Well, here it is, the third and final installment of Life in Twenty-Something: A Story of Self-Discovery. If you’ve enjoyed the prologue and first two chapters then you’re in luck, because there are nine more chapters to go. The book goes live on 5/10, but I know you can’t wait to continue the story, and I don’t want to stand in your way.

So, if you’re interested, you can get the full Kindle version by going here and clicking the “buy now with 1-click” button. It’s free until Thursday night (5/12) at midnight. All I ask is that you leave a review after you download it so the book increases in authority and widens its reach. Let me be frank – the quicker you review the better. It’s great if you want to think deeply and then opine on the story, but speed of implementation is most important.

Also, the official launch date is tomorrow (5/10), so keep it hush hush ’til then. And in the meantime, enjoy the last installment of Life in Twenty-Something. It’s a parable – a modern fiction novel with nonfiction principles and values.


Chapter 2

 

Dave decided to walk rather than take an Uber. Hallie would be angry, but he couldn’t stomach supporting the company at the moment, even though he was late and he knew it would be quicker. He lived in the North end of the city in a North Beach neighborhood while Hallie lived in one of the Southernmost districts. The odyssey would take at least an hour.

Still, Dave felt like he needed the fresh air given the past few days, and enjoyed walking against the setting sun. Sure, he may already be running behind for his dinner plans, but a few extra minutes wouldn’t worsen things with his girlfriend more than they already were. Forcing himself to ignore his deteriorating relationship, he took out his phone. Knowing the exact song to play for the journey, he scrolled down until he saw Everything Is Alright, by Motion City Soundtrack. He hit play, fumbling to put his device back in his pocket, and placed his ear buds in his ears, immersing himself in his life’s personal soundtrack.

“Tell me that you’re alright, yeah everything is alright,” he mumbled under his breath, in tune with the melody.

Dave wasn’t sure if everything was alright, but he sure found comfort in repeating to himself that it was. Walking south past The Brew and a string of coffee shops, bars, and eateries, he turned right onto Broadway and continued under the Broadway tunnel. Fortunately, he was already past the strip clubs in his neighborhood, and was pretty sure the evening shift hadn’t started yet, anyway. Day-shifters never seemed to come outside to coo and caw at passersby, probably because they worked the day shift.

He lost track of his music as he walked through the tunnel. The reverberation from passing cars, and the closeness in which they passed him, distracted him momentarily from his thoughts. He walked over piss-stains on the sidewalk and made sure not to step on the folded cardboard boxes that littered his path. Wouldn’t want to step on anyone’s home, he thought.

At the mouth of the other end of the tunnel lay a humanoid figure, and Dave knew without looking twice that it was, in fact, a human. As he drew closer to the exit, he noticed that the person, clearly homeless, had passed out from one too many beers, judging by the litter of bottles that surrounded him. Dave politely stepped over him in much the same, detached manner he stepped over the folded boxes, and continued on his way.

When he emerged from the other end of the tunnel the late afternoon had turned to evening. He paused to orient himself, wanting to avoid any unnecessary hills, and then hung a left on Polk Street and headed south again toward Hallie’s neighborhood, the Mission. As he walked down the street, the vibe quickly changed from artisanal shops and white families to one with a grittier undertone.

Liquor stores replaced coffee shops as the dominant proprietors of the area, and the number of homeless loiterers steadily increased. Dave didn’t want to be crass, he admitted to himself. Just because they looked like they were loitering didn’t mean they were all necessarily homeless. The people passed out in sleeping bags and lining the local stoops, however, couldn’t be defended. They were definitely homeless. Or, rather, they had a home, it just happened to be the stoop of whatever apartment they found themselves occupying. Territory, more like it.

Dave looked down at the homeless with equal parts disgust and longing as he passed. He often entertained the idea of one day becoming a “street kid,” even if it was only for a phase. The amount of pressure brought on by the need to fit in and the expectation to become traditionally successful were sometimes overwhelming, especially now. Fortunately, homelessness was just an odd pipedream he had, and he never expected to act on it.

The sun was now completely down and his surroundings began to look a little dingier, the noise from the street louder. Horns honked and tires screeched as people blew through this part of town, and he looked up to recognize the same windows and rundown apartments from his walk two days earlier.

Damn, he thought, I didn’t realize I’d walked this far. The buildings in this part of town were amorphous boxes with prison-like windows, domiciles for low income individuals, each structure a bland shade of grey or tan. With nothing much to look at, Dave’s mind returned to his music, and he noticed that Everclear had started playing, his mind subconsciously following the music. All fucked up, and I don’t know how…I want to be happy, but I don’t know how.

Thoughts turned immediately to the impending lawsuit. Bummer. Dave began to worry about how he was going to broach the subject with Hallie. Things were already beginning to strain, he knew, and he didn’t want to put any added pressure on their relationship. He loved Hallie, at least he thought he did, but he wasn’t sure she felt the same.

His mood began to sour again. Absentmindedly, he realized he’d hit Market Street, and turned right in search of Mission Street that would take him to Hallie’s. Busses and Munis rumbled past him as he walked, stopping occasionally to let board a combination of well-dressed working class and foul smelling quasi-homeless. Of course, with the changing business environment brought on by the “startup culture,” it was sometimes hard to tell exactly who was successful and who wasn’t. Leave it to San Francisco to disguise millionaires as undesirables.

Dave didn’t mind taking the bus. The public lines were pretty convenient if you could handle slow moving transportation. He read somewhere that someone had raced the major buses by walking and came out batting a cool .500, winning five times out of ten. Thankfully, slow transit didn’t bother him, giving him time to read whatever self-help book people was hocking at the moment.

Finding Mission, Dave took a left onto the last leg of his journey, things quickly becoming more Latino as he made his way down the street. Loud engines roared as a string of low riders passed by, conducting an impromptu parade of some sort; cream green Chevys and apple red Cadillacs inching past Dave, revving their engines. The drivers, all Hispanic, had bandanas tied around their heads and tattoos crawling up and down their arms, each leaning left and clutching the steering wheels with a single hand.

Dave gave the group a nod, and everyone who saw returned the gesture in kind. The lead driver gave him a quick flash of a peace sign before moving on. Good people, Dave thought.

“Oh, you like the cars, my friend?”

A young man, no more than twenty years old, materialized to the right of Dave. “Sweet rides, aye?” he said, pointing at the cars in the distance. “That’s my cabrone. Ju no, ju look like a tannah, mi amigo. Tell ju what, me and my cabrone will take care of you. Mota? How much ju want?” The young man was wearing a pair of pants that seemed to be two sizes too large, sagging at his hips, with an oversized shirt coming to his knees, stains on the front.

Dave didn’t mind smoking a little herb from time to time, but he didn’t know what a “tannah” was, and he didn’t like buying weed off an unverified dealer. He took one of the earbuds out of his ear and nodded curtly. “I’m good, dude,” he said, continuing on his way.

“Oh I see,” the young man said, stopping, letting Dave break away. “Big tannah, big tannah.”

Before he got out of earshot, Dave heard the man find his next potential victim. “Mota? Mota?” he said. Dave wasn’t fazed. This type of thing happened all the time, especially in the Mission. It was so common that his friends used to make bets on how many times they’d be offered weed at Dolores Park, the neighborhood’s local hangout. The over/under was always set at four, and for some reason, they always seemed to push.

The smell of taquerias and tapas brought his mind back to the present. The liquor stores that had replaced the coffee shops gave way to taco shops with delicious food, despite the questionable health standards. No one really cared, not even Dave; the food was just too damn good. Neon orange and yellow taco signs threw a soft hue on the otherwise dark street as Dave stopped his impulse to grab a fish taco. Dinner with Hallie! Focus, he told himself.

He dipped onto a side street and then hung a quick left onto Valencia Avenue, heading south again. The Mission was a unique place, to say the least, if not downright odd. Valencia was teeming with people as usual. Mexican families walked six-wide on the sidewalk while a mix of plaid- and leather-dressed hipsters weaved in and out.

Dave caught a whiff of weed and saw a group of four kids smoking on a bench in front of a taqueria. The red light from inside the restaurant threw a noticeable spotlight on the bench, highlighting the illicit activity. A police car was parked off to the right, empty. One of the beauties of San Francisco was that law enforcement had real crime to deal with, so petty crimes went largely unnoticed. It’s how it should be, Dave said to himself, believing that his “crime” against Contour Media was petty at best.

Unafraid of the squad car, and with weed now on his mind, Dave pulled out his earbuds and called to the group of smokers as he passed. “Aye! Mind if I hit that?”

The lone female of the group looked up, long bangs jutting out from under a beanie, covering half her face. She sat on the backrest of the bench and stared Dave up and down, mulling his request over, a lit joint between her fingers. Brushing the bangs from her face, her brown eyes stared back at him and she sighed audibly.

“Sure dude, why not?” she said, rolling her eyes. She motioned with the joint for Dave to grab it.

“You ain’t no Pole-eese, is ya?” the guy to the right of the girl asked, sitting cross-legged on the bench.

“Yeah, see, what is this, entrapment?” a second guy asked, looking serious. Thick-rimmed glasses masked his face, making him look like he was always deep in thought. Brows scrunched, the guy thumbed the collar of his medium-sized plaid shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbow. Before the third guy could add his two cents, the man who first spoke burst out laughing.

“Naw, man, you’re good, just don’t nigger lip it!”

“Thanks man, I appreciate it, but this isn’t my first rodeo,” Dave said, not liking his use of the N-word. He grabbed the joint from the girl’s outstretched hand and looked at it suspiciously before putting it straight into his mouth, taking a long drag with his eyes closed. Holding the smoke in for a second too long, his eyes shot open and he started coughing uncontrollably. Spit ran from his mouth.

“Ayyyyeeeee! Ain’t your first rodeo, no?”

Dave’s eyes began to water and he couldn’t tell who was talking.  It was a man’s voice.

“Sorry guys! Didn’t mean to look like a rookie,” Dave said, trying to get ahead of the impending jokes. “I appreciate the hit, but I’m already late for dinner with my girl, I best be gettin’.”

“You be out then, son!” they all said in unison, laughing and pushing each other, losing themselves again in their own world.

“Glad I could brighten your day,” Dave muttered, continuing his journey. He was almost at its end.  Two more blocks to go, Dave thought, time to put your game face on. He pulled eye drops out of his pocket and put two in each eye. Putting them away, he grabbed a piece of gum and threw it in his mouth, breathing deeply and exhaling. He’d arrived outside of Hallie’s place.

His girlfriend lived on the ground floor of a building’s in-law unit. Her apartment was sunk into the basement level, her windows barely reaching above the sidewalk, with a family living above in a large five-bedroom apartment. Dave hadn’t had too many interactions with Hallie’s upstairs neighbors, but they seemed good enough. All in all, her apartment was pretty slick.

He took the stairs down to the basement level and was confronted by a front door that looked out of place in the side yard. Lips smacking, mouth dry, gum sticking to his teeth, he was sure he could pass for sober. He rang the bell.

“You’re high, aren’t you?”

Dave stood in the open doorway, amazed at Hallie’s perception. He hadn’t even walked inside and she already knew. This was a recurring theme for Dave, indulging in his vices before a date with Hallie, and she had opened the door with the question already on her lips. Maybe he wasn’t as sly as he thought.

The doorway framed Hallie perfectly. Her eyes were always the first thing he noticed, and this time was no exception, dark brown orbs peering right through him, judging. She wore a strapless green dress that accentuated her olive-tan skin and her hair was as chic as ever. Cut short on the left side, her bangs were worn long, draping over the right side of her face and pinned to the side of her head. She used to jokingly tell Dave that it gave her “street cred,” while Dave used to tell her that he didn’t know about street cred, but it made her look incredible.

Dave wasn’t sure how long it had been since he’d told her how beautiful she was. Too long, he thought, although he was too high to express himself at the moment.

He glanced down at his attire and pictured what he must look like. His wrinkled shirt had relaxed a little on the walk but was clearly un-ironed. The collar was out of shape and the shirt’s wavy pattern drew the eyes down to his blue chinos and black dress shoes. Well, at least I got the bottom-half right, Dave thought, feeling slightly embarrassed. He stepped over the threshold and gave Hallie a kiss. Dave grinned. Kissing Hallie always made things better.

“What are you smiling at, Mr. Stoney Baloney?” Hallie asked, quelling her distaste and opting for humor, poking Dave’s belly. “We’re already thirty minutes late for our reservation. I doubt either of us will be smiling if they give away our table.” She put on a face of mock concern. “We wouldn’t want Dave to go hungry after smoking.”

“Ok, ok, I deserve that.” Dave couldn’t help but grin, not because he was high — the hit was starting to wear off — but because he loved it when Hallie was cynical with him. She was sharp as hell and had a nasty wit, and she let Dave have it when he screwed up. He liked it that way, and suspected he was a master at self-sabotage, happy to see Hallie mad and then kiss and make up with him. The making up was his favorite part.

“Let me grab my purse and then we can get out of here. Can you call an Uber, please?”

Hallie walked out of the room before Dave could respond. He gritted his teeth. Damn Uber, he thought, wanting to actively boycott the entire tech scene. He called a car begrudgingly and stood in the living room, looking around Hallie’s apartment as he waited. It was small but quaint. Books lined the living room shelves and a small chair was placed under the lone window. Unlike Dave’s chair, this one looked well-worn.

Hallie’s lack of a TV always made Dave feel like something was missing. She was independent and incredibly smart. She didn’t like television, and as the editor for an online tech blog, she made a point to put a bookshelf right where a television would normally go. He respected her control but he hadn’t found a way to put down the remote yet, addicted as he was to the flashing screen.

A twinge of jealousy rolled through Dave’s body. He wanted to be a writer himself, enamored with the medium of self-expression. He’d met Hallie in a creative writing class, but she’d taken the craft more seriously. He never had the same discipline as his girlfriend. One day, he always thought, actively using air quotes when he thought it.

Maybe now that Ed-it is on hold I can spend more time writing, he realized, Hallie has always encouraged me to start. Hell, I could even ask her for help. Excited by the idea, he called out, “Hey Hallie,” before realizing that she didn’t know about Contour Media and the lawsuit.

How could he explain the extra time on his hands? Unfortunately for Dave, he was so obsessed with impressing her that he feared she would lose respect for him if his business failed, and maybe even leave him. He didn’t even want to think about what would happen if he had to serve jail time or file for bankruptcy. He felt like his relationship with Hallie was built on his accolades and not on his own merit, and he didn’t want to find out what would happen if a few of those accolades disappeared.

“Yeeess, Dave?” Hallie asked, walking out from the back room, purse in tow. She looked stunning. The light from the back room threw a gold tint on her green dress, making it look crisp and inviting.

“Oh, nothing, just wanted to see if you were ready.”

“Yes, I am. Is the car here?”

Dave looked at his app and saw that it was outside. “It’s here, my dear. Shall we?” he said, giving Hallie the crook of his arm and whisking her out the door. The Uber, a green Toyota Corolla, stood directly outside, hazards flashing, paint fading from years in the sun. Dave opened the side door for Hallie and climbed into the backseat after her.

“Hello, good sir, can you take us to DOSA, please?”

“Right on, my friend,” the driver said. He was a Middle-Eastern man who looked to be no older than Dave. He wore a hat, one of those tweed-looking ones that made him passable as both a cabbie and a golfer. Funny, Dave thought, with a cap like that, you’re either an immigrant or one of the coolest hipsters in the city. Music that Dave could only identify as “Indian” blared from the car speakers, sitar players plucking at strings, creating a trance-like atmosphere. Typical Uber, he thought.

“If you could drive as fast as possible while still being safe, that would be great,” Dave mentioned to the driver, “we’re late for our dinner reservations.”

“Sure thing, my friend,” the driver said, hitting the gas.

The night had cooled to a typical October evening in the city, and Dave rode with his window down, enjoying the crisp breeze on his face. He looked over to his right at Hallie, smile on his lips, and saw a face he knew too well. You know, the “stop and think about what you’re fucking doing” face.

“Can you close the window please, I’m in a dress,” she said.

“Didn’t I tell you to bring a jacket?” Dave asked, rolling up the window begrudgingly.

“No, you didn’t, but that reminds me, did you bring my sweater with you?”

A memory hit Dave like a flash, crumpled sweater on his bedroom floor, trampled by the shoes that were once beneath it. Shit, he thought. Dave was a notoriously good guy, but was also notoriously absent-minded, which made him notoriously not as good a guy as he thought.

The fact was, however, at least to Dave, that he was largely misunderstood. It wasn’t that he tried to be forgetful, it was more that he had so many things going on and had so much to obsess over that small things often fell through the cracks. Unfortunately for Dave, the things that were small to him weren’t so small to the people around him.

Things became worse after he started Ed-it, with everything, literally everything, falling to the wayside, Hallie included. It wasn’t that he had no time for anything else. Ed-it never took up a full day’s work. The problem was his obsessive nature. Once he had an idea locked in his brain he didn’t have room for anything else.

“Dave?” Hallie asked again, jarring him out of his thought-loop.

“Hm?” Dave grunted, shaking himself free of the internal cobwebs created by compulsive thought. “Oh…yes, the sweater. Sorry, I didn’t see it anywhere, I’ll have to keep looking.” Dave didn’t like lying, but he could feel that Hallie wasn’t in a good mood, and it was probably best to omit the fact that he’d forgotten. She’s cute when she’s mad, he thought, but not too mad.

The driver screamed down the hills of Dolores Street, simulating a rollercoaster that was impossibly too straight. The Toyota passed by Dolores Park on the left, a pair of floodlights lighting the lone playground in the center. To the north of the playground lay a rolling hill, a slow grade that led down to an expansive field, flush with tennis courts, basketball hoops, and green grass turning brown from the drought.  Dave remembered the one time he took a pot brownie on that field, unable to move for hours.

“What’s your name?” he heard Hallie ask their driver as they passed the park.

“Predeep,” he replied proudly, aware that his name was unique for Americans.

“Nice to meet you, Predeep,” she said. “How long have you been driving?”

“Oh,” he paused, “many years, many years. I began work as a cab driver. You see, in Morocco, many people are cab drivers. Too many people. In America, many less cab drivers. So I drive, and then, Uber come along, and it provide me with better hours and better pay. So, I drive Uber now. I see my family more, which isn’t always good thing!” He roared with laughter.

Dave smiled, understanding more than he’d like to admit. Predeep took a right onto 21st Street, heading west, and gunned the engine past a car sitting in the middle of the road, hazards flashing. He honked his horn in an agitated manner, and Dave craned his neck to see a pink mustache lit up on the front dashboard. Lyft, Dave smiled, turf wars.

They arrived two blocks later. Taking a left onto Fillmore Street, Predeep stopped in the middle of the road, hazards flashing, and let them out. “Thank you, my friends,” he said cheerily, waiting for Dave and Hallie to exit the vehicle before driving on. Dave got out of the driver-side door and motioned for Hallie to do the same, cars passing the Toyota on the right.

“I’m fine,” Hallie said, electing to get out on her side.

“See you later, my friends. Have a good time. It smells like you already are!” Predeep said, laughing uncontrollably. They could hear his laughter echo in the damp street as he drove away.

“Smell…” Dave said, looking confused.

“You reek like weed.”

“Oh god, I’m not even high anymore.”

“Doesn’t mean you don’t smell, Dave.”

He looked around. The restaurant to his right seemed warm and inviting, the soft glow of lights emitting an illusory heat that warmed Dave from the inside. The activity within the eatery accentuated his warmth and he grabbed Hallie around the waist with his right arm. They stood there for a second, unmoving, looking through the window into DOSA. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling like gold raindrops, and top-shelf alcohol was displayed behind the bar like each bottle was a prized trophy.

Pushing Hallie forward, Dave walked inside and up to the hostess sitting behind the counter. She was wearing a slim black dress that probably helped her with tips, and kept her bangs way too short, as if to say, fuck bangs. She embodied the beauty of the Mission, skinny body and a “fuck you” haircut.

Well-dressed couples and families lined seats to the left of the hostess, waiting their turn to be called. The crowd of people began to murmur as Dave and Hallie walked in, looking collectively disapproving. Dave pretended not to notice. “Hi,” he said to the hostess, “we have a reservation for two, although admittedly, we’re about…oooh,” Dave looked at his watch, “an hour late.”

“That’s ok,” the waitress responded, “go ahead and have a seat and we’ll get to you as soon as we can.” She motioned to the occupied seats on her right.

“We’ll stand, thanks,” Dave said, ushering Hallie over to an open area next to the throngs of waiting patrons. Parking themselves in front of a back mirror, they waited, observing the red upholstery on the chairs to kill time. With the unmistakably gold chandeliers and high-backed seats, DOSA gave off the feeling of a royal chamber. Dave tried to downplay the feeling of pretentiousness.

One by one people’s names were called and the waiting area began to empty. The couples, families, and crying babies cleared out, and Dave and Hallie were soon left alone with each other, waiting for their overdue reservation. Dave enjoyed standing but felt like he’d stood long enough. Motioning Hallie to the now free chairs, he sat down and pointed to the adjacent seats with his thumb.

“Let’s relax, seems like we’ll be here a while,” he said.

Before long the hostess and her butch bangs made their way over, looking sheepish. Alerted by her demeanor, Dave stared at her, waiting for her to speak, bracing his hand on Hallie’s knee. The hostess, now within mere feet of the sitting couple, cleared her throat.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know how best to say this,” she paused, “but you smell like weed and we won’t be able to serve you.” The second part was spoken fast, like she was reciting a run-on sentence.

“What?” Dave asked the hostess out of shock. Both Hallie and he were up out of their chairs, standing toe to toe with the hostess.

“Weed. You smell like weed. Some of the other patrons made complaints, and my manager asked me to escort you out. Honestly, it’s not just you. It’s been a big problem at this location, we’re trying to crack down,” she said, trying to smooth the situation.

“Oh, not just us? Thank god, now I feel much better,” Dave said, nervously straightening his wrinkled shirt, looking at his clothes like they’d betrayed him.

“You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding me,” Hallie said, putting emphasis on each word, her voice rising. She caught herself and lowered her tone. “We’re loyal customers of DOSA; we come here all the time. What gives you the right to escort us out just because a few patrons made some wild claims. I am so embarrassed right now.” She glanced sideways at Dave when she said the word “embarrassed.” He physically shuddered. Not good, he thought.

“There’s seriously nothing you can do?” Dave asked, hoping that he could salvage the evening with some smooth talking.

“Sorry, sir, there’s nothing I can do.”

“Dave, no. If they don’t want our business, I don’t want to give it to them.” And with that, Hallie nodded curtly at the hostess, took an exaggerated step to her right, and was out the door before Dave could say anything.

“Thanks anyway,” Dave said, shrugging, and ran after his girlfriend.

Outside, Hallie was standing on the curb with her back to Dave. The cool air of October had given way to strong gusts of wind, and Dave had to wrap his arms around himself to keep warm. Hallie was noticeably shivering, but whether from the cold or from hot anger, he couldn’t tell.

“Hey, it’s ok,” Dave said, feigning excitement. “Let’s try another restaurant.”

“I’d rather go home, Dave. I’m tired.”

“Ok, fine, I’ll call us a car.”

Dave opened his Uber app for the second time and requested a car, seeing that one was nearby. They sat, waiting in silence, the seconds seeming to pass as slowly as hours. Almost as an intentional reprieve from the awkwardness, a green Toyota Camry pulled up outside of DOSA and honked its horn, flashing its hazards. Is that who I think it is? Dave wondered.

They stood up from the curb and got in on opposite sides of the car. Dave was immediately greeted with a melody of trans-like sitars and a jovial driver in the front seat. It was Predeep, their driver on the way over.

“My friend,” he said loudly, “what happened?” As if he already knew, he began to laugh. “Too much fun for you, my friend!”

“We’ll be making two stops, please. Can you take me home?” Hallie asked, unamused by the entire situation. “Same address as before, thank you. And then can you take him to his apartment?” She nodded her head in Dave’s direction but refused to look at him.

Dave sighed, dejected, knowing he screwed up again for at least one night, if not more.