from CHAPTER TWO
Gene had it all, and he could keep it. Pampered—finely groomed and tuned, living in Westchester with a third wife and a pair of out-of-control twins in elementary school. He had college-aged children with one of his two previous wives, too. Sometimes one of them called the office during a meeting and he’d take fifteen or twenty minutes to cover some matter of no importance to me—money or vacations or grades or cars or shopping lists.
If it wasn’t one of his kids, it was his stock broker calling about massive quantities of cash that had to be moved right away, but only if a quick decisions could be made, or it was his wife, or one of his ex-wives, or some old brother-in-law looking for a loan. Everything about his conversations reminded me of something I didn’t have—money or children or relationships that meant something—good or bad alike. Even if I didn’t want them, I knew I didn’t have them. And I didn’t want to be sitting there thinking about someone else’s shit going on when I had my own shit going on, while I had my own reasons for being there—trying to fill all the gaping voids in my own life.
He kept a digital voice recorder going in his desk drawer at all times, compelled by a past attempt by a malcontent to make false sexual harassment claims. He confided in me deep resentments for others. He was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, a former wannabe rock star, an aging hippie, something of a madman out of place in the corporate world. He had to surround himself with trusted subordinates, but he still didn’t trust anyone. If I tried anything with him, I tried to be trustworthy. Some people made fun of his paranoia but I was cool with it. He might have been a little skittish, but he was methodical, and, even with all the interruptions and annoyances, I knew what to expect, and it made sense to me, even though his personal life made me anxious. Plus, he taught me everything I knew.
If anyone in my family happens upon this article, they'll know immediately what the headline refers to, and they'll get a good giggle.
But they probably won't know what it means, any more than you know why the character of Gene is named Gene, or why thats important to the story, but I can help with that, even though I have no intention of giving anything away.
See, a lot of what fills the pages of novels is backstory that never makes the cut, or was never intended to. "Freddy the Fetus" actually doesnt mean anything to the main character, Addie, either, but thats okay.
Before I was born (the real me, not the fictional, excerpted narrator from the selection above), my grandfather built me a dresser from solid wood scraps he found in a junkyard. I was the first grandchild, and he was a carpenter, so there you go. My parents took it home and painted it a rich blue and white. They knew I was a boy, but they hadnt yet picked out a name.
My dad's family was (and still is) very close. His Uncle Gene, who never married, was a pretty popular guy, and family names were a big deal—my father's first name came from his grandfather and his middle name from his great-grandfather. So Dad's plan was to name me Eugene.
But there was still some disagreement, and thank fuck for my mom, who stepped in and, simply because she liked the way they sounded, established an Irish tradition for her children's names (even though my father is only half Irish, if that, and my mom is Hungarian). Not that I dont love people named Eugene, but, well—lets just say it's yet to make a comeback as a popular boy's name.
So, in the indecision of the moment, on the back, in bright white paint that still remains, even as the big old thing sits, otherwise several times refinished (but always in blue and white), in my sons' bedroom, is the dedication my dad wrote to his future son: DEDICATED TO FREDDY THE FETUS, 6-12-70.
Now, "Freddy" was never my nickname or anything, and neither was "Gene," but when it came time for me to try to figure out the role that Addie's boss has in this book, what kept jumping out at me was that my boss, in real life, always seemed like he represented exactly who I was going to end up becoming if I stayed with the company long enough.
While that made me uncomfortable, I didnt see much of a way out of it. Like me, he was hard-working, brutally honest, socially awkward, and sometimes too abrasive for his own good, and we both had a knack for print production. We werent identical twins, by any means—he got manicures, I chewed my nails. He lived to work, while I worked to live (or so I told myself). He could betray you on a whim, while I was fiercely loyal to a fault. He was savvy and perceptive about other people, and I was little more than a confused misanthrope who could only guess at what people were really thinking.
On the other hand, I certainly envied his income, and, even though I wouldnt have spent my money on frosted hair, gold jewelry or expensive electric guitars, it would have been nice to spend it on something. (Addie does have a few things on the shopping list of his dreams, but we're not going to get into that here.)
Of course, the events in "The Light That We Can See" dramatize my experiences drifting further from, not closer to, the corporate role model my boss played for me. As we all know, thats not where I ended up. 9/11 changed things for a lot of people, and it changed them for Gene, too, but I promised there wouldnt be any spoilers, and I have to keep my promises.
But I named him Gene because, despite all the other aspects of his character, of which some made the cut, some did not, and some were revised for dramatic effect, what was important to the identity Addie attaches to him is that he is who Addie would have become had things turned out a little differently.
And if my mom hadnt objected to naming me Eugene, thats who I would have become. Instead, I got the remnants of both Eugene and Freddy to carry with me as anecdotes and "what might have been."
So, when you fortunate readers of these excerpts and commentary, in advance of the book ever finally making it onto shelves, you'll know that the character of Gene exists as a sort of shadow to Addie, one which follows him around as a harbinger of a future he seems destined for but isnt sure he wants, and which makes him as uncomfortable as the idea of being called Gene once made me.
Now dont you feel lucky?
This is the seventh in the series of excerpts from and commentary about my new novel, currently being shopped to agents, called "The Light That We Can See." The series can be found here.
Check my column or follow my Twitter page for regular updates, and very soon I'll be releasing CHAPTER ONE for download, as well as a new ebook collection of brutally honest essays about sports & politics, tentatively titled "It's Not Just a Ballgame Anymore."
So stay tuned, and thanks for reading.