The List was in a fat, vapid magazine for rich fucks. As far as my life is concerned it would have existed but not existed, like the falling tree in the forest you never see, if someone from my old place of employment hadn’t called and told me I was on it. “You’re on the List,” she said, “did you know?” At the time I was teetering between opening and deleting an email about bargains on powerful drugs. “What list?” I said. And this skinny woman, who used to book my travel, said, “The List, just the List, don’t you know?” I pictured her as I had known her—big Gucci sunglasses, day and night.
My dog, Gwendolyn, never heard of the List. Bent with sore bones, she creaked her way to the front door when she saw me get up from the computer. But I grabbed my coat and left her pleading on the threshold, holding in her poops. “Later,” I said, master to slave. “I’ll be back.”
It was a dirty November day, prematurely dark. The wind threw garbage and dead leaves at everything that moved, the ocean stank, and a bloated pus-ball of a cloud hung over everything—so black and bulging it looked ready to rain ink if a pigeon’s beak so much as pecked it. I steered my last remaining status symbol into the strip mall that had the 7-Eleven, went in and combed the magazine racks. I went at it like an animal foraging for food. But they didn’t have the one I wanted. Louisburg it was called, so said my old travel booker. Named for the arch-Brahmin part of Beacon Hill, with its billionaire brownstones. The publishers also did magazines about the Hamptons and Rodeo Drive. Why would a 7-Eleven customer in the shadow of the Revere Beach dogtrack, fifty feet from Revere’s last peep show, give a rat’s ass about Louisburg?
Back behind the wheel I had a little skiff of dread, not sure whether or not I’d saved all the day’s unopened spam. You never know.
The skinny woman’s name was Valerie, the best I ever had. She used to put me poolside in Santa Monica for the same price as a back-alley broom closet. Once she put me two doors down from Mike Tyson. There was a sunlit morning we shared the private, all-glass elevator coming up from the gym. Last I read, his manager was announcing a world tour where Tyson was going to fight girls.
They let me keep the car, their way of giving me the gold-watch kissoff. But gold ages better than sheet metal. I ride around on balding balloon tires, thick as four fat thighs, and the back seat stinks of Gwendolyn. Not all that long ago, Gwendolyn and I would run six miles on the beach together. She’d be flying, just like she used to fly at the dog track.
From the 7-Eleven strip mall I drove to Richdale, then on to CVS, Walgreens, Cumberland Farms, L’il Peach, Target, every last place I could think of that had a newsstand. Finally I put the whole North Shore behind me and drove through the tunnel into Boston, in search of neighborhoods that smacked of the Louisburg demographic. Gridlock and rush hour traffic slowed me to a crawl. I burned rubber squealing into any open patch of curb I could find: hydrants, fire zones, handicapped spaces. Finally, in the tony South End, I found four copies, and bought them all. While I was paying, the fat cloud broke and released a black torrent. I swaddled the four copies, pressed them to my chest like babies and flew back into the car.
I took off again, but the deluge had strangled the traffic even more. I was creeping down one of those South End streets that still had its bad blocks, its hulking rat mansions the sandblasters wanted no part of. Just ahead of me to the left was a single, street-level row of windows with a few human occupants—a dive diner, and I barreled in.
Over coffee I studied the List, all four columns of it, 96 names in all. Not numbered, not alphabetical. Mine was at the top of the fourth column, above some Wahlberg, not Mark, and after Affleck—yes, it said Ben. There was no copy explaining what the list was. There was no headline other than the words, the List. From the date on the cover I could see that Louisburg had been out a couple of weeks. For all I knew my hands held the last four copies. Who had the others? And who had seen the List—seen my name with Affleck and Wahlberg?
When I finally got home there was a new batch of spam, but no real e-mails. Not a voice on the phone either, not even Valerie checking back with me. Gwendolyn moaned, and finally I took her out to the unlit park, flashlight in hand. Gwendolyn squatted right next to the car, so bound up from waiting that when she finally squeezed something out it was thin as a string. Her bony ass shuddered in the flashlight beam, the hole straining like a mouth that had lost its voice. I stared at the beam and the hole and remembered how Valerie and I would joke before my trips. I remembered one day in particular. I was rushing by her desk and she waved me down and handed me an envelope, all without saying a word. In a flip way, I asked what was in it. Valerie peeked over her Gucci lenses and said, ” a one-way ticket to Armenia.” At the time, I laughed so hard the spit ran onto my chin.