Great Rock and Roll Pauses

1. Long Train Running – Doobie Brothers

2. Bernadette – The Four Tops

3. Supervixen – Garbage

4. Faith – George Michael

5. Young Americans – David Bowie

6.  Good Times, Bad Times – Led Zeppelin

7. Please Play This Song on the Radio – NOFX

8. Time of the Season – The Zombies 

9. Closing Time – Semisonic

10. Roxanne – The Police

11. Foxey Lady – Jimi Hendrix

12. Mighty Sword – The Frames

13. Rearrange Beds -An Horse

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Pure Language

Goon Squad Chapter 1313

Pure Language

‘You don’t want to do this,’ Bennie murmured. ‘Am I right?’

‘Absolutely,’ Alex said.

‘You think it’s selling out. Compromising the ideals that make you, “you”. ’

Alex laughed. ‘I know that’s what it is.’

‘See, you’re a purist,’ Bennie said. ‘That’s why you’re perfect for this.’

Alex felt the flattery working on him like the first sweet tokes of a joint you know will destroy you if you smoke it all. The long awaited brunch with Bennie Salazar was winding down, and Alex’s hyper- rehearsed pitch to be hired as a mixer had already flopped. But now, as they eyed each other from lean perpendicular couches doused in winter sun that poured from a skylight in Bennie’s Tribeca loft, Alex felt the sudden, riveting engagement of the older man’s curiosity. Their wives were in the kitchen; their baby daughters were between them on a red Persian carpet, warily sharing a kitchen set.

‘If I won’t do it,’ Alex said, ‘then I can’t really be perfect.’

‘I think you will.’

Alex was annoyed, intrigued. ‘How come?’

‘A feeling,’ Bennie said, rousing himself slightly from his deep recline. ‘That we have some history together that hasn’t happened yet.’

Alex had first heard Bennie Salazar’s name from a girl he’d dated once, when he was new to New York and Bennie was still famous. The girl had worked for him – Alex remembered this clearly – but it was practically all he could remember; her name, what she’d looked like, what exactly they’d done together – those details had been erased. The only impressions Alex retained of their date involved winter, darkness, and something about a wallet, of all things, but had it been lost? Found? Stolen? The girl’s wallet, or his own? The answers were maddeningly absent – it was like trying to remember a song that you knew made you feel a certain way, without a title, artist, or even a few bars to bring it back. The girl hovered just beyond reach, having left the wallet in Alex’s brain as a kind of calling card, to tease him. In the days leading up to this brunch with Bennie, Alex had found himself oddly fixated on her.

‘Das mine!’ protested Ava, Bennie’s daughter, affirming Alex’s recent theory that language acquisition involved a phase of speaking German. She snatched a plastic skillet away from his own daughter, Cara- Ann, who lurched after it, roaring, ‘Mine pot! Mine pot!’ Alex jumped to his feet, then noticed that Bennie hadn’t stirred. He forced himself to sit back down.

‘I know you’d rather mix,’ Bennie said, somehow audible over the caterwauling without seeming to raise his voice. ‘You love music. You want to work with sound. You think I don’t know what that feels like?’

The girls fell on each other in a gladiatorial frenzy of yowling, scratching, and yanking wisps of fledgling hair.

‘Everything okay in there?’ Alex’s wife, Rebecca, called from the kitchen.

‘We’re good,’ Alex called back. He marveled at Bennie’s calm; was this how it was when you started the kid thing all over again after a second marriage?

‘The problem is,’ Bennie went on, ‘it’s not about sound anymore. It’s not about music. It’s about reach. That’s the bitter fucking pill I had to swallow.’

‘I know.’

Meaning: he knew (as did everyone in the industry) how Bennie had gotten canned from his own label, Sow’s Ear Records, many years ago, after serving his corporate controllers a boardroom lunch of cow pies (‘and we’re talking in the steam trays,’ wrote a secretary who’d narrated the melee in real time on Gawker). ‘You’re asking me to feed the people shit?’ Bennie had allegedly roared at the appalled executives. ‘Try eating some yourselves and see how it tastes!’ After that, Bennie had returned to producing music with a raspy, analog sound, none of which had really sold. Now, pushing sixty, he was seen as irrelevant; Alex usually heard him referred to in the past tense.

When Cara- Ann sank her freshly minted incisors into Ava’s shoulder, it was Rebecca who rushed in from the kitchen and pried her off, casting a mystified look at Alex, now suspended in Zen- like serenity upon the couch. Lupa came with her: the dark- eyed mother Alex had avoided in playgroup at first because she was beautiful, until he’d learned she was married to Bennie Salazar.

When wounds had been bandaged and order restored, Lupa kissed Bennie’s head (his trademark bushy hair now silver), and said, ‘I keep waiting for you to play Scotty.’

Bennie smiled up at his much younger wife. ‘I’ve been saving him,’ he said. Then he worked his handset, untapping from the staggering sound system (which seemed to route the music straight through Alex’s pores) a baleful male vocalist accompanied by torqued, boinging slide guitar. ‘We released this a couple of months ago,’ Bennie said. ‘You’ve heard of him, Scotty Hausmann? He’s doing well with the pointers.’

Alex glanced over at Rebecca, who scorned the term ‘pointer’ and would politely but firmly correct anyone who used it to describe Cara- Ann. Luckily, his wife hadn’t heard. Now that Starfish, or kiddie handsets, were ubiquitous, any child who could point was able to download music – the youngest buyer on record being a three- month- old in Atlanta, who’d purchased a song by Nine Inch Nails called ‘Ga- ga’. Fifteen years of war had ended with a baby boom, and these babies had not only revived a dead industry but also become the arbiters of musical success. Bands had no choice but to reinvent themselves for the preverbal; even Biggie had released yet another posthumous album whose title song was a remix of a Biggie standard, ‘Fuck You, Bitch’, to sound like ‘You’re Big, Chief!’ with an accompanying picture of Biggie dandling a toddler in Native American headdress. Starfish had other features – finger drawing, GPS systems for babies just learning to walk, PicMail – but Cara- Ann had never touched one, and Rebecca and Alex had agreed that she would not until age five. They used their own handsets sparingly in front of her.

‘Listen to this guy,’ Bennie said. ‘Just listen.’

The mournful vibrato; the jangly quaver of slide guitar – to Alex it sounded dire. But this was Bennie Salazar, who’d discovered the Conduits all those years ago. ‘What do you hear?’ Alex asked him.

Bennie shut his eyes, every part of him alive with the palpable act of listening. ‘He’s absolutely pure,’ he said. ‘Untouched.’

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Great Rock and Roll Pauses

Jennifer Egan shared some of her tips on storytelling in PowerPoint on the official Microsoft Office blog, as well as an interesting inside into what inspires her to write…

Egan said she knew virtually nothing about PowerPoint until she decided to write it this way. She just plunged into it with reckless abandon. “It was like a mad obsession. It was a passion,” Egan said. “We were on vacation on the beach and I was sitting in the house doing PowerPoint… I was like a woman possessed.”

Read more here:

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Goodbye, My Love

Goon Squad Chapter 11


 Good-bye, My Love

When Ted Hollander first agreed to travel to Naples in search of his missing niece, he drew up for his brother- in- law, who was footing the bill, a plan for finding her that involved cruising the places  where aimless, strung- out youths tended to congregate— the train station, for example— and asking if they knew her. “Sasha. American. Capelli rossi”— red hair — he’d planned to say, had even  practiced his pronunciation until he could roll the r in front of rossi to perfection. But since arriving in Naples a week ago, he hadn’t said it once.

Today, he ignored his resolve to begin looking for Sasha and visited the ruins of Pompeii, observing early Roman wall paintings and small, prone bodies scattered like Easter eggs among the columned courtyards. He ate a can of tuna under an olive tree and listened to the crazy, empty silence. In the early evening he returned to his hotel room, heaved his aching body onto the king- size bed, and phoned his sister, Beth, Sasha’s mother, to report that another day’s efforts had been unsuccessful.

“Okay.” Beth sighed from Los Angeles, as she did each afternoon. The intensity of her disappointment endowed it with something like consciousness; Ted experienced it as a third presence on the phone.

“I’m sorry,” he said. A drop of poison filled his heart. He would look for Sasha tomorrow. Yet even as he made this vow, he was reaffirming a contradictory plan to visit the Museo Nazionale, home of an Orpheus and Eurydice he’d admired for years: a Roman marble relief copied from a Greek original. He had always wanted to see it.

Mercifully, Hammer, Beth’s second husband, who normally had a volley of questions for Ted that boiled down to one very simple question, Am I getting my money’s worth? (thus filling Ted with truant anxiety), either wasn’t around or chose not to weigh in. After hanging up, Ted went to the minibar and dumped a vodka over ice. He brought drink and phone to the balcony and sat in a white plastic chair, looking down at the Via Partenope and the Bay of Naples. The shore was craggy, the water of questionable purity (though arrestingly blue), and those game Neapolitans, most of whom seemed to be fat, were disrobing on the rocks and leaping into the bay in full view of pedestrians, tourist hotels, and traffic. He dialed his wife.

“Oh, hi hon!” Susan was startled to hear from him so early in the day— usually he called closer to dinnertime. “Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine.”

Already, her brisk, merry tone had disheartened him. Susan was often on Ted’s mind in Naples, but a slightly different version of Susan: a thoughtful, knowing woman with whom he could speak without speaking. It was this slightly different version of Susan who had listened with him to the quiet of Pompeii, alert to lingering reverberations of screams, of sliding ash. How could so much devastation have been silenced? This was the sort of question that had come to preoccupy Ted in his week of solitude, a week that felt like both a month and a minute.

“I’ve got a nibble on the Suskind house,” Susan said, apparently hoping to cheer him with this dispatch from the realm of real estate.

Yet each disappointment Ted felt in his wife, each incremental deflation, was accompanied by a seizure of guilt; many years ago, he had taken the passion he felt for Susan and folded it in half, so he no longer had a drowning, helpless feeling when he glimpsed her beside him in bed: her ropy arms and soft, generous ass. Then he’d folded it in half again, so when he felt desire for Susan, it no longer brought with it an edgy terror of never being satisfied. Then in half again, so that feeling desire entailed no immediate need to act. Then in half again, so he hardly felt it. His desire was so small in the end that Ted could slip it inside his desk or a pocket and forget about it, and this gave him a feeling of safety and accomplishment, of having dismantled a perilous apparatus that might have extinguished them both. Susan was baffled at first, then distraught; she’d hit him twice across the face; she’d run from the house in a thunderstorm and slept at a motel; she’d wrestled Ted to the bedroom floor in a pair of black crotchless underpants. But eventually a sort of amnesia had overtaken Susan; her rebellion and hurt had melted away, deliquesced into a sweet, eternal sunniness that was terrible in the way that life would be terrible, Ted supposed, without death to give it urgency and shape. He’d presumed at first that her relentless cheer was mocking, another phase in her rebellion, until it came to him that Susan had forgotten how things were between them before Ted began to fold up his desire; she’d forgotten and was happy— had never not been happy— and while all of this bolstered his awe at the gymnastic adaptability of the human mind, it also made him feel that his wife had been brainwashed. By him.

“Hon,” Susan said. “Alfred wants to talk to you.”

Ted braced himself for his moody, unpredictable son. “Hiya, Alf!”

“Dad, don’t use that voice.”

“What voice?”

“That fake ‘Dad’ voice.”

“What do you want from me, Alfred? Can we have a conversation?”

“We lost.”

“So you’re what, five and eight?”

“Four and nine.”

“Well. There’s time.”

“There’s no time,” said Alfred. “Time is running out.”

“Is your mother still there?” Ted asked, a bit desperately. “Can you put her back on?”

“Miles wants to talk to you.”

Ted spoke with his other two sons, who had further scores to report. He felt like a bookie. They played every sport imaginable and some that (to Ted) were not: soccer, hockey, baseball, lacrosse, basketball, football, fencing, wrestling, tennis, skateboarding (not a sport!), golf, Ping- Pong, Video Voodoo (absolutely not a sport, and Ted refused to sanction it), rock climbing, Rollerblading, bungee jumping (Miles, his oldest, in whom Ted sensed a joyous will to self- destruct), backgammon (not a sport!), volleyball, Wiffle ball, rugby, cricket (what country was this?), squash, water polo, ballet (Alfred, of course), and, most recently, Tae Kwon Do. At times it seemed to Ted that his sons took up sports merely to ensure his presence beside the greatest possible array of playing surfaces, and he duly appeared, hollering away his voice among piles of dead leaves and the tang of wood smoke in fall, among iridescent clover in spring, and through the soggy, mosquito-flecked summers of upstate New York.

After speaking to his wife and boys, Ted felt drunk, anxious to get out of the hotel. He seldom drank; booze flung a curtain of exhaustion over his head, robbing him of the two precious hours he had each night— two, maybe three, after dinner with Susan and the boys— in which to think and write about art. Ideally, he should have been thinking and writing about art at all times, but a confluence of factors made such thinking and writing both unnecessary (he was tenured at a third-rate college with little pressure to publish) and impossible (he taught three art history courses a semester and had taken on vast administrative duties— he needed money). The site of his thinking and writing was a small office wedged in one corner of his shaggy house, on whose door he’d installed a lock to keep his sons out. They gathered wistfully outside it, his boys, with their chipped, heartbreaking faces. They were not permitted to so much as knock upon the door to the room in which he thought and wrote about art, but Ted hadn’t found a way to keep them from prowling outside it, ghostly feral creatures drinking from a pond in moonlight, their bare feet digging at the carpet, their fingers sweating on the walls, leaving spoors of grease that Ted would point out each week to Elsa, the cleaning woman. He would sit in his office, listening to the movements of his boys, imagining that he felt their hot, curious breath. I will not let them in, he would tell himself. I will sit and think about art. But he found, to his despair, that often he couldn’t think about art. He thought about nothing at all.

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Out of Body

Goon Squad Chapter 10


 Out of Body

Your friends are pretending to be all kinds of stuff, and your special job is to call them on it. Drew says he’s going straight to law school. After practicing awhile, he’ll run for state senator. Then U.S. senator. Eventually, president. He lays all this out the way you’d say, After Modern Chinese Painting I’ll go the gym, then work in Bobst until dinner, if you even made plans anymore, which you don’t— if you were even in school anymore, which you aren’t, although that’s supposedly temporary.

You look at Drew through layers of hash smoke floating in the sun. He’s leaning back on the futon couch, his arm around Sasha. He’s got a big, hey-come-on-in face and a head of dark hair, and he’s built— not with weight- room muscle like yours, but in a basic animal way that must come from all that swimming he does.

“Just don’t try and say you didn’t inhale,” you tell him.

Everyone laughs except Bix, who’s at his computer, and you feel like a funny guy for maybe half a second, until it occurs to you that they probably only laughed because they could see you were trying to be funny, and they’re afraid you’ll jump out the window onto East Seventh Street if you fail, even at something so small.

Drew takes a long hit. You hear the smoke creak in his chest. He hands the pipe to Sasha, who passes it to Lizzie without smoking any.

“I promise, Rob,”Drew croaks at you, holding in smoke, “if anyone asks, I’ll tell them the hash I smoked with Robert Freeman Jr. was excellent.”

Was that “Jr.” mocking? The hash is not working out as planned: you’re just as paranoid as with pot. You decide, no, Drew doesn’t mock. Drew is a believer— last fall, he was one of the diehards passing out leaflets in Washington Square and registering students to vote. After he and Sasha got together, you started helping him— mostly with the jocks because you know how to talk to them. Coach Freeman, aka your pop, calls Drew’s type “woodsy.” They’re loners, Pop says— skiers, woodchoppers— not team players. But you know all about teams; you can talk to people on teams (only Sasha knows you picked NYU because it hasn’t had a football team in thirty years). On your best day you registered twelve team-playing Democrats, prompting Drew to exclaim, when you gave him the paperwork, “You’ve got the touch, Rob.” But you never registered yourself, that was the thing, and the longer you waited, the more ashamed of this you got. Then it was too late. Even Sasha, who knows all your secrets, has no idea that you never cast a vote for Bill Clinton.

Drew leans over and gives Sasha a wet kiss, and you can tell the hash is getting him horny because you feel it too— it makes your teeth ache in a way that will only let up if you hit someone or get hit. In high school you’d get in fights when you felt like this, but no one will fight with you now— the fact that you hacked open your wrists with a box cutter three months ago and nearly bled to death seems to be a deterrent. It functions like a force field, paralyzing everyone in range with an encouraging smile on their lips. You want to hold up a mirror and ask: How exactly are those smiles supposed to help me?

“No one smokes hash and becomes president, Drew,” you say. “It’ll never happen.”

“This is my period of youthful experimentation,” he says, with an earnestness that would be laughable in a person who wasn’t from Wisconsin. “Besides,” he says, “who’s going to tell them?”

“I am,” you say.

“I love you too, Rob,” Drew says, laughing.

Who said I loved you? you almost ask.

Drew lifts Sasha’s hair and twists it into a rope. He kisses the skin under her jaw. You stand up, seething. Bix and Lizzie’s apartment is tiny, like a dollhouse, full of plants and the smell of plants (wet and planty), because Lizzie loves plants. The walls are covered with Bix’s collection of Last Judgement posters— naked babyish humans getting separated into good and bad, the good ones rising into green fields and golden light, the bad ones vanishing into mouths of monsters. The window is wide open, and you climb onto the fire escape. The March cold crackles your sinuses.

Sasha joins you on the fire escape a second later. “What are you doing?” she asks.

“Don’t know,” you say. “Fresh air.” You wonder how long you can go on speaking in two- word sentences. “Nice day.”

Across East Seventh Street, two old ladies have folded bath towels on their windowsills and are resting their elbows on them while they peer down at the street below. “Look there,” you say, pointing. “Two spies.”

“It makes me nervous, Bobby,” Sasha says. “You out here.” She’s the only one who gets to call you that; you were “Bobby” until you were ten, but according to your pop it’s a girl’s name after that.

“How come?” you say. “Third floor. Broken arm. Or leg. Worst case.”

“Please come in.”

“Relax, Sash.” You park yourself on the grille steps leading up to the fourth- floor windows.

“Party migrate out here?” Drew origamis himself through the living room window onto the fire escape and leans over the railing to look down at the street. From inside, you hear Lizzie answer the phone—“Hi, Mom!”—trying to fluff the hash out of her voice. Her parents are visiting from Texas, which means that Bix, who’s black, is spending his nights in the electrical engineering lab where he’s doing his Ph.D. research. Lizzie’s parents aren’t even staying with her— they’re at a hotel! But if Lizzie is sleeping with a black man in the same city where her parents are, they will just know.

Lizzie pokes her torso out the window. She’s wearing a tiny blue skirt and tan patent- leather boots that go up higher than her knees. To herself, she’s already a costume designer.

“How’s the bigot?” you ask, realizing with chagrin that the sentence has three words.

Lizzie turns to you, startled.

“Are you referring to my mother?”

“Not me.”

“You can’t talk that way in my apartment, Rob,” she says, using the Calm Voice they’ve all been using since you got back from Florida, a voice that leaves you no choice but to test how hard you have to push before it cracks.

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Forty Minute Lunch

Goon Squad Chapter 9


 Forty Minute Lunch: Kitty Jackson Opens up About Love, Fame, and Nixon!

 Jules Jones reports

Movie stars always look small the first time you see them, and Kitty Jackson is no exception, exceptional though she may be in every other way.

Actually, small isn’t the word; she’s minute— a human bonsai in a white sleeveless dress, seated at a back table of a Madison Avenue restaurant, talking on a cell phone. She smiles at me as I take my seat and rolls her eyes at the phone. Her hair is that blond you see everywhere, “highlighted,” my ex- fiancée calls it, though on Kitty Jackson this tousled commingling of blond and brown appears both more natural and more costly than it did on Janet Green. Her face (Kitty’s) is one you can imagine looking merely pretty among the other faces in, say, a high school classroom: upturned nose, full mouth, big green eyes. Yet on Kitty Jackson, for reasons I can’t pinpoint exactly— the same reasons, I suppose, that her highlighted hair looks superior to ordinary (Janet Green’s) highlighted hair— this unexceptional face registers as extraordinary.

She’s still on the phone, and five minutes have passed.

Finally she signs off, folds her phone into a disk the size of an after- dinner mint and stows it in a small white patent leather purse. Then she starts to apologize. It is instantly clear that Kitty belongs in the category of nice stars (Matt Damon) rather than of difficult stars (Ralph Fiennes). Stars in the nice category act as if they’re just like you (i.e., me) so that you will like them and write flattering things about them, a strategy that is almost universally successful despite every writer’s belief that he’s far too jaded to fantasize that the Vanity Fair cover is incidental to Brad Pitt’s desire to give him a tour of his house. Kitty is sorry for the twelve flaming hoops I’ve had to jump through and the several miles of piping hot coals I’ve sprinted across for the privilege of spending forty minutes in her company. She’s sorry for having just spent the first six of those minutes talking to somebody else. Her welter of apologies reminds me of why I prefer difficult stars, the ones who barricade themselves inside their stardom and spit through the cracks. There is something out of control about a star who cannot be nice, and the erosion of a subject’s self- control is the sine qua non of celebrity reporting.

The waiter takes our order. And since the ten minutes of badinage I proceed to exchange with Kitty are simply not worth describing, I’ll mention instead (in the footnote- ish fashion that injects a whiff of cracked leather bindings into pop- cultural observation) that when you’re a young movie star with blondish hair and a highly recognizable face from that recent movie whose grosses can only be explained by the conjecture that every person in America saw it at least twice, people treat you in a manner that is somewhat different— in fact is entirely different— from the way they treat, say, a balding, stoop- shouldered, slightly eczematous guy approaching middle age. On the surface it’s the same—”May I take your order?” etc.—but throbbing just beneath that surface is the waiter’s hysterical recognition of my subject’s fame. And with a simultaneity that can only be explained using principles of quantum mechanics, specifically, the properties of socalled entangled particles, that same pulse of recognition reaches every part of the restaurant at once, even tables so distant from ours that there is simply no way they can see us1. Everywhere, people are swiveling, craning, straining and contorting, levitating inadvertently from chairs as they grapple with the urge to lunge at Kitty and pluck off tufts of her hair and clothing.

I ask Kitty how it feels to always be the center of attention.

“Weird,” she says. “It’s so all of a sudden. You feel like there’s no way you deserve it.”

See? Nice.

 1 I’ve engaged in a bit of sophistry, here, suggesting that entangled particles can explain anything when, to date, they themselves have not been satisfactorily explained. Entangled particles are subatomic “twins”: photons created by splitting a single photon in half with a crystal, which still react identically to stimuli applied to only one of them, even when separated from each other by many miles.
How, puzzled physicists ask, can one particle possibly “know” what is happening to the other? How, when the people occupying tables nearest to Kitty Jackson inevitably recognize her, do people outside the line of vision of Kitty Jackson, who could not conceivably have had the experience of seeing Kitty Jackson, recognize her simultaneously?
Theoretical explanations:
 1. The particles are communicating. Impossible, because they would have to do so at a speed faster than the speed of light, thus violating relativity theory. In other words, in order for an awareness of Kitty’s presence to sweep the restaurant simultaneously, the diners at tables nearest to her would have to convey, through words or gestures, the fact of her presence to diners farther away who cannot see her— all at a speed faster than the speed of light. And that is impossible.
2. The two photons are responding to “local” factors engendered by their former status as a single photon. (This was Einstein’s explanation for the phenomenon of entangled particles, which he termed “spooky action at a distance”). Nope. Because we’ve already established that they’re not responding to each other; they’re all responding simultaneously to Kitty Jackson, whom only a small fraction of them can actually see!
3. It’s one of those quantum mechanical mysteries. Apparently so. All that can be said for sure is that in the presence of Kitty Jackson, the rest of us become entangled by our sheer awareness that we ourselves are not Kitty Jackson, a fact so brusquely unifying that it temporarily wipes out all distinctions between us— our tendency to cry inexplicably during parades, or the fact that we never learned French, or have a fear of insects that we do our best to conceal from women, or liked to eat construction paper as a child— in the presence of Kitty Jackson, we no longer are in possession of these traits; indeed, so indistinguishable are we from every other non–Kitty Jackson in our vicinity that when one of us sees her, the rest simultaneously react.
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Selling the General

Goon Squad Chapter 8


Selling the General

Dolly’s first big idea was the hat. She picked teal blue, fuzzy, with flaps that came down over the general’s large dried-apricot ears. The ears were unsightly, Dolly thought, and best covered up.

When she saw the general’s picture in the Times a few days later, she almost choked on her poached egg: he looked like a baby, a big sick baby with a giant mustache and a double chin. The headline couldn’t have been worse:



Dolly bolted to her feet in her dingy kitchen and turned in a frantic circle, spilling tea on her bathrobe. She looked wildly at the general’s picture. And then she realized: the ties. They

hadn’t cut off the ties under the hat as she’d instructed, and a big fuzzy bow under the general’s double chin was disastrous. Dolly ran barefoot into her office/bedroom and began plowing through fax pages, trying to unearth the most recent sequence of numbers she was supposed to call to reach Arc, the general’s human relations captain. The general moved a lot to avoid assassination, but Arc was meticulous about faxing Dolly their updated contact information. These faxes usually came at around 3.00 a.m., waking Dolly and sometimes her daughter, Lulu. Dolly never mentioned the disruption; the general and his team were under the impression that she was the top publicist in New York, a woman whose fax machine would be in a corner office with a panoramic view of New York City (as indeed it had been

for many years), not ten inches away from the foldout sofa where she slept. Dolly could only attribute their misapprehension to some dated article that had drifted their way from Vanity Fair or InStyle or People, where Dolly had been written about and profiled under her then moniker: La Doll.

The first call from the general’s camp had come just in time; Dolly had hocked her last piece of jewelry. She was copyediting textbooks until 2.00 a.m., sleeping until five, and then providing polite phone chitchat to aspiring English speakers in Tokyo until it was time to wake Lulu and fix her breakfast. And all of that wasn’t nearly enough to keep Lulu in Miss Rutgers’ School for Girls. Often Dolly’s three allotted hours of sleep were spent in spasms of worry at the thought of the next monstrous tuition bill.

And then Arc had called. The general wanted an exclusive retainer. He wanted rehabilitation, American sympathy, an end to the CIA’s assassination attempts. If Qaddafi could do it, why not he? Dolly wondered seriously if overwork and lack of sleep were making her hallucinate, but she named a price. Arc began taking down her banking information. ‘The general presumed your fee would be higher,’ he said, and if Dolly had been able to speak at that moment she would have said, That’s my weekly retainer, hombre, not my monthly, or Hey, I haven’t given you the formula that lets you calculate the actual price, or That’s just for the two-week trial period when I decide whether I want to work with you. But Dolly couldn’t speak. She was weeping.

When the first installment appeared in her bank account, Dolly’s relief was so immense that it almost obliterated the tiny anxious muttering voice inside her: Your client is a genocidal dictator. Dolly had worked with shitheads before, God knew; if she didn’t take this job someone else would snap it up; being a publicist is about not judging your clients – these excuses were lined up in formation, ready for deployment should that small dissident voice pluck up its courage to speak with any volume. But lately, Dolly couldn’t even hear it.

Now, as she scuttled over her frayed Persian rug looking for the general’s most recent numbers, the phone rang. It was 6:00 a.m. Dolly lunged, praying Lulu’s sleep wouldn’t be disturbed.

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