The Root and The Seed and The Thief In Between
Book One of The Glicksberg Chronicles
Ira Jakobs: 2
I worried about The Kid. Not that he was a bad kid; he was a good kid. Maybe that was the trouble. He opened the shop on time, or early if there was some alter kocker at the door with a monitor instead of the modem. He worked hard until one of us flipped the sign to “Closed” and Frenchie called him upstairs for dinner. Then he hung around with me and Frenchie until we went to bed, when he usually went to his room and sat around on his computer doing God knows what. He stayed in so often it was a red-letter day when I got to wait up for him to come home. He worked hard, making house calls all over the neighborhood, respected his elders – maybe a little too much – and didn’t do a damn thing to give us any undue concern. Did he ever bring a girl home? No, he did not. Did he have friends his own age, whatever that age was? Again, the answer was no. Mostly he waited around like a lost puppy for Gary to show up. Maybe he didn’t have any friends but me and Frenchie and Gary. It went without saying Gary loved that high-strung kid. Ray was like the little brother he never had.
Ray should have had a girlfriend. Or a boyfriend if that was what he wanted, although it clearly wasn’t; no one who blushes every time a female of the species makes eye-contact is interested in men. Even in the checkout line he got all beside himself if the cashier had tits. In any crowd, his eyes went to the women, over and over, but the minute one came close he started to fumfeh. He liked girls and was terrified of them, both at once.
I wished Gary had taken the time to talk to him about women instead of basketball.
Marjorie Morning Star: 2
I never thought twice, romantically, about Gary Glicksberg. Which is to say, I did think about him that way once. It was the very first day I came up from the Maryland facility and Gary breezed in and set up my passcode, my computer access, et cetera, et cetera. He was charming and warm and witty. Very witty. Relatively tall, long-legged, and when he bent over my computer I noticed a particularly well-muscled backside. I freely admit to being susceptible to a nice ass and muscular thighs. Gary Glicksberg was frankly too fit for a job that was largely cerebral, and he looked too much like a magazine model to exist in the three-dimensional world. His clothes were too well-cut for an I.T. guy’s salary. As an added bonus, his looks were as stereotypically Jewish as mine were stereotypically Native American, and to me that made him awfully exotic. They didn’t have men like that in Maryland. Not at Richmond-Grumbacher, anyway. Not that I ever met. I didn’t trust it and didn’t trust men as good looking as Gary Glicksberg
Against all my instincts for self-preservation, I could feel my entire body soften. I felt like a blossom opening in the sun.
Then one day someone else walked in, the older woman with a fine mustache who was managing the lab that was working on gene insertion from a rare Russian oat variety, and Gary shone exactly the same charm and warmth and wit in her direction. He would shine for anyone. I wasn’t special. It was who he was.
I would come to accept it as a consistent feature of Gary’s personality. He would flirt with a lamp post. It reminded me eerily of my father, and although I did learn to like him, I never entertained another romantic notion involving Gary Glicksberg again. Charming or not, unlike my father, there wasn’t a cruel bone in his body. And if he’d been even slightly less handsome or intelligent, I would have said he was a goof.
Gary Glicksberg: 3
This is the part where I am supposed to say Marjorie Morning Star was beautiful. It’s true. She was pretty, too, a lot prettier than the average Wheatstraw LTD employee. But that said, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit she was not the type who would have struck my fancy in my callow youth. So yeah, she was beautiful. She had very sculpted features, all planes and angles; sharp cheekbones that started at the corner of her eye sockets and made a little shelf parallel to her short straight eyelashes. She had a widow’s peak that made for a perfectly heart-shaped face; a dark brown valentine of a girl. She had this way of constantly quirking the corner of her mouth like everything was some big joke. She also had a shadow that was constantly cast by her lower lip, a shadow I found hard not to stare at. Her face was all planes and angles, but Marjorie was not the kind of girl to get a visceral reaction out of me based on looks alone. Okay, she was flat-chested; my Uncle Ira had bigger tits than Marjorie Morning Star. And she was perfectly flat from her shoulder blades to her heels, no ass whatsoever, and that did not help matters.
Marjorie was polite, too, excessively polite in a way I had never seen. She said “please” and “thank you” and “no, thank you” and “excuse me,” not just to the I.T. flunkies who were sometimes in a position to help her, but also to the cleaning crew, security guards, and the receptionist.
Despite her politeness, Marjorie Morning Star was not impressed by my bullshit. It is no exaggeration to say she could not be charmed. I learned pretty fast that while other lab denizens could be schmoozed and greased up into swallowing almost anything, the only thing that worked with Marjorie was to look her dead in the eye and tell her the unvarnished truth, whether that truth was where her repairs stood in the queue or what the chances were she’d get the upgrades she wanted. When everyone else ate from some combination of the cafeteria and the vending machines, Marjorie packed a salad. She kept not only her work area but every area associated with her so precisely organized it looked like a training video.
Marjorie Morning Star, line geneticist, who spent all day long moving genes from one cell to another, was beautiful, not hot.
Which is not to say I didn’t rub out a dozen or so sperm donations to the Wheatstraw employee embryo bank in her honor. At two hundred bucks a pop, as a single guy I couldn’t see any reason not to. I used the money to buy a new couch. If my defense, it was real leather.
So, the thing was, I liked Marjorie Morning Star. I liked Marjorie Morning Star, but dumbass that I was, I dated Sandra, who worked in the same lab and had bigger tits. Way to go, Gary.
Eventually, Sandra and I got married. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. Sandra was promoted to lab director and she flat-out refused to even discuss starting a family until I showed some "career initiative," as she liked to say. I knew what she meant. That didn’t mean I liked it. I didn’t want to be my dad and have a kid I interacted with once a day, at bedtime, for the time it took to read a storybook. I also may have been somewhat unfaithful. I didn’t go looking for trouble. I mean, it wasn’t malicious on my part; it was just par for the course. Back then I had trouble saying no to a pretty face, or pretty anything, really. And I still liked Marjorie Morning Star.
So Sandra and I divorced. After that, I dated an untenured art professor who was built like a stripper, but I wasn’t exactly true to her, either, out of habit as much as anything. Through it all I continued to like Marjorie Morning Star.
We didn’t work together per se, but I.T. guys go everywhere and I had long since started doing repairs to lab equipment I wasn’t technically qualified to breathe on. It took five years of seeing her on a daily basis to figure out Marjorie Morning Star had a great deadpan sense of humor. Sometimes it was just a look, sometimes it was just a word or two, but Marjorie would crack me up.
By the time the truth finally hit me, I could have slapped 21-year-old me upside the head. Marjorie Morning Star had gotten under my skin, but good, and I didn’t have a chance with her.
Marjorie Morning Star: 3
Another reason, besides my career, that I was glad I saved my eggs, was my dating life. Maybe it was growing up in the Army, changing schools and leaving the state every 18 months, but I had never been very outgoing. Some white people imagine it’s an Indian thing, but neither of my brothers were that way and my father, as previously noted, charmed the pants off everyone, everywhere, sometimes literally. He was the life of the party, any party, and if there wasn’t a party, he started one. He was basically a one-man party.
I took after my mother. I just hoped I wasn’t that passive-aggressive. The woman made martyrdom into performance art. If she’d lived in New York she could have charged people money to watch. I’m sure the reviews would have been worth saving. She loved my brothers, and I’m sure she loved me, too, in her own way. Isn’t that the nice way to say it? Maybe I’m too hard on her. Maybe she did love me, but she just didn’t like me very much. If I’m totally honest I think we both got on each other’s nerves.
Dating was not my strong suit. I went out with one co-worker three times before I realized that was sending a message to all of my co-workers that I was fair game. It took almost a year to be comfortable in the lab again. So that option was off the table. I tried going to bars, but I could barely bring myself to speak to any of the men there, let alone contemplate anything else. When men approached me I found myself offended whether I wanted to be or not. I’d always hated forward men. So that eliminated the bar scene. I tried meeting men online, but that turned out to be the worst of all. The handful of Indian men I met found me distressingly non-Indian, an "apple" ; red on the outside, but white underneath. The non-Indian men I went out with all seemed obsessed with the idea of my being Indian.
After a certain point, I just gave up.
Ray Einar: 3
There comes a point in a guy’s life, a point where he looks around and realizes he wants – nah, not wants – he realizes he needs to make something of himself. Something special. At least if he’s a guy like me, and I am, so I did. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not talking about money. All my life all the guys I saw with money were real assholes. From rich kids at church to Wall Street types. I was living with Ira Jakobs. I didn’t want any part of that bullshit.
No, I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to help people, I wanted to do all those cornball things that Ira prized, the sort of things that used to make my "real" dad, Josh Einar, spit on the floor and say something shitty about “liberal do-gooders.” But I was still a kid, mostly (although as soon as I was old enough to buy a beer if I wanted, I did sometimes just to see if Ira or Frenchie would say anything. They didn’t.) I had exactly five years of formal education, and that didn’t help. Tall as I was, I was too scrawny to patrol the streets in a super-hero costume.
It wasn’t about being a big man, it wasn’t about getting attention from strangers. It was about knowing, myself, I had made a difference. It was about being a part of something bigger than myself, which Gary had been right about, again. Gary was pretty much always right, except for his dating advice, because no matter what I did, it was impossible for me to talk to girls. Anyway, I took what I was good at – computers – and I decided to use that to try to do something.
It took some poking around and some proving myself, but I joined up with some other folks who thought that same way I did about banks, and corporations, and plutocracy, and “CathodeRayTube” was born. I thought it was pretty witty.
Ira and Frenchie didn’t ask. I didn’t tell ‘em, either. But they were smart and they seemed to know every other damn thing. So I suspected they suspected and left it at that.
Gary Glicksberg: 4
Like Ira I was concerned about Ray’s stunning lack of a love life. Unlike Ira it seemed to me I ought to be able to do something about it. I just didn’t know what. Okay, maybe I had an idea, I just needed to run it by someone smarter than me first. Make that someone smarter than me whose answer wasn’t going to be a two-hour talk on the history of labor unions or the colonial agenda of the IMF.
“I don’t get it, Frenchie, I’ve tried everything. I mean, I know the guy’s lonely,” I said digging into a slice of babka. That was another benefit to going to Frenchie instead of Ira; Frenchie had treats.
“Define everything,” Frenchie said, peeling a carrot.
“Pretty much everything. I’ve tried to set him up on a date – ten, twelve different times – except Ray refuses to go on any dates. Not that our farm boy is too proud – oh, no, no. According to our boy Ray it’s a matter of Jakob and Nephew’s sole employee’s strongly-held conviction that any date he is involved with, even tangentially, is doomed from the outset.” I shoveled another sweet delicious bite into my mouth. The hint of cinnamon set off the chocolate perfectly.
“Stop trying to set Ray up on a date, then.” Frenchie finished with the carrots and moved on to the onions.
“Yeah, I figured that out eventually,” I said with a mouth full of food. “Which was why I resorted to setting up ‘accidental’ run-ins with women. Women I’ve personally screened for their willingness to take the time and effort to get to know the guy. I mean, I know he might not be an obvious choice for a lotta girls, but I think he’s got a lot to offer. If he would cooperate, even a little, it might work out but, noooo, the minute a girl so much as says, ‘Hi,’ he clams up and flat out refuses to utter a syllable. He won’t even try. Hell, he won’t even look at them,” I said, torn between my desire to explain my solution to Ray’s problem and my desire to eat babka. I sighed and licked my fork. “I think there’s only one thing I can do.”
“Leave Ray alone?” Frenchie said. “Trust him to find the right girl when he’s ready?”
“He’s already let six right girls slip through his fingers – right enough, anyway.” I was young enough to know everything at that point in my life. “I think the only option left is to get Ray a hooker.”
Frenchie shut off the stove and turned completely around to look at me.
“The only problem is –”
“Only problem?” Frenchie wiped her hands on the front of her apron, then squinted at me hard. “What’s the ‘only problem’ with buying a woman for Raymond?”
“You know how soft Ray is, down deep. I’m worried he might, you know, fall in love. The guy is kind of a schmuck, sometimes,” I said between chews.
“You think that’s who falls in love with prostitutes, Gary? Schmucks?” She looked more pissed off than I’d ever seen her.
I was young and dumb and not half as worldly as I imagined I was. I shrugged. “You know what I mean.”
“I think I know what you’re saying better than you do,” Frenchie said.
“Calm down, I just –” I started but Frenchie cut me off.
“Would you call your Uncle Ira a schmuck?” Frenchie demanded. “But then I guess we met when I was selling Girl Scout cookies, right? Yeah, that was how we met. Cookies!”
I had no choice but sit there and blink for a few seconds, trying to reconcile my Aunt Frenchie – in her pastel velour jogging suits, taking one community college class a semester, whipping up obscenely delicious meals, and repairing prayer books down at the Temple – with prostitution. I thought of the streetwalkers I passed every day in the city. It was impossible for my brain to place them in the same category as the woman who made me gateau and put bandages on my knee. “I was told the two of you met at your parents’ bakery,” I said, sitting very still.
“I did some things my father didn’t like, and my parents kicked me out and I had to earn a living. That’s how I met Ira,” Frenchie said. “Earning a living.”
I knew how Ira hated to see anybody in trouble. When it came down to it he was as soft-hearted as Ray. And as honorable, as noble; they were a couple of righteous, trustworthy guys. Me? I was an asshole who thought he knew best.
Unsure what else to do, I buried my face in my arms. “I’m the schmuck here, aren’t I?”
“You are,” Frenchie said, planting a kiss on top of my mortally embarrassed head. “That’s okay, though; we love you anyway.”
It didn’t change my belief that getting laid would have done Raymond Einar a world of good.
Marjorie Morning Star: 4
“Would you buy that for a dollar?” the meme of the moment blared over someone’s laptop in the break room, and it annoyed the hell out of me.
I was on my work tablet trying to go over paperwork while I choked down some no longer quite warm coffee.
“Sandy, I’m not quite clear about what’s going on with S379-G,” I said.
“That’s easy. Lab Four’s specimens are being shipped to the Des Moines facility,” Sandy said.
I was stunned for a moment. “Des Moines is a production lab.”
“This kills me every time,” Sandy chuckled, leaning over the offending laptop along with five other people. “What’s your point, Marj? Des Moines is a production lab, and S379-G is going into production.”
“S379-G still causes underarm rashes in 0.03 percent of female consumers,” I said.
“Yeah, not three percent , not one percent , not even 0.3 percent – just 0.03 percent. It’s not exactly a significant fraction of the population,” Sandy said and turned back to the laptop. I could not believe they were playing it again.
Sandy had to realize as well as I did that out of two hundred million women in the U.S. alone, statistically the chances were in a few years the soybean known as S379-G would be in all their diets simply by virtue of the modern food supply system. See, 0.03 percent of 200,000,000 women was 6.7 million women, rounding upwards. So far we hadn’t determined what the rash was indicative of. With soybean’s inherent weak isoflavones and their structural similarity to endogenous estrogens, there had been some suggestion the rashes were hormone-related. If the rashes were hormone-related there could be other side-effects as well – an increase of hormone-related cancers, for instance.
I stopped arguing. Sandy clearly wasn’t listening to me, and she wasn’t taking me seriously even though we both had the same information at our fingertips. I knew I wasn’t going to get any further talking to her. She simply didn’t care.
I think people assumed I was extremely driven and extremely loyal to Wheatstraw LTD. The truth was Wheatstraw LTD annoyed me on a daily basis in ways both large and small. Still, that perception allowed me a certain amount of leeway. I would go talk to Andy Winslow, who oversaw half the Brooklyn labs. And I wouldn’t approach it from a human interest standpoint. I would think like Wheatstraw. I put my tablet under my arm and headed to the cafeteria, straight to the table Andy frequented to keep up his illusion of being “a man of the people.”
“Hey, Andy, mind if I ask you about something?” I asked forcing myself to use his first name, because that was what he demanded.
“Sure, have you seen this? ‘Would you buy that for a dollar?’” Andy repeated along with the meme blasting from his laptop, laughing to himself.
“Sure have,” I said. “I’m concerned about S379-G…”
“The soybean we’re sending to Des Moines? How come?” he asked.
“From a liability standpoint,” I said. “It stands to give 6.7 million women in the U.S. an underarm rash. Because of the location of the rash and the fact only women have been affected, there’s a chance it could be hormone-related, which might indicate a bigger problem.”
“I’ve already hit the numbers guys with this,” Andy said, stuffing a few French fries in his mouth but continuing to talk. “They assure me even if there is a suit, even in a worst-case scenario – cancer, beard growth, the whole bit – profit outweighs any potential liability by a wide margin. That stuff grows like a weed, and it’s easily 20 percent more productive than any other soybean we’ve got. Thanks for thinking about us, babe. You’re on the ball,” Andy said and shot finger guns at me.
For a split second I wanted to throw something at him, but I made myself smile instead.
But if I left what would I do, besides owe Wheatstraw LTD for my student loan, payable immediately?
And if I didn’t pay, what then? I didn’t have anyone to pay my student loans, so I would never get out of prison. And there would be lawyers' fees tacked on. And prison fees, and room and board if I didn’t want to be with the “general population.”
True, I arrived at the lab early and stayed late on a consistent basis, but not out of loyalty. I was bored, and my co-workers were the only people I knew in the city. I wouldn’t have chosen any of my labmates to spend time with outside of work, and I didn’t feel comfortable discussing anything too personal with them, but I had no idea how to even meet other people. So I had begun to use my off-work hours to lurk on online message boards. If nothing else it was better than the old cliche of getting a cat.
What sort of message boards? The sort that discussed the real world doings of big agribusiness, food companies, defense contractors, international mega-corporations; in short, Wheatstraw LTD. I didn’t post, though. I knew the PR division had sock puppets watching and posting anywhere their name was mentioned. But I read everything, and I weighed what I read. Some claims I knew to be factual, some I was uncertain of, others were so silly I dismissed them outright. It was safe, for example, to assume there were human genetics programs going on in countries with looser rules about where you got your source material, but eugenics? Give me a break.
The time had come. I was going to have to break my silence and contact Wheatstraw’s enemies. The question was: which one? There was no doubt some of them were fronts for the FBI looking for violations of the Corporate Secrets Act. There was no question some of them were fronts for corporate security. So the question was: which were real and trustworthy?
The Cyber Justice League had one poster called “Cathode Ray Tube.” He – I assumed he was a he – always made me laugh, even if some of the things he said were kind of out there. But then again I expected a cyber-vigilante to be a little bit of a wing nut.
As soon as I got home I got online, and as a matter of routine I turned on my ISP masker. I went to the forums “Cathode Ray Tube” frequented, but he hadn’t posted anything since the day before. I hadn’t really paid much attention before, but it looked like all his posts were made between 10 pm and 8 am. He had a job, obviously; well, that was encouraging. A hacker who posted during the work day was more likely to be posting from work, which seemed sloppy to me, or possibly as work, which was precisely what I was trying to avoid. I imagined FBI fronts in a suit and tie, going in to entrap dissatisfied workers at 9 am sharp.
Then, at 3:03 am, when I had long since given up, wearing my pj's and eating lemon sorbet out of the carton, Cathode Ray Tube appeared. I almost dropped my spoon.
I sent a message. Due to layers of ISP masking and my side and God knows what on his side, it took a while to get through.
PleasantValleyMonday: I have information for you regarding unethical practices at Wheatstraw industries.
CathodeRayTube: And here I was hoping you were going to introduce me to hot Russian chicks. The internet says they’re dying to meet me.
PleasantValleyMonday: Is that before or after I increase the length of my penis by 3 to 5 inches?
CathodeRayTube: After, I think. So how did you come by this information?
PleasantValleyMonday: You’ll understand if I’m concerned about my identity being revealed.
CathodeRayTube: If you weren’t worried that would probably be a dead giveaway that you were looking to bust me. But you should understand that I can’t run with every sketchy piece of data I’m handed. Bad information discredits the CJL and undermines everything we’re trying to do. Besides, you could be a cop.
PleasantValleyMonday: I could say the same thing.
CathodeRayTube: I would also like to remind you that you came to me.
PleasantValleyMonday: I work at a Wheatstraw facility but I cannot say more than than that. Jail isn’t a very appealing prospect.
CathodeRayTube: Give me the files. I’ll check them against my other sources. If the info is good I’ll be in touch.
It goes without saying the “info” was more than good. From then on CathodeRayTube and I developed the habit of messaging for an hour or so most Friday nights, making jokes and sifting through Wheatstraw information. Sometimes I confirmed what I could when he got information from other sources. I suspected, based on his conversations, that he was under the impression I was male. It was probably the penis joke that did it. But to be fair I made the same joke to Gary at work one day, and he nearly fell over with laughter. I guess context, as they say, is key.
That was how it all started, my slippery slide into disloyalty; a slowly-dripping water torture of boredom, loneliness, and unsatisfying work life, pushed over the edge by Wheatstraw‘s crass disregard for everything but the profit margin. So roughly ten years after I went to work for Richmond-Grumbacher I started a new hobby; I became a leak. It was a prosecutable offense under the Corporate Secrets Act, and punishable by up to 40 years in prison, but that only made it more exciting. More fun. It was safe to say I was only risk-averse when it came to romance.
Ira Jakobs: 3
As if The Kid wasn’t enough to worry about, Gary was…I don’t even know how to describe what was up with Gary. He and Sandy split up. To her credit, Frenchie saw that one coming the first time we met the girl. Sandy White was Sandy White. If there was ever a beige soul in the history of the human race it belonged to Sandy White. She said she wanted Gary to “live up to his potential,” meaning she wanted him to get himself promoted by Wheatstraw LTD, as if those assholes at Wheatstraw were the final authority on human worth. It didn’t matter that Gary read a book a day, sick or well, drunk or sober, naked or clothed. It didn’t matter that Gary could fix most anything that was broken, that he could entertain anyone from a room full of grade-school kids to 30 college professors, and tell you anything about the city from the historical to the current political situation to 10 years projected into the future. The only thing he had a problem with was knowing when to shut up. But no, none of that mattered. She wanted him to focus on work.
Trouble was she reminded me a little of Myra – Gary’s mother, my sister, my twin. Sandy was Myra minus the brains. Myra believed in Wheatstraw, too. While I was in Vietnam, Myra was in college, but it was tough for her to find a job where she wasn’t treated like a glorified secretary. Myra loved Wheatstraw because they gave her a chance. Sandy loved Wheatstraw because Wheatstraw promoted her. But where Myra got paid by getting the chance to use her brain, what Sandy got out of working for Wheatstraw was something I could never quite figure out. Still, whatever it was, she got it, because she was Wheatstraw’s biggest booster.
After she and Gary split I thought it was Gary’s chance to find a direction, a purpose, something. What did Gary do? He bought nice clothes, kept abreast of all the new restaurants in the city, dated a string of shiksas with big tits, subscribed to more daily papers, read more books, and played more ball with Ray. He was no closer to finding a purpose for his life than he’d been at age 20.
It sounds melodramatic, but Gary was restless, the kind of restless that drives sane men over the edge. And since Gary was saner than most, he had farther to fall.