Finished the first major draft of my “break novel” today, that I’ve written over six months while taking a break from Magnetic Water and Worms. Here’s a sneak peek at my new satire, the gentri-fi novel Meat Ladder to Mars! Should be out, and in physical copies, by Spring! Enjoy and remember, all the offensive material is real stuff that people volunteer to tell me!
From chapter 2:
Evening brought a breeze off the ocean and the brilliant red sunset permeated the smog until, saturated, it dispersed in purple and crimson scraps on a great yellow atmospheric puddle. Zosime didn’t have the humor to go out to Bushmeat, but she had to get something to eat. And if Gopman or Chesky were there, she could maybe set down the pigshaped stone lodged in her right ventricle, which thudded against her soft heart tissues and restricted her lungs. Time and routine had weakened her show of propriety. Just as before she’d let go and laughed at Clayton, she now felt ready to talk to her superiors if the situation should arise.
She took the bus to Agege, where a train ended and didn’t connect at all to the central Lagos station, and waited in the street, feeling charitable toward the North Dakotan. She peered carefully into the flux of people streaming past, the carts and taxis and bicycle rickshaws or scrimshaws or what the word was in English, in case she saw Clayton wandering around. But she didn’t peer too long. She joined the throng of bodies, the muddy, spicy odor of moving night, and walked or waded toward the stadium, around a rain-cracked stucco façade and into the roofless confines of the bar.
Launch systems analyst Gopman set his bottle of Star down and whispered hey to launch chief doctor Chesky. –That’s the intern. The ex-intern.
–Ah god, where?
They hunched over their beers at the bar, surrounded by anonymous foreign workers but still trying to form a private space. Here at Bushmeat the two men tended to let go of their pretense of professionalism, a custom they clung to here in Nigeria in case anyone back at home looked.
–So you had any dates yet? Chesky teased his colleague, who scratched his gel-stretched blond curls and rolled his eyes. –I don’t know dude … I just keep thinkin, yknow, in Africa, that they’re just gonna think my dick’s too small. His chief stuttered out a loud laugh. –Serious shit! Haven’t you thought of that?
–I don’t know … Chesky’s eyes looked up from his beer, turned left and collided with those of the bright young former intern.
–Doctor Chesky! Godsend said in Chinua Achebe’s stately English, –so it’s true you have dinner here!
–We’re launching our space shuttle tomorrow full of cargo going to Mars, Chesky boasted to his beer, to the barkeep, –tonight we’re drinking.
He didn’t stop the kid from sitting down, who ordered a plate of chicken in half English and half Yoruba. Despite the heat his shirtsleeves, chest and back were still fresh as morning. He had the focus of a student about him, wide, attentive eyes.
–Ah, to Shango himself! the intern said, –some real men must be preparing to travel to him. But as far as who sends them up, have you consulted with the boss about finding me a new position?
–Look, Iyiola, it’s like I told ya. We already got a launch systems analyst, he gestured with upturned palm at Gopman’s beer, –your role, as well as his, have been reevaluated according to what we need for this mission, and that job’s gonna come out in the shape it comes out in, once we know what we need. We don’t know just now. We’ve got a launch tomorrow, and then maybe a launch as early as next month. There’s no time to learn all the systems.
–Yes, Iyiola persisted, –but the last launch was only your first, correct? And you learned. The two Americans regarded him uneasily, unable to lie. They were new here, too, as if their habits didn’t give them away. –The only jobs we have are in loading.
–Ha ha! Iyiola laughed an obscure laugh, genuine, scornful or both. –Who would take an unskilled job with training like mine?
Chesky’s close-set brown eyes crept up his long nose as he watched Zosime sit down at the bar to Iyiola’s left. She nodded at the young man, who stood coolly and said nothing to her. But it wasn’t all him. She would’ve said something to him any other time, or sat with him rather than with her bosses, if not for this gravitational field her bosses had, and this vibe that she had an unlisted duty not to talk to former employees.
–I’ll be at the university library when you need me. I can quit there any day! He took the plate of chicken just as the barkeep handed it to him. He found a seat next to three older black men at the long yellow bench under the outstretched limbs of the bar’s plump Ivory Coast almond.
A leathery rope of elder woman, wrapped in her most attractive striped kaba, drew into the patio with a big basket in her arms. –Chicken and rice! she called out, –made at home!
Unnoticed by the other men at the benches, she approached Gopman and Chesky and repeated her solicitation. No thanks, they said, no cash.
–Not here, the lithe barkeep reproved her with a surprisingly sonorous basso voice, –my kitchen’s cooking here. The woman reproved his uncooperativeness with a scowl and went on her way.
–Anyway, Gopman continued right where he’d left off, –it can’t be that hard. I’m just being a pussy. There’s whores here, right?
–There has to be.
–Plus people don’t shower here as much, so I don’t think they’ll criticize anything about me. Hey. You ever pull down yer pants and confuse the smell of come with the smell of yer regular dick? Serious shit! He looked at his phone. –Where’s the fuckin food, already?
Just then doctor Chesky perceived who the woman was two stools away. –Shut up! he told Gopman, –Shush! He turned to Zosime. –Hey … you’re our loading shift leader, right?
Zosime was trying to swallow her shot, and even though it was expected that he should await her response until she finished, she was annoyed that he said something to her midswallow. –I am, she addressed the empty shot glass with its miniature stem and foot, –unless you have something better. She nodded after Iyiola.
–Hah, yeah really. Whatcha drinking? Pernod? Sounds good. You tried the local beer?
Zosime shook her head. –Yep, Gopman observed with relish, –Star dappa doo dar. That’s why we’re in Lagos, Nigeria. Not cause of the equator, but cause the beer matches the company.
–I wish it wasn’t so far, Chesky talked through his swallowing, –the boss’ll probably never come out from California to see us.
–Why don’t you think? Zosime asked.
–He’s lived in airplanes all day for ten years! Chesky explained. –He’s reinventing the world all day, by the time he gets to Silicon Valley to check on his money, he’s gotta go back down to So-cal to check on the Mars mission!
–He’s a genius, Gopman added.
–He’s the innovator of innovators, Chesky gushed, –you’d wanna work for him no matter what, to be part of the future! To really make your mark on the future of the human race.
He paused to remember. –I remember when his biography came out, I was just an undergrad, I tried to get a copy so, yknow, it’d be a conversation starter. I couldn’t even afford to buy it, my rent was so high for my studio. There was … I remember it, seven holds on each of all their copies, in town and down in Oakland.
–I tried Frisco. A hold on thirty-nine copies. I even tried to get it from San José. Multiple holds on all nine copies. So, I mean, yeah, I got it on my phone. But the boss … he’s like, bigger than Steve Jobs!
–Serious shit! I mean Steve Jobs … he’s just like, digital! The boss is like, voluminous, yknow, like he says, physical. He knows the drag coefficients for everything he builds.
–He’s like, the definition of innovation. I mean, the sheer achievement.
Zosime was beginning to perceive another unlisted duty: adulate the boss. –I don’t really know anything about him. I haven’t had time to look. Before I was hired I thought I was working for New Sky Lines, I didn’t know it was Star-X. The two young men looked dumb at her, then carried on.
–So, we’re gonna make a lotta money off this job, Gopman suggested to her across his boss’s chest, –my advice to you is work hard in the silo, and get into real estate now, while there’s nothin holdin our money down.
Chesky sneered at his analyst. –You’re really gonna jump in and buy houses here?
–Cmon, chief! Remember the famous Airbnb class at Berkeley? I was in that fuckin class! I already got people findin me property all over, right here in Africa. Fix some places up, flippem. It’s the same everywhere.
Zosime found his idea absurd, but he seemed to know what he was talking about. –Where is the good real estate?
–It’s wherever they’re redeveloping. One neighborhood at a time, they’re redoingem, makinem more upscale.
–Are the neighborhoods abandoned? Zosime asked, smelling a rat.
–I don’t know, Gopman threw his free hand in the air, –but the poor people’ll go somewhere. Who lived there before the redevelopment aren’t gonna wanna pay higher housing prices. There’s plenty space. There’s a new economy now. Innovators like us need room! We need space to innovate. It’s a process.
–They’ll move until there’s nowhere to go. Gopman goggled at her. –The slums in Lagos have to, how do you say, take in the people who lose their homes. But they can’t all go to the slums if you send them out,
–That’s ridiculous! Gopman chugged his beer, –you’re not even re-tarded. That’s pre-tarded.