The Comet Year (Novel Excerpt)



 “Listen, Jane,” Anderson said on the phone, his voice arcing across the night sky from Death Valley, California, to my apartment on a nearly deserted street in Bridgeport, Connecticut, “I need you to bring me my dog.”

“What?” I said. I was barely awake, barely aware that I had picked up the receiver of the telephone on the nightstand beside my bed. “What time is it?

“Just after nine o’clock,” Anderson said.

“No, it isn’t,” I told him. There was a clock on the nightstand, too, and it told me that on my side of the continent, time had slid way past midnight.

“Oh yeah, well,” he said. “Sorry I called so late. Where you are, I mean. Anyway, I want you to bring Finney to me.”

Finney, a big yellow-brown mutt (maybe part Lab, part lots of something else) was lying beside me on the bed, eighty pounds of gentle, lazy animal, deep in dreamland. The ringing phone had not even come near to waking him.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, looking over at the dog. His head was next to my pillow and he was snoring.

“I miss him. I want you to bring him to me.”

“You’re still in the desert, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, sure, we’re all here. But it’s still civilization, Jane. There are hotels here. And an airport. You can be here in a couple of hours.”

“I’m sorry,” I said to Anderson. I turned my attention from the snoring dog to my clock, which had a light-up dial. The lateness of the hour was beginning to seem alarming to me since I had to get up early in the morning to go to work. “I really don’t understand.”

“Day after tomorrow, I’m going to get a car to pick you up and drive you and Finney to Teterboro in Jersey. I know it’s a long way but Luca—you know, the director—is flying his girlfriend out here on someone’s private jet—maybe it belongs to the studio; I don’t know—and you can come along. You can spend a few days here. I think you’ll like it.”

No, I won’t, I thought. I had never been to the desert but I could picture it in my mind, especially a place with a name like Death Valley. I saw a giant sun stuck in a giant blue sky hanging over a harsh, flat landscape of sand and cactus. I knew that I got my idea of what a cactus looked like from cartoons—a big melon-shaped thing with two upraised arms, all covered with thick, sharp needles—but so what? Maybe that was right. Still, I won’t like it didn’t sound like a good excuse, even to me.

“I have to work,” I said. “I can’t just take off.”

“I’ll call Joe,” Anderson told me. “He liked me, remember? And I’ll get him some movie passes. Not to this thing—it won’t be out for a year, if Luca even manages to get it finished, which is a whole other drama, believe me, but still. Joe likes to go to the movies, doesn’t he?”

“I have no idea what Joe likes,” I said. “I just work for him.”

“And for me,” Anderson said. “There’s that, too. And I need my dog.”

He wasn’t persuading me. A couple of years ago I probably would have just said yes, sure, whatever you want, but I didn’t feel that way anymore. I had become annoyed with Anderson Heywood. I was annoyed with all the tasks he found for me to do, all the rich, or semi-rich and semi-famous people I ended up dealing with because of him (crazy fucking loonies, all of them—well, most of them; casually asking for favors that were, of course, demands; casually demanding favors that involved my time, my efforts, my gritted teeth), all the phone calls and instructions and help he needed to shore up his life, which I was about done with. And I was done with taking care of his house and his guests, half an hour away in Westport, meaning the aforementioned pain-in-the-ass people, who seemed to be forever arriving and departing when he was out of town, which he was for months on end.

“Even if you get Joe to agree,” I said, trying another excuse for not taking a dog on a private plane for a jaunt to the desert because things like that no longer seemed like fun to me; they seemed like bait, “you’re forgetting about Carl. He’s still at the house, you know. I have to go there at least every other day to do something for him.”

“Like what?” Anderson asked.

“He’s afraid of Winston.”

“He’s afraid of my cat?”

“Well, he is a little weird. I mean, he weighs thirty pounds. And you know how he likes to sit in that easy chair you have in the living room—like a person, sitting up and staring right at you with those big yellow eyes. It is…you know. Kind of disturbing.”

Anderson laughed. “Yes, well. I guess disturbing is the right word. You get the feeling that there’s some kind of real person trapped inside that fat gray pile that is allegedly a cat. But I got used to it. Lanie got used to it. Why can’t Carl?”

I suspected that Lanie, Anderson’s wife—Second? Third? I wasn’t really sure—had gotten used to many fewer Anderson-related situations than he thought she had, including his pets, but it wasn’t my place to say anything about that. And I had no real answer for him about Carl Ferriman, his current houseguest, either.

“Carl’s kind of weird himself,” I said. “You know that.”

“Jesus,” Anderson said. “Actors, writers, directors—they’re all babies. Big, neurotic babies.”

But you’re not, I thought—getting even more exasperated as this conversation went on—no, you’re really a man of the people with your scorn for exactly the kind of person maybe you didn’t used to be but sure are now. With your rescued pets—the dog from a shelter and the cat from the loft of a drag queen who once appeared in a movie Anderson had produced but who supposedly had neglected what was then just a seemingly overlarge kitten—and your endless attempts, or so you think, to rescue me. From what? My own life? Because yours is so much happier?

“Look,” Anderson continued, “just call the agency—those people I use for pet sitting. If they need extra money to deal with Carl, just give it to them. I’ll write you a check as soon as you get here.”

“Carl’s not going to let some stranger in the house.”

“Jane,” Anderson said, his voice suddenly deeper, darker. No more kidding around now, no more of what I knew he heard as friendly banter. “Just figure it out okay? I’ll see you soon.” Then he hung up the phone.

I tried to go back to sleep but I didn’t do very well with that, drifting around the edges of formless dreams until dawn. When I couldn’t even pretend that it was possible for me to rest any longer, I got out of bed and pulled on a pair of jeans and a hoodie. The dog woke up then and ran to the door so I took him out, marching him around in the early October chill. Overhead, the moon was fading. Iron-colored clouds massed on the horizon like airships floating in from the east.

I led the dog past empty factory buildings, empty warehouses. These were not Bridgeport’s finest years—that era was long past—and this area, in particular, once a busy manufacturing hub, had been completely abandoned by the makers of corsets, firearms, sewing machines, brass fittings, steam pipes and other such goods and appliances that had once kept the city’s wheels of industry turning. In fact, for many blocks in either direction, only the building I lived in was still occupied. The ground floor, once a factory that made shears and scissors, was occupied by a marijuana grow house (an excellent location for such an enterprise since I had never seen a police car drive through this neighborhood, even on a casual patrol) and above that were two small apartments—the marijuana guy, who owned the building, lived in one of them and I rented the other. I think Mr. Marijuana rented the apartment to me—really, just two cold rooms with a leaky radiator, a stall shower and a two-burner stove—because he didn’t like living totally alone in the building. And because, as he told me a couple of months after I moved in, I didn’t look like a snitch. Well, of course not. I was eighteen at the time, just out of high school, and if I looked like anything, it was any other girl with dark, stick-straight hair down to my elbows and lots of black eyeliner, which I had been applying since I was fourteen, with as much diligence—more, probably—than I devoted to almost anything else I had to do on a daily basis. Now, four years later, I thought I looked pretty much the same but otherwise, there had been developments in my life, some of which were surprising and unplanned.

Anyway. When I returned from the walk, I fed the dog, showered, and then made myself some coffee. After that, I dressed again and led the dog back downstairs to the car—Anderson’s car, a big, battered Volvo that he had left me so I could drive back and forth between my place and his house in Westport—and headed for the Highway Pines Motel, where I worked as the desk clerk. There was, in fact, a highway beyond the motel’s parking lot and a row of sickly looking pines out back, behind the dumpsters, but more importantly, for the brisk business of renting rooms and endlessly, ceaselessly, cleaning and re-cleaning them as well as could be expected in a relatively featureless, as-basic-as-could-be kind of place, was what was on the other side of the highway: the Eastern Connecticut Correctional Center. Most of the Highway Pines’ clientele were inmates’ families who came from other parts of the state or even out-of-state to visit their incarcerated relatives. Black people, white people, Hispanic people, with their bunches and bundles of children and infants, aunties and cousins and grandmas. The rainbow coalition all weighed down by sadness, grievances, and money troubles. And then there was me, checking them in, checking them out, and doing whatever else I needed to do to keep the chaos contained. For the most part, anyway.

One current benefit of the job was that no one cared that I had taken to bringing the dog to work. I didn’t know what else to do with him, since so often, now, when I worked the day shift, I wasn’t able to go home afterwards to feed and walk him. Instead, as I was going to have to do tonight, I had to drive straight to the town of Westport to deal with whoever was staying at Anderson’s house. If I didn’t bring Finney with me to the motel he would have been stranded in my apartment until late into the night, hungry and lonely. I couldn’t do that to him.

So. I drove to the motel, parked around back, and went inside to relieve the night clerk, some new guy who I could already tell wasn’t going to last long. He went over the night’s list of troubles with me—a fight between family members that had left one room badly damaged; a broken vending machine; a missed emergency service call by the janitor who rarely showed up for emergency calls, and this one was for a non-functioning toilet, which had meant moving a family from a room they were okay with to one that was really too small for all five of them—in other words, nothing all that unusual. When the owner of the motel, Joe Houseman, showed up around ten o’clock to see how things were going, he absently patted Finney on the head while we went over what needed to be fixed, to be dealt with. Being the front desk clerk here hardly meant that all I did was sit at the check-in counter. That was understood.

But today, I had to get Joe to understand something else—that after tomorrow, I was going to be gone for the next few days. After I explained why, Joe was not at all happy because it probably meant that he was going to have to do my job but, as Anderson had said, Joe was under his spell—at least, under the spell of movies and movie stars and people who made movies—so he didn’t complain too much. After all, it was really his fault that we were both involved with Anderson Heywood, since not long after I’d first started working here, which had followed right after I’d finished school and moved out of my parents’ house into the place above the indoor weed wonderland, it was Joe who had agreed to rent out the motel for a week to use as a set for a movie Anderson was producing. The locale was desirable because of the nearby prison, which was medieval-looking enough to stand in for a fictional movieville counterpart that was needed for the film. For that week, my presence was actually not required at the motel since the contract Joe had signed did not allow for any regular guests, but lucky me—which is what I guess I thought I was at the time—Anderson hired me and one of the daily maids to run errands for him. I gather that he was breaking all kinds of union rules by doing this, but he paid us out of his own pocket and we were glad to make up our lost income by working for him, which meant mostly working at his house. He was staying there, that week, in Westport, and he seemed to require all kinds of services, from polishing the hardwood floors to cooking meals to emptying Winston’s litter box. Later, when the film company moved on to its next location, which was back on a set in L.A., Anderson asked me to keep on working for him when he needed help. He usually took Finney with him when he traveled but Winston had to be cared for at home, and then, of course, there were the endless assortment of friends and business associates who stayed at his house—which seemed to be his own high-end version of a motel. I said yes, of course; yes, I’d do the work. Any extra money I could make was helpful. The job at the Highway Pines was reliable and I didn’t really mind it, but it didn’t pay very much.

After Joe left that morning, I got through a relatively uneventful day at the front desk—some guests departed, others arrived, children ran through the halls, people wept or yelled at each other or drifted silently through the front door and across the highway to the prison, doing their duty or acting out of love or some confused attachment to a thief or a gang member or someone accused or convicted of an assault or a sex crime or a murder. My days at the motel—and sometimes, my nights, since I did not always have regular hours—were busy and they were rarely quiet. If nothing else, time usually passed without my getting bored.

Around lunchtime, I had intended to call Carl Ferriman—a writer who was Anderson’s current guest—to tell him he was going to have to deal with Winston by himself for a few days but he called me first, about ten o’clock, to ask me to come by after work since he felt that Winston was staring at him too much and he wanted me to move him to a different room. Unless he was eating from his dish in the kitchen or using the litter box in the bathroom, Winston mostly stayed in the living room chair. And he never seemed to blink, that cat. His stare could be unnerving if you weren’t used to it and Carl, who always spoke in a whisper as if someone might be listening on the line, some person, force or entity surely up to no good, was definitely never going to get used to Winston. And he certainly wasn’t going to pick him up and move him. So I said yes, I’d come. I didn’t really have a choice; Anderson paid me to do things like this no matter how ridiculous they seemed to me.

I was able to leave around six when, thankfully, despite my worry that he was going to just disappear, the night guy did show up to take over for me. I led Finney out to the car and he bounced happily through the parking lot. As far as I could tell, he’d had a good day for a dog. Both children and adults had petted him, fed him vending machine cookies, and praised his good behavior as he stretched out behind the front desk, accepting compliments and wagging his tail.

I drove south on I-95 to Westport, then took local roads to Anderson’s house. It was in a leafy neighborhood of multi-million-dollar homes presenting a quiet, reserved look that served to play down their value. Over time, I had figured out why Anderson had chosen this place as his home, when he was at home: it was a kind of in-between base of operations, far up the economic ladder from where he had grown up in Paterson, New Jersey as the son of a machinist and a hairdresser, and what most likely would have been the usual apex of his achievements, a sprawling mini-palace in the Hollywood hills with a pool the size of a lake and an interior that cost more to decorate than his father probably made in his lifetime. But living in Westport, Connecticut, seemed to be Anderson’s declaration that he wasn’t just some thuggish knucklehead from Jersey anymore (who had started out as Andrew but made a revision to his name somewhere along the way) but neither was he totally beholden to the movie business, owned by it, enslaved to it, in love with it, unable to live outside of its west coast grasp—though in fact, I guessed all that was actually true. And there was more I had come to know about him, too, both good and bad: he was smart, he was organized, he was successful and he was tough, but he also had a quick temper and just to top it all off, he was a very quirky guy.

For instance: I don’t think he actually liked having house guests because he was insanely particular about how the house had to be kept up—everyone who stayed there had to deal with intrusive bi-weekly visits from a maniacal cleaning service that kept the floors polished, the rugs shampooed, the dishes perfectly stacked in the cabinets, the lawn moved, and every surface dusted or waxed or scrubbed to perfection—but he also seemed driven to behave, or perhaps masquerade, as a benevolent friend to creative types who needed a retreat from the pressures of their work.

The first time they arrived, most of the people who stayed in the house couldn’t find it without help because it was set at the end of a narrow road that wound up a steep, tree-lined hill. The turn-off to the road was unmarked except for a sign that said Private—Keep Out and even I had to watch for it because overhanging branches were beginning to obscure both the sign and the battered mailbox stuck behind it on a post. Now, once I spotted the turn, I headed up the rough, bumpy road that didn’t connect to an actual paved driveway until it emerged from the surrounding trees.

The house itself was a relatively modest looking colonial with a peaked roof and clapboard siding, painted white. It was, however, set on five acres of land so that you could sit on the patio behind the house and stare at the tented sky awash in bright daylight or strewn with stars and feel that you were all alone in the world, which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your mood. Anderson’s guests, I had learned, often veered between both, sometimes at breakneck speed.

His current houseguest, however, seemed to have only one mood, and that was pretty somber. Well, quiet and somber and just a little paranoid, as witnessed by his fear of Winston. When I had first met Carl Ferriman—meaning, picked him up at the Westport station on the Metro-North line out of Grand Central in Manhattan—all Anderson had told me was his first name and that I should be looking for a tall, bearded man in his thirties. Since I was already feeling argumentative, I had said, But what if a couple of guys who look like that get off the train? Anderson, whose phone voice was crackling at me from an airport somewhere in Europe, where he was at the time—and that was months ago, now—laughed and said, Oh, you’ll know. And he was right, of course, who else could my new charge have been but the big, unkempt guy with not only a beard but wild hair, a wild moustache, dressed in wrinkled khakis, soiled sneakers, and dragging a duffle bag behind him as he stepped tentatively down the station stairs, looking around him as if he’d arrived in a foreign land and was sure he’d never learn the language? He certainly didn’t look like he actually lived in Westport, home to an upscale populace, fit and fashionable, proud of their money, their private tennis courts, private schools, privately ultra-comfortable lives. Or so they seemed to me, anyway. Me, the hired help, seething with anger at anyone whose life seemed easier than mine.

Carl, though, didn’t seem that way to me, even at first. I was used to the assortment of Anderson’s friends and acquaintances who came to relax at his house, or retreat, or refresh themselves, or whatever they thought they would be doing in Connecticut. They were mostly actors and actresses—famous people, or on their way up or down from being so—who swore they couldn’t even set foot on the town’s main street because they would be instantly recognized, swarmed by people who wanted to intrude on their much-needed time away from the fray and therefore had to have everything brought to them, or arranged for them, primarily by me. The one exception to the I-Won’t-Go-To-Town rule that I had encountered was a remarkably handsome Greek actor who was suddenly famous in the U.S. because he played the romantic lead in a movie that had been a huge success in American movie theaters. He was hiding out in Westport while he waited for his equally high-profile Egyptian wife to join him for a tour to support the movie in which she also had a part. The day before she was going to arrive he wanted to make dinner for her so asked me to take him to a local market. I drove him to the fanciest one I could think of, where half the stuff was imported and all of it overpriced. Once we were there, though, I realized he expected me to figure out what he should cook, and then pick out what he’d need to buy. Well, why not? He was used to people doing things for him, taking care of him—perhaps with the exception of the Egyptian actress who was so beautiful (I had seen photographs) and famous that she was even more used to being catered to than he was. In the supermarket, we wandered up and down the aisles while women wearing silk blouses and designer jeans staggered backwards as he drifted past them, too stunned to speak. It was like a god had suddenly metamorphosized in their midst and in a way, to them, I guess he was. I suppose he was to me, too—I just wasn’t about to show it. No one got to know how I really felt about anything—and other than that I was aware of how I was growing increasingly angry at what seemed to me like my sort-of indentured servitude to the rich and famous, that included me.

Carl had been staying at the house longer than any other visitor ever had.  At first, I didn’t realize that he was Carl Ferriman, the writer, the enormously famous writer whose first novel had become such a cultural phenomenon that even I, never much interested in books, had heard about it, probably because it involved hippies, a wounded soldier who had fought in Vietnam, a road trip across America, guns, drugs, sex, and a quest for a mysterious stranger who may have been God’s lost son. Or something like that. In any case, I had never read it and even if I had a copy, it wouldn’t have helped me identify Carl because he wouldn’t allow his picture to be printed on the book jacket. I had heard that, too.

So, the first month he was living in Westport, I had no clue about who Carl was, other than some friend of Anderson’s who I thought, wrongly, was somehow involved in the movie business. It wasn’t until about a month into Carl’s stay at the house that I went into the office that Anderson had set up in the house, a room I rarely had any reason to enter, and saw what I figured out was some sort of timeline consisting of many sheets of typing paper taped in a line that ran along three walls of the room. And then, looking over at the desk, I saw a stack of typed pages standing next to Anderson’s electric typewriter and a lightbulb went off in my head. Oh, that Carl. Carl Ferriman. But by then, I was too used to Carl to be impressed. And besides, he seemed to want to spend more time with me than I did with him.

I mean, I realized that he was probably lonely. I realized that he was extremely shy, that his success had been unexpected and was turning out to be unwelcome, and that he was probably struggling—had been for several years now—to write his next book. But he barely spoke, and when he did, he mumbled so much I had trouble understanding him. Mostly, he seemed to want me to hang around and watch tv with him. And then, of course, there was the matter of me often having to drive through the night—sometimes well after midnight—because he had stumbled upon Winston using the litter box in the bathroom or ponderously making his way from his chair to the water dish, and was totally freaked out by the tank-like animal stopping in his tracks and staring at him. And I felt that I was devoting so much energy to just taking care of myself that taking on this extra-needy person, as if I was not only being paid to take care of practical house-related issues but also be some sort of babysitter, was becoming too much. Besides, I was at least a dozen years younger than him, so wasn’t he supposed to be the adult here? I’d already had enough trouble with adults who were bad at playing that role in my life. I had a father who was another lonely fellow, lost and mournful, and a stepmother who disliked me as much as any witchy woman in a fairytale. My father mostly hid in his bedroom and my stepmother screamed at anyone who crossed her path—me in particular, but also my assortment of younger half-siblings who all seemed bent on becoming dropouts and gang members. There was so much chaos in my house that I still wasn’t sure if any of them knew I was gone.

Now, I parked the car in the driveway, let Finney out on the passenger side, and headed around to the side door, which led into the kitchen. I let myself in with my key and passed beneath what felt like an overhanging copper forest—dozens of pans and pots and other expensive cooking gear that, as far as I could tell, no one but the Greek actor and occasional caterer called in to prepare the meal for a dinner party had ever used. When the noonday sun shot rays of light into this room, the gleam, I thought, could just about kill a person. Anyway, in the dim blue light of evening, the room just seemed cold and unused. I walked through quickly, calling out to Carl that I was here.

I knew where I’d find him—in what Anderson said was the library but Carl called the tv room. Yes, it was lined with books—and Carl’s was somewhere on the shelves—but it also had a comfortable couch, a beamed ceiling, and dark green curtains drawn closed on the window so you got a kind of cozy old English drawing room feeling here, especially if you’d never been to such places and only saw them on tv. The rest of the house was as sharply decorated as the kitchen, very modern, with lots of low leather furniture and abstract paintings but I had been told that this room, including most of the books, remained as the previous owner had left it. Perhaps Anderson also thought it looked like the set for some of scripted story and liked it that way.

The one new addition to the room was the tv, a huge, bulky thing that had been wrestled onto a wheeled metal stand. Normally, it lived in a corner of the room but Carl had pulled it out to sit right in front of the couch. He liked to sit close to it; he liked it to provide the only light in the room except for one small table lamp with a shade decorated with the silhouettes of bears.

“Hey,” I said, as I entered, followed by Finney who walked over to where Carl was seated on the couch and presented his head to be scratched. Carl was fine with Finney, who he believed enjoyed watching television as much as Carl did. Carl loved tv. He loved stories, he’d told me. Books, tv, movies, they were all the same to him in a way. They had a plot. Things happened, problems were resolved—or led to new problems—and love was lost or found. It didn’t seem to matter to him what happened, as long as something did.

“Hey,” Carl replied, not yet turning away from the screen, where cars were chasing each other through city streets. He simply lifted his index finger and pointed it in the direction of the living room.

“Yup,” I said. “Going right now.”

I went back through the kitchen to the living room, to check on Winston. He was fine, sitting in his chair and staring off into the void. Hearing me enter the room he turned his gaze on me but I didn’t mind.

“Time to move, baby boy,” I said. I had developed a theory that talking down to Winston put me at some kind of advantage with him, though who knows if that was true? In any case, he barely acknowledged me as I picked him up—all thirty pounds of him, not the easiest thing in the world—and carried him into Anderson’s bedroom where there was a leather lounge chair he seemed to find acceptable as an alternative to his more favored place to sit. Carl had to pass by the living room on the way to the guest room where he slept and I guess it had seemed to him, that afternoon, that his was going to be one of those nights where Winston’s stare was going to be too much to endure, even fleetingly.

Then I went back to the tv room and sat down on the couch beside Carl. He was holding a box of Hostess cupcakes, which seemed to be one of the main ingredients of his diet along with pizza and Chinese food and whatever else could be delivered to the house. He offered me a cupcake and I took two, one for me and one for Finney.

I waited until the next commercial to ask Carl to turn down the sound on the tv so I could talk to him. If it had been a commercial for Hostess cupcakes—which, thankfully, it wasn’t—I would have had to wait some more because Carl was particularly fond of the actress who was the cupcake spokesperson at that time, a movie star from the 1950s, somewhat faded but still brittle and beautiful.

“So, listen,” I said, “I have to go away for a few days.”

“You can’t,” Carl said to me.

“It’s not my idea. Anderson wants me to bring Finney to him. I’m supposed to get on a plane with him and fly out to Death Valley.”

“Why can’t somebody else take him?”

“I don’t know. Sometimes I think Anderson just likes to jerk me around. Or maybe he thinks he’s helping me. Exposing me to new experiences or something like that.”

“Or he just likes to show people that’s what he’s doing.”

“You’re probably right,” I said. “But whatever, I’ve got to go.”

“Who’s going to feed the cat?” Carl asked. I knew that he was hardly worried about Winston’s welfare but was poking around to come up with some flaw in Anderson’s plan.

“There’s a pet sitting service I can call. We use them whenever Anderson’s away and no one else is staying here.”

“Oh,” Carl said, sounding defeated.

The commercials had ended and the show Carl was watching resumed. It involved some weary private detective who kept grabbing hold of seedy looking suspects and shoving them up against the hood of his old Ford Falcon, all of which I found it pretty boring. Carl, however, was completely absorbed in what was taking place onscreen. He kept on munching cupcakes, though, pulling them out of the box one by one.

I sat through to the end of the program and then stood up. “I’ve really got to go home,” I said. “A car is coming early in the morning to pick me up.”

“Can you help me with something first?” Carl asked.

“Sure,” I said wearily. I mean, I sort of liked the guy but now he was just trying to keep me here. He always did something like this and it made me suspicious. I couldn’t understand, really, what he wanted from me—me in particular. It wasn’t like he had any kind of designs on me—that, at least, I had figured out. So what was it? Maybe he was weird and introverted but still, couldn’t he have called up anybody his wanted and asked them to come hang out with him? Eat cupcakes and watch these stupid tv shows with him? Didn’t he have other famous writer friends or a hippie chick girlfriend or two who’d be more than happy to spend a few days here with him, talking about whatever people like that talked about? People like that who could work when they wanted to—if they wanted to. They didn’t have to get up early in the morning to check prisoners’ families in and out of a motel or else serve the whims of some other privileged person camped out on a movie set in the desert.

Once my thoughts turned in that direction, I started to get angry at Carl but I had already said I’d help him with whatever task he thought we needed to carry out, so I followed him from the tv room to the office, where he was headed. He was wearing army boots, which made a fat, clomping sound on the polished hardwood floors. The dog followed behind us. His nails clicked on the floor and my sneakers squeaked. I thought we sounded like a cartoon parade as we passed from one room to another.

“This is what I want to do,” Carl said, once we were in the office, all three of us, looking at the timeline that stretched across the walls. “I want to take all that down so I can sort through it. I might have to change some things around.”

“Can’t you do it while it’s pinned up the way it is now?” I asked.

Carl shook his head. “It’s easier if I can sit down with a pile of papers and go through them. Just how my mind works,” he said, showing me what I thought was a grin. It was sometimes hard to tell what was going on with his face because of the moustache and beard.

“Okay,” I said, though I didn’t believe what he was telling me was true—I was sure it was just another way to get me to keep him company for a while longer. I should have felt sympathetic—I mean, how lonely must a person be to ask someone who was, really, not much more than a stranger to him, to stick around just to help ward off whatever demons were troubling him tonight?—but I didn’t, really. I had worked all day, I was tired, and I wanted to go home.

“Great,” Carl said. “You start on one side, I’ll start on the other, and we’ll meet in the middle. All the pages are numbered on the bottom, so just try to keep them in order.”

We both began the job, watched by the dog. “What is this, anyway?” I asked, as I pulled pages off the wall. I mean, I had figured it out but I thought I might as well try to keep a conversation going.

“My new book,” Carl said. “The story goes back and forth in time. This helps me keep track of the plot and what the characters are doing at any particular point in the story.”

“How’s all that going?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Carl replied, back to sounding gloomy now. “It’s always a struggle.”

It didn’t take very long to take down all the pages and put my pile together with Carl’s. Actually, I thought that the timeline looked a lot less impressive this way. Deflated, sort of. Condensed.

Carl must have been mulling over similar thoughts because he said, “It’s missing something. I’ve been thinking of putting Nixon in.”

Richard Nixon?” I said. “The president? Why? Does he have something to do with your story.”

“He could,” Carl said. “You never know what Nixon’s going to do. I just have to wait and see how he might fit in. I mean, he might blow us all up first.”

“Nixon might blow us all up? How?” I had a feeling I was at the beginning of following Carl down some particularly dark and twisted rabbit hole, but I spoke before I could stop myself, so off we went.

“Well, they say they’re holding peace talks about Vietnam but I don’t believe it for a minute. I think Tricky Dick’s just itching to nuke Uncle Ho. Then they’d have to retaliate.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “You think Nixon wants to nuke North Vietnam? Or just Ho Chi Minh, specifically?”

“Jane,” Carl said, using the tone of a weary teacher talking to a particularly dim student, “even Nixon can’t target a nuclear bomb to take out one specific person. That’s why he won’t care about wiping them all out.”

“But if they’re all wiped out, they won’t be able to retaliate.”

“There are always survivors,” Carl said. “And who knows what they have up their sleeves? Anything could happen. It might not even be safe here, once they unleash…whatever they’ve got.”

The trip through the rabbit hole had now, apparently, led us into a bleak, dystopian universe where an entire people were destroyed by nuclear bombs but a few heroic survivors took their revenge on Uncle Sam. Well, it sort of made sense in bizarre superhero-kind-of way: Uncle Ho vs. Uncle Sam, both of them in their native costumes, of course: a guy draped in stars and stripes battling it out with guerilla fighters in black rags. Still, I didn’t think even such an epic clash would upend life as we knew it in Connecticut.

“Carl,” I said, “whatever happens, I think Westport would be okay. I don’t think you have to worry.” But he still looked very concerned with his own apocalyptic thoughts, so I thought I’d change the subject.

“You never told me how you know Anderson,” I said.

“He’s talking to my agent about buying the rights to my first book. He wants to make a movie out of it. We had a couple of meetings.”

I could imagine that for anyone else, this would have been great news but Carl didn’t sound all that enthusiastic. “Wouldn’t that be a good thing?” I asked.

“I guess so. It would mean a lot of money. I’d probably give it to my sister, though. She won’t take any of the money I’ve made from the book but a movie—well, that wouldn’t really be my work so maybe she’d let me give her a gift. She deserves it. She had a hard life—my father left before I even remember, my mother was a mess—so she raised me, really. She’s the one I could always count on.” He straightened the pile of papers in front of him and then picked it up, tapped it on the desk a few times to ensure that all the edges were even, and then laid it down again. “I know I can seem a little…well, a little off, maybe, but I would have been a lot worse without her.”

His eyes reddened and I thought he might start crying. Maybe he did, too, because the next thing he said was, “I think we’d better call her,” he said. “I don’t think I can stay here anymore.”

I noted the “we.” I had actually talked to his sister, Amelia, a number of times in the past weeks. I didn’t know if it was Carl or Anderson who had given her my phone number, but one way or another she knew it and had called me several times to see how Carl was doing. I’m sure she called him, too, but I guess she just wanted to hear someone else tell her he was alright. She seemed very nice on the phone. From the little she told me about herself, it sounded like she was living a kind of hippie life on a farm in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and a lot of dogs, cats, and assorted other rescued animals. She was a decade or so older than Carl and, as he had suggested, she sounded very motherly towards him, which made me jealous. At that point in my life, I was probably jealous of anybody who had any kind of responsible parent figure hovering around them, even if the object of that attention was Carl Ferriman. Maybe particularly because it was Carl, who, for all his eccentricities and glum moods, seemed a lot better off than me. Economically, if nothing else.

So, he called Amelia and told her that I was there with him. She asked to speak to me and in answer to her questions I said that I thought Carl was okay but he seemed kind of anxious, even for him. I put him back on the phone and he told her his Nixon theory, nodded his head few times as he said, Yes, good, thanks. Then he concluded the call by saying, “I’ll be here,” and laughed. The laugh sounded like it came from a machine, like Ha, ha, repeated in a loop, on a tape.

“She’s going to drive down tomorrow and pick me up,” he said. “I’m going to stay with her for a while.”

“That’s good,” I said. “Safer,” since that was what he was really worried about.

Then I said good-bye and started heading towards the kitchen and the side door leading outside. Finney followed me and Carl followed the dog. Just as I was reaching for the doorknob, Carl grabbed me and gave me a hug. That was a big surprise and I didn’t hug him back, but he didn’t seem to notice.

It was only a little later, as I was driving back to Bridgeport with the dog beside me, both of us watching headlights and taillights speeding all around us like shooting stars that I found myself wondering where Carl called home when he wasn’t living with his sister or in someone else’s house. Whether or not he had an apartment or a house of his own somewhere. A place where he actually lived.


The long, black town car that Anderson had hired to take me and the dog to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey arrived at 7 a.m. I’d had a restless night’s sleep so I dozed in the car, with Finney stretched out beside me. I woke up about two hours later when I heard the sound of airplanes buzzing overhead. Teterboro only served private planes and the town car driver apparently knew which one I was supposed to board because he drove me to a small hangar on the edge of one of the runways and told me that this was my destination.

Holding onto Finney’s leash and a duffel bag with some things I had packed, I got out of the car and walked over to a man sitting behind a desk t inside the hangar. I told him who I was and he led me back out to the runway, towards a small, sleek-looking jet. My escort told me that there was already another passenger on board and the plane was ready to take off.

I had to climb a flight of portable metal stairs to enter the plane; in the doorway, I was greeted by a pretty woman in a tight, snappy uniform who showed me a professional smile and cooed at the dog. We followed her inside, where there were maybe a dozen beige lounge chairs on swiveling mounts—a few grouped around a small, gleaming table, the others in pairs by the windows. In the back, seated on the one chair that had no partner was a beautiful woman who was probably no more than a few years older than me. She had to be the director’s girlfriend—the person Anderson had told me about—and this was her flight. I was really just a hitchhiker.

Still, she was perfectly nice. She introduced herself, telling me that her name was Marina, then spent some time fussing over the dog (which seemed to be the morning’s default reaction to Finney by the women we encountered) and finally, after settling back into her chair, pulled a vial out of her purse and offered me some cocaine. I didn’t like cocaine, having tried it once and spent half an hour feeling like I was frozen in time, so I said no, but thanks. She nodded, slipped a sleeping mask over her eyes, put on a pair of earphones, and drifted away. We didn’t speak again for the entire flight, which lasted about four hours.

Finney stretched himself out on the floor beside me and looked around at his new surroundings before going back to sleep. The attendant brought me coffee and muffins on a tray and a few Milk Bones for the dog. After I finished eating, I passed the time watching the clouds wandering by and looking down at a checkerboard geography pieced out into yellow fields and green fields, blue lakes, rocky mountaintops. Cool air hissed through the cabin; light and shadow layered themselves across the leather chairs, the carpeted floor.  Throughout the flight, I could never figure out where we were and I didn’t ask.

Finally, the plane began to descend towards a crenulated landscape puckered with low brown hills rising above baking sand flats. The only place I had ever seen a desert was on television and this did not look at all like the kind of place where camels loped across majestic dunes or pyramids rose above a sandy plain watched over by the mysterious gaze of the Sphinx. Not at all—my immediate impression was that Death Valley lived up to its name: it looked barren, deadly, mean.

We had landed on a private airstrip where another long black limo was waiting. The girlfriend swept out of her seat, down the plane’s gangway, and stepped into the limo as if she was used to this sort of royal treatment, which I imagined she was. I was a little more wary of the whole experience, trying to lead Finney around the lounge chairs while dragging my duffel bag with me and then getting myself, the dog, and the bag out of the plane’s door and down another set of metal stairs. As soon as I stepped onto the tarmac, the heat felt like the wall of a burning furnace I had to walk through to even make it to the limo. I hated it here already; even the almost-always happy dog seemed a little reluctant to leave the air-conditioned plane.

But we soon joined the girlfriend in the limo and off we went—headed where, I wasn’t sure. All Anderson had told me to do was get on the plane and I hadn’t thought to ask, Then what? A symptom of something not all that inspiring about me that I didn’t want to think about right at that moment.

So I asked the girlfriend and she said, We’re going down Bad Moon Road, speaking in a voice that was meant to mock the name of the movie that had summoned us both here. But it was also the actual name of the single-lane road we were driving along; I had seen the sign when the limo turned off the airstrip and headed off through the desert. Then she told me that we were on our way to a hotel, though that turned out to be something of an understatement. In about twenty minutes, we arrived at what looked like an Italian villa set in an oasis—my impression based, once again, on my dedicated television viewing. In any case, what I saw was a series of long, low buildings with red tile roofs and stone walls set around a series of swimming pools so clear and blue they looked like the sky had been poured into the water. The pools, the buildings, patios, and pathways dotted with small waterfalls and footbridges were all surrounded with tall palm trees and flowering cactus plants.

The limo let us out at the front door of the hotel, villa, desert palace, hideaway—whatever it was—and we stepped into a reception area with white-washed walls and a floor tiled in soothing earth tones; the same tan and beige colors were reflected in the couches near the front desk. My guess was that the look was meant to suggest that movie stars in sunglasses and caftans would soon drift by, following slender pathways of low lighting cast by hidden lamps as they made their way to the bar where martinis and cigarettes were already waiting.

The girlfriend said ciao, and then followed a porter wheeling a cart with her luggage into an elevator. I watched her go, unsure of what I was supposed to do next, when a woman standing behind the reception desk spoke my name and when I said, yes, that was me. At least this much I understood: as way-above-my-level this place was, it was still some kind of hotel and I still had to check in. So, I spent a few minutes at the desk confirming the details that Anderson had apparently already provided, and then another porter appeared. He took my duffel bag from me and led me into the elevator, which had returned to the ground floor. There were only three floors to this hotel and after just a few moments, we exited on the third.

I gave the porter the five dollars I had in my pocket and he asked if he could get me anything. I said yes, please, any kind of dish or bowl I could use to give the dog some water. After he left, I looked around the room, which was small but immaculate and echoed the desert theme downstairs: the furniture, the bedspread, the color of the walls were all muted earth tones, mostly soft tans and brown. The air conditioning softly hissing through hidden vents made me feel as if I was still on the plane.

That is, until I looked out the window. Even if I had one of the smaller rooms in the hotel, the view must have been as dramatic as any there was to be had anywhere in in the building. It was like a split-screen of the world beyond this oasis of comfort and chilly air: to the left were the rugged brown mountains I had seen from the airstrip and to the right was the desert, flat and brown and parched. My feeling of unease about this place and its alien landscape continued to rise.

The porter returned in a few minutes with a bowl for the dog and two bottles of spring water. “There’s more in the mini fridge,” he said, just in case I was worried about Finney having to drink from the tap.

“What are those mountains called?” I asked, pointing to the hills outside the window.

“That’s the Panamint range,” the porter replied. “And this is Furnace Creek Wash,” he added.

“Yeah, of course it is,” I said under my breath. “Furnace Creek. Death Valley. Just where I need to be.”

A few minutes are the porter left, the phone rang. I lifted the receiver and said, “Hi.” I knew who it was but I thought that he could at least have given me a little time before he started asking for whatever it was he wanted. He always wanted something, though this time the ask was in the form of an invitation.

“Glad you arrived safely,” Anderson said. “Now, why don’t you come out to the set? We’re about to break so that craft services can put out lunch for everybody and I’d like you to join us.”

In my mind, it was late afternoon but flying west had brought me back in time so here, it was only around one o’clock. “Okay,” I said. “How do I get to where you are?”

“I’ve sent someone in a jeep. Can you be downstairs in ten minutes? With Finney?”

“Yes,” I said.

“It’s very hot here,” Anderson told me. “I’m just warning you.”

“I already figured that out,” I told him, and hung up.

I had brought summer clothes with me so I changed into shorts and a tee shirt, then left the room with Finney on his leash. Back downstairs, I walked through the quiet lobby where the woman at the desk smiled at me. I thought about her job as compared to mine and almost laughed out loud. There was no comparison. The idea was ridiculous.

Outside, there was indeed a jeep waiting by the hotel entrance. It had no roof and no doors, so there was no protection from the baking heat of the sun. The one thing I had forgotten was sunglasses, but the young man behind the wheel reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a pair of tinted aviator glasses that he said I could keep. In small, sweeping script on the bottom of the left lens were the words, “Bad Moon Road.” Ah, I thought, a souvenir.

Then we set out, heading away from the mountains, bumping and bouncy over rocky sand flats stretching towards a burning horizon. I felt like we were getting ready to drive off the edge of the earth.

But eventually, like a mirage, trucks and tents and all kinds of cranes and rigging began to come into view. Soon, we were on the outskirts of what seemed like a small city that had sprung up in the middle of nowhere—except for a long, undulating line of sand dunes that was more in keeping with my imagined view of a desert.

The driver, who saw me staring at the dunes, said, “We made those, you know. They don’t exist around here—at least the ones that do don’t look the way Luca wanted. You know, the director. So Anderson had all that sand trucked in. I work on the set design crew: we spent three days and nights getting those suckers to look exactly right.”

“Jesus,” I said.

“Yup,” the young guy replied. He was driving slowly now, weaving in and out of the area where all kinds of sandwiches and salads had been set out in foil pans resting on beds of ice. Coolers full of water, soda and beer stood beside the tables, which were standing beneath a long roof of canvas tenting material.

“There he is,” the young man said, finally spotting Anderson.

And yes, there he was, a tall, lean man with light brown hair that curled across his damp forehead. He was wearing cargo shorts and a white, short-sleeved shirt patched with damp spots. As he usually was, he seemed to be doing two things as once, both barking into a walkie talkie and holding a conversation with a young woman wearing a tee shirt printed with Mick Jagger’s face. These two, in turn, were standing among a crowd of people all sweating in the heat and sun as they drifted by the tables of food, filling their plates.

As soon as Finney saw Anderson, he began to bark. Anderson looked in our direction and waved, then went back to the double conversations he was holding.

I thanked the driver and jumped out of the jeep, letting go of Finney’s leash so he could run over to Anderson who bent down to greet the dog. “Hey,” I said, as I joined them. “Here we are.”

“And right on time,” Anderson said, looking at his watch. Apparently, the universe was ticking on in the way that he expected. He spread his arms wide as the walkie talkie he was holding went on squawking. “Quite a place, huh?”

“It’s crazy hot,” I said. “I feel like I’m going to melt, to tell you the truth.” I squinted at him, backlit by the hot blue sky suffused with desert light. “But you like it here.”

He burst out laughing. “You can tell, right? I do like it. It’s a challenge. Every minute, something goes wrong.”

Before he departed for Death Valley, Anderson had explained that he was only one of several producers involved with this film but he was the person whose job it was to be present, on location, which meant he was in charge of everything that happened here. Even if I hadn’t known that, I could have figured it out pretty quickly because the Rolling Stones girl stepped away as Anderson and I were talking but other people kept approaching, asking questions, telling him about something he needed to deal with.

Finney, who had been excited to see Anderson, eased down from his where-have-you-been high and came back to sit beside me. He had started to pant and there was saliva dripping from his mouth so I thought I’d better get him some more water. I walked over to one of the coolers, pulled out a big bottle of spring water and brought it back to the dog. I poured the water into my cupped hand and let him drink.

Anderson was speaking into the walkie talkie again, issuing instructions, when I saw his wife, Lainie, coming towards us. Waves of desert heat shimmered behind her. I had forgotten she was here, probably on purpose, because I didn’t like her much. I had a lot of reasons for that, perhaps chief among them was that she was always talking to me about women’s rights, as if I needed lectures about being an independent woman, self-supporting, free of male dominance, and blah, blah, blah. I thought I actually knew a lot more about that than she did since she was the daughter of a wealthy man who had gone sent her to famous private schools, including a famous women’s college, and now she wrote about feminism for famous women’s magazines. She and her friends, who I had sometimes run into at the house in Westport, all looked and sounded the same to me: tall, blonde, dressed in designer clothes meant to look like hippie chic, and babbling about philosophies that had nothing to do with real life. My real life, anyway, which I would have told them if I’d thought they’d be even remotely interested. Or would have had a clue what I was talking about.

“Hi,” Lainie said. “I didn’t think you’d really obey the king’s command and get on that plane. But I guess you didn’t have a choice. When Anderson Heywood speaks, women listen—if they know what’s good for them.”

So immediately, I could see how this was going to be. Lainie was Anderson’s third wife and seemingly already exploring her feelings about being his next ex. I didn’t know and I didn’t care who was responsible for this state of affairs, but I didn’t want to be in the middle of it, so I simply shrugged in reply.

“Why don’t you get something to eat and then come sit with me?” she said, pointing to some spot beyond the line of food tables. “They’re going to start filming again soon, and you can watch.”

She drifted away then and Anderson, finally finished with whatever problem he was dealing with, stopped barking into the walkie talkie and waved off the next half dozen people waiting to speak with him. Watching his wife walk away he said to me, “She’s managed to be angry at me on both coasts and now in the middle of the desert. That has to be some kind of record, even for me.”

Just as I wouldn’t respond to Lainie’s barbed remark, I declined to engage with Anderson’s complaint. Instead, I changed the subject. “Finney seems happy to see you,” I said.

He tilted his head slightly, regarding me with a long, curious look. “Are you?” he asked.

Why? I thought. Why do you care? I didn’t have to answer his question, or mine, because an air horn was sounding, presumably signaling the end of the lunch break judging by the groans arising from the crew members still hanging around the tables. I picked up a sandwich, grabbed some more water, and started off in the direction that Lainie had indicated, walking behind groups of people and what seemed like tons of equipment—cameras, cranes, trailers, lights, cables, jeeps and cars and buses. I assumed that the dog would stay with Anderson but instead, I turned to see him following me so I stopped to pick up his leash and walked on.

I finally found Lainie sitting in a beach chair with a small umbrella clamped to the arm that provided some shade. There was another chair beside her that was empty; it had no umbrella but as soon as I sat down, a young woman wearing shorts and a bathing suit top came up behind me, quickly affixed one to the arm of my chair and then walked away without saying a word.

“They’re like mice,” Lainie said, watching the young woman, who was being yelled at by a voice emanating from one of the walkie talkies that half the people around here seemed to be burdened with, as she hurried away. “They just scurry around, silent and obedient, making sure the men can do their sacred work without any interruptions.”

I did not point out that providing me with a chair umbrella was unlikely to affect anyone’s ability to work one way or another—although it might keep me from passing out from the heat. Finney found his own shade, squeezing himself under my chair where he put his head down with a sigh.

“What’s this movie about?” I asked Lainie. I had some vague idea that it involved a bank robbery that had taken place in Boston so I had no idea why they were filming in California desert that was one of the hottest places in the world.

As someone was yelling about everyone taking their places, Lainie explained that yes, there was a bank robbery that had been pulled off by a young couple, members of a radical student group who had been carrying out acts of violence to protest the Vietnam War. The bank robbery had been meant to fund their activities but it had gone wrong, the police had nearly caught them, and now the couple—barely out of their teens—were on the run from federal authorities. Much of the movie had to do with their escape, which included driving past a fortress-like prison (queue the shots of the Eastern Connecticut Correctional Center) meant to symbolize all kinds of things even worse than actual incarceration—like how conventional society oppressed young people with revolutionary ideas, etc. etc.—and continuing on a cross-country trek in various stolen cars. Presumably, they were heading for Mexico but the FBI had chased them here, to Death Valley, where they were cornered.

“If they were trying to get to Mexico, how did they end up here?” I asked Lainie. In my hotel room, there was a selection of tourist brochures fanned out on the dresser and one of them had a map on the back that showed where Death Valley was; from that I had gotten a general idea of where we were now, and it was quite a few hours north of Mexico.

“It doesn’t matter,” Lainie told me. “It’s all symbolic.”

Then she continued: the couple had explosives in the car they were driving and were going to set them off so they could die in the proverbial blaze of glory that their fellow political agitators would see as a protest that would spark a war between the generations. Since the generations already seemed to be at war—and scaring Carl Ferriman while they were at it—I didn’t see the point but I took Lainie’s, which was not to try to apply logic to the story.

“Okay now,” Lainie said, as everyone standing around or manning some piece of equipment suddenly fell silent. “Look toward the sand dunes. This is the scene were Vanessa and Cody talk about what they’re going to do and then make love before they die.”

Of course, I thought. What else would you do before you blew yourself up?

“Action!” someone cried, exactly as they always did in movies, which kind of pleased me since this was a movie, and for the first time since I arrived, I thought I might enjoy this experience.

The next thing that happened was that a car, a Mustang, I thought, drove into view and stopped on the sand flats at the foot of the dunes. The two actors playing Vanessa and Cody—an extraordinarily beautiful girl with long black hair and green eyes and an equally beautiful boy with hair as dark as hers and a lean body, maybe too thin but starvation seemed to be a look that suited him—stepped out of the car and gazed around, as if worried that their pursuers were already nearby. Then the boy and girl exchanged glances that implied, Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. Who could ever be sure of such things?

The girl looked up at the sun then fell to her knees and threw her arms wide, as if worshiping the light or the heat or maybe just the beauty of this cruel, uncaring landscape. The boy then pulled her up and embraced her as they shared a long, last kiss.

But the kiss was interrupted by a man screaming, “No! No!” Those were the last words I understood because the man who had done the shouting, a short, wiry fellow wearing a tie-dyed tee shirt soaked with sweat and a ragged neckerchief, ran out from somewhere between the cameras and started berating the actors in Italian. A woman who had followed him to the spot where the actors stood seemed to be translating for him but the boy and girl stared at him blank-faced.

“That’s Luca,” Lainie told me. “The director.”

“What’s he saying?” I asked.

Lainie shrugged. “Who knows? I don’t think anyone’s understood half of what he’s said since they were all back in Boston.”

I stopped finding any of this even mildly interesting about the seventh time they tried to shoot the scene because each time, they never got past the beginning of the kiss. Whatever the actors playing Vanessa and Cody were doing wrong, they continued to screw up all afternoon. I was hot, exhausted from sitting in the unrelenting heat, and beginning to worry about the dog who was now panting like crazy beneath my chair.

“Listen,” I said to Lainie, “I think I’d like to go back to the hotel. Is there any way I can get there?”

“You can probably catch a ride at the craft services area,” she told me. “They go back and forth all day.” I didn’t like to admit it to her, but I had to tell Lainie that I didn’t know what craft services meant, so she explained that referred to the people who were in charge of supplying all the food that had been laid out for the cast and crew.

So, I headed off that way and was soon able to hitch a ride with someone who had to go back to the hotel to get menthol cough drops for the assistant director who said he felt like his throat was filling up with sand. Once I was back in my room, I gave the dog more water, turned the air conditioning on as high as it would go and lay down on the bed. I was beginning to feel that everyone who was still out there on the sand flats was sun-struck crazy. Not symbolically so, but for real.

I dozed off and woke up some hours later, when the phone rang. I picked it up and a girl who said she was a production assistant told me that I was invited to dinner with the cast at seven-thirty. I asked her if everyone had returned to the hotel and she said yes, so after I hung up with her, I dialed the front desk and asked to be connected to Anderson’s room or suite or wherever he was staying, but no one answered. Finally, a taped voice told me that I could leave a message so I said, “Hi, it’s Jane. Do you want Finney or should I just keep him with me?”

I took a shower and then sat on a chair by the window looking out at the reddest sunset I had ever seen. The mountains and desert both looked like the fires of Armageddon were burning just beyond their split horizons—and like those fires were coming close.

When Anderson had not called back in an hour, I rang for room service and ordered two hamburgers. When they came, I fed one to the dog since I assumed that no one else—not Anderson or even the uber busy craft services—was going to get him anything to eat. I thought I might eat one of the hamburgers myself and just stay in my room instead of joining the dinner party but what stopped me from doing that was a sudden flashback of my father: I wasn’t going to be like him, hiding all the time, from everyone and everything. I should at least try, I heard myself thinking. Why not? What am I afraid of?

So I put on the only other tee shirt I’d brought with me and a pair of jeans and headed out the door, meaning to leave Finney behind, in my room. But as I walked down the hall towards the elevator I could hear him whining, so I turned around, went back into the room and clipped his leash to his collar so I could bring him with me. Maybe Anderson would finally take charge of his own dog—after all, wasn’t that the reason I had flown all the way across the country?

The production assistant had told me to follow a path near the pool that led between an avenue of palm trees and I’d find a private outdoor dining area where a few members of the cast and crew would be having dinner. I followed those directions and came upon a scene that looked like it was another episode in the movie—some movie, anyway, maybe one that was set in a rock star’s fantasy. A long table had been set out in a grove of palm trees that were strung with fairy lights. The only other illumination was provided by elaborate crystal candelabra holding tall white tapers that flickered at both ends of the table; several more, much taller, stood between the trees. It was dark now and the sky was black; the stars looked like a net of tiny lights that had been lit up to complement the candlelight below.

When I arrived, dinner seemed to be well underway—at least, there was an enormous amount of food spread out on the table along with a dozen open bottles of wine. When Anderson saw me, he waved and pointed to a chair a few seats down from where he sat with Lainie. Luca, the director, was sitting on one side of him—though the girlfriend, who I had not seen on the set that afternoon, was still absent—and on the other, next to where I now seated myself, were the actors who were playing Vanessa and Cody. Anderson leaned over to introduce us as Finney, once again, settled himself under my chair.

The girl was named Evangeline Martin, the boy Robbie Robicheaux; both of them were younger than me, but not by much. Evangeline, who was dressed in what seemed like nothing but layers of filmy gauze, barely spoke but her presence seemed imprinted on the group around the table—from time to time, everyone glanced at her, seemingly unable to avoid looking her way. She was so beautiful, so quiet, that she was like an ancient spirit—perhaps a goddess, perhaps a queen’s ghost. Robbie, a teenager’s dream of how a vampire lover would look if he was a dark-eyed penitent, was definitely high on something: he was so jumpy that he was hardly able to sit still in his chair. Throughout the rest of the evening he ate nothing but drank copious amounts of wine and smoked endless cigarettes.

Unlike Evangeline, Robbie seemed unable to stop talking. It was me he chose to talk to but I thought I could have been anybody, really; whatever drugs he was on had stimulated some network in his brain that was firing out words in jumbled, tumbling sentences. All I had to do was nod while he told me stories that jumped from one to another: I heard about his childhood in the brutal foster care system of Louisiana, where he was born; about how he’d run away from that and ended up on the streets of New York where he had apparently survived by having sex with random men who would take him home for a few days and then abandon him to the streets again; about how someone he’d met at a party in Greenwich Village had dragged him to someone’s office who had some connection to the film business and then voilà, here he was, in the middle of the desert, playing at being an actor. A goddamn desert, I later remembered him saying. And I remembered how he looked around the table, smiling like he owned the world, and then looking back at me and whispering—with a smile still on his face—I have no idea what I’m doing.

While Robbie talked and I nodded, I heard other bits of conversation drifting around the table. People were gossiping about other people with famous names I had heard before but could hardly think of as human beings anyone would actually know; about love affairs, some new and some newly upended, involving the rich and famous as well as the movie crews and photographers and writers and hangers-on who followed them around the world; about all the other movies the people around the table had worked on in other places, like Paris, Madrid, London, and Rome, but also tiny towns on the Midwest plains or the foothills or the Rocky Mountains, or urban settings like the Bronx or Chicago or the back alleys of Mexico City. No one seemed to actually live anywhere except on a jet plane or in a rented villa or, at the lower levels of this life where the technicians and the production assistants and gofers massed together, in shared hotel rooms or trailers on a set in a town, a country, that was just one more place on a long list of places where they’d been sent to work. Between Robbie’s stories and all these floating conversations with their references to famous people and memorable experiences—and the money involved in paying the famous people, paying for all this travel, all the services and lies and arrangement necessary to keep these enterprises going—my head was spinning. Everything I head seemed unreal to me; the tales being told were like hearing about a completely different world than the one I lived in. I had a temporary pass to visit, to stand out on the edges and have a look inside, but that was as far as things went. I have no idea what I’m doing, either, I would have said to Robbie if I’d had a chance to say anything to him. Anything at all.

Somewhere in the middle of all this manic chatter, Finney must have awakened and decided that he needed some attention so he stood up and put his head in my lap. Finally, something other than his own inner talking machine caught Robbie’s interest, and it was the dog. Robbie asked his name and started petting him. Happy to have the attention, Finney moved over toward Robbie and leaned against him. The dog seemed to soothe Robbie’s agitation and he quieted down.

It was in this brief lull in the frenzied chatter I’d been listening to that I heard what sounded like a loud crash. I looked away from Robbie and the dog and saw Anderson standing up. What I’d heard was either his chair falling to the floor behind him when he’d pushed it away or a bottle of wine that was smashed to pieces near the chair.

“You had to show me this now?” he was saying in a loud angry voice as he waved around what looked like the pages of a newspaper. “In the middle of dinner? What was the idea? To embarrass me as much as possible? Is that what you wanted?”

I wasn’t sure who he was talking to at first, but then I figured out that it was Lainie, who was sitting beside him. She was looking up at him with a wicked, satisfied smile on her face. “Something like that,” she said.

“You’re a bitch,” Anderson raged at her. “A cunt.”

“No,” Lainie replied calmly, still smiling, still looking pleased with herself. “What I am, now, is free from your oppression. Free from male dominance, from living in a women’s prison created by men.”

“A prison?” Anderson sputtered. “You have three houses—one in Westport, a townhouse in Manhattan, and a beach house in Monterey, which your father gave you. by the way. And what do you mean by oppression? Who stops you from doing anything you want? Who could even try?”

“You have no idea what I’ve had to deal with in my life,” Lainie said. “I’ve attempted to explain my feelings to you but you won’t listen.”

I would have listened. I actually would have liked to hear her explain because I thought the scene she was causing probably had something to do with the movie. Oppression, revolutionary ideas—it was probably nice, I thought, to have the luxury to worry about things like that. More specifically, though, I also would have liked to hear a dissertation on what Lainie really did think she had to complain about? What was so wrong with her life that she had to cause such an uproar? I still wasn’t sure, though, what the basis of all the yelling was—though I could make a guess. While Anderson had been waving the newspaper around I had gotten a glimpse of it and could see that it was The Village Voice. Lainie’s writings about the feminist movement were often published in the Voice, so she must have authored something that was featured in a recent issue, which she had chosen this moment to show Anderson, and it had enraged him.

Lainie stood up then and said, “I think I’m going to call it a night. Not that this hasn’t been great but…well, it hasn’t been, really.” She tossed back her long blonde hair and without looking back, sauntered away down the path through the palms.

After that, the dinner party broke up. Everyone scattered pretty quickly, muttering hasty goodbyes. After Anderson strode away, I picked up the newspaper that he had tossed to the floor and, because I was curious, read a part of the article Lainie had written. It said, So many nights, night after night, I lie in bed next to my husband, Anderson Heywood, and fantasize about hitting him over the head with a frying pan. Why a frying pan? Because I think it would be an apt symbol of female oppression—after all, among all the things we’re expected to do for our husbands, including clean their houses and fuck them on newly laundered sheets, is feed them. Cook for them, Create meal after meal after meal, morning, noon and night. Well, I am done with that. I am done with being used, being underestimated, and undervalued. All my life, men have judged me first by my appearance and second by my behavior—am I acting appropriately, in my assigned role as dutiful wife, daughter, maid, and chef? Well, here’s my official and final answer: I don’t care. Caring about any of that ends here. It ends now.

I surprised myself by feeling some empathy for Lainie’s argument, but I also thought it was disingenuous, a diatribe that only someone who had been coddled all her life and provided with opportunities and advantages at every turn could make. Lainie had no idea what it was like to have to get up every morning, sometimes in an apartment without heat or hot water, and go out and earn your own living in order to pay rent or buy food, and to have the sole responsibility for keeping yourself alive and well thrust upon you at an early age. That was what I felt my life had been like—was like—and I couldn’t help but resent someone who seemed to be preaching on my behalf when she had no idea of what someone like me had to do just to take care of my basic needs. In my world, there wasn’t much time for anything other than working, commuting back and forth to work on slow, meandering buses when I didn’t have Anderson’s car, and sleeping—while still finding the free hour here and there to baby Anderson’s houseguests, all of them as entitled as Lainie. Who had the time or the energy to philosophize or argue about politics or ideologies? Not me, certainly. For a minute, though, I did kind of miss Carl Ferriman and the Hostess cupcakes; he wasn’t so hard to take, really. All he seemed to want was someone to watch tv with him and keep him safe from a particularly strange cat. It was kind of too bad, I thought, that he’d be gone when I got back to Connecticut.

I picked up Finney’s leash and headed back to the hotel. When I emerged from the pathway between the palms I was back at the pool, where some of the people who weren’t at the dinner party were hanging out. Underwater lights made the pool look like a sheet of pink glass; more lights strung through the palms were like stars caught in the huge, still fronds.

Someone—perhaps the bathing-suit girl from this afternoon, the one who had brought me the chair umbrella—waved me over. “Such a cute dog,” she said, leaning down to pet Finney. “I miss dogs. Nobody else here brought their dog with them.”

“He actually belongs to Anderson,” I told her.

“Oh, Anderson,” she said. “He’s alright, I guess. Especially if he brought a dog.”

“Yup,” I said “Well.”

That seemed to be enough of a response to bring her to put her hand on my arm and draw me closer to the group of nine or ten people—young men and women, around my age.  They were all standing together except for one girl, who had perched herself dangerously close to the edge of the pink pool and was twirling around and around, listening, I supposed, to whatever tapes were playing in her head.

“So,” the young woman who was still holding onto me said, “we’re all going up to my room to get high. Why don’t you come with us? We can turn your doggie on, too.”

I thought these people were already pretty stoned, but my first reaction was, What the hell, why not?. But that impulse—the impulse to join them—had leaped past the caution flags that some other part of my mind was raising. Pot, hash—I would have been happy, at this point in the evening, for anything like that, anything to take the edge off. But I didn’t think that was what was waiting in bathing suit girl’s room. The slurred voices of the others who were talking among themselves, their jumpiness, the fact that most of them seemed unsteady on their feet, reminded me of Robbie’s behavior. And he, I was sure now, was high on speed or heroin—far up or far down, or both. I didn’t want to go in either direction and besides, I wasn’t about to let “my doggie” sample anything that might be given to him if I wasn’t paying attention every second.

It occurred to me, then, that this night with the movie makers and their crew—their servants, really—was itself like a movie, and I was walking through some of its different scenes. There was the apocalyptic sunset that now seemed to have been broadcasting a message to me that I still couldn’t make out; the dinner party with its angry break-up montage; and now this, an invitation so casually made that it seemed ominous. These were reckless, rootless people and I felt that taking even a few steps further into their world—if I entered the room I was being invited to walk into—would require me to join them in adopting a pose of great abandon that was not really a pose but a credo. I just couldn’t do it. Letting my guard down; trying to step down from the lookout tower that I knew I was always patrolling, the far horizons of my own nature, which had been trained by loss and aloneness to be ever watchful, ever cautious; that was impossible for me. For me, I knew, it would be dangerous. I felt that if I did that even once, I would be lost.

“No, thanks,” I said to the girl. “I think I’ll just go get some sleep.”

“We all need to sleep,” the girl told me, finally releasing her hand from my arm. “But who can, really? Who does anymore?”

I had no answer to that question, so I left the group to their own devices and went back to my room and finally, to bed. I felt like I had lived through more than just one day and one night, traveled further than from the east coast to a western desert. And though of course, in earth time, human time—if such things actually exist—I remained only twenty-two, I felt as tired as an ancient, but no wiser than I ever was. If I had ever acquired any wisdom, yet. Any at all.

It was barely light outside when my phone rang, and I knew immediately who it was. I picked up the receiver and said, “I’m still sleeping.”

“No, you’re not,” Anderson said. “I just woke you up.” He was silent for a moment, breathing, thinking. Then he said, “Come downstairs, will you? Let’s take a walk.”

I remembered how I’d thought, last night, that I was in a movie, passing through scene after scene. So here was another: dawn in the desert. A girl lifts her head from her pillow, speaks into the phone. A big dog, sleeping beside her, turns on his back and, dreaming that he is running, rakes the air with his paws.

“Alright,” I said, cooperating with the scenario I had just invented for myself. “Give me ten minutes.”

Anderson told me he was in the lobby and hung up. I got out of bed, washed my face, and pulled on yesterday’s clothes. Finney woke as soon as I got out of bed and was sitting by the door when I came out of the bathroom.

“Yes, you’re coming,” I said to him. “You’re supposedly the reason I’m here, right?”

The dog cocked his head at the sound of my voice, but whatever he heard, all it probably meant to him was that we were going somewhere and he was ready. But Finney was always ready. He could be lazy, but if a door to the outside was going to be opened for him, he was going to go through it.

I met Anderson in the lobby and handed him Finney’s leash. He unclipped it from the dog’s collar as we walked through the front door and out into the dawn, which seemed to be playing drama games for me: stars were still scattered across an ink-black sky but at the eastern edges of the desert, there was light rippling along the horizon; shell-pink light, ghost light rising from the remnants of an inland sea gone a billion years ago.

Anderson stayed silent as we walked, taking a different path than the one the led to the site of last night’s unhappy dinner party. He was so quiet for so long that it was beginning to make me nervous.

“So,” I said, finally, “did you patch things up with Lainie?”

“No,” he replied and then said nothing else for what seemed to me like forever. As we continued walking along a sandy path that looped through the palms, passing fountains and miniature waterfalls fed by hidden pipes, I thought I saw a falling star skidding across the brightening horizon and pointed it out to Anderson.

“That’s a plane,” he told me. “L.A. to New York, probably.” He walked on for a while but then, suddenly stopped. “Am I really such a shit?” he asked me.

“I don’t know,” I answered.

“Sure you do,” he said.

Then, suddenly, he leaned over and kissed me. I drew away so quickly that I must have scared the dog, who started barking.

“Are you out of your fucking mind?” I said to Anderson. I started to walk away from him with Finney following behind. He had stopped barking but was still growling, deep in his throat.

“Jane,” Anderson said, “just hold on, will you? I’m sorry.”

I turned around and said, “What do you want from me? I’m your…like, housekeeper. I do errands. I call cat sitters and repairmen for you. Nothing else.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Anderson said. He sounded oddly relaxed, laid-back, like nothing untoward had happened a minute ago, or last night, or maybe ever. “You act like you’re just some dumb servant girl from a bad neighborhood in a shitty city, but that’s not who you are. You’re smart. You watch everything that’s going on.”

“Well, I’m not watching anything else that goes on here. I’ve had enough.”

As if he hadn’t heard what I’d said, Anderson went on. “And you’re a pretty girl, which is always a good thing. But you’re also sullen. And pretty angry too, kiddo…you should see your face sometimes. But let’s stay with sullen. You need to be careful because sullen and pretty can be a dangerous combination—people always thing that pretty girls with a dark aura are interesting.”

“Is that why you hired me? So your friends would think I was interesting while I was bringing them their groceries?”

“No, not really,” Anderson said. “I think I wanted to help you. I don’t know…maybe show you a different kind of life. Get you a better job. Better…well, point you in the direction of something better than what you’ve got now. Believe it or not, people helped me when I was younger. But they don’t do that anymore,” he said, sounding thoughtful now, reflective. “I guess you reach a certain age and everyone around you starts expecting you to be the one doling out help. Advice, even. Wisdom.” He had been looking up at the sky, watching another plane fly overhead, this one heading from east to west. New York to L.A., an early flight for people eager to get to their destinations. Now, he turned to smile at me. “By now, I’m also supposed to know how to dodge frying pans,” he said. “Apparently, I don’t.”

“Help me?” I said, seizing on the beginning of the little speech he’d just made to me. “Is that what that was,” I continued, pointing at the spot a few feet down the path where he’d kissed me. Or tried to.

“No,” he said. “That was a reflex. “Just…oh, I don’t know. But maybe you can write about it for the Village Voice. You and Lainie could go for a twofer. A double header. Anderson Haywood, destroyer of women’s rights. Their integrity.”

Really? I thought. Am I supposed to feel sorry for him now? Me? “What I’m going to do is go home,” I told him. “I want to get out of here.”

“Don’t do that,” Anderson replied. “I meant what I said about helping you out. I can get you a job on the crew. How about craft services? Then you could come to L.A. with us—that’s where we’re all headed next, to shoot studio scenes—and go from there. Don’t you want to work in the movie business? Everybody wants to. You could live where it’s warmer, make more money, do something more interesting.”

I was going to just turn around again and head back to the hotel, but I didn’t. Not just then. I listened to what Anderson was saying, what he seemed to be offering me, and tried to think about it. Did I want to change my life that much? That drastically, that quickly? And who was to say that serving food to a bunch of spoiled, crazy people living in some kind of fantasy-life bubble, which is what seemed to me to be going on here, was going to be the kind of gift that Anderson was making it out to be. No one could say that, no one could predict whether exchanging one life for another—which is the kind of magic Anderson seemed to think he was trying to perform—would be a good thing or a bad one. Good juju or bad. Besides, my thoughts were beginning to feel thick and blurry, too dense to process. I was beginning to feel like I didn’t understand much of anything that was happening to me here in this alien place, this mystery landscape of intense heat and light, where everyone seemed to have too many drugs fueling too many intrigues, too many complex and competing interests. And there were too many levels of want and need and pain inherent in every glance, every conversation. It was all too much for me to navigate, and it was coming at me too fast.

“I’m going home,” I repeated. I grabbed the dog’s leash from Anderson and clipped it back on his collar. “And I’m taking Finney with me. It’s too hot for him here. Look at him. He’s panting like crazy.”

We both looked down at the dog who was, in fact, panting fast enough to raise concern that, as the temperature rose with the rising sun, he shouldn’t go on walking around much longer without giving him some water, which I hadn’t thought to bring with me. Turning our attention to Finney, however, seemed to help dispel the tension between us. Or maybe something else was going on: Anderson just seemed to grow calmer the more I resisted his attempts to speak to me as if I was not—should not be—rightfully aggrieved.

“Alright,” Anderson said. “If that’s what you want, you can go back today. Lainie’s leaving with Marina later this morning. You can get on the plane with them.”

“Why is Marina going back?” I asked, after I remembered that was the name of the director’s girlfriend. I hadn’t seen her since she’d disappeared into a black limousine when we’d arrived at the desert airport. I was pretty sure she hadn’t come out of her room even once since she’d gotten to the hotel.

I had asked what I thought was an unimportant question—what did I care, really, why Marina wanted to return to New York?—because I was just passing time now. I had gotten what I wanted: not only to get away from here, but also a way to get back home. Well, to the airport in New Jersey—close enough.

My question, however, seemed to have finally pricked some vein of spite in Anderson and it poisoned his reply. “Maybe she’s reached the frying pan stage with Luca, too. Or it could be something else entirely. Who knows? That’s another thing pretty girls are also good at,” Anderson added. “Lying.”

God, he was making me angry now. Angrier. “You mean that I’m lying about something, too? And just what would that be?” I asked.

“I could guess,” Anderson said. “But then I might be wrong. Instead, why don’t you just call and tell me what it is when you figure it out.”

Then he smiled at me, a nice smile, a friend’s smile—what I thought was his version of a friend, anyway—and walked away. I headed back to the hotel. The dog trotted along beside me, still panting, but I poured water into his bowl as soon as we got back to my room and he was fine.

Just before noon, I was back on the plane with Lainie and Marina. Marina offered the coke again but again, I declined: I didn’t need to be any more hyped up than I already was. Lainie did a few lines but then she and Marina also accepted the drinks that the flight attendant started offering before the plane even took off.

‘To the women’s exodus!” Lainie cried out, raising her glass as the jet’s engines finally roared to life. I had accepted a bottle of water from the attendant but I didn’t join in the toast. Neither did Marina, though I think it was only because she was already bent over another line of coke.

By the time we arrived at the airport in New Jersey, the adrenaline rush that had carried me through the act of throwing the few things I’d brought with me back into my duffel bag and getting myself and the dog into the jeep that took us to the desert airstrip and then back on the plane had dissipated and I was feeling odd and unsettled, like I had just awakened from a long night of troubled dreams and was trying to reorient myself. The time difference also had me struggling to find steady ground: I was now back in the beginning of the day, struck dumb by the sunlight as I stood on the tarmac, watching Lainie and Marina disappear into separate limousines and drive away. That was when I realized, for the first time, that I had a problem I hadn’t planned for: how was I going to get myself and a big dog back to Bridgeport, which was two states away? I could hardly take him on a bus or a train so I was going to have to find a car service that would drive all that way—and even once I did that, the fare was going to be astronomical. I had a credit card on me but hardly enough cash.

But then, as I was trying to will myself to think up a cheaper way to get home, a black van drove onto the tarmac and stopped right in front of me. I recognized what it was: a dollar van, the kind of transportation that was ubiquitous in Bridgeport and, I guessed, New Jersey’s old cities and New York’s outer boroughs as well. Dollar vans were illegal because they picked up passengers without a taxi permit, crammed as many people into the seats as they could and charged dollar-sized rates. For people with the limited budgets of fast-food workers and retail employees—as well as motel clerks—dollar vans were a sometimes dangerous but always necessary fact of life.

The driver rolled down his window. “Miss Michaelson?” the man said. I nodded, and he motioned for me to slide open the back door. “You’re going to Bridgeport, right?” he asked, consulting a piece of paper he pulled out of his pocket.

“Yes,” I said. “Who are you?”

“Oh, I know your friend Anderson,” the driver told me. “When he’s in New York, I drive him all the time.”

“In this?” I said, incredulously.

“Yeah, sometimes. I have another car I use for him but he told me you’d have a big dog with you, so…”

“Okay, fine,” I said. “How much?”

“It’s all paid for,” the driver said. “Hop in.”

I pulled myself into the van and, as Finney jumped in beside me, I was grateful to see that the other seats were all empty. Apparently, “my friend” Anderson had hired his personal man-of-the-people transport to get me home without having to spend hours in the company of strangers, winding through side streets and distant neighborhoods towards everyone’s individual drop-off spot.

Alright, I’ll give you points for this, but that’s it now, that’s all, I thought, sending Anderson a mental message that felt, to me, like the completion, the end, the final arc of the bring me my dog phone call. Could that actually have been just the other night? It felt like a lifetime ago.

And of course, in a way, it was.

Eleanor Lerman is the author of numerous award-winning collections of poetry, short stories and novels. She is a National Book Award finalist, a recipient of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts for poetry and the New York Foundation for the Arts for fiction. In 2016, her novel, Radiomen (The Permanent Press), was awarded the John W. Campbell Prize for the Best Book of Science Fiction. In 2018, her novel, The Stargazer’s Embassy (Mayapple Press), received an American Fiction Award. Her most recent novel, Satellite Street (The Permanent Press, 2019) has been named a finalist for both the Montaigne Medal and the Eric Hoffer Award.