Patrick Steadman

Summer of KMS

A one-legged dachshund jumped over Chris’s feet, chasing a group of sleek, beautiful dogs. The dogs were running in circles around the bar’s veranda, wriggling between wooden benches and tables full of young people. As Chris turned to watch the dogs, he caught the eyes of a skinny, dark-haired woman, and smiled.

“Hi, are you here for the tech meetup?” Chris asked.

“Yeah,” she said. She seemed happy to talk, and in just a few minutes, as it sometimes happens, they were talking about psychiatric drugs.

“I feel a lot more social at these things when I’m on Klonopin,” the woman said.

“Lexapro was like that for me, I think, it helped me be social,” said Chris.

The dogs came around again, and Chris stuck out his hand. The dachshund stopped to give it a lick.

“I raised a dog like this when I was on Lexapro, actually,” said Chris.

“Lexapro has weird side effects.”

“If anything the side effects were good, for me.”

“Yeah?” she said. “Like sexual stuff?”

“Yeah.”

Chris took another look at the woman. She was wearing an eggshell blue blouse, sitting carefully on the edge of the damp bench.

“What?”

“The sexual stuff? It, uh, made it harder to have an orgasm, but not in a bad way. I would just have like, super orgasms,” said Chris.

“Anyways,” he continued, “Lexapro worked out really well for me.”

The woman introduced herself as Elkie. Chris confirmed the spelling with her, E-L-K-I-E, and went to get another beer.

When he returned, someone was in his place, talking to Elkie about the iOS app she was developing.

Elkie turned to Chris, concern in her eyes.

“If I show you my app, you have to promise not to steal the idea. I’ve been working super hard on it.”

Fuck, thought Chris. For fifteen minutes, he half-heartedly participated in an earnest, clumsy discussion of Swift’s type system, before finally suggesting that they go inside for another drink.

The air inside the bar was cave-like and sweet. Chris and Elkie waited for the bartender’s attention.

“The last time I was at this meetup,” said Elkie, “I was with this guy from Tinder.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I was going to swipe left on him, but I noticed he had like fifteen thousand Twitter followers.” Chris gave her a disapproving look, smiling.

“How was he?”

“He was okay, he was Jewish.”

“Are you Jewish?” asked Chris. He looked at her again: obviously she was.

It had taken Chris a few semesters of college to realize that the girls who talked to him at parties were usually of a certain type: Jewish, from New York or Long Island, usually wealthy.

“I grew up in a Hasidic family, but now I’m estranged,” said Elkie.

“Wow, I’m sorry. Losing your family is really rough.”

“It’s okay. Are you Jewish?”

“No, not really,” said Chris. “Hasidic? Is that like Orthodox?”

“Like Orthodox, but a cult, you know, in South Williamsburg? They’re awful. Honestly, I wish the Nazis had finished the job.”

“What do you mean by finished the job?” said Chris.

“The Nazis killed almost all of the Hasids, but some of them got away to Brooklyn.”

“Jesus. I’m sorry,” said Chris. His skin felt cold.

They got their mixed drinks and sat down in a large circular booth, legs touching.

Chris felt confident. It was summer, and he was wearing at least $1,000 worth of clothes. Conversation was easy: they both had exes who lived in castle-like apartments on the Upper East Side, they both liked department stores, tech events, and meeting people.

There was a burst of light. Chris realized that Elkie’s umbrella was on fire, and reached over for a carafe of water to douse the flames.

“Oh my God,” said Elkie, fanning herself, when she understood what had happened.

“The candle,” said Chris, pointing at an extinguished tealight hydroplaning across the table.

The smell of burnt plastic attracted some other people from the meetup. Elkie thanked Chris repeatedly as they joined the booth, and Chris felt satisfied with himself.

“Are you going to tell us your app idea?” said the guy from earlier, when things had calmed down.

“Okay, okay, yeah,” said Elkie. The faces of the other programmers hovered in the darkness. After talking about the guy with fifteen thousand Twitter followers, Elkie explained that her idea was a dating app that let gay people set up their straight friends. The group laughed, and started asking clever questions, all with the implicit assumption that this app, the actual software of it, would never exist.

“I see an issue,” said Chris. “What’s the incentive for the gay matchmakers? Do they get to see the messages or something?”

Elkie ignored Chris’s question, intent on making her case for the app.

“I really think it would work if the gay matchmakers got to see the chat logs,” said Chris.

“What about bi guys?” asked a man with red hair. “Where do they fit in?”

“I would never sleep with a bi guy,” said Elkie.

“That’s something I’ve heard a few times,” Chris said, not adding from Jewish women. “I don’t get it.”

“They get fucked in the ass,” said Elkie. “That grosses me out, I couldn’t date a man like that. It’s just my preference.”

After the banter dragged on for a while, Chris scooted over to talk with Stephan, a talented .NET developer he’d met at the previous meetup. They talked about the Mono runtime environment.

When Stephan left for the bathroom, Chris realized that Elkie was talking to a new guy, a really normal looking guy wearing a suit. She was flirting with him, too.

If she knew where I worked, thought Chris. He felt dehydrated. He decided that he’d leave at eleven PM if nothing changed.

At eleven, Chris abruptly stood up from the booth. Elkie was telling the guy about her app. Stupid, Chris thought, grabbing his unnecessary Patagonia jacket, and typical. He said goodnight to Stephan, and walked home.

**

Chris worked at Facebook. He was arriving at the office later and later each morning, and typically spent a few hours reading his newsfeed, procrastinating until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He was angry at all the little bits of content stealing his time, his summer.

“A Woman Jumped to Her Death From a Rooftop Bar, and People Kept Partying,” Chris read. One of his coworkers had shared the article, saying something about tech culture. Confusingly, there was a picture of Elkie.

Chris remembered Elkie adding him as a friend on Facebook. Was it a development build issue? He opened Elkie’s Facebook profile and the article simultaneously, each window filling only a small part of his monitor. More pictures of Elkie.

Elkie had jumped off a roof during a corporate party. Suicide. She was dead. Fuck.

Chris went to send the article to a close friend, but decided against it. Triggering. He felt like he understood what Elkie had done, the seduction of that rooftop. He told himself that it was important not to use this event as an excuse for a stupid existential crisis.

He terminated his session, and went to the micro-kitchen for a smoothie. It was cooler there.

He read more about Elkie on his phone: it was unclear if she was ‘connected’ with the rooftop event. She had asked a bartender to point out the eastern ledge.

People were posting on Elkie’s Facebook wall, asking for the contact information of her family.

Chris went back to his computer.

He ssh’d into a virtual machine. The machine was left over from his internship last summer, when he had accidentally discovered a way to view the chat history of any user. He was pretty sure it didn’t leave any sort of audit log.

He ran a script to hydrate Elkie’s messages from the search index, and opened it in a buffer.

Chris skimmed through emotional messages sent to Elkie that morning.

He slowed down to read messages from earlier that month: Elkie messaging a tech guy saying, “I don’t really know you, but is it okay if we talk? Feeling low,” at two AM. No response. Someone else responded to a similar message, saying that he was in Italy for a conference. Elkie told him about her problems finding a new apartment.

Elkie hadn’t seemed that fucked up, thought Chris. The conversation about the anti-depressants: that was a pretty typical ice breaker. The only thing that was weird was the Nazi thing.

Finish the job, thought Chris.

**

That evening, Chris met an old friend in front of her apartment in Brooklyn. He was buying some Ritalin from her, to use that weekend at Whole Foods.

“How are you?” Justine asked, after placing the small pills in Chris’s hand.

“Uh, kind of weird,” said Chris.

“Why, what’s up?”

Justine sat down on her stoop, looking up at Chris.

“Someone I know killed themselves by jumping off a roof,” said Chris, still standing.

“At a fancy party? I think I saw this.”

Chris had noticed that the papers were going with the Hasidic angle, not the tech angle.

“Yeah, you probably did. I met her at a programming thing.”

“That’s messed up. You okay?”

Chris felt a stab of affection for his well-dressed friend. She had once told him that they would one day rekindle their romantic relationship in a different city, like Hong Kong, when they were older.

“Yeah. I didn’t know her that well, it’s just…distracting.”

“I know, very disorienting. How old was she?”

“Thirty, I think.”

“Oh. Not married, right? It seems like women start having problems at that age, like serious mental health problems.”

Chris made a face.

“I really hope that’s not how it works,” he said. “That’s fucking bleak.”

“Yeah, but the whole ‘body positivity’ thing is such bullshit, right?” she said.

Chris didn’t say anything.

“Like ‘everyone is beautiful’. I look at Korean Instagram models, I know I’m not ‘beautiful’,” continued Justine. “I accept my body, I don’t love it. I’m not deluded.”

Chris was surprised to hear Justine talking like this.

“I mean, isn’t beauty a pretty arbitrary thing?” he said.

“I guess, but so what?”

For the first time, Chris recognized in Justine a certain flatness, a flatness that he was starting to see in a lot of his peers. It was a rapid onset of entropy, an unravelling of the fantasy world of youth. Shit getting real. Chris was making $120,000 a year, and he still felt like a loser half the time. How did Elkie feel? Her app development ‘company’: brutal.

“I don’t know that I agree with you,” said Chris. “I would rather people be happy. It’s all in our heads anyways.”

“I mean,” he said, “I’m a computer person, I want to fix things.”

Justine laughed. “Good fucking luck,” she said.

After Justine went back inside, Chris decided to walk home. He stopped at a nice bar, and drank two draft beers, thinking. He felt calmed by the bar’s atmosphere.

As Chris waited to close out his tab, a woman who looked kind of like Kirsten Dunst said ‘hi’, and asked him how he was doing.

#

Patrick Steadman is a writer and programmer who lives in Brooklyn. ptsteadman.com

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