Going to California

Life by the Valley — 4.5

We didn’t see each other much that weekend. Doug and Jim had a lot of work to do on the business plan for Mojo Nation, and I spent a lot of time simply driving around the peninsula, trying to wrap my head around living in the dream that I’d always imagined to be Silicon Valley. I’d passed most of Sunday with Charlie, one of my old friends from the gaming industry, playing board games with his old group of older guys. They’d been meeting about once a week to try one game or another for more than twenty years; for a while, I was a welcome drop-in addition, and I was extremely grateful, even well after I’d moved into my own home. Charlie’s game room would be an island of sanity in what would be my increasingly unpredictable world, and that first time there was no different.

On my way away from Charlie’s place — in a suburb south of Oakland, just on the other side of the bay — I got a call from Doug to meet up again with Jim for dinner. He had news.

“We broke up,” he told me.

“Oh, wow,” I said, “I’m really sorry.”

“Well,” he said, shrugging. He seemed tired, for sure, but he looked a lot better. His shoulders weren’t slumped. He was almost relaxed.

Jim was eyeing him with quiet distance. I should’ve taken that as a sign.

“I hope I didn’t have anything to do with it,” I said.

“No, no,” Doug said. “I mean, you did — but not in a bad way.” He thought about it. “Having you here showed me how unhappy I’ve been. You reminded me what it was like…to have fun. So, thanks.”

“Wow,” I said. “I’m really sorry to hear that. I mean, I guess I’m glad it’s been fun and everything, but yeah: I’ve been wondering what was up. You’re not the same Doug I remember from Austin. You haven’t seemed very happy.”

“I’m not very happy,” he said with a laugh. “At least, I haven’t been. I’m glad you’re here.”

“Thanks. I’m glad to hear you’re feeling better. Honestly, I had no idea what you were doing with that girlfriend of yours. I thought she was a terrible fit for you.”

“How so?” he asked, so I went off on what I didn’t like about her, because I’m a very stupid person.

The next day, Doug called me at work and asked if I could stop on my way home and pick up some steaks for him. He was grilling for some people — I would need to make my own plans for the evening — but he was too busy with work and the like to hit ths store himself.

When I got to his place with the steaks, Doug was so upset he was flustered.

“These are not—” he started, pointing at the steaks.

“What? I got what you wanted.”

“Yes,” he said, “but don’t you know what the important part of this cut is? It’s this little piece of meat right here.” He pointed. “You always get the ones with the largest part of this cut. That’s the best part, everybody knows it.”

I felt more than a little side-swiped. “Oh,” I said. “Sorry.” He waved it off. “I was going to ask you, though: What’s going to happen with you and your girl?”

Doug looked at me like I wasn’t making any sense, then his eyes snapped into focus. “Oh!” he said. “Yes. We talked about it, and we got back together.”

Oh, shit, I thought. “How do you feel about that?” I asked.

“Good, actually!” He smiled, opening the steaks. “We had a long talk, and it was good. I brought up with her a lot of the points that you’d made about her, and I think it was a productive conversation.”

“Uh-huh,” I said. “Did you tell her that those thoughts came from me?”

“Of course,” he said. “She’d actually like to talk with you about them as well.”

“I bet,” I said, and excused myself.

“Yeah, well,” Jim said, when I told him what had happened. “Doug doesn’t always break up with people on the first try. I learned a long time ago not to say anything until it’s definitely over, and sometimes even then I don’t ever.”

“I feel like an ass,” I said.

“Don’t,” Jim said. “It’s just what happens.”

The next day, I snuck out before anyone else was awake, made my way into the break room at work with a copy of the local peninsula phone book, and began calling apartments. There were no vacancies. In the city, where things were even hotter, people were paying as much as a thousand dollars a month just to crash on someone’s couch for a month. Having spent the past two years with a $500 monthly budget for living expenses, this seemed out of control. On the other hand, it was Silicon Valley.

Eventually, I found a complex that had a single one-bedroom open. While I was still in Austin, I’d been saving up for a new computer, one of the recently iMac releases. My monthly rent in Mountain View would cost more than an iMac each month. Luckily, if unreasonably, I could afford it. It made my head hurt, but the numbers were clear.

In less than ten days, I’d move into my own place. Not long after, for a while, Doug simply vanished.



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