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Chapter 11 — Lycos the wolf spider, and meeting Jane in Boston
An Ordinary Disaster — chapter 11 — Hunger Awakened
I’d told Mike that I was leaving without having another place lined up, but within a day or two I got word from my old friend Meredith that she was leaving her apartment just north of the Panhandle. It was perfectly serendipitous, and a perfect fit—an oversized one bedroom near the park, and the rent was something like seven hundred a month, when the landlord even bothered to collect.
I was still working at the ‘digital’ offshoot of Wired magazine, a sister company that initially went by the name of HotWired and then later, Wired Digital. Towards the end of ’98 that business was acquired by a much larger internet company called Lycos, Latin for “wolf spider,” that was appropriate both for the way that a search engine was seen as crawling the web to index everything, and also for the ethos of senseless consumption with which the company was run.
An acquisition is usually an indicator of success, but that’s certainly not always the case. This was an “exit” for sure, as such transactions have come to be known, but more of a last-ditch escape than the bell-ringer we’d all been hoping for. Wired had built some neat stuff, but most of it was so visionary as to be way before its time. In the end, management was forced into a fire sale to a bunch of blue-blooded Bostonian frat boys who quickly sucked the soul out of the what had been a truly pioneering outfit.
With our new corporate owners far away across the country, I was even more free to do whatever I wanted. I started going into the office less and less, spending more time by myself, and also with a series of girlfriends that I met in bars around town, online, and even at work. Deepening a pattern that had already been in place for some time and that persisted for years afterwards, what was ‘happening’ in my life was mostly a lot of back and forth to the east coast, and the time back at home in San Francisco between all those trips was secondary. I was having a good time—and it was also true that I was purposefully isolating myself. I wasn’t yet feeling depressed, but I was already using sex and alcohol in an unhealthy way, and I was setting the stage for those attachments to become stronger.
Following the sale of the company, those of us who had been working for Wired found our sexy west-coast startup subsumed by a big, boring, slow company with more than a thousand people housed in a square grey building in the freeway zone on the outskirts of Boston—a complete one-eighty from the early days when we felt like we were the hackers building the Grid. All of a sudden there was no getting around the fact that work was a grind, bound up with red tape, hierarchy, spreadsheets, and ever-more meaningless attempts to squeeze clams out of sand, and the guys running the show were so oblivious to the inner workings of the still-adolescent internet that they didn’t understand that fully half of the users coming to their sites were not even real “eyeballs,” just fake hits and clicks generated by bots—and once they did find out, the wolf spider didn’t care where the “traffic” came from, if it could still be translated into cash.
In the end, nothing much really happened after our hot little star became part of an already-dying red giant, and Lycos ended up paying a lot of us for years to do nearly nothing, just because they had the money, didn’t know what else to do with it, and didn’t want us to go work for someone else. For the most part, we were happy to take what we could get as they dithered and dodged. The truth was, those assholes ripped us off, so fuck ‘em.
As I started going to Boston more often, I connected with a woman online through one of those specialized personals sites that I’d been working, and began to meet with her whenever I was out there. Jane was a single mother in her late twenties, slim, fit, plain, and pale, with long, straight brown hair and the neutral affect of someone who didn’t let much through to the surface—and didn’t invite deeper questions.
The night that stands out the most from our early time together was after I’d already made several trips where I’d slept in a hotel close to the office, and then started staying in Cambridge instead, to attenuate some of the bleakness that permeated the scene at work.
Jane and I had met just once before—a dinner date following our first contact online that left us both electrified and anxious to meet again. It took some time to arrange with my constant travel and the realities of her own life, but after a month or two we managed to plan a full evening together. Returning from the office with my rental car, I checked into the hotel, showered and dressed, tingling and light-headed with anticipation and still in some disbelief that I’d actually met someone attractive who was not only openly interested in sex, but that was direct in sharing some of the fantasies that I’d had for so long.
A cloying orange scent from the hotel shampoo lingered as I waited for her to arrive, the room dim with low evening light and the filtered sounds of the street outside. I was sure enough that she’d turn up, but still, I jumped in elated surprise when I finally heard her knock. I crossed the room and opened the door to find Jane standing there in a dark, simple dress and low heels.
Her subtle look emphasized the carnal truth beneath the surface. She stood there in a glow, enacting some ancient pattern that neither of us fully understood. She was a concubine, a slave, and a sacrifice—and also her own free and willing self. She was all of those to me, and also strong, adventurous, and hopeful, and I received her like a gift.
We did step out for dinner, but we were both well aware that we weren’t there for the romance, and we returned to the room before long. The details of what she and I got up to would have seemed tame to anyone who’s been to any of the legendary parties at the Armory in San Francisco or the Black and Blue Ball in New York, but to me, that night was both the fulfillment of certain dreams that had first taken root at the age of twelve, and a sort of coming out.
While I’d experimented in this realm with a few other women by that time, there was something different with Jane. Our relationship was openly focused from the start on specific, shared animal interests, and we maintained an on-and-off relationship that lasted several years. As our first few encounters unfolded, I felt like I was doing something that was making me more of myself—not because of any specific actions, but because I was enacting something that needed to be expressed.
Anything we do or create can be just as much art as anything else, if it carries something of the soul out into the world. Having abandoned the subject of geography for a long detour into the intangible depths of computer software, this person, her body, and her willingness to surrender gave me a start in coming to know something of myself again.
And, my hunger was awakened.
As always, I was purposefully aiming away from normal, but if you’re conjuring up imagery of so-called dungeons, latex and leather, costumes and play-acting—that’s not me. What I wanted was really just sex, rough and raw—and incorporating some of the paraphernalia that I’d become physically familiar with from sailing and climbing in my younger years. We dove into being bent, knotting kinks of rope, wrestling and fighting as we fucked, enacting the captive scene from Quest For Fire that had tantalized me in my teens. Sex with a touch of violence, raw animal strength and teeth seeking blood—all of this made sense to the part of me that was still my downhill-skateboarding, forty-ounces-at-midnight, fuck-off-in-the-pit at the punk show teenage self. It was a way of incorporating my physicality and my anger—into sex, and also a very very satisfying, and suitably twisted sendup to the entirely oblivious corporate “controller” who would soon be reimbursing my travel expenses for our rendezvous.
I felt like a pervert, and I was proud of it.
Several years later, and some time after our occasional meetings had come to an end, I got a love letter from Jane suggesting that we consider a deeper relationship. We were still living at opposite ends of the country, and I just couldn’t see it happening between the two of us, aside from the fact that at the time, I was actually engaged to someone else. I did love her for who she was and what she brought into my life, but what we had, it was about the sex, and it didn’t have to go beyond that to be real and true. Jane, I’ll never forget you.
Thanks for reading, and for being part of this journey.
This is part of AN ORDINARY DISASTER, the book-length memoir about a man learning to listen to himself, and the price I paid until I learned how to do that, serialized right here on Substack with a new chapter published every week.
You can find everything from the memoir that I’ve published so far right here.
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