Michael knew the name before he met its bearer. Cosmo was to be named in honor of cosmic harmony celebrated by Socrates. He had to commemorate the political conviction of Michael’s father Isaak for rootless cosmopolitanism. A few weeks earlier, Michael and Erin saw a movie based on Ian McEwan’s novel The Cement Garden, whose adolescent protagonist fantasized about a heroic spaceman accompanied by his faithful dog Cosmo. Finally, the proposed name stood proxy for a Japanese euphemism for the male member, with which Michael’s prospective best friend had to be endowed in spades. In a word, it was overdetermined.
Two weeks later, Erin advertised herself as “young and available in LA” on the Usenet newsgroup alt.sex.services. The barrage of responses to her solicitation kept her coming and going for a month, before Michael suspected a thing. When Erin flew to the Bay Area, claiming to be visiting her parents, Michael knew that something was amiss, as she hesitated to accept his parting gift of a single red rose. He read her email while she was away. Michael and Erin never had any secrets from each other. Her password commemorated his birthday that year. Once again, there were hundreds of responses. One of them belonged to the Stanford student that a few years back had replied to Erin’s “when-did-you-lose-virginity-survey”, confessing that he was still a virgin at 26. True to his inhibitions, the young man sought to reform his would-be sexual service provider. Erin came back with his check for $2,000 and a matching story. She tried to prostitute herself in order to precipitate a breakup with Michael. Now that he was ready to do so, she had second thoughts. She swore that she never let her clients touch her. She complained that being raped by her father left her emotionally numb, in need of further debasement. She begged Michael for another chance.
Michael thought it over. Erin was a very special girl. She had suffered a great deal. He was sure that she meant well. She needed help from a psychiatrist. He asked her to return the money. She wanted to treat it as a loan to tide her over while she looked for a job. She no longer felt like going to school. She would earn the money to repay her debt. Michael and Erin separated their finances. Months later, she complained to him that her benefactor extracted the repayment from her father.
Michael hesitated before picking up his puppy. His relationship with Erin was precarious. It was not a good occasion to assume a long-term joint responsibility. But Erin swore that she would do her part. She was working on a mathematical typesetting project for a publication that Michael co-edited. The fees paid for her work allowed her to feel independent. They shared a large apartment at the top end of Fuller Avenue. The building abutted Runyon Canyon Park in Hollywood. Their windows looked out on the park. The park closed its gates at sunset. Numerous pathways remained open all night. Amateur Satanists were sometimes heard chanting to the full moon in the ruins of a stucco mansion. The neighborhood had its attractions.
Eight weeks after his birth, Cosmo made his way to their home. In his puppyhood, he looked like a pumped-up Siberian cat. Internal pressure prevailed immediately upon arrival. But the newspapers laid out in anticipation of future mishaps proved unnecessary. The puppy was well and truly housebroken. Initially, that entailed his requests for calls of nature coming day and night. He already was more than a handful, but fit fine sprawled out in a lap or stuffed into a shopping bag. In the former capacity, he attracted welcome attention to his master at his university. In the latter configuration, he was wont to accompany Erin and Michael to the movies, until his bowels let loose in the midst of a feature. Thenceforth, his owners connected to him through a choke collar. His growth into a full-fledged dog manifested initially in his voice. Akitas are naturally aggressive and taciturn, and Cosmo’s brawls with his peers commenced without a warning. The puppy reacted otherwise to the sight of a man in uniform. Their apartment building was then beset by a spate of spurious fire alarms. The fireman that knocked on their door responding to such summons in the middle of a fine April evening, was startled by the booming woof emanating from this callow hound.
By the time Cosmo reached his six month half-birthday, Michael had attained a state of utter exasperation. He had counted on his top honors from Harvard serving as a ticket for an academic career. His initial rejection by Philosophy departments of his alma maters must have been a fluke. But his second round of applications into prominently ranked PhD programs in philosophy was equally unavailing. His predecessor at the Odessa high school #116 had recently graduated from CalTech with a PhD in applied math, and was running a software company in partnership with a professor from U.C.L.A. Lenny offered to assist Michael in determining the cause of these snubs. Michael asked his college administration to forward his letters of recommendation to Lenny. Two of them were replete with compliments. Of these, one expressed enthusiasm unalloyed by hyperbole. The third letter was blunt in describing him as brilliant but unteachable. Michael knew enough to interpret this description as the academic equivalent of a managerial performance evaluation decrying the want of team play by a white collar employee. The last member of the U.C.L.A. Philosophy Department to spare his attention on Michael described him as an autodidact. A month later, an official letter arrived. It upbraided Michael for maintaining a grade point average barely above 0.8. Most of his grades were A, but he never bothered to remove the incompletes, so the majority were masquerading as F. He owed nearly a dozen papers to various instructors. He had to straighten this out in the next month. Instead, he applied to join the L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies.