, its sunny, colorful, and open interiors had made an impression on her. The large communal work tables that anchored the public space of each of its four floors had been littered with, respectively: the laminated multilingual signs, taped-off divisions, and plastic hanging file boxes of an evening immigration clinic; donated film and computer equipment systematically deconstructed and tagged for reassembly and hack; the raw materials of an ambitious silk-screening project; and boxes of brochures and handouts, in at least ten different languages, on rape and abuse victim counseling and services offered by Mandala and its partners.

Deepna’s office was on the fourth floor. A half-hour ago, as Marin had followed Deepna’s assistant up the hardwood plank stairs that circled the skylight-roofed atrium, Marin had found, happily, that her earlier impression had not been off the mark. A mix of playful and serious endeavor, a 90% female workforce, and a rich aroma of steeping chamomile and bergamot animated each floor and suggested that office work could in fact be very different from what she had previously known.

Unfortunately, the only listing on the jobs page of Mandala’s website was for a part-time law clerk, but Marin had carefully studied the 2004, 2003, and 2002 Forms 990 that Mandala had posted to the Guidestar database and had noted that contractor fees of $89,404 had been paid to Accenture IT Services in 2002, followed by $72,200 to Prime Analytics in 2003 and $79,882 to Prime Analytics in 2004. From due diligence of the websites of Accenture, Prime Analytics, and Mandala, Marin had deduced that, over the past three years, the non-profit had contracted out both the design and maintenance of a data bank for its many programs and clientele.

Marin explained to Deepna how she’d arrived at this deduction.

Deepna stared at her intently, gave her nothing.

“I have both policy programming and data analysis experience,” Marin said. “I think that whatever you’re having Prime Analytics do, I can do at 60% of the price. Additionally, due to my range of practical experience I can bundle that with a level of qualitative analysis a contracted engineering team simply cannot. There is tremendous opportunity here to capture and use data in novel ways to make a self-improving, fleet-footed, and extraordinarily responsive organization.”

“It takes a lot of nerve to make up and then apply for a non-existent job,” Deepna said. “Some would say arrogance.”

“I like to think of it as ‘entrepreneurial spirit,’” said Marin.

Deepna smiled warmly. “When I started Mandala, in the early nineties, every other man my age in this town was an entrepreneur. It was almost considered a riskier move not to quit your job and start your own business: if you were a man. However, for some reason, I and my little four-person 501(c)(3) operation were considered the edge of reason by most of my former Hewlett Foundation coworkers!”

“I’m not interested in short cuts,” Marin said. “I’m willing to work hard for relatively cheap to learn and earn a place at an organization with a real vision, platform, and agenda.”

“Well, hiring is a very important part of Mandala’s vision, as you probably know, and I take each hiring decision very seriously,” Deepna said. “You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about, Marin. I’ll give you a call next week.”

When Marin got to the address in Ben’s email, she saw the rented moving truck parked on the street in front of the building’s garage driveways. Jorge appeared at the truck’s open back cradling a computer monitor.

“Marin!” he said. “Welcome to the show. Benjamin just took some things inside. He’ll be back.”

The building’s front gate and door had been propped open, and Ben appeared at the front door as Jorge slowly stepped down out of the van with the monitor.

“Oh great, you found us,” Ben said. “Thanks again for helping. How was your interview?” He left the building and walked up to her.

“Really good,” Marin said. “She’s suspicious about all of the job-hopping, obviously, but she said she’d call me next week. If she offers me anything short of cleaning toilets at Mandala, I’ll probably take it.”

“That’s awesome,” Ben said. “Deepna is a really solid human being all-around.”

“Yes, thanks again for pushing me to email her, by the way,” Marin said. “Also, Judith emailed me back on Tuesday. She was totally fine with it and actually really encouraging.”

“Oh, great,” Ben said. “I’m glad.”

“Nazneen, on the other hand...” Marin said.

“You’re dead to her, man,” Jorge said, walking by with the monitor. “And we are too, by association.”

“I think we’re even more dead to Nazneen than Ben,” Marin said.

“I think it’s actually you that’s the deadest, then Ben, then me,” Jorge said. “Sorry. You’re a female enabler of the patriarchy—defectors are subject to a higher standard.”

“You’re sure you’re fine being public enemy number one for me?” Ben asked Marin. “I can make new divorcé adulterer friends. Or get a cat.”

“I wasn’t there,” Marin said. “All I know is what you and she have told me, and she refuses to talk about it with me! Nazneen is great when I’m the one who needs help and advice and a sympathetic ear, but a real friendship goes both ways.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to burden you with her drama,” Ben said.

“If she’s making all of us choose between you and her, then she’s burdened us already,” Marin said. “Anyways, friendship’s not about keeping conversations pleasant and drama-free. It’s about letting yourself be vulnerable, sharing, and trusting other people with your deepest, darkest, yuckiest stuff.”

“It’s hard though,” Ben said. “When the well goes pretty deep, and you dug it yourself.”

Marin had never been more proud to be Ben’s friend than in the past few months. She had been his close confidant as he: hit bottom, told Nazneen that their night together had been meaningful to him but not the beginning of anything between them, came clean to Judith about his infidelity and the irrational yet undeniable dissipation of his affections starting the previous November, found a divorce lawyer and a new apartment, and slowly pieced his career back together. Ben had admitted complicity in his failures, and had begun making peace with his lack of control over those of his misfortunes that had been bad luck.

The choices hadn’t gotten easier. Marin wished that she hadn’t had to choose between mercurial, loyal, well-connected Nazneen and thoughtful, charming, grounded Ben. However, Marin felt more confident about her ability to judge and make life’s impossible decisions—to choose and commit to the tradeoffs inherent to adult life—than she had, say, a year and a half ago.

Hopefully Nazneen could forgive her one day.

On the topic of unsettled tabs, Marin’s sometime friend Will St. James was in town for two days on his three-continent, five-country honeymoon, and Marin was meeting him and his husband William for a drink at Demographie, a beer garden in the Mission, at four-thirty. Marin hadn’t been in touch with Will, hadn’t known that he and William were still together—let alone that they had gotten married—until Will had emailed her a week ago to see if she wanted to meet up when he and William were in the city.

Marin was happy for them: she had liked William. She just wished that she had known a year and a half ago what she knew now. She would have probably made the same choice on Full Moon, but it would have meant something different to her.

Ben had mounted the moving truck’s box. He picked up and handed Marin a cardboard box and told her to carry it to the living room of Apartment 4 on the second floor.

It took two hours to finish unpacking the truck. Jorge drove it back to the lot alone. Marin was helping Ben move a loveseat to the open space under the living room window when her cellphone rang.

They put the loveseat down, and Marin fished her phone out of her purse. It was her father.

“Hello?” she said.

“Hi, it’s Dad,” Walter said. “I just talked to Jim. He talked to his friend at the Horizon Group last week about Mel White. She said she’d be seeing Mel White’s psychiatrist on Monday and would mention something to him about the money.”

“Okay, thanks Dad,” Marin said. “I’m not expecting much, but it certainly can’t hurt.”

“Well, it’s the psychiatrist’s boss’s boss that Jim knows, so it definitely can’t hurt,” Walter said. “I’ve got to go into a meeting now, but see you Sunday for dim sum, okay?”

“Yes, see you soon,” Marin said. “Thanks, Dad.”

“Bye, Marin,” Walter said.

“Bye.”

Walter had moved to San Jose two months ago and was loving his new town and job. He had a bunch of new friends from work, and Jim and Veronica Valiant organized and invited Walter to frequent dinners, potlucks, sports viewing parties, movies, and hikes all over the Peninsula.

Marin saw her father almost every other Sunday for dim sum in Daly City. Approximately once a month, they did something fun in the city together. She was a little surprised to realize it, but she very much enjoyed having her father around. Occasionally when she was with Walter, she had to ignore some awful piece of Ailes-styled rhetoric that came out of his mouth. During these moments, Marin reminded herself that Walter was the one person who had seen through Mel White.

“Dad?” Ben asked.

“Yes,” said Marin. “His coworker’s daughter works at a non-profit in Oakland, and his coworker heard that they’re having trouble filling a position there. My dad’s going to get more info.”

“Ah,” Ben said. “So where do you guys want to eat tonight? My treat.”

“Oh, I don’t care,” Marin said. “Jorge was the one helping you all morning; he should decide.”

“There’s that new place by Vaudeville,” Ben said.

“Oh yeah, the Cambodian place,” Marin said.

“Angkor Select?” he said. “It got a good review in SF Weekly. Jorge and I were talking about it last week, and he said he wanted to try it sometime.”

“Sure, sounds great,” Marin said.

“Okay, I’ll make a reservation for dinner,” Ben said. “You’re meeting your Borneo friends at four?”

“Four-thirty,” she said. “I should be done by six-thirty or seven. And I’ll only be a few blocks away at Demographie.”

It was one of San Francisco’s handful of hot summer days, and Demographie, with its outdoor gravel pit of communal picnic tables, busy grill, and respectable selection of draft beer, would be crowded and a little gross.

Will and William were sitting side-by-side at one end of a table in the outdoor area, talking to the rowdy group of attractive tattooed locals at their table that had, if the pile of ketchup-streaked plates and emptied glasses in the center of the table were any indication, spent the entire afternoon there.

The intra-table interaction seemed to come to its natural conclusion just at that moment.

William saw Marin first, and waved. Will looked up at her and smiled.

After all this time, after Charlie and William, Marin swooned a little looking into Will’s smiling face. Man of the forest, she thought: that was the literal translation of the word “orangutan.”

She needed a drink, and said as much once she’d hugged Will and William and sat down across from them.

“I’ll get it,” William said, standing. “You guys probably want to catch up.”

“Any draft beer is fine,” Marin said, taking out her wallet and pulling a ten-dollar bill from it.

William waved away her money. He grinned at Will. “I know what you want,” William said, giving Will’s shoulder a squeeze.

Will looked up at him and laughed. The newlyweds couldn’t stop smiling at each other.

William left for the bar.

Will slid over a few inches so that he was directly in front of Marin.

“I can’t believe you’re married,” she said. “And yet you are so totally Married Guy now.”

“Crazy what can happen in a year,” Will said. He turned his wedding band one half-inch clockwise with the fingers on his other hand, as if it were a nut that he was screwing tighter onto the bolt of his finger.

“So is William living in Malaysia?” Marin asked.

“His firm has an office in Hong Kong, and he got transferred there a few months after he got home from Thailand,” Will said. “So we split our time between Hong Kong and Borneo. We bought the most ridiculously beautiful house in Kuching in January. All the traveling is hard sometimes, but it also keeps us on our toes. What about you, are you seeing anyone?”

Marin told him about Charlie and, glossing over the more confusing parts of the GXG story, Charlie’s betrayal.

“I’m sorry, Marin, that’s terrible,” Will said.

Marin had run into Charlie three weeks ago at the worker-owned coop grocery on Folsom Street. It had pissed her off that he was there. It had pissed her off that he had a bottle of soy sauce and a bag of frozen dumplings in his basket. It had pissed her off that he had made friendly small talk with her as if she were some random acquaintance, not the ex-girlfriend whose phone calls he’d stopped returning one day in order to make it less awkward when—to further his career—he published an article in Harper’s about her extremely costly failure to see the true nature of things.

“We were never right for each other,” Marin said now to Will. “It’s for the best. It was really nice having someone, though. To go to parties with, if anything.”

Will laughed. “I know what you mean. When I remember all of the angst that I used to have... having William, even when he’s in Hong Kong and I’m at the O/URC, it makes all the difference in the world. I just hope that I—what I did—didn’t make it difficult for you to trust and open up to men.” He spoke clearly, but waited until he’d finished to look at her.

“Will, no,” Marin said, shaking her head, “that was different. We both obviously weren’t thinking straight. I mean, I—”

“You deserve what I have with William,” Will said, “You’re a wonderful person, Marin. You were a really good friend to me when I was going through a difficult time in my life, and I’m sorry that I abused your trust.”

Marin felt uncomfortable and a little bit angry. Will’s mini-benediction was clearly heartfelt and would soothe her ego in some future moment when she was removed from the reality-distortion field of True Love. However, at this moment, all she could see in Will’s words was more manifest proof that the person sitting across the table from her had a handsome, loving husband and well-rounded, emotionally-fulfilling life and that she did not.

Moreover, Will had not yet touched on what to Marin was clearly the more disturbing event of their acquaintance. Marin had forgiven Will a long time ago for breaking her heart. It was Will’s perfect impression of Switzerland on their last night in Thailand together that had more than intermittently fed her demons of cynicism and resentment over the intervening year and a half.

No amount of power or money ever changes hands without expectations and resentment. Marin knew this now and was probably better for it. An apology from Will for Koh Phangan, at this point, would probably just confuse her.

“I accept your apology,” she said.

William came back with their beers, and Will launched into gossip mode, updating Marin on the O/URC’s most interesting goings-on. Linda had had her baby, a girl named Gia, and Will and William had thrown Gia a humans-only first birthday party at their Kuching house in June. Will was out to Wan, Anwar, and Nolan now, in addition to Linda, but they told everyone else that William was Will’s very close cousin. And, small world, Wayan Wijaya had recently reached out to Wan to sit on the board of Pac-Malaysia and Pac-Indonesia’s new bi-country sustainable development committee. He had accepted.

Marin hurried home at six-fifty. The nursery tint and tone of the late twilight sky made the studded skulls and jagged crystals on display in the windows of Coven Press look like little girls’ playthings.

Marin wanted to change from cropped to long pants before meeting Ben and Jorge at Angkor Select. Although it was still warm at the moment, knowing San Francisco nights as she did, she felt comfortable predicting that the walk home after dinner would likely be much more comfortable with fully-covered legs. And Marin had just enough time.

Marin opened her building’s gate and stepped into the vestibule. With her littlest key, she opened her mailbox. Inside was a sealed number 10 envelope addressed in a familiar handwriting. She took it to her apartment to open.

Inside the envelope was a check for $68,000 and a San Francisco postcard with a stock photo of the Golden Gate Bridge on the front.

Marin couldn’t believe it: Walter had come through.

On the back of the postcard, Mel White had written:

The man with two faces frowns penitent in both. Agnes M. of shiny shiny fame land wants to put the story of the two-faced man on the magic mirror for the world to see. Miss Aggie needs trolls for her bridge of money. Whaddya talk whaddya talk. For bridge-building, Ms. Spring Colors herself requested you contact her at: ALPHA MAY PRODUCTIONS, 48501 VENTURA BLVD., SHERMAN OAKS, CA 91403, 818-644-4444, ag@alphamay.com.

—Mel W., 2005.

Marin left the postcard, check, and envelope on her desk and changed into jeans. She was relieved to have finally completed the trickier items on her day’s agenda. The remaining item would be nothing but fun. She washed her face and redid her hair.

She went back into the living room, clipped the check to the envelope with a one-inch binder clip, picked up Mel White’s postcard, turned on her electronic shredder, and fed it the postcard.

The possibilities of life were not limitless, but a world that had invented electronic shredder machines couldn’t be all bad.

Marin shut off the shredder, grabbed her purse, slipped her sandals back on, left and locked up her apartment, and ran down the stairs to dinner.

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