March 18, 2006

San Francisco, CA

My apartment had developed a distinct claustrophobic feel. I wasn’t a fan of enclosed spaces as it was, and I’d lived in this tiny studio for over a year. Even by San Francisco standards, the apartment was cozy. The main room just barely held a futon bed, a chair, and a TV, while the tiny kitchen space consumed nearly a third of the apartment. I considered it a minor blessing that the bathroom was a second room.

This was the first place I’d lived alone in, and initially, I loved it. Everything was mine. Should I wash pots quickly?  Only if I felt like it. The only terrible television shows I watched were the ones I wanted to watch. I had full control. It may sound selfish and slovenly, but it was nice to have a space all to myself. Now, thirteen months later, I was increasingly jealous of my neighbors’ one bedroom apartment that seemed so spacious just because it had more than one room. When I visited friends who had roommates and lived in large three-bedroom apartments, I reveled at how nice it was to take ten steps and not traverse the entire floor plan. In my own minuscule box, the walls were caving in, and I could think only one thing: I wanted out.

So it was, even before that fateful day that led me to the path of my own destruction, I was ready to move.

*******

As with many life-altering days, this one began normally. I woke up early and stumbled around my apartment, waiting for my coffee to brew and trying to talk myself into a run. In my early-morning stupor, I could put running clothes and shoes on successfully, with or without coffee, but leaving the apartment as a functional human being, even for a run, required caffeine.

My first cup of coffee for the day was always black. I loved the flavor of cream and sugar in my coffee, but the sweet creaminess was too comforting early in the morning and even with the caffeine, it could lull me back to sleep. The bitter strength of black coffee slapped me awake.

On this particular morning, I sat in my chair, scanning the room as the sharp flavor of the coffee tricked my senses awake. My finances weren’t in terrible shape, but they were minimal enough to convince me that I needed to suffer through this insufferable confinement a little longer. That responsible adult conclusion was easier to take some days more than others.  Today was an other.  I thought about retreating to my bed – it was so close – but I let my craving for adrenaline and endorphins win the battle. I drained my cup, laced up, and dragged myself out into the streets of San Francisco.  My grumpiness led me to the Embarcadero where the ground was flat, rather than through the sharp elevation changes of Nob Hill and Russian Hill. I did have to deal with a slight incline at the end of my run, as I jogged up Bush Street to the corner of Mason Street, but having just run along the water and seen the sun sparkling off the bay, I was cheerier and not quite as opposed to hills.

I was just unlocking the door to my cell when I heard my name.

“Joss!” My neighbor Julie called out.

She and her husband Chris lived next door, and though I was completely mystified by their relationship, I’d developed a nice neighborly friendship with them. At least that’s what I’d thought before Chris started making advances toward me. Chris was, well, he was sexy. The man was downright hot, and he knew it. He’d been in incredible shape the entire time I knew him, he had chiseled facial features, intense brown eyes and a flirtatious grin that was impossible to ignore. He’d even dabbled in modeling in his early twenties. Now he was building a career as a photographer for magazines and advertising shoots, and I was pretty sure he’d slept with quite a few of the women he’d photographed. What stumped me was how beautiful and genuinely friendly Julie was. How any man could cheat on her was beyond me. How she could suffer the indignity of a cheating spouse also flabbergasted me, given that she could have any man she wanted. She was in finance now, but she’d worked as a model to pay her way through school, which is how she and Chris met. These two were members of the most-beautiful-people-in-the-world club, yet not only were they incredibly nice to me, Chris was now making it clear he wanted to be more than friends. So the dinner Julie was planning for the three of us tonight left me ill at ease, to say the least, and all the more ready to move.

“You’re still on for dinner tonight, right?” she asked, giving me a quick hug, even though I was clearly a sweaty mess, and she was in a beautiful Chanel suit.

“Yep!” I said, returning her friendliness with as big a smile as I could muster.

“Yay!” She clapped her hands together and grinned. “Chris has put together an awesome menu. I think tonight’s gastronomic pleasures will border on orgasmic. But I better run if I’m going to get enough work done to get back here in time.” She waved as she headed to the staircase, and then she was gone.

I leaned my forehead against my door and sighed. Was she really that clueless? It was like she was trying to hook me up with her husband. I had to admit: the fact that she existed was the only reason I hadn’t slept with Chris yet. When a man that attractive started flirting with me, it was pretty hard to say no. My morals were strong, especially when it came to adultery, but even I had a breaking point.

*******

“Julie’s still insisting on dinner tonight.” I told Miranda, as I slumped into my chair at work that morning. Miranda was sitting on Chad’s desk next to mine and the two of them looked serious enough when I arrived, that I suspected I was interrupting a small lovers’ tiff. But at my words, Miranda broke into a big grin.

“That’s so awesome. I want details. They’re such a weird couple,” she said.

“You’re one to talk,” said Chad.

I glanced questioningly at Miranda.

“Whatever,” she said. “He’s just irritated because I learned about a drug that you can get in Brazil that apparently creates enlightenment. So obviously I want us to try some while we’re down there.”

“Aren’t all drugs supposed to help you achieve enlightenment?” I asked.

“I think most people do most drugs just to make life a bit more fun.” Miranda responded. “This one is called ayahuasca, and it’s supposed to actually change your life and how you view the world. And you’re supposed to take it with a real shaman present. I mean, come on, how cool does that sound?”

Chad sighed, “I don’t do drugs. Not even drugs given to me by a real shaman.”

“Well, it’s not like I do either. But this could take our relationship to a whole new level. How can that not be appealing to you?” Miranda challenged him.

Chad turned to me. “This sounds crazy, right? Will you please convince her this is a stupid idea?”

“Why would she side with you?” Miranda teased him. “I’m her best friend and you’re just her cubemate. Besides, think about it. We’re out there in the middle of a thick Brazilian jungle, laying in hammocks, with a shaman chanting nearby. Vines and branches swirl around us, transporting monkeys and crazy, brightly-colored, exotic birds. The stars sparkle in the night sky above, and suddenly we have an amazing epiphany that will forever change our lives for the better.”

I grinned at them. “I have to admit, Chad, I’m siding with her on this one.”

Chad groaned. “She forgot to mention the deadly snakes and bugs the size of my hand that would also be in that jungle. I’m getting back to work. You two can figure out how to find peace and serenity on your own.”

Miranda shrugged and got up. “I’ve still got a couple weeks to work on him before our trip. I should probably get back to work too. Don’t stress out about dinner tonight,” she added. “Julie will be there, and she’ll keep Chris in check. Just have fun.”

*******

With Miranda gone, Chad and I got to work. The life of a creative coordinator, which is what both of us were, was not exciting. In fact, “creative coordinator” was basically a not-so-fancy title for someone who looks for pictures online and does other shit work. It was work that the higher level art directors needed but didn’t want to waste their own time on. I’d studied design in college, I’d interned at Adobe and Weiden-Kennedy, and I couldn’t count how many San Francisco boutiques for whom I’d done freelance design. By most standards, I was one hell of an art director myself. But this ad agency didn’t adhere to “most” standards. They had insanely high standards. I worked at a top, top ad agency, so only top, top people got to do any of the real creative work. Instead, I sat here wasting my time on image hunts, hoping to someday impress the best of the best. In my free time, I let loose my creativity on the freelance design jobs I did on the side. Admittedly, some of my assignments outside of work might have been in violation of my contract with the ad agency, but my theory was this: if they really wanted me to work solely for them, they’d pay me a livable salary. That said, working for this agency was an incredible opportunity and ultimately, the mind-numbing tasks and thoughtless, selfish art directors would be worth the pain.

The pain of degrading work was soon put into perspective for me when I received an email from Julie right before lunch:

Chris and Joss,

I’ve just learned that I have to fly down to LA this afternoon to meet with a client. I won’t get back until tomorrow, so I’ll have to bail on dinner, but the two of you should definitely still go ahead with plans. Chris’ menu is to die for, and it would be a shame to let the food we bought go to waste!

Cheers!

Julie

I wanted to bang my head against my desk, but the fear of Chad noticing kept me upright. She wanted Chris and me to share a private meal that he was going to cook and that she had promised would be orgasmic? Was she really that blind to his intentions? After a moment’s thought, I responded:

Julie,

As excited as I am for this meal, it simply wouldn’t be right to eat it without you. I am more than happy to wait until tomorrow night or any other night when all three of us can be present. Let me know when will work for both of you, and we’ll reschedule. I hope your trip to LA goes well!

Joss

I sighed in relief when I hit ‘send.’ Not only would I not have to deal with evading Chris’s flirtatiousness that night, but I might be able to get some extra work done. And extra work meant extra money, which meant I could get out of that apartment faster. This would not be my most exciting Friday night ever, but that was a small price to pay for additional income. I’d just calmed down when I got an email from Chris:

Jocelyn!

Don’t bail on me tonight! This dinner is going to be perfect. You can’t make me eat it alone…

Chris

That email was promptly followed by:

Joss, I totally agree with Chris. You can’t bail on him! I promise this will be a great dinner, with or without me. The three of us should still get together when I get back though!

Julie

This time, I really did bang my head on the desk.

“Hmm,” said Chad. “Does this mean it’s time for lunch?”

I glanced at the clock. “Yes!” I said. “You grab Dave and Patrick, I’ll grab Miranda and let’s get the hell out of here.”

I filled Miranda in on the email exchange as we walked to lunch, lagging behind the guys.

“You know what my advice is going to be,” said Miranda, when I’d finished.

“Why?” I asked. “Why do you think it’s such a great idea for me to hook up with this guy? Would you want some girl hooking up with Chad?”

“Eh. I wouldn’t be happy about it,” she admitted, “but as long as it’s me he loves, it’s not the end of the world. Plus, he’d never pull any of the crap Chris has pulled with you.”

“What kind of reasoning or rationale is that?” I asked, stumped by her logic.

“I don’t know. All I keep thinking about is how hot Chris is and how good I suspect he is in bed. Besides, maybe this dinner is Julie’s way of giving you permission to sleep with him,” she stated mischievously.

“I hate you sometimes,” I told her.

Miranda grinned. “As long as you love me all the rest of the time.”

We’d walked so slowly that by the time we reached the sandwich shop, the guys had already ordered their food and were sitting at a table outside.

“So, Joss,” Patrick said to me, as Miranda and I finally sat down with our own lunches, “is this weather freaking you out yet?”

The weather was unseasonably warm. It was what the natives liked to call “earthquake weather,” and it scared me to death. I, as the only transplant to California in our group, was the only one who disliked the idea of my apartment being shaken to pieces with me inside. Patrick knew this and loved to tease me about my earthquake fear. I glared at him and told him I was just enjoying the sun and nothing else had even crossed my mind. The rest of the table laughed, and then the conversation shifted toward complaining about work. My mind drifted back to dinner that night. The more I thought about a cozy dinner with just Chris that was guaranteed to include alcohol, the more convinced I became that I had to bail. Miranda was simply more liberal than I was, and I wanted nothing to do with an adulterous affair. As soon as we got back to work, I responded to Chris and Julie with an email that firmly stated my refusal of dinner that night.

*******

  The afternoon was stressful, as I was working with one of the cattier art directors. She was Sharon, the Evil Jr. Art Director. In my more generous moments, I recognized that she was under a lot of pressure to prove herself because, as a junior in any position, the expectations were high. You could lose everything with one faulty campaign, and people in the junior positions haven’t learned how to deal with that sort of responsibility. That said, given the competitive, high-school-esque nature of the ad industry, Sharon stood out as cruel and unsupportive of anyone below her status. She yelled at me at least once a day when I was working on her campaigns, and she pretended I didn’t exist on the days I worked with someone else. By the time I got home, I was ready for a nice, big glass of wine.

I think it was that glass of wine that was my undoing. Had I not been slightly buzzed when Chris knocked on my door with another bottle of wine and a tray of food that looked like it came straight from one of the fanciest restaurants in town, I might have had the strength to turn him away. Or I might have at least had the strength to politely eat dinner with him while refusing the wine. But that demon liquor had taken the edge off of my inhibitions, and I was way too easily talked into another glass. By the time we finished the bottle, I was no longer thinking with my morals.

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