The spontaneity of Eugene’s desire to please the beneficiary of his attention struck Michael as a revelation. He was astounded by the sight of a grown man leaping into the breach without the least concern for the reaction of his audience. Some misgivings remained. Disappointed by the listless marriage of his parents, Michael pined after an intimate connection that was not procurable from his instant dates. His sentimental anxiety receded whenever Eugene showed up on his doorstep with hard-eyed vixens eager to flip his pelvis. One of them startled Michael’s father, who chose the same moment to visit his son’s bachelor pad. Only a few months earlier, Isaak and Maria had expressed their misgivings about his company of confirmed bachelors. Now his father’s look blended a sanction of manliness, an anxiety of dissipation, and a twinge of middle-aged envy. Isaak’s gaze imbued the girl’s blank face and raw body with meanings not otherwise forthcoming from a tiny blue swastika tattooed on her left shoulder and her unparalleled enthusiasm in being pumped with Michael’s recently circumcised cock. A front line volunteer in the Red Army at 18, Isaak had wished his son to blend in with the gentiles in the shower line. At 19, Michael chose to relish his refusal to disguise his tribal affiliation from triage by the girl’s confederates.
The Aryan dynamo allegorized the anonymous lays that Eugene’s friendship bestowed upon Michael. His infrequent abstinence found its symbol in a foul-mouthed colleen with an angelic face and severe scoliosis. Michael and Eugene met Nancy at her workplace, a condominium in a Near North high-rise. Michael chastely awaited in the living room for the completion of his friend’s interview. A few weeks later the hooker was found asphyxiated, gagged and tied to a chair in her bedroom, a plastic bag draped over her head. The Chicago Police Department tactfully deemed her demise an accident. The restraints must have been meant to straighten out her spine.
In his regard for his friend’s amatory sophistication, Michael presented to his scrutiny every woman who engaged more than his casual interest. In deference to his friend’s childlike trust, Eugene suppressed his second nature by failing to take advantage of these introductions. Since losing his last respectable job the day following their first festive encounter, Eugene found himself with plenty of time on hand, while Adrienne pursued her career. Meanwhile, Michael was getting tired of his workaday pretense. A suitable pretext for quitting his job was not long in coming. Thenceforth his productive efforts diverted towards sending out batches of resumes seeking permanent employment that he did not want, collecting the unemployment compensation to which he felt entitled, and checking in with the agencies for scarce consulting contracts. He was always eager to distract himself from strivings by walking over to his friend’s apartment and kicking back with the midday reprobates. On one such occasion, overwhelmed by a spell of sodden sentimentality, they cut their right forearms with a Randall fighting knife that Michael carried everywhere as a proxy for his masterless samurai ambitions, mixed their blood, and vowed brotherhood.
They never delved too deeply into the reasons for their friendship. Thinking back, Michael realized that Eugene’s character was marked by the lack of bitterness that tainted the rest of his friends, relatives, and associates. In its innocent glee, his subterfuge stood in contrast to the weary stratagems practiced by everybody else around them. Like a child, Eugene lied naturally and without malice. It was impossible to begrudge his lies in matters that seemed unworthy of serious concern. Conversely, he projected dependability in things that really mattered to men about town. Whenever his sentimental education left Michael in a lurch, Eugene could be counted upon for company and understanding. In return he looked up to Michael for brains and brawn, to the point of expecting his assistance in ways that ran counter to his inclination. Thus he would mention wistfully the lucrative prospects of procuring in tandem with a muscular man unencumbered by his scruples about roughing up his working girls. To his credit, this speculation stopped as soon as Michael spelled out his unwillingness to procure or rough up anyone whatsoever. Eugene took this declaration as his cue to change his pitch. Michael stood to collect a considerable fee for entertaining an attractive woman of his acquaintance. The party in question being obviously capable of having her pick of prime swains, Michael inquired as to the point of the commercial exercise. It was to have her husband present during the proceedings. By then a committed exhibitionist, Michael questioned whether a private performance could be worth the trouble and expense of his proposed scenario. Eugene allowed that the husband might expect to fellate his wife’s service provider. The subject of joint ventures was never broached again.
It was during these daytime revelries that Michael realized his friend’s condition. First came the occasions of his arriving too early, before his morning dram smoothed out the shakes. Next came sentimental confessions. Eugene missed his mother, whom he had not seen since his departure from Moscow over a decade earlier. He resented his first wife, who turned him into a misogynist by surrendering her virginity to his rival prior to their marriage. He wondered about the son whom he had fathered at the age of seventeen, just as his own father had produced him. He despised his second wife for letting him use her Jewishness to secure his emigration from the USSR. He resented her for becoming a whore and a procuress at his behest and on his behalf. He professed a gallant disregard of his predicament. His lifestyle continued the family tradition. He would not follow his father’s lead by drinking himself to death before fifty. A Gypsy fortune-teller had assured him of a long life and two kids. He only knew of one to date.
By that time, Michael had moved to more spacious digs. He camped in a studio apartment on the top floor of the Churchill. This lavish turn-of-the-century hotel near the twin Ambassadors East and West had recently been turned into a Gold Coast condominium development. Freshly ejected from an affair that initiated him in the ways of romantic disillusionment, Michael was working on a law enforcement contract and training twice as hard, a round of karate followed by one of kendo. The freight elevator accommodated his racing bicycle with a ramp that smartly deployed his wheels onto the city streets for daily rounds. The sundeck that crowned the building afforded a clear view of lakeside air shows and topless lovelies sunbathing on the neighboring roofs. While practicing his sword moves on its wooden slats, Michael enjoyed an occasional glimpse of insider trading at brothel run on his floor by his friend’s colleague. Inga was a buxom Swiss woman serving downtown commodities brokers amidst black satin curtains, chromed steel devices, Aubrey Beardsley bondage prints, and mirrored ceilings.
This idyll started to unravel as Adrienne approached forty. Her biological clock prompted concerns about her prime candidate for reproductive assistance. Eugene responded with more reasons to be concerned. On a windy night, while the lovebirds were hailing a cab on Michigan Avenue, his hat was blown under the wheels of a city bus. Although a replacement had to be procured immediately, Adrienne spitefully refused to subsidize an air fare to San Francisco, the only place in the world where hats of that kind could be found. Undaunted, Eugene retired to the bathroom, arranged himself in the tub, and slashed his left wrist all the way down to the bone. He then called on his lady love to demonstrate the quaint motion of his severed tendons.
Michael spent the next day at the Rush-Presbyterian hospital, orchestrating an improvised counselling session with Father Cunningham. The Jesuit counselor felt ill at ease being called upon to handle histrionic excesses. A week later Eugene was back home. He swore off drugs and alcohol and proclaimed his willingness to live cleanly. His own life already having taken a turn in that direction, Michael supported Eugene in his resolve. For a while, it looked like he could pull it off. The worst of his dependency abated at the hospital. But in the long run there was no keeping him away from the jug of Gallo Chablis, whose constant companionship was the prerequisite of Adrienne’s composure. And so things went back to normal. Eugene kept himself gently soused to avoid flareouts of despondency. His inamorata lavished her maternal instincts on the cause of his contentment. It was during this lull in domestic tension that Eugene turned thirty. All was well. In order to signify and seal this tenuous status Michael presented his friend with a gift meant to commemorate his newly achieved maturity. It was a small gentleman’s sheath knife with a stag antler handle and a razor-sharp, mirror-polished stainless steel blade.
A few months later Michael found himself on a plane. His father, whose hard-won medical license restricted him to practice in California, had moved to Los Angeles a year earlier. His wife followed him shortly thereafter. Mindful of his son’s loose company, Isaak mailed hundreds of photocopies of his curriculum vitae to each employer advertising in the Los Angeles Times. A local Artificial Intelligence software startup offered Michael a position working on a symbolic math program. The new lifestyle elevated his intellectual plane for the first time since his emigration. Michael changed his wardrobe from gaudy bicycle jerseys to black motorcycle leathers. He upgraded his racing bicycle to a stout motorcycle meant to encourage the opposite sex to cling to his manly back. Spending time with Hollywood wannabes instead of Chicago go-getters catalyzed his eccentricities. Michael traded the Randall that no longer seemed so startling next to his rugged biker getup, for a seventeenth century Japanese sword used for quick draw cutting practice against hillside bamboo. Michael felt validated as his Chicago friends enviously surveyed his new digs. His ex popped up abruptly to probe his availability and vow being a recurring nightmare in his life. He plugged away, wasting long hours on the intricacies of multivariate polynomial factoring. He washed away the stench of toil with pitchers of Guinness Stout at the Cat & Fiddle, a Laurel Canyon pub renowned for encouraging discharges and exchanges of bodily fluids on the neighboring lawns.
That was the time Eugene chose for his visit to San Francisco, still mindful of its status as the hat capital of North America. Michael rode his bike up Interstate 5 to meet Eugene in Baghdad by the Bay. He wore his sword thrust through his Sam Browne belt. A bottle of Hennesey rode pillion. The man that met Michael upon his arrival stood to the roly-poly dynamo that animated Chicago, as a Dachau inmate stood to his former bon viveur self. His smooth speech was now slurred, and the shakes no longer subsided after drinking. After a sleepless night of blasting around town with his passenger doing his best to disturb their equilibrium, the possibilities of meaningful communication seemed conclusively exhausted. Michael washed off the road grime at the Japanese hot baths, and rode back down the coast, his spirits thoroughly degraded.
Life went on. His programming job lasted less than a year before his entire department succumbed to the vagaries of high-tech fashion. Michael felt inspired. He resolved never again to work for hire. Coming across a fiery manifesto calling for free exchange of software, he decided to make his way to Cambridge in order to assist its signatories and supporters. As he was packing for a cross-country ride, the phone rang. It was Dialla, Jacob’s Russian ex and one of the most loyal members of Eugene’s entourage. There was another accident.
Two days later, Michael received the details in the waiting room of the Cook County hospital. Having resolved to rid herself of her paramour, Adrienne packed their bags feigning a trip to Hawaii. The sudden entrance of her sister accompanied by a burly Chicago cop buttressed her last minute change of direction. Nonplussed, their gigolo briefly turned away, stuck his dandy knife into his solar plexus, and presented the results to the assembled audience. The medical examination concomitant with sewing him up uncovered an extent of cirrhotic liver damage that was guaranteed to kill him after the next bout of serious drinking.
Dreading the inevitable, Michael felt no conviction in mouthing the necessary words. A few days later Eugene left the hospital. He rented a room in a Victorian brownstone on the North Side. Michael made his way East towards an engagement with his ideals. His BMW twin was destroyed in an accidental entanglement with a friend’s motorcycle on the last leg of his trip. He became homeless for the second time in his life. As the sweltering Boston summer coalesced into stately autumn, he lived out of the saddlebags of the enormous Laverda 1200 triple that he had purchased with the insurance settlement. He rested on park benches. He showered and napped amidst the perpetual bustle of the Massachusetts Avenue office of LISP Machines, Inc., the hardware startup company that assisted their fledgling enterprise. His enthusiasm endured unabated. As Michael drafted the charter and bylaws of the Free Software Foundation, he felt energized by the atmosphere of a university town. Two months later, he traveled back to Chicago in order to promote their anarchist ideology at Comdex. After the show ended, he stayed for a few days with Eugene.
The pimp maintained his composure. He drank just enough to keep himself going. He pretended to look for some kind of work. Some of the usual suspects kept turning up. Michael felt far removed their fleshly festivities. One of Eugene’s doxies arrived with a small travel case filled with quaint personal accessories. She was on leave from her sexagenarian Mexican husband who expected her back for dinner with a load of tripe. The wayward housewife felt affronted by the biker’s unwillingless to partake of her freely proffered charms. She protested by draping her panties over Michael’s head while he napped in an armchair, oblivious of the sexual manoeuvres taking place nearby. Meanwhile, Dialla was scampering to and fro with withering tales of her own sexagenarian boyfriend Jack. After assisting the removal of her belongings from Jack’s downtown loft in tune to her excoriating his shriveling dick, Michael felt inspired to return to his volunteer post.
All was not well in Cambridge. He had volunteered to build the Free Software Foundation in the expectation of promoting intellectual freedom. His reward was a promise of principle and policy participation. In this spirit, Michael opposed Richard Stallman’s plan to “copyleft” the software in their custody with a stipulation that any work incorporating any part thereof was to become forever an intellectual property of the FSF. Michael was confident that “free” meant free. This conflict led to his abrupt expulsion from the Foundation’s ranks just before its incorporation. Refusing to dwell on this betrayal by self-professed anarchists, Michael committed himself to study.