NYC Greek Coffee Cup with loose change that looks like it might fall over onto a $100 bill. Title: “Restructuring Kapital”.
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Restructuring Kapital

Kareemy

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by Kareem Andre

Restructuring Kapital. Copyright © 2020 by Kareem Andre. All rights reserved. No part of the book may be used, reproduced or modified in any manner whatsoever, including copy/paste, recording, printing, photocopying, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Chapter 1

The likelihood of coming into existence doesn’t seem all that unlikely until you dwell on the intricate feasibility of it. Examining everything Dr. Nasser had been through — the course of events that ultimately led to his encounter with Ms. Lola Rodriguez, Esquire — the chance of this occurrence begins to seem less random and more… remarkable.

Dr. Omar Sheik applied for a skilled-worker visa in 1967 with the estimation that by the time his application would (hopefully) be accepted, he would have completed his medical education and training in Pakistan, and therefore be eligible to go on to complete his fifth pathway in the United States.

It was obvious to Omar that America was a Christian nation — an educated and enlightened nation, but ruled by Christian leaders. So Omar decided to change his surname. He settled on “Nasser” for its noble association. Along with being more pronounceable than “Sheik,” “Nasser” also felt more secular, and as an intellectual, a man of science and reason, Dr. Omar Nasser wanted to lean into his secular tendencies and distance himself from anything that felt overly… Islamic.

Lola had always wanted to be a doctor, and would have certainly become one if it wasn’t for her contrarian nature. Born in Cuba, Lola, her two brothers, and her parents left Castro’s regime in 1961. Following the cancellation of elections, her parents decided life under communism wasn’t for them, so they left. Once in the US, her family settled in Southern California, where employment was plentiful, as long as they didn’t mind work that lacked the esteem her parents had been accustomed to.

A gifted student, Lola impressed her teachers with her math and science knowledge. Unfortunately her English skills were abysmal. She wrote essays with misconjugated verbs and run-on sentences galore. Some students, jealous of Lola’s mathematical prowess, excessively ragged on her lingual difficulties, attempting to knock her confidence down a notch. They also mocked her ambition to someday be a doctor, calling her Doctor Loca. But this was fuel to Lola’s fire. Her English rapidly improved, and by the time she was a junior in high school, she found herself arguing capitalism’s merits with a sincerity that would make her debate opponents cower with guilt.

Lola’s role as captain of her high school debate club enabled her to score a paralegal apprenticeship her freshman year in college. The stipend from the apprenticeship helped Lola pay for her Cal State LA tuition. That apprenticeship also inspired her to change her major from pre-med to pre-law.

While Lola was embracing her litigious vocation, Omar was enjoying bachelorhood in Southern California. After working in New York City for years, Dr. Nasser decided New Yorkers were never going to warm up to him. It was a cold place with cold residents. As it turned out, the name “Nasser” was just as Islamic as “Sheik” in the view of most New Yorkers, and despite being nearly six feet tall, sporting a well-groomed mustache, and speaking with (what he considered to be) a proper English accent, life in this gritty, metropolitan cesspool was stressful and lonely. Omar realized that as long as he was there, he’d always be an unappreciated outsider regardless of his attempts to “Americanize.” Besides, he wanted to be an American, not a New Yorker, and definitely not a foreigner.

After meeting a fellow gastroenterologist at a medical convention in Las Vegas, Omar found a position with a hospital in Downey, California. Right away, he knew the move was the right decision. Fellow doctors took his clinical advice seriously, his colleagues invited him to luncheons, and he found driving to be much more preferable than riding the subway. Unfortunately, his patients could be quite demanding, and some were just straight up unscrupulous. So much so that, in 1978, he found himself being sued by a patient who had failed to heed his medical guidance. Omar’s malpractice insurance provided him with a lawyer with a commendable track record, and Omar planned to go with him. But after his first meeting with the attorney, Omar sensed a nonchalant hostility. Whether it was prejudice against his Pakistani background, he couldn’t be sure, but he had a bad feeling about the guy. So he insisted that his insurer bring on a different attorney. A short while later, he found himself face to face with his future wife, Lola.

Lola and Omar were married in 1979, despite objections from Omar’s parents in Pakistan, who had assumed they would choose the bride of their coveted son. They understood he had moved to America for greater opportunities than Pakistan could ever offer, but they failed to grasp their son’s cultural shift, even though they weren’t exactly the most conventional Pakistani folks. Omar’s father was a history professor who despised religious zealots. His mother was an artist and homemaker who inspired her children to dream big. The two of them had met through their parents, who met through their grandparents, and so on and so forth. And so they thought it would be the same for their own children. After all, whom better than the people who raised you to decide with whom you are best suited to grow old? However, Omar no longer agreed with that presumption. Instead he saw a beautiful and smart woman with long dark brown hair, peachy skin, impeccable fashion, and big, brown eyes that he struggled not to get lost in.

He realized she was the lawyer he needed because she took his case seriously, which made sense considering Lola specialized in medical malpractice defense. Lola could tell he was a kind soul. She could also tell he was attracted to her. But she was a professional, building her career, and there was no way she would ever allow attraction to hinder her path. Plus, he had such a silly looking mustache.

Omar’s case eventually settled, but his affection persisted. After much cajoling, Lola agreed to attend Beatlemania with him at the Greek in LA.

Months of courtship followed that first date. Then one day, out of the blue, Omar casually mentioned how annoyed he was with his parents because they were insisting he go to Pakistan to interview some potential brides. Lola was floored. She never realized Omar was considering marrying someone he had never met. The fact that he hadn’t put a stop to his parents’ efforts as their feelings for one another compounded devastated her. She gave him an ultimatum.

“You’re either with me now and forever, or we’re over. Romantically. I’ll still represent you professionally.”

Omar remembers this moment as the moment he was certain that he loved Lola. He proposed, right then and there, without a ring. Lola accepted.

Five months later, Lola was pregnant. Two months after that, she miscarried. It was tragic for the young couple. Neither would openly reflect upon the miscarriage, so their thoughts lingered…

What if Lola couldn’t conceive?

What if we never have kids?

We are career driven people; maybe this was a blessing.

Maybe we weren’t ready.

Next time the timing will be better. We’ll be in a better place — mentally and financially.

It took years, but their relationship did not strain. They were both doing well enough to take six weeks off for a European vacation. Together they traveled to London, Paris, Tuscany, Vienna, and finally, Barcelona. In every city they visited, the other travelers were struck by Lola’s and Omar’s beautiful love story. Two strangers from completely opposite worlds. Only in America. The couple felt lucky and proud to be in love. Their cultural baggage was an anecdote rather than a burden. When others asked if kids were in the mix, they’d race to answer, “We’re working on it.” And they were, enough so that, nine months following a wine-fueled romp through a vineyard trail in Pienza, Lola gave birth to a son, Kapital.

Lola’s pregnancy troubled Omar. As a specialist of internal medicine, he had seen many pregnancy complications, and Lola suffered through just about all of them. High blood pressure, premature rupture of membranes, unexplained bleeding — after seven months Lola was confined to bed rest as a precaution. Confinement threw Lola off because she preferred to be busy. Cooking, organizing, and going to work made her feel accomplished. Before they were married, Omar depended on takeout. Spending money on food cooked elsewhere, only to bring back to your home — a home that already has a kitchen — was antithetical to Lola. Thankfully her parents where there. They arrived multiple times a day with freshly cooked meals, making it possible for Omar to leave to the hospital to perform endoscopies without worrying about leaving Lola stranded. Her brothers also helped. It was great to see her family caring and helping them out so much. The language barrier with Lola’s parents was present, but Omar had never been one to delve into deep conversation, unless the topics of medicine, politics, or geo-political history arose.

Lola’s parents only spoke Spanish, so conversations between them and Omar revolved mostly around appetite. Her brothers spoke both English and Spanish, but they had no interest in politics, history, or medicine. They preferred to talk about the Dodgers or fishing — topics Omar couldn’t care less about. But they were there for their sister, and Omar was grateful for that. He knew his family could never be this involved. Since announcing their marriage, his family in Pakistan had drifted. His sister, Bahar, used to visit Los Angeles. She had even lived with him for a short while, attending classes at UCLA. But rejecting an arranged marriage was a massive insult. His parents were reluctant to visit the United States before he was married, and now it was not even a consideration. Bahar badmouthed Lola without ever trying to get to know her. The distance was for the best. At least for now.

Despite being bedridden and helpless, Lola maintained a tranquil demeanor. She told Omar it was the opportunity she needed to catch up on reading case histories. He knew she was simply trying to keep his spirits up. However, he felt he should be the one keeping her spirits up. The thought of complications during labor haunted Omar. When her contractions finally began, he took Lola to Long Beach Memorial Hospital, where some of the most talented colleagues he knew worked. He discussed Lola’s unusually tenuous pregnancy with her OBGYN. The OBGYN assured Omar they would take added precautions. Following childbirth, Lola nearly flatlined. An amniotic fluid embolism was the culprit. Her body had an extreme reaction to fetal cells that had entered her bloodstream. Thankfully, the doctor’s additional precautions included having a surgeon on standby. After having just birthed her first child, Lola had an emergency hysterectomy that saved her life.

Chapter 2

“Kapital was worth it.” Lola would tell herself this every day for months following his birth. She would remind Omar how lucky they were. Lola had never pressured Omar for kids. They were just going with the flow. Lola took pride in her independence and her professional career. She called herself a feminist, but always pointed out that she was a staunch Republican, as was Omar. The party’s tenet of traditional family values reminded her that her career wasn’t the only thing she should focus on, but she was secretly relieved that she would never again be pregnant. Omar had always thought it was best for children to grow up with siblings, but then again, the further he drifted from his Pakistani roots, the more he realized how relationships with siblings can deteriorate with time and distance. Either way, they were both giddy new parents.

As Kapital grew older, Lola and Omar gushed over his features. She was so happy he had Omar’s detached earlobes and her long eyelashes. Omar also appreciated his son’s dangly ears and striking eyes, as well as his round lips and his straight black hair, but his skin… Lola loved Kapital’s dark brown skin. Omar, however, was hoping Kapital would have lighter skin, like that of his mother. “Omar, you can’t say you wish he had lighter skin. He has your skin, and he looks beautiful.”

“I’m not saying he’s not beautiful, but life’s just more challenging when you have dark skin. That’s just the way it is in America.”

It was true that Kapital’s skin tone constantly became a topic of conversation. Anywhere Lola brought him, people always commented on how much darker his skin was compared to hers. This constant badgering inevitably seeped into Kapital’s psyche. While tutoring him in mathematics, Lola noticed Kapital’s pensive demeanor as he took in her lesson. Then as he filled in his answers, he calmly asked her, “Mom, will my skin look like yours one day?” He was six years old at the time.

Lola replied, “Kapital, your skin is better than my skin. You’re less prone to sunburns!”

“But maybe it would be better if my skin was more like yours, and less like dad’s.”

“It makes me sad you wish you had a different skin color.”

Lola felt she ought to speak to her child without sugarcoating reality, but this discussion was too real. It was a reality that she could never fully contextualize. Kapital was smart, but how do you explain racial constructs to a six-year-old? She thought about it and told him this: “Your skin is not a reflection of who you are inside. And anyone who tries to diminish your value based on your skin is trying to steal your self-worth. Don’t let anyone do that.”

Because Lola and Omar communicated with him openly and honestly ever since he came into existence, Kapital grew up with a deep respect for America, which in that day and age meant having an admiration for Ronald Reagan and Ronald McDonald. This confounding of capitalism and democracy ingrained upon Kapital a unique infatuation with market-driven wealth creation. When friends suggested to Omar and Lola how well-mannered their son was despite having successful parents (spoiled child) and no siblings (anti-social conditions), they’d explain Kapital wasn’t born with a silver spoon because they taught him to appreciate all precious metals. Oddly enough, Omar’s version of bedtime stories to his son was the editorial section of The Wall Street Journal. Over time, that tradition transitioned into Kapital reading the newspaper with his father each morning before leaving for school. Omar would enjoy an English muffin with orange marmalade and a hard-boiled egg while sharing the paper with his son, who preferred a bowl of Golden Grahams.

At school, Kapital’s eccentricities radiated. His classmates were flummoxed by his unique perspective on various topics. For instance, when his friends discussed their favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Kapital challenged them on how four mutant turtles and a mutant rat could maintain a seemingly comfortable subterranean dojo without a proper income. Were April and Casey Jones subsidizing their vigilante lifestyle? Needless to say, Kapital wasn’t interested in cartoons, and the only action figures he cared about were collectibles. He even kept his Transformers in their original packaging with the expectation that they would appreciate in value.

Teachers at the Catholic school Kapital attended were apathetic about his constant overanalyzing of basic lessons. “Why is cursive being taught when typing on a computer is faster?” He insisted that instead of focusing on standardized tests, perhaps their time would be better served with personal development projects. Most students didn’t know what he was talking about, but they did laugh at his audacious ideas. The teachers usually just snickered and expressed some condescending rationale. But there was one student who actually valued his unsolicited insights: Talya Azure.

Talya Azure joined Kapital’s class at St. Edward Elementary School in second grade, after spending the previous year attending a public school. The year before that, she was living in the Philippines, where she was born. Her family emigrated that year (1987) and lived with relatives for a year, saving money as they adjusted to life in America.

Public school was a bewildering and aggressive experience for Talya. She loved it. Even though her English lacked precision, she quickly learned to communicate with and like her classmates. At home, she practiced English with her older sister and brother, and would attempt to describe her day to her parents in both English and Tagalog every night before bed.

Other students in Talya’s class were also learning English as a second language, so she never felt embarrassed by her mispronunciations. The native speakers in her class were also helpful. Their first grade teacher was a kind woman in her mid-20s who gave stars to students who helped explain grammar and phonics. Any student who teased someone’s speaking abilities would lose two stars. No one dared tease.

Then came second grade. Talya’s parents, being Catholic immigrants, had been attending St. Edward Church with their family since arriving to America. They had also been attending prayer services with the church’s clergy, who introduced them to Sister Henry Ann, the principal of the church’s affiliate elementary school. A subsidized tuition plan was worked out in which Talya’s parents would only be responsible for a third of the tuition, as long as they regularly volunteered at the school.

Talya’s parents worked out this deal without her knowledge, and upon delivering this “good news” to Talya, she was sullen. It felt as though her whole first year of American life was for naught. The friends she had made would be lost — the whole experience, all the effort she had poured into becoming a “normal” American school kid. She would have to go through all of that again.

To make matters worse, Talya’s parents were told that second grade was the year students receive First Holy Communion, and due to some miscommunication, they were under the impression that the Sacrament would be accepted on the first day of school. So that first day of second grade, Talya showed up to class dressed in an all-white formal dress. Her classmates all wore the standard uniforms: boys in navy shorts and blue collared shirts, girls in plaid jumpers and penny loafers. Talya was mortified when the teacher introduced her. So many of the students were giggling. Except for Kapital. He just smiled politely at her and waved.

Kapital had been looking forward to second grade. He got along well with his classmates, and on the last day of first grade, his parents hosted a pool party at their home. For Kapital, hosting that party was the epitome of fun. However, the joy of that day faded as summer rolled on. Worried that Kapital was spending too much time at home alone, Lola and Omar enrolled Kapital in a Summer Adventure program organized at a nearby prep school. Unfortunately, none of Kapital’s classmates from St. Edward Elementary attended this summer program. Where St. Edward had a diverse mix of Latinx, Asian, Black, and white students, in this summer group, Kapital stood out as the only dark kid. And it was weird. He had never thought his name was odd until the Matts and Marys, Jims and Jennys, Karens and Kevins all pointed it out. Whenever the counselors instructed the kids to walk in pairs, Kapital’s peers tried desperately not to get stuck holding his hand. Every day that summer the kids would go to parks, zoos, and hiking trails, and every day, Kapital would sit alone on the school bus seat, becoming more isolated and introverted. Lola noticed.

While going over long-division problems with her son before bedtime, Lola asked him why he seemed so sad. He just looked up at her, and while keeping his pencil to his notebook, he once again asked about his complexion. “Is there any way my skin can become lighter someday?” She resolved to stop taking him to that summer camp. Lola and her brothers worked out a plan where Kapital would spend time with his cousins and grandparents that summer. No more obnoxious prep school tormentors.

So, when Kapital saw Talya for the first time, it might have been her dark skin, it might have been her lovely white dress, or maybe it was her coolness under awkwardness that charmed him. But most likely, it was knowing what it was like to be ridiculed and not wanting to be part of that.

Second grade progressed with much more social inclusion than first grade had. So much so that his personality came into its own. As his inhibitions relaxed, he felt increasingly comfortable asking the questions that he came to be known for. Rather than laugh off Kapital’s silly questions like, “If we’re all more than likely going to move on to third grade next year, why do we even need grades?” Talya saw them as reasonable queries. She occasionally even expanded upon his notions: “He has a point. If test scores determine grades, and grading distinguishes the talented from the average, what’s the point of that distinction if we all end up advancing to the next grade either way? It makes more sense to do less testing, and spend more time perfecting the subjects we enjoy.”

Years went by, and by the time fifth grade rolled around, Talya came to realize that kids are awful. Her friends suspected she and Kapital had feelings for one another. They were right, but they were also jerks about it. Sure, she and Kapital loved to talk with each other and do homework together, but they weren’t making out. They had never even talked about being anything other than friends. If anything, they were just friends without benefits who liked each other but didn’t know what to do about it and also didn’t care to find out. And then Ryan Barris joined the class. Everyone seemed to love him because he would get excited about anything and everything: lunch, quizzes, games, lessons — Ryan thoroughly enjoyed whatever was happening next. He ended up getting along with Kapital and Talya more than any other classmates.

It wasn’t clear to anyone that Ryan was gay, but he was clearly Black. Ryan’s parents believed he’d outgrow what his dad considered to be effeminate qualities. This “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach actually, in a way, allowed Ryan to be himself. He was a sweetheart who was fascinated by plants, loved music, and was amazing at solving math problems in his head.

Most of the boys in their class spent lunch playing basketball. Those kids always talked about ninjas and cars and spent weekends at arcades. Kapital wasn’t into that stuff. He preferred talking economics or, if he was feeling particularly competitive, playing Jeopardy. That was how he and Ryan became friends. During lunch, Ryan would ask questions from an old Trivial Pursuit game and Kapital would answer them. Ryan loved games; Uno and Pictionary were favorites, but card games were really his jam. Together, Ryan and Kapital spent their free time together playing gin rummy, BS, war, and poker, and when Talya taught them Pusoy Dos, a Filipino card game, they were hooked.

Over time, Talya, Ryan, and Kapital became a kind of trio. Each excelled academically, which made sense since they worked on homework together and studied for exams together, and eventually they began to scheme together. Ryan inadvertently came up with their first project, when, one day in seventh grade, his parents told him they were donating his massive toy collection. He had two older brothers, from whom he inherited loads and loads of Legos, Hot Wheels, Micro-Machines, and action figures, as well as a seemingly infinite amount of plastic army men, animals, and dinosaurs. His parents were planning to donate everything to the church. This seemed like a lost opportunity. He spoke to Kapital and Talya about it, and they agreed. Kapital also had some old toys packed up in boxes. Talya had very few old toys. The American Dream was still in progress for her family. On top of volunteering at the school, both her parents worked multiple jobs in order to provide the basics: food and shelter. So, aside from a couple stuffed animals, she didn’t have any toys to get rid of, but she did mention that the three of them had access to buyers every day, twice a day: recess and lunch. Together, they formed a business — not officially (it wasn’t registered), but it did have a clever name: Playtime.

Kapital organized all the inventory in his room. Talya helped catalogue and sort the toys into sellable baggies. Between Kapital and Ryan, they had four giant tote boxes full of supply.

At school Kapital and Ryan set up a small pop-up shop on top of a suitcase with several Ziploc bags full of toys. Talya went around letting the younger kids know that toys were for sale. Sadly, the teachers did not appreciate this new Playtime venture. One teacher in particular, Miss Simmons, who taught fourth grade, was especially perturbed. She told the boys that selling things on school property was prohibited. Kapital thought this might happen. So, he calmly explained that they had already discussed their business venture with St. Edward’s principal, Sister Henry Ann. Sister Henry Ann initially objected to Kapital’s proposal, but after Kapital suggested that the profits would go to charity and espoused the virtue of entrepreneurship and the value of learning how to run a small business, the Sister obliged.

Business was slow at first, but by the end of the week, they had made nearly $50, mostly from second and third graders. When it came time to donate the money to charity, Ryan began to show signs of reservation. Kapital felt the same way. So they decided to set aside a small portion of their funds to donate at a future date. The rest would go to themselves as compensation for their efforts, expenses, and the execution of a successful business strategy. This struck Talya as a bit dishonest, but she was enjoying the project, so she let it slide.

Three weeks into their venture, they ran into supply issues. Their toy inventory was low, so they expanded into sporting goods, selling footballs, tennis balls, and whatever other kid-(or even dog)-friendly items were available. One day, during recess, Ryan decided to go off and play poker with some eighth graders, leaving Kapital overseeing their shop alone. Kapital noticed Ryan’s enthusiasm for poker had increased since they’d begun to have disposable income. But he had to focus on the task at hand. He had customers. Kids surrounded the bags of toys and balls placed on top of the suitcase. Talya noticed Kapital was working alone, so she went over to keep him company.

“Hey, Kapital, how’s business?”

“It’s ok. We’re going to have to figure out what to do once we run out of toys.”

“Well, we don’t want to sell toys forever.”

“Yeah, but — ”

Out of the corner of his eye, Kapital noticed a kid swipe a bag of Micro Machines.

“Hey, put that back!”

The kid took off running, and Kapital instinctively threw a football at him, nailing his legs, and causing him to stumble and fall. Some teachers noticed the whole ordeal, and Kapital was sent to the principal’s office.

Kapital’s timing was less than ideal because Sister Henry Ann was in a pissy mood — she stood next to a printer, poking and banging it because it wasn’t working with her computer.

“Sit down!”

Kapital sat. This nun terrified him.

“What were you thinking?”

“Well he was trying to steal — ”

“Well if you caught him doing it, you should have just told us. You didn’t need to throw a ball at him.”

“You’re right. And I’m sorry.”

“This business is over.”

“But — ”

“Don’t even. I don’t want to hear your spiel.”

She sat back down at her desk, put her hands on the keyboard, clumsily typed a command, and then continued rebuking Kapital:

“I don’t want to catch you ever selling anything here again,” she commanded.

“Ok.”

“And what happened to all your proceeds?”

Kapital was worried she’d ask about this. He played dumb.

“Proceeds?”

“Your profit. Kapital, where have you been donating your earnings?”

Not sure what to say, Kapital scoured his mind for an excuse, “Oh, so we’ve, uh…”

Sister Henry Ann suddenly yelled, “God damnit!”

She slowly looked up from her computer. Her face was bright red, from both anger and embarrassment.

“I’m sorry you heard that,” she calmly said.

“Can I help?” Kapital was eager to change the subject.

“Do you know how to fix a printer?”

He did. Lola had recently installed a similar computer in their home office; Kapital had helped her set it all up. He methodically checked the Sister’s computer configuration and wiring, verifying the printer wasn’t jammed. He asked for the floppy disk that came with the printer and made sure it was properly installed. And it worked: Sister Henry Ann totally forgot that Kapital never answered her question about where Playtime had donated its proceeds. She was just so elated that the printer was working. She still forbade him from ever selling anything on campus, but she never again brought up the subject of donating the profits from Playtime.

Ryan did not take the news well. They discussed the situation over a game of monopoly.

“It sucks ’cause I just lost three bucks in poker!”

“Well, you shouldn’t be gambling.”

Ryan’s poker obsession irked Kapital. Kapital couldn’t help but wonder, what if Ryan had been assisting the shop rather than gambling with schoolmates?… The whole theft confrontation wouldn’t have happened, or at least it would have gone down differently. But maybe it was for the best.

“Poker isn’t just gambling, there’s strategy involved,” Ryan defensively insisted. Ryan usually agreed with Kapital, but he wanted to spend his money however he saw fit.

“Poker is a card game. Card games are mostly luck.”

“Monopoly’s just dumb luck, too.”

“Monopoly involves a ton of strategy!” Kapital loved the game. Perhaps, a bit too much.

“Ok, so you want to make a wager on this game?”

Kapital considered the proposition, but then he thought of something else: his next enterprise.

“No, if I win, I don’t want your money. I just want you to work on another business with me.”

“But we’re out of business.”

“I have a new idea. It’s not going to be like how it was before.”

Ryan agreed, mostly out of curiosity. Ryan knew he didn’t have that much of a chance at winning the board game — Monopoly was Kapital’s favorite.

After landing on Park Place for the fifth time, Ryan gave up. It was annoying how competitive Kapital got over this stupid game. But at least now he could find out what Kapital’s new startup idea was.

Kapital explained the situation he experienced in Sister Henry Ann’s office. Computers were becoming more and more common, so knowing how they worked — how to set them up and troubleshoot them — could be a goldmine. Ryan was skeptical, but Kapital persisted. He had been using his parents’ new 386 system, learning how to install games and applications. Lola encouraged his interest, asking him to figure out how to connect the thing to their telephone. She had been using computers at work for years and recognized the advantages of using a word processor and spreadsheets. Conversely, Omar discounted the advantages of digital files. He had a secretary at work who typed up his notes and letters. He had no need for the computer thing. But for Kapital, this was an opportunity.

He suggested Ryan study some manuals. Kapital envisioned a company that set up computers and printers for home offices. But this was way too much for Ryan to deal with. Summer was approaching, they would be in eighth grade soon, and starting a tech business seemed complicated and boring. Kapital didn’t take Ryan’s dismissal of his proposal well.

Over the summer, Kapital and Ryan didn’t see much of each other. However, Talya managed to stay in touch with both of them. Most of their classmates went off to summer camps and other programs, but Kapital focused on work. He had yet to figure out how to make consistent money setting up personal computers because once a system was set up, it was pretty much good to go. Also, some stores offered free in-home installation with purchase since these machines were so expensive. Undeterred, Kapital continued researching and soon discovered how to upgrade computers, making them faster. Then people began to ask Kapital about how he connected his family’s computer to a modem. They wanted to access the internet. He learned more about websites and networking. Gradually, an entire galaxy of technological frontiers began to emerge, to the point where connecting printers to computers dwindled to a speck.

Chapter 3

As Kapital’s interest in computers intensified, Lola became increasingly concerned about his social interactions. The summer of 1995 was coming to an end, and her son had spent most of it tinkering with metal boxes and attending computer workshops rather than going out with kids his own age. Other mothers were talking about scouts and camps and sports and dating. Lola worried she may have been doing something wrong, but then again, as a child, she never went to camp or joined a summer sports league. Plus, Kapital’s friend Talya still came over pretty often, and she and Kapital got along so well. Lola would come home from work and find the two of them hanging out in the living room, Kapital on the computer and Talya lying on the couch, reading books. Lola was thankful that Talya, this sharp and sweet girl, chose to spend so much time with her son. Lola also noticed that Ryan rarely came over. It seemed odd, but Kapital just excused it, telling her that Ryan simply wasn’t interested in tech.

One evening, after having a few glasses of wine with Omar, Lola wandered into Kapital’s workspace and insisted he tell her what his “business” was all about. Lola’s interrogation caught him off guard, and when pressed about how exactly he planned to make a living building computers, Kapital rambled on about the benefits of optimizing machines and designing personalized work stations. He talked about the world wide web, using sites to advertise services, and the potential of using the internet to sell goods.

“So you’re going to start selling things through the net?” Kapital heard the skepticism in the tone of her question.

“No, but there’s potential I think.”

“And people will just give you their credit card numbers?”

“Maybe.”

Omar joined them. Lola noticed he had a goofy smile on his face (probably from the wine).

“Omar, what stage are you at?” she asked.

Despite lacking a well-rounded sense of humor, Omar did have one joke that always made Lola laugh. He referred to his inebriation in stages. First there was dizzy and delightful, then came delirious and disoriented, and finally dead drunk. No doubt Omar picked this up from one of the thousands of books or magazines he read (he was an avid reader), but the silliness of his tone when mentioning this joke cracked Lola up.

“Somewhere between delightful and delirious.” He contorted his head, smiled, and stumbled into the room, not realizing he was stepping on a discarded computer fan. Lola laughed out loud, and Kapital yelled, “Dad!”

Omar apologized and gathered his composure, “Sorry, sorry. So what’s all this, you’re selling things?”

“It’s nothing. I’m just trying to figure out my next business.”

“Why do you want to spend all this time on computers?” Omar was genuinely concerned. “Being a technician won’t make you rich.”

“I’m not going to do this for the rest of my life. It’s just so I can make some money now.”

“Son, you don’t need money right now. You need good grades.”

“His grades are fine, Omar.” Lola shot him an exasperated look implying he should have already known that.

“I know. I’m just saying you should think less about this computer business and more about what you should do with the rest of your life.”

“I’m only 13.”

“Kapital, what do you want to do after you’re done with this tech stuff?”

“Well, I wanted to be a lawyer like mom.” Omar winced, and Lola waived her hand at him to keep him quiet.

Lola pried, “…but?”

“But, people hate lawyers.” Both Omar and Lola laughed at hearing this.

Kapital continued, “I don’t know. I think I’d rather be a doctor. At least they help people.”

Omar got serious, “Look Kapital, you don’t want to be a doctor. It’s requires a lot of education, you have to deal with irate patients, you have to pay for malpractice insurance — ”

“So what should I be, dad?”

“A banker.” The certainty of Omar’s answer hung in the air.

Lola downed the rest of her wine and broke the silence, “Look Kapital, we make enough money, but we know you can make more. You’re smart and you have that instinct that presidents and business leaders have. Do you know why we named you ‘Kapital’?” He shrugged. “It stands out, as a leader should. Your name emanates success. It’s the name of someone who owns their responsibilities, who remains steadfast in the face of trouble. You’re our only baby, and we’re so lucky that you’re exactly who we thought you would be.”

Kapital looked over at his father and commented, “Dad, I think mom’s drunk.”

“Yes, but she’s delightful.”

On a typical sunny afternoon, late in August, Talya made her way to Kapital’s home as she had done several times that summer. On this particular occasion, upon arriving, she found Kapital in a peculiar frenzy, staring eagerly at his computer screen.

“This is so cool!” Kapital was teeming with excitement.

“What are you freaking out about?”

“Windows 95 was released! I just installed it this morning. It’s amazing!”

Talya didn’t understand the big deal, even after Kapital went over the operating system’s brilliance.

“Kapital, why do you care about this stuff so much?”

“It’s my hobby. Once you build your own computer, set up all this hardware, and then install a new operating system, and it all works, it’s just great.”

“So, what are you doing with it?”

This question stumped Kapital. There was something about this process that he loved, but the usefulness of it was difficult to clarify. This machine had no purpose for him at this moment. All this technology — the motherboard, CPU, chassis, memory, hard drive, and finally the operating system — all of it was bought with money he had earned, saved, and convinced his parents would be beneficial. All of it enabled him to build a machine that could do so much, but he had no good reason to use it. It was as if Kapital had spent his entire summer constructing a massive puzzle, and despite finally completing it, had realized something was still missing.

Kapital finally came up with an answer: “I can play games on it.”

“Kapital, you hate video games.” It was true. He wasn’t into video game consoles, although he did appreciate their global appeal.

“I just thought this was going to be a good investment.”

“You’re always thinking about how to make money. Maybe you should focus on how to make yourself happy.”

“Well, what do you do that makes you happy?” Talya appreciated Kapital’s interest. To be honest, she had intended to get Kapital to open up that day. She had spent so much time with him that summer, reading mounds of books, while he read computer magazines and tried to build this thing from scratch.

“I write book reports.” Her body waned with relief. This confession was a big deal for her.

“You’re not in summer school though,” Kapital was confused.

“I know. I just like to write. And I love to read. So whenever I finish a book, I just write about it. I’ve read fourteen books this summer.”

Kapital was impressed. “Wow. I’ve hardly read anything this summer.”

“Kapital, you read all the time.”

“Yeah, but I’m just reading magazines.”

“Kapital, I see you reading The Economist, Harvard Business Review, and all those computer magazines.” This made Kapital feel better about himself. As if, perhaps, he had an aptitude worth cultivating.

“I mean, I just like how those magazines complement the stories I read in The Wall Street Journal each morning.”

“Right. So now you’re done building this computer, and you know a lot about business. And we start eighth grade next week. And I just told you a secret I haven’t told anyone else.”

“We should do something.”

“Yeah.” He was catching her drift, although she didn’t really know where this drift was headed.

“Let’s go to the park!”

Talya smiled. Kapital wrote a note in case his mom came home and wondered where he went. They walked and talked, and Kapital thought about maybe holding her hand, and almost worked up the courage to do it.

Chapter 4

Everyone wants to blame someone else for their problems, and as Kapital grew more successful, he pointed to leftism as his major obstacle to exponential financial growth. Here he was, a senior in high school, working two jobs, maintaining a 3.9 GPA (4.0 if you disregarded religion class), president of the debate club, and the fact that the IRS was about to take 25% of his hard-earned income just riled him. Of course, Kapital only paid taxes from the web-development business, Digital Dominion, which he started with Talya. His other “job” wasn’t exactly legal. Actually, it was quite illegal, but the profit margins were so wide that he figured the risk was worth the reward.

Kapital’s parents influenced his fiscally conservative principles, and Talya would remind herself of this whenever his ridicule of high taxes and out-of-control government spending got on her nerves. They had been together now for nearly five years. She loved Kapital with a fondness as infinite as time. They had shared so much together, so many firsts. But she also knew that they were heading in opposite directions. His obsession with money irritated her, but his ambition inspired her. He had taught himself, and her, how to build and design websites. He then advertised their services and established clientele, and now they were making almost as much money as their teachers.

Unfortunately, success polluted Kapital’s attitude. He would brag about being able to charge clients ten times their usual prices for a Flash site, which was actually just as easy to build. Most of the sites Digital Dominion set up were basically digital business cards: splash pages demonstrating an “online presence,” with a contact function. However, when closing a deal, Kapital would use flowery jargon: “the sites we build are declarations of modernity and ownership over one’s digital domain.” That’s how Kapital would sell it, and they bought it.

Despite his pompous attitude, Kapital did believe in what he was selling. He had this whole “digital ownership philosophy” that he would rant on about at parties and sometimes even in classes. Talya shared Kapital’s conviction of the integrity of their work; however, she was more empirical about it. Talya had been publishing her book reports and other writings on her personal website for years now. She had a vision of how to make the future she sought a reality. As her online presence expanded, this outlet provided her frustratingly intangible vision a sense of possibility. By her senior year, Talya’s blog exploded with content and attention.

The question of “what are you going to do after high school” never troubled Kapital. He had a plan: go to business school and become a banker. His dad’s advice from years prior had sunk in. Even though Digital Dominion afforded an excellent vocation, he wanted more. He wanted prestige. Wall Street was his endgame. But for now, he knew he had a good thing going, and he wasn’t ready to leave Southern California.

He applied and was accepted to USC’s Marshall School of Business. Lola and Omar thanked their lucky stars when he was notified that one of the scholarships he applied for came through. Not that they couldn’t have afforded the tuition, but the price tag was severely higher than what they had paid for university. They celebrated by taking Kapital and Talya out to the Sky Room in downtown Long Beach. The elegance, the views, and the glamour of it all irritated Talya. Mostly because she had a confession nagging her. She told Kapital she had applied to USC, UCLA, UCSD, and Pepperdine University, but she applied to none of those schools. She wanted out of California. Her family loved her, but their overbearing nature got on her nerves. She wanted what Kapital’s parents had: a fresh start. Something new. She applied to only east coast schools. She would be going to the New School in the fall.

Kapital freaked out when she finally told him.

“But you got into USC though, right?” he asked.

“I didn’t apply.”

“But I thought you wanted to stay together.”

“You assumed, Kapi. You want to stay here. I don’t, so I’m leaving.”

Kapital felt his world combust. He had assumed. That they would always be together. That when the time was right, they’d move to New York together. He’d work on Wall Street, and she’d write for a prestigious newspaper or magazine, maybe the New York Times. This idyllic future shattered, and he wept. Talya’s mind was made up, but in this moment, watching Kapital struggle with something outside of his control, she felt a pang to stay and be with this boy with whom she had shared so many wonderful lessons. It was a desire for a life as fortunate and straightforward as Kapital imagined it. But it wasn’t reality. Home no longer brought her joy. She needed to move on, and Kapital needed to grow up.

Chapter 5

The summer of 2000 paralleled the summer of 1995 in significant ways. In 1995, summer began with Kapital and Ryan having a falling out and ended with Kapital and Talya’s budding relationship. Five years later, Ryan and Kapital had rekindled their friendship, but that summer would end with Talya leaving him for New York City.

Ryan attended the same Catholic high school as Talya and Kapital, but hung out with different friend circles. When passing by each other in the hallways, Kapital would nod his head, gesturing “hello” to Ryan, and Ryan would reply with the same gesture, implying they were acquaintances, but only because of their history. That was the extent of their social interaction. The friend groups Ryan orbited around were all weirdos: theater kids, skater punks, and gamers. The one thing they all had in common was an appreciation of cannabis. Kapital figured they all viewed him as a nerd, considering the only people he hung out with were programmers and academics. Then, during their junior year, Ryan approached Kapital with a proposition. Ryan had recently seen Kapital’s cousin, Antonio, at a party. Everyone at the party seemed to know Antonio, and suddenly Ryan realized why — Antonio was rolling a fat blunt.

Kapital didn’t know what to think. Ryan suggested Kapital talk to Antonio and keep an open mind. Kapital’s tech business was doing well, but if there was an opportunity to substantially expand profits, then even if it was risky, why not?

Kapital and Antonio had always gotten along well. They joked that they would have hung out more often if not for LA traffic since Antonio lived up in Huntington Park and Kapital was down in Long Beach. When Kapital, Antonio, and Ryan sat down to discuss a possible arrangement, Antonio realized he had little to lose since he was only selling weed to accommodate his personal consumption.

The arrangement they made was straightforward: Kapital would fund the operation, Antonio would make the purchase, and Ryan would sell the goods. This way, Antonio no longer had to deal with sketchy purchasers, Kapital could capitalize on the profits from his legitimate business, and Ryan could make a steady income while getting invited to every party.

Over time, the operation the three ran together proved to be quite fruitful. Ryan’s popularity around school exploded, and he and Kapital were hanging out again. Antonio and Kapital also spent more time together, which Kapital’s mom was happy about because Antonio was such a polite nephew.

By the end of senior year, high school felt like a market. There were everyday tasks — classes and clubs — but the negotiations happened in-between those tasks. Where to go on the weekend, who was doing what, what to bring, how to get whatever it was you needed. People knew Ryan had answers. They knew Kapital was making bank from building fancy webpages for clients. They knew Talya was saving up for her big move to New York. A lot was happening, and the three of them were enjoying themselves thoroughly. Every weekend popped with parties. The weeks lagged with work and school, then back to the good times, then back to work. This rollercoaster rose and dipped into the summer, and then it just kept rising.

Following high school graduation, Kapital and Talya shared most of their time with each other. Talya’s parents were upset that she was moving to New York, but instead of fighting with them, she calmly explained that she needed to broaden her horizons in order to keep the momentum behind her blog going. Unfortunately, they didn’t understand what a blog was. They had no interest in the internet and had no idea how she would fund this out-of-state endeavor. The New School had offered her a partial scholarship. Talya would have to cover the rest. So, when Lola asked if Talya might be interested in working at her law practice that summer, Talya promptly accepted.

Lola hired her knowing she was hiring someone computer literate, organized, and competent. Talya’s intelligence and eagerness to learn even the most mundane nuances of the practice resembled Lola’s youthful ambitions. One afternoon, while lunching at a nearby taco spot, Talya informed Lola that she would be paying her exorbitant tuition with a combination of personal savings, financial aid, and whatever part-time job she could find in New York. The tenacity of Talya’s pursuit moved Lola. Talya had been a part of her home for years now. There were times when both she and Omar came home after a long day of work, and Talya and Kapital had dinner waiting for them (usually pizza). Lola respected how responsible these two teenagers seemed to be and admired how well they collaborated, breezing through homework so they could focus on their business projects. She occasionally found them in the study asleep in front of their computers after having worked late into the night on a client’s website. Talya slept over most nights, to the point where Lola worried that Talya’s parents would resent her and Omar for welcoming Talya into their home without restrictions. Talya soothed those worries, explaining, “My parents know I’m a bit of a nomad, and as long as I don’t get pregnant out of wedlock or ask them for money, they’re ok with me doing my own thing.”

The night after her taco lunch with Talya, Lola proposed paying part of Talya’s tuition with Omar. He was all for it. Talya had been around so long, she was practically family. Moreover, enabling Talya to afford to matriculate at the New School meant that she would be separated from his son. Omar appreciated this because he felt Kapital should focus on his studies. The next day, Lola informed Talya that she and Omar would like to pay for whatever financial aid could not cover. This gift floored Talya, leaving her in tears. Lola tried to quell the emotion with a rationalization, “Omar and I had a college fund for Kapital, but since he has a full-ride, using this money on your collegiate career puts it to its intended purpose.”

Kapital understood his parents’ generosity. It felt natural. They could do with their money as they saw fit, and education was fundamental to their values. But he still wished Talya would stay. So, there was that.

Talya and Kapital continued Digital Dominion operations throughout the summer, but the bulk of their work was responding to clients’ emails and calls. Web development was getting cheaper as more services got into the game. Kapital and Talya decided to focus on each other rather than growing the business. Thankfully maintenance and website updates required much less time than their clients realized, leaving plenty of time for the two of them to have fun and ignore the inevitable.

During the weeks leading to Talya’s departure, she and Kapital spent nights watching old movies. They went on camping trips with friends, talked about politics and philosophy. They made love everywhere they went as if it were a last hurrah. In the ocean, in sleeping bags, in secret bedrooms at parties. When Ryan suggested they all go eat mushrooms in Big Sur, Talya and Kapital gleefully accepted. They had had so many firsts together, why not add on another?

Kapital and Ryan’s kinship was complicated. Kapital could be a bit condescending toward Ryan, but in a nurturing sort of way. Kapital initially tried to treat Ryan as business partner rather than a friend when they first re-connected. But as they began hanging out again, Kapital rediscovered how easy it was to banter with Ryan. They tended to get lost in tangential conversations when they worked together, and Kapital loved how challenging and outlandish their discussions became as they devolved into pedantry. An exchange on their business at hand that should have been a short logistical update, instead verged into a rabbit hole on drug legalization, and then somehow onto the eventuality of government mandated drug use.

“I’m telling you, Kap, it’s gonna be like Brave New World,” Ryan philosophized with a visionary zeal. “People are always gonna want some way to chill out, prevent stress, but like, immediately.”

“Yeah, I mean, we’re kinda going that way already with Prozac and Wellbutrin.”

“But that’s pharma. I think it’s gonna be the government getting people stoned.”

“Huh, well, Soma actually spurred consumerism in Brave New World, so if it’s boosting the economy, it kind of makes sense to market drug use through government propaganda.”

Kapital saw a ton of potential in Ryan’s intellect and charm, but didn’t understand how the guy could be so unambitious. For his part, Ryan found Kapital to be reliable (and cute). Not just as an elicit business partner, but as an honest and discreet ally who took him seriously. He cared about Talya as well, but she seemed to mistake his indulgent spirit as his identity, reducing him into a facetious party-boy trope. For Talya, Ryan was a lost soul who needed to figure his shit out, but he was also great fun at parties, and, as their current drug guide, Ryan radiated a calm reassuring presence that she appreciated. He had led her and Kapital to a secret swimming spot near a gorge. There, surrounded by lush trees, a peaceful soundscape, and the shrooms in full affect, she couldn’t help but think that out of everyone in the world, this was the trio she needed to be with then and there. Things would be different in a few weeks though… she got lost in her head.

Kapital was jumping in and out of regret every time he jumped in and out of the crisp water that flowed through this natural pool down to the ocean. Suddenly he stopped. He was hypnotized, wading in the water, thinking about time flowing into a vast ocean. It was at this moment that Ryan decided to make a confession.

“Hey guys, I’m not going to college.”

Kapital heard Ryan’s words, put them together, remembered how odd it had been that Ryan never specified what college he planned on attending in the fall. Talya looked at him and nodded. She suspected that Ryan had no post-high school plans, but there was nothing she could do about that. He would need to figure that out on his own. Talya quietly began admiring how well her own life was progressing when a tinge of guilt for her egocentrism struck her.

“What do your parents think about that?” Talya asked, happy to break the silence.

“Heh, my dad wants me to join the Navy.”

“Whoa, that’s heavy,” Kapital chimed in.

Kapital felt the trip intensifying. He slowly and steadily sunk himself into the water. Talya broke into laughter at the sight of Kapital entering the water as though he was on a transparent elevator. Ryan smiled.

“I knew this was a good idea,” Ryan said. Then he got up from his perch, swung his dreadlocks back, and dove in after Kapital.

At the end of August, Kapital walked Talya to her gate at LAX. She had booked a non-stop, red-eye flight. Talya joked through her tears, “At least I can blame my red eyes on the flight.” Not the funniest joke, but they both chuckled. The tension welcomed bad jokes. Kapital recognized himself as a cliché: the boyfriend at the airport who watches his love’s plane taxi along the runway and eventually disappear. He left before the plane took off. He didn’t care much for clichés, and the tears spilling from his face were embarrassing. He had to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Chapter 6

Kapital relished how just about everything being taught in business classes applied to his own experience as a small business owner. Digital Dominion was still profitable, even though its portfolio had slimmed down to just a handful of sites. Talya was focusing on her studies and her blog, so Kapital was now handling all the work himself. Thankfully, the slim clientele list enabled Kapital to allot more time for schoolwork, as well as a social life.

By only accepting clients willing to pay top dollar for simple yet flashy websites, he managed to make a small fortune without compromising his personal goals. People wanted their websites to dazzle, and Kapital’s Flash skills more than fit the bill. Kapital knew this arrangement was ludicrous, and he occasionally struggled with the reality of the situation. The fact that businesses were paying him a small fortune for websites that basically contained contact information and a form submission seemed unsustainable. He was no longer inspired by the digital ownership philosophy he once espoused because that dream he used to sell turned out to be a delusion. He contemplated selling the business, or hiring someone to take over the technical aspects, enabling him to concentrate on growing the business. He struggled with the decision because selling the business could get messy since many of the financials were not exactly above board. And growing the business with a new hire didn’t seem sensible since the technical work was easy to maintain.

His hesitation on scaling up Digital Dominion worked out. By the Christmas of 2000, the tech bubble was bursting. It was the middle of his Freshman year, and the tech industry was in big trouble. Clients were no longer willing to pay outlandish prices for a splash page. Kapital couldn’t blame them. People were finally registering that companies were throwing away money on overambitious technology. The way Kapital saw it, he was getting out of the tech game at the right time. Web development had lost its appeal. He didn’t simply want to develop websites, he wanted to own them — indirectly, as an investor. To manage a portfolio of successful, influential companies. To work on Wall Street. His goals were clear.

That Christmas, Talya returned to Long Beach for winter break. Her first semester had been challenging, but not due to the curriculum. The cultural shift had been a most jarring experience. New York City seemed to have everything. Things that she didn’t even know were a thing. She had never visited the New School before moving, and so everything was new. Her first Broadway musical, her first time in a bar (she had purchased a fake ID at a shady passport photo shop on University Place), her first time experiencing a poetry slam, and her first time being exposed to people as interested in journalism as she was. Not just journalism, but in-depth, advocacy journalism. Journalism with a social purpose. The exposure to professionals lecturing about this medium that she cared for so deeply gratified her. The inspiration felt palpable.

In addition, history was happening around her. The fact that the presidential election required a Supreme Court decision intensified Talya’s introduction into the world of media. Being in New York, which her professors stressed was the media capital of the world, helped as well. By the time she completed that first semester and returned to Southern California, she was a changed woman.

She and Kapital talked endlessly about what they were going through. They talked about the Supreme Court decision in pragmatic terms as an extraordinary anomaly. Neither were fans of Gore. Talya had voted for Ralph Nader, while Kapital, influenced by his parents, voted for the “compassionate conservative”. Despite opposing views, they understood each other’s political persuasion. And they didn’t put much worth into those opinions. More than anything, they were happy to be with one another again. They left on such good terms that breaking up seemed premature. They refused to label their relationship as “long-distance” and left it at that. Of course they would encounter new people and new experiences, but it would take nothing short of a monumental event to alter their perceptions of each other.

2001 ushered in a new sense of urgency. Talya and Kapital enjoyed their winter break together, but they both had an urge to get back to work as soon as they returned to school. Being busy was motivating. Kapital had closed down Digital Dominion, but he was still selling weed. Ryan, heeding his dad’s advice, had joined the Navy, leaving Kapital with the task of handling the supply he received from Antonio. Fortunately, Kapital was pledging a frat, and being a weed procurer was a huge bonus. With fraternity life came new connections, parties, and other fun distractions from the loneliness he felt anytime he thought of Talya.

Off in New York, Talya was killing it. She managed high marks while magnifying her blog and expanding her social connections. She felt cosmopolitan. The social momentum she cultivated inspired her to stay in New York through the summer.

Kapital and Talya had agreed not to be exclusive, so when Kapital jokingly asked if she was staying in New York for another guy, she told him she’d been dating. Her bluntness caught him so off guard that he dropped his brand-new Nokia 3310. The phone was unscathed. When he pressed her on why she was so reluctant to come home for a summer visit, she spelled it out for him, “Every minute I’m in Long Beach, it just feels like I’m missing out on something in New York. Kapital, you want to move to New York someday. But I’m here now. We should just do our own thing, while we’re where we’re at, and we’ll, you know, meet up later. I just want to be with who I’m with, like that song.”

“Love the One You’re With?”

“Don’t mind if I do,” she said with a sly glee.

Talya saw their differences with a new perspective. Her affections for Kapital had dissipated. His talk about frat parties and assimilation bored her. But she understood it. It’s who he was — not a bad person, just conservative, like his parents. She offered to explain their circumstances to his mom since he was uncomfortable telling her that they were non-monogamous. Kapital declined her offer, but her candidness about dating others was a sad realization for him.

Life went on.

For Talya, that summer leading up to her sophomore year bustled. The city’s energy had a perpetual efficiency. Talya would spend the first half of her day interning at the Village Voice, where she pushed for more attention on their online presence. She met up with friends in the evenings for poetry slams, rooftop garden parties, art exhibitions, outdoor concerts, or whatever was happening that night.

Then, a week after her second semester began, the towers came down, and the New York Talya knew was gone forever. Her family and every one of her close high school friends called her dorm room phone. But phone signals were down, so only a few of them, including Kapital, actually managed to reach her — through AOL Instant Messenger. They were terrified the worst had happened. She was shook up but safe. She told them it was just surreal.

“People are in the streets trying to grasp the enormity of what just happened,” she explained over and over.

And over the next few days, as so many vigils took place, Union Square became a space to share grief and reflect. Talya was living on 6th Ave and 13th Street, and the streets were eerily empty. Unlike many New Yorkers, she was allowed below 14th Street because of her New School ID. She could walk down to Canal Street, but volunteer first responders wouldn’t allow her to go beyond there. For a year, those towers had helped her navigate New York’s Byzantine streets, and now she felt lost. That feeling compelled her to find a way to articulate what happened. She bought a camera, faked herself a press pass, and got as close to Ground Zero as possible to document this new reality. She also decided to take on a second major: Arabic.

In the weeks following the tragedy, Talya found herself disgusted with cable news. Their cheap coverage did nothing but stoke fear and animosity. In the parks, New Yorkers were out talking, looking at each other, connecting, rather than briskly strolling past each other on their way to jobs, or classes, or whatever. That frenzied pace had slowed. Everyone felt a deep sympathy for one another. It was a beautiful moment in time that she would never forget.

Kapital visited New York City in January of 2002. Talya had stayed in the city over winter break. It had been their first Christmas apart in years. He had suggested New Year’s Eve could be a great time to visit, but she told him she already had plans, and stressed that she would never want to be in Times Square for the ball drop. He could read between the lines. Besides, his frat was planning a blowout, and he was providing the blow.

Seeing Kapital stepping out of a taxi and into her neighborhood surprised Talya. She was expecting his arrival, but she wasn’t expecting to feel so comforted to see him. It had been so long.

They immediately began talking to each other about everything and anything. Talya introduced Kapital to her roommates, who were especially charmed that he had brought them fancy chocolates as well as fancy bud.

“Nothing brings people together quite like some California Kush,” Kapital declared with a smirk. Talya’s roommates, Samira and Evelyn, laughed.

“Kapital, you’re too sweet!” Samira commented and immediately opened the package of assorted dark chocolates.

“Yeah, he aims to please,” Talya said.

Kapital loved making great first impressions. It was something he put thought and effort into. Talya loved that about him. But remembering how much she loved that about him annoyed her.

This being Kapital’s first visit to New York City, he was eager to sightsee. This also annoyed Talya. Checking out Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge were not fun activities for her.

“They’re tourist traps.”

“Well, I’m a tourist.”

“I know, I just thought you might want to check out my favorite restaurant, or where I like to go grab a drink and people watch.”

“I do. It’s just that, I’ve never done any of these things.”

“Well, I’ve never gone to the Statue of Liberty, and I’ve never wanted to.”

“Fine. No Statue of Liberty. But you can’t tell me you never wanted to see Times Square.”

He had a point. Talya remembered being new to the city and dragging a friend with her to see Times Square for the first time. Nevertheless, watching Kapital take in the city felt odd, as if she was stuck politely watching a friend’s melodramatic one-man show. He had to eat pizza from a specific place that seemed like a mediocre pizza spot to her. He was overly excited every time he hailed a taxi, and he refused to take the subway anywhere.

“I just want to walk or take a taxi so I get to see as much of the city as possible,” Kapital explained.

“Ok, but if you ride the subway, then you’ll get a more authentic experience of the city.” Talya’s addendum did not sway Kapital.

One morning, he woke up early to visit the Empire State building, and then he dragged her to Ground Zero. On the way down he spoke with pride about how well the New York Stock Exchange had responded to 9/11 by opening up just six days after the attack. This made her giggle. The taxi descended into awkward silence.

Talya broke the deafening quiet, “So, I was thinking we could hit up a comedy club tonight. There are also some cool poetry cafes and independent cinemas we could check out if you’re up for that.”

“Yah, live comedy sounds interesting.” She knew Kapital wouldn’t be enthused about poetry or independent films, probably because neither were mentioned in whatever mainstream publications shaped his view of what mattered in New York City.

Despite sharing a twin bed during his visit, Talya and Kapital avoided physical intimacy. But over the course of the week, intimate tensions between them built up. One evening, a group of Talya’s friends met in her dorm room to pre-party before going out to Ace Bar in the East Village. Evelyn set up a hookah and mixed in the weed Kapital brought with double apple shisha tobacco. Their friends Benji and Mike were over, and they all sat around the hookah.

“Oh wow, this is delightfu — ” Kapital attempted to complement Evelyn’s blend but immediately choked on the smoke, coughing repeatedly. Benji laughed at Kapital’s misfortune.

“You have to be careful, the hookah smoke is thicker than what you’re used to,” Evelyn warned.

Kapital was feeling stoned and a little self-conscious. Mike seemed cool to him, like he was the kind of guy who loved getting stoned and didn’t care how unintelligible it made him. A true stoner. Benji was a bit standoffish. He was Canadian, so maybe that was it, but he also seemed to be eyeing Talya.

Talya noticed Benji’s gaze as well. They had gone out a few times, but she preferred polyamory and made that clear. Benji did possess features that most cis girls dug: tall, fit — although maybe a little too skinny — and shaggy blond hair that looked adorable when it fell just over his eyes. When they first met in a New Media class, Benji went out of his way to show her a website he built that featured an animated puzzle game. Rather than complimenting his achievement, Talya instead picked the site apart, dissecting how he’d built it and dropping suggestions on how to make it better. He had underestimated her technical competency, and immediately became smitten with her. Talya liked some things about him, like how passionate he was about using websites to foment political change and how he lit up when talking about social justice issues. But the amount of attention he paid to Talya was just… way too much. Benji was a bad mix of a show-off and a try-hard, and the combination was a huge turnoff. Thankfully, Kapital’s presence enabled her to exemplify to Benji the space she desired. She wanted to remain friends with Benji, and maybe even date him, but not any time soon. For now, Talya was following a “take it as it comes” mantra. She curled up next to Kapital, then laid back on his chest after taking a nice pull from the hookah. The feelings she still had for Kapital were complicated but undeniable, and she decided she’d rather not ignore them. She also sought closure with Kapital, or at least something close to closure.

By the end of Kapital’s visit, Talya was ready for him to leave. Perhaps it was his insistence on visiting Times Square more than once, or his gloating about how the restaurants he brought her to required reservations months in advance, or that despite his pampering, she’d be just as happy eating falafel in a park. The kicker was his aversion to Brooklyn. When her friends invited her to a party in downtown Brooklyn one night, she had to beg Kapital to join her. Kapital eventually capitulated, but before leaving he actually took his wallet out of his back pocket and shoved it into his sock as a precaution.

Their last night together threw her for a loop. He warned her that she was in for a treat, a treat that required getting dressed up, which she actually really enjoyed. She rarely had a need to wear her favorite purple cocktail dress, so this felt… amusing. The nicest shoes she had were a pair of sleek black leather boots, but thankfully they worked with the dress and were comfortable to walk in to boot.

She was expecting some place with an atmosphere reeking of bougie glee, but instead he took her out for falafel to-go at Mamoun’s, and then it was a short walk over to Gray’s Papaya for papaya juice and people-watching.

As they sat at a counter that faced a window displaying the whole city going by, Talya admitted, “I was definitely not expecting this.”

“I know. I just wanted to show you I can still be a little unpredictable.”

After their meal, Kapital led her through winding West Village streets to a nondescript door off 7th Ave.

“Kapital, where are you taking me?”

“Samira said you’d get a kick out of this place.”

He opened the door, then moved the heavy velvet curtain behind the door, revealing a swanky, low-lit cocktail bar. The host led them to a small candlelit table with a pair of champaign cocktails on it waiting for them.

A live jazz band played a few feet away. Talya couldn’t help but show her genuine surprise at Kapital’s thoughtfulness. And Kapital couldn’t hide his jubilant confidence.

“You’re grinning,” she playfully sneered.

“I can’t help it. Just happy to be here. To be looking at you.”

“Can you stop?”

He straightened his face, then asked, “Do you ever miss California?”

“Not yet. I think I will eventually, but not yet. Do you think you’re really going to move out here someday?”

“Of course. Wall Street.”

“Your obsession with Wall Street is lame. There’re so many better things to do out here than work at a bank 60 hours a week.”

Kapital put his hand on the table, palm up, gesturing toward her. Slightly rolling her eyes, Talya took his hand with hers. It was the hand of her closest friend. The guy who always believed in her, who would do anything to help her achieve her goals. At least he used to be that guy. But his values. She couldn’t identify with them. They were so paternal. He wanted success, not just for himself but for everyone he cared about. His parents. Her. Ryan.

“Hey, how is Ryan these days?” she asked, seemingly out of the blue.

“Oh, well…he’s still in the Navy.”

“God, that’s so, just fucked.”

“I don’t think he’s going to have to go to Afghanistan. He’s some kind of officer I think. He says he gets on well with everyone, so he’s actually enjoying it.”

“That’s good.”

Talya knew Kapital had something important to tell her, and she also knew she didn’t want to hear it. She kept the conversation steered to the topic she was interested in.

“Kapital, what happened between you and Ryan?”

Kapital hesitated, debating how much he should tell her, and then opened up. “You remember when you first moved out here, when I told you Ryan got arrested?”

“Yeah, I should have called him or something.”

“Well, he wasn’t arrested. He made a bad bet. At a casino. I had to show up and pay like two thousand bucks to get them to let him go.”

“Jesus. Why’d you tell me he was arrested?”

“Ryan didn’t want anyone to know he had a gambling habit. I was pretty let down by him, and I think he was ashamed.”

“Ah, I wished I’d known, I mean, we kind of lost touch after that trip in Big Sur.”

“Do you remember when he told us he might join the Navy?” Kapital asked.

“God, I was tripping so hard. I briefly remember him mentioning that.”

Kapital laughed a little, “Yeah, same. I mean, I remember him mentioning it, but after that bad bet, I kind of stopped caring about what he was going through, and, you know, there was college, and there was us.”

“We were kind of intensely focused on each other for a while,” Talya concurred.

Kapital and Talya began openly reminiscing about their past together. The times they camped with friends at a state beach and spent the weekend fooling around in random places. They talked about the other people in their lives at the moment, their crushes now and even back then. Rounds of elaborate cocktails, intimate conversation, and a gentle ambiance led them back to each other. Kapital would be leaving the next day. Throughout the week together, they had refrained from loving each other. Here now, as they danced slowly in each other’s arms, Talya put it out there, “Kapital, you’re such a capitalist bastard.”

“Yeah, well you’re an unrealistic liberal.”

“Oh yeah, how unrealistic am I?”

“Well, you’re so blinded by your liberalism, you think doctors should be regulated.”

“Hmm… you mean by the government or by that pesky healthcare industry?”

Kapital took a moment to linger in these saucy undertones, then replied, “The government.”

“Ah, I like it when you call out my liberal fantasies. You know what, you’re so capitalist that when you make a profit, you honestly believe it’s because of your grit and intuition and it has nothing to do with the socioeconomic circumstances you were born into.”

“What can I say? Hard work is why private enterprises succeed.”

“Oh honey. Private enterprises that enrich executives who uproot communities, offshore jobs, and squeeze employees to be more productive for less pay end up creating social instability.”

“But money.”

“But people.”

“People will be fine. Home ownership generates more wealth every year, and American capitalism makes that completely attainable.”

Talya laughed for a moment, then looked Kapital in the eyes. “I can’t explain this, but I wish I could just fuck the capitalist right out of you.”

“I’ll get the check.”

Chapter 7

The manner in which time moves may be measured by memorable moments. For Talya and Kapital, the memory of their last night together would occasionally pass by in flutters. Memories of intense rage. When Talya reflected on that last night together, two words came to mind: hate fuck. She’d felt so close to him and that night was, for her, an ending. For Kapital, he didn’t reflect on the sex as much as he did on the shower that followed. The shower where Talya gently whispered into his ear, “I will never marry you.”

It was an undeniable, clean break. Their history was closed, and after he left New York the following morning, she smiled realizing she had one less reason to return home. And he left believing New York City was tainted by liberal wackos.

His last years of college were unmoored. He let his grades slide; only slightly, but noticeably (at least for him). He did make lots of money, and making money always felt good. Occasionally, he realized that the drugs he sold — with help from Antonio’s connections — were doing the same thing for others as the money was doing for him. Drugs were an excuse. An excuse to say, fuck this bullshit, I’d rather be high. Kapital was telling himself, fuck the bullshit, I need to make money.

Talya’s world could not be more different. She was addicted to activism — to independent journalism, and to this abstract notion that the public would revolt if they realized how much corruption had infected their government through capitalism. “Cronyism” and “Corporatism” became her stated enemies. Delving into deep discussions about corporate rule, the expansion of the executive branch, and the decline of workers’ wages fueled her spirit.

Talya’s world expanded after college as Kapital’s consolidated. She married her Canadian friend, Benji, not for love but for a passport. The re-election of George W. Bush disintegrated her optimism, and she freaked out. The world was getting worse, and the option to move to Canada if things in the United States went ballistic became her plan B(enji). Of course, Benji agreed to this marriage of convenience with the notion that maybe, eventually, they’d be happily together, and maybe even fall in love. He chose to not reveal his true feelings for practical reasons. They were young, living in New York City, and starting a business together. They made a good team, and would someday make the world a better place and all, but it was obvious that Talya wasn’t completely attracted to him. Not just because she was dating this guy, Marc, who had a really impressive loft out in Bushwick. It was the way Talya limited her conversations with him solely to subjects that she respected his opinion on. If Benji dared to talk about how he felt about her or even his feelings on say a TV sitcom or any non-business-related topic, she’d dismiss his ramblings as trivial. Like a loyal soldier, her dismissals of his feelings made him want to win over her affection that much more. He dove headfirst into their work founding an independent media organization, building out Talya’s frontend designs, practicing investor pitches — doing whatever was necessary to make the operation a success.

Life as an Orange County investment banking analyst slowly eroded Kapital’s ambition. It wasn’t the job, it was the culture. A year in, he got along superficially with the whole office. The older guys commended his work ethic and analysis as well as his knowledge of European sports cars, and the younger guys liked that he always had coke. Alpha Bank had a reputation for egoism, ostentation, and tradition. Kapital felt pride for his bank, but he was getting too comfortable with his workload and less comfortable with some of his coworkers. They viewed him as an overachieving workaholic who liked to party. A guy in whom they could confide their most crude opinions. On one occasion, a couple of coworkers requested lunch bumps, and after Kapital obliged, slipping them a small bag of coke, they offered fist bumps in return. Then one of the coworkers, Wade, assuming an inapt chumminess, exclaimed, “Ah yeah! That’s my sand nigga.” This remark shook Kapital — emotionally and literally. Wade, who stood at six foot four inches and was noticeably overweight, had put his heavy arm around Kapital’s shoulder and was chortling in Kapital’s ear, as if the effect of his patronizing proximity and ridiculous laugh made his asshole white-guy jape permissible. But in that moment, Kapital reflexively allowed Wade’s abrasive id to bulldoze his ego by laughing along, ignoring the tense reaction building in his body, making his blood boil.

Even though fraternizing with his colleagues began to wear on Kapital, he continued to do so out of a need to keep appearances up. (Additionally, they were a solid source of cocaine sales.) Appearances mattered to Kapital because he was up for a promotion at Alpha Bank’s regional headquarters in Santa Ana, and he was eager to level up. Kapital’s dream of working on Wall Street was teetering as the reasons to remain in Southern California stacked up. The promotion at his current office came with a salary increase and a hefty bonus. The supplemental income from drug sales was easy money and tough to give up. The nice weather was an additional perk. As Kapital ruminated over whether to take up surfing or sailing, his Wall Street dream began to resemble a contrived aspiration. Then a moment of clarity propelled by his father helped Kapital realize how adrift he was.

It was a Monday morning when Kapital walked into his manager’s office and requested a lunch meeting for that day. Kapital’s manager, Matthew, accepted the meeting and assumed the goal of it was to determine whether Kapital would be happier in a leadership position or taking on the advanced challenges of a lead analyst. What Matthew got out of the meeting, however, was the realization that Kapital needed a major change.

The Friday before that meeting, Kapital went to a party with his coworkers. Before the party, they hit up a nearby bar for happy hour drinks, along with intermittent bumps of coke generously supplied by Kapital. As his coworkers become more and more belligerent that evening, some of them began to inappropriately inquire about Kapital’s background.

“Kapital is such a cool name, man. Is that a common name where you’re from?”

Kapital responded cooly, “I’m from Long Beach, dude.”

Not long after that came this doozy:

“Hey, thanks for the bump. How’d you score that?”

“I just know a guy,” Kapital said.

“Cool. Just curious, are they terrorists? I just heard that terrorists are selling coke now, you know, to fund the war in Iraq.”

“Did you just call me a terrorist?”

“I’m kidding! I just read something and thought… never mind. We’re cool.”

These guys were dumber than a bag of bricks, yet they were his counterparts. Despite being in the same league, when Kapital looked around at them, he wanted nothing to do with their existence. He watched as they gathered around each other, giggling as they took turns pointing out a sticky note emblazoned with a poorly drawn penis that one of them had stuck on the back of a temp worker, who had joined them for drinks. They were such dirtbags, pulling juvenile pranks on anyone they regarded as below their level. Having one empathetic friend at work would have made a difference for Kapital. But even if that person existed, Kapital doubted they’d get along with a drug-dealing rich fuck who was basically identical to these asinine, materialistic finance bros. This train of thought triggered anxiety and an urge to self-medicate.

After the bar, they ditched their temp coworker and caravanned over to a party in Newport Beach. Since he was feeling low, Kapital decided to get really high. The party roared, and Kapital felt good being the guy everyone wanted to chat up. He knew this feeling. Having blow at a party attracted a fun crowd. As he cross-faded with lines and drinks, his anxiety receded. Everything felt happy. This scene resembled more of his college life than the post-college life Kapital had once aspired to, but he just took things as they came now.

Then his coworker Wade, who was chatting up two good-looking ladies, called him over. They were setting up a round of beer pong, and Kapital assumed they were inviting him to join the game. As Kapital made his way over, he noticed Wade point at him and say something that made the girls crack up. This gave Kapital pause, but he continued walking over. Then one of them — this drunk girl with beautiful red hair — yelled at him, “Hey sand nigger, gimme some fucking coke!” Her subsequent cackling indicated she was joking, but it infuriated Kapital. He took out his blow, unsealed the bag, and tossed it toward the cups of beer on the ping pong table. The bag spilled open as it landed in a cup. The whole party turned its attention to Kapital, who had Wade’s Oxford collar scrunched in his hand. Kapital yelled in Wade’s ear, “Call me sand nigger again, and I will burn your fucking house down with you in it.”

Kapital stormed out of the party. He heard indignant laughter behind him. The embarrassment still stung as he hit the gas pedal of his Audi. Barreling toward the 405, his mind raced with questions about what Monday would be like. All those worries evaporated with a flash of red and blue. He slowed down and pulled his car to the side of the road.

It was obvious that Kapital had been drinking. His eyes were bloodshot, and he stunk of booze. But a remarkable thing happened as the officer looked over his license. The officer asked Kapital, “Is your dad a doctor?”

“Yes, Dr. Omar Nasser.”

“Huh, well, he’s my doctor. Looks like tonight’s your lucky night. Call your dad, and tell him to pick you up.”

The drive home started with an awful silence capable of either exploding into rage or shattering into sullen disappointment. Kapital thought he should speak first and either pretend nothing happened or be brutally contrite. But his dad began before he gathered the courage to make a sound.

“Officer Jim Barnt. He’s a nice man. Probably not the kind of man who would normally go out of his way to do me a favor. But I saved his life. His other doctors said, ‘Oh don’t worry. You just have an ulcer.’ But I knew. He needed surgery. And he listened to me. And they found a ruptured intestinal mass — ”

“Ok, dad.”

“Ok. Ok. You could be in jail. You could be dead on the road. But ok. Officer Barnt is alive because of me. You’re safe because of Officer Barnt. I like to think there’s some meaning to this.”

Omar looked at his son, then turned away in disgust, focusing his eyes back on the road. Kapital felt the chyme in his intestines liquify. He was ashamed.

“Dad, I don’t know why I did that. I was upset. I would have waited to sober up. I would have had some water or something, but I was angry and wasn’t thinking.”

“Thinking is important. You used to think all the time! Think about computers, and companies, and banking. You need to start thinking again!”

Chapter 8

New job, new city, same bank. For Kapital, moving to New York was a move away from the simpletons of his prior office. He was playing with the big dogs now. Everything was bigger: attitudes, rent, income, bonuses, competition, and consequences. Kapital took pride telling people he was a Structured Credit Senior Analyst at Alpha Bank. He of course didn’t realize no one cared much for Alpha Bank or any other Wall Street banks for that matter. People did care about his money though.

Wall Street life drained Kapital’s compassion, but it also rejuvenated his motivation — his love of finance. Of capitalism. Of wealth.

A year prior, his former manager heard Kapital’s dissatisfaction, and not wanting to let a great employee spiral, he proposed the transfer. Kapital idolized Wall Street ever since he decided to become a banker, and now he was living that dream. He reveled in the work he accomplished. Buying and packaging thousands of mortgage-backed securities, analyzing the performance of these products, then re-packaging the lowest performing securities into Consolidated Debt Obligations. These financial products he whipped up could then be sold to investment funds for a higher profit since the risk had been diluted. The complex inventiveness that went into CDOs made him appreciate his role in manifesting the Ownership Economy. As he saw it, the responsibility private enterprise propagated was as natural as a vine crawling up a tree: once people had a taste for home ownership, they’d work as hard as necessary to never lose it. “When you give a man a mortgage, he’ll owe you for life,” Kapital loved to quip. It’s amazing how effectively capitalism coalesces with human behavior, or so he thought.

Across the East River, Talya lived at a similar pace as Kapital but with a very different philosophy. The media organization she cofounded was thriving. Based on the ideas of government transparency, social justice, underground urban culture, and popular internet memes, her site found an audience among millennials and older folks seeking to keep up with millennials.

Having worked on blogs in various forms for nearly a decade, she had amassed a considerable online following as well as a keen sense of how to grab attention. With the help of her partner, Benji, their organization, News UnCorporated, addressed under-addressed topics in a fashion that was innovative, clear, and raw. Talya had reached out to other bloggers she’d connected with over the years and got them on board as contributors. Writers whose stories generated the most traffic were paid based on a straightforward compensation model. With freelance contributors from all over the world submitting content to News UnCorporated, the site became an international hub for popular blogs. Talya and Benji hired a small team of dedicated collaborators in Brooklyn, who were drawn to News UnCorporated’s prosocial mission. Being the collectivist types that they were, Talya and Benji adopted a cooperative model for their employee compensation package, empowering their colleagues with a generous share of the company’s equity, and with voting rights, and the autonomy to help shape how the platform functioned. Together, the team worked with the founders to develop a sophisticated content aggregation and curation algorithm. Their efforts legitimized News UnCorporated’s credibility; the site looked polished, was constantly updated with trending topics, and buzzed with active users.

Even though they participated in every aspect of their business, from making coffee to reviewing code, Talya and Benji gave themselves somewhat conventional titles. Talya was Co-Founder and Chief Investigative Reporter, and Benji was Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief. As their baby, News UnCorporated, gained major traction, they had to figure out how to turn that popularity into revenue without disenchanting their audience. Benji maintained that ad revenue through sponsored content was the clearest path to sustainability, while Talya preferred a subscription model. Early on she pushed for News UnCorporated to be a nonprofit, but Benji was convinced that a nonprofit would face aggressive government scrutiny since part of their mission was to expose government malfeasance. He also insisted that for an independent, nonprofit journalistic outfit to succeed, it would have to remain small, whereas their vision was to build a high-profile media institution. That vision combined with their talents had attracted serious investors, which enabled them to start up ad-free, but that capital would inevitably need to be paid back.

The idea of expanding their nimble operation into a prominent media institution funded by opaque advertising stressed Talya out. She identified as a truth-seeking voice of the oppressed, but she also loved the attention her truth-seeking work had garnered from major media outlets. Over time, from her initial online posts to her first high-profile publication, her work evolved into covering local stories wherever big events were happening. Her stories gained notoriety for being in-depth, poignant, and a bit radical. But there was nothing radical about advertising. And yet there were bills and salaries that had to be paid.

As News UnCorporated achieved a reputation for its authentic reporting, unconventional style, and underground nature, Talya hoped her renegade reporting would seep into mainstream consciousness, particularly her field reporting from Iraq. She had visited the country a handful of times, and refused to work as an embedded reporter, choosing instead to experience what daily life and nightlife were like for the Iraqi people as an independent journalist. The stories she captured in war-torn Iraq galvanized the public. She wrote articles about locals who planned to open pizza shops after Saddam’s regime fell, hoping to attract hungry soldiers. But their plans had been stifled by lucrative food service contracts awarded to Halliburton, which brought Pizza Hut and other crappy fast food chains to the Green Zone, giving soldiers little reason to explore outside their comfort zone. She would later correlate these micro-manipulations with the war’s evolving strategy of surgical strikes, targeted assassinations, and drone warfare, insisting that the military leadership assuaged the guilt of American soldiers and contractors with comfort foods and easier ways to kill — no eye contact required.

Many, of course, disagreed with her perspectives, including Kapital. Yet they weren’t on the ground, exposing themselves to the realities of modern warfare. Still, they made their opinions known. Talya had to stop looking at her email since it mostly consisted of death threats, rape threats, and spam. Instead, she relied on BlackBerry Messenger for work and personal communication. The occasions where she had to check her work email were grueling. Sifting through bullshit to find emails that mattered. It was during one of these email purge sessions that she came across one from Kapital. He congratulated her on her work, and let her know that he was living in New York City. He asked her to meet up. This made her stomach turn. Their past felt so distant that the idea of reconnecting stressed her out. She let the email linger for days, then weeks. Then one night, home in her Brooklyn apartment, while she sat in bed working on her laptop, her BlackBerry chimed with a new BBM. It was Kapital:

Hey, this is a shot in the dark.

Not sure if you’re on BBM but

wanted to say Happy Birthday!

I miss knowing you.

Hope you’re well.

She smiled and replied.

Chapter 9

Talya and Kapital found themselves sitting across from each other at a ramen spot in Clinton-Hill. Despite being at one of her favorite restaurants, Talya was apprehensive, the way one gets when a friend visits without any plans, expecting to “just tag along with whatever you’re up to.”

“I’m thinking of buying a place,” Kapital mentioned.

“Oh.”

“In Brooklyn,” he clarified, hoping to impress her.

“Of course you are. Let me guess, Carroll Gardens?”

“Yeah, wow. You know me well.”

“I know a lot of Wall Street pri — people are moving to Carroll Gardens because they can afford it, and the commute to downtown’s not bad.”

“Yah, well, I’m thinking of investing in an old brownstone.”

Talya could feel regret tensing her abdomen. At least the ramen was spectacular.

Talya moved the conversation along, “So is that why you wanted to meet? To talk about real estate?”

“Well, no. I’ve just been wanting to see you. To hear about what you’re up to — from the horse’s mouth, rather than from your articles.”

“Kapital, you just called me a horse.”

“Sorry, I really suck with colloquialisms.”

“Ok, well, yah, the company is good. We’re expanding really fast. We’re kind of torn between maintaining this underground image or going toward a more polished journalistic brand. I don’t know, it sounds dumb, but I don’t want to be labeled as a platform for stoners and anarchists, but I also fucking hate CNN, so we’re figuring it out.”

“Huh, I can see how that’s a dilemma. My perspective is, you’re already so deep in the urban drug and party scene that it’s impossible to shake that stereotype. I mean, your work definitely stands apart from News UnCorporated’s tone. But, the slant you’re going for still fits.”

“Slant?”

“Yah, like how you kind of put things in a… conspiratorial light.”

“Jesus, no I fucking don’t.”

“Sorry, I thought. Criticism — ”

“Kapital, I don’t need your critical opinion. I knew seeing you was a bad idea.”

“Talya, sorry. I’ve been wanting to catch up forever.”

“Well, I’m busy. Always. And honestly, I had a feeling you’d be like this. I just didn’t want to see it.”

“Like what? What am I like?” Kapital asked. He sounded genuinely interested.

“You’re a Wall Street, corporate insider, who puts everything into a binary view of the world. You act like you’re an expert because everything you know fits into a black and white economic model and you’re one of the elite few who sees that.”

“Ok, but I can say similar things about your reporting in Iraq. Like how you say we’re ‘assassinating’ people. I mean, it’s a war.”

“Kapital, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. I’ve talked to Iraqi leaders, village elders, who very bluntly bragged about getting their rivals killed simply by telling American soldiers those rivals were al-Qaeda terrorists.”

“That’s not really the same as assassination though.”

“They died in surgical drone strikes carried out by the CIA!”

“Ok, yah, I get it.”

“I don’t want to argue with you. I’m only here because I felt bad for ignoring you and was hoping you grew up.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’ve always been so damn focused on being a billionaire that you never looked at who gets rich at whose expense, and you know what? When the cards fall, you’re going to just blame everyone else but yourself.”

“Talya, I get what you’re referencing, but there’s a reason Wall Street only hires the best and brightest.”

“Because they’re too naive to look past a bottom line.”

“No, we believe in a philosophy. The Ownership Society, and right now, the work I do makes home ownership more attainable than ever. And lots of money is made. It’s a win win.”

“Your Ownership Society is a fleece, and it’s finally starting to show. The loans you’re dealing are going bad.”

“Talya, what you’re talking about is the media making a big deal out of a few mistakes. Some low-grade products went bust recently, but our philosophy is still sound.”

“‘Our philosophy is sound’ — you sound like a cult follower. The loans that are busting are going to rip the seams, and your entire industry is going to fall apart. I hope you’re ready.”

“How did this conversation get so antagonistic?”

“Your insisting that assassination is not a government strategy, basically denigrating my work!”

“Look, I just think the drone strikes you’re hung up on are not that consequential. The troop surge has been a much more effective strategy.”

“I never suggested that the surge is not working. There’s more to it though. These surgical strikes are a change in the direction of the CIA, and Americans need to be informed about what their government is up to.”

“I get that. I suppose I just don’t see the point in getting into the weeds of war strategy. But, honestly, I care more about the economy than foreign policy.”

“Meeting up with you was a shitty idea.”

“Talya, I hate it here.”

Talya’s frustration noticeably dissipated. She could tell he was sincere. He’d been trying to put up a front, avoiding the topic of happiness by being unapologetically blunt with his libertarian principles.

“Not everyone’s cut out for New York.”

“I’ve been online dating — ”

“Whoa, stopping you right there. If you think there’s any chance you and I — you’re as clueless as a lobster in a hot tub.”

Kapital laughed a little then explained, “The city just feels lonely. All I do is work. And everyone I’ve matched with is either completely uninteresting or just trying to lock down someone they think is rich.”

“Oh please, you are rich.”

“Well, not as rich as I’d like to be.”

“See! That’s your problem. Nothing is ever enough. Never mind that you’ve been hustling and saving since fourth grade. You’re probably wealthier than 90% of the country.”

“That might be true.”

“Even if you were in the top one percent, I bet all the yachts and lambos still wouldn’t suffice.”

“Jeez, not every rich guy wants yachts and lambos. Although, I wouldn’t mind a yacht.”

Talya let out a small giggle, “That was dumb.” She took a breath then went on, “So, this is me being honest with you, Kapital. You’re a great person, but you’re not sure why you’re unhappy because you’re smarter than what you believe. I think you’re a little lost and lonely, but so are a lot of people. I just hope you realize you have more potential than what Wall Street has to offer.”

A few weeks after meeting with Talya, Kapital found himself in a meeting with the top analysts, data modelers, and directors at Alpha Bank. The news from the executives was bleak. A large payout would likely be going out to a few prescient investors who had bought Credit Default Swaps to insure against the chance that Alpha’s CDOs would fail. The returns on CDOs were dwindling, and the anticipated fallout was exceptionally grim. Alpha Bank needed to cushion the blow. The executives instructed Kapital and the others to immediately cease creating CDOs, and as quickly as possible, completely offload their CDO inventory to secondary markets. No more Credit Default Swaps were to be issued. In a complete about-face, they were instructed to create a new fund that would purchase Credit Default Swaps on CDOs from investors dumb enough to sell them and short any companies in the construction and real estate sectors. They needed to find every opportunity to bet against the housing market.

Just days before, Kapital had been encouraging investors to purchase Alpha Bank’s CDO products. Now he was actively working to undermine these investments. His belief in the Ownership Society began to stumble. His myopia angered him. In retrospect, it seemed obvious that bundling low-grade loans and selling those bundles as premium investments was pure alchemy. He recalled how easy it had been to make a fortune building simplistic websites before the tech bubble burst. Disdain was sinking in. He fantasized about quitting his job, but this was the work he had long aspired to do. Plus, he was one of the lucky ones, surviving rounds of layoffs because he was a valuable player, able to disregard his principles and make money betting against them. This was what sunk cost felt like. Each day he went to work, he was confronted with that cost as entire departments of employees left the company — not by choice.

Kapital continued to work diligently, but the toll of this strategic financial pivot was visible. He stopped shaving. He didn’t bother with haircuts. He still wore nice slacks, a jacket, and a collared shirt, but only because those were the items his wardrobe consisted of. He did notably abstain from wearing a necktie to the office.

Occasionally his thoughts drifted away from his workload. Kapital wanted to sort out what went wrong with the Ownership Society. Privatization should have generated unprecedented growth. The yields on mortgage investments depended on people fulfilling their obligations in order to keep a roof over their head, and somehow the housing market was collapsing. Maybe somewhere in this new strategy of betting against home loans was an answer. Because capitalism. Or there was no answer because capitalism was never meant to bring everyone to the top. Perhaps, that Shining City on a Hill would always be surrounded by poverty down below.

As Kapital came to terms with his complicity in this farce, he felt the need to do something. He began collecting memos and recording conversations. An idea of how to disseminate this damning evidence began to take shape. He set up an inconspicuous repository hosted on a cloud service, then added end-to-end encryption to it using open-source tools. Being back at a terminal and building something, even if it was just a digital tipline for encrypting and storing files and messages, felt liberating.

Talya was in a hotel room in Kabul when a BBM from Kapital came through.

I’m working on a project to get a

warning out. You were right, the

economy is rigged. I have evidence

that Alpha is hedging against the

housing market.

She was astounded, but flustered because she was on a mission of her own. She’d been in Kabul for weeks, and finally found a fixer (translator, cultural specialist, and driver) willing to accompany her to a refugee camp on the outskirts of Jalalabad near the Pakistani border. She was in Afghanistan investigating claims that militia leaders were exploiting their friendly relationships with US soldiers to seize control of huge swaths of land. Her fixer went by the name of Oz and was waiting for her downstairs in the hotel lobby. She replied to Kapital:

That’s wild. Glad to hear you’re

willing to call out their cheating.

I’m reporting from Afg now.

Please contact my partner,

Benji: 981.555.1984

As he read her reply, a wave of nostalgia washed over Kapital. He spontaneously decided to contact Ryan, as if he was reassembling his old crew together for a new project.

After sending her reply, Talya didn’t have time for reminiscing. She quickly finished packing, then headed to the lobby to meet Oz and make their way to Jalalabad.

Chapter 10

Kapital was at the headquarters of News UnCorporated in Brooklyn when news of Talya’s kidnapping arrived. He was there introducing the backend developers to the software stack he used to build the secure tipline. In order to grant them access to his encrypted repository, Kapital utilized the cloud service’s command-line interface to sync the repository onto one of their on-premise servers, enabling the team to view the sensitive documents, notes, and recordings he was collecting. The files corroborated his account of Alpha Bank’s actions leading up to the subprime mortgage bubble that had crippled the global economy. Their work had a sense of urgency because miles away in Washington D.C., Congress was preparing to vote on whether or not to bail out America’s biggest financial institutions, including Alpha Bank. However, this unexpected update from the outskirts of Jalalabad shifted everyone’s focus.

The kidnappers wanted money, which was a big problem for News UnCorporated, considering they were a small digital news outlet with limited cash reserves. On top of that, Talya was working as an independent reporter, rather than an embedded journalist tethered to the military, which meant the U.S. government couldn’t care less about her. Moreover, she had traveled as a Canadian citizen, citizenship she had acquired through her marriage to Benji.

Fortunately for her, Kapital was in the room when the amount was negotiated. As Benji struggled with the gravity of the situation, Kapital and the other News UnCorporated team members insisted he put the call on speakerphone. The kidnappers demanded $300,000 USD. Upon hearing this, Kapital suggested that if they would accept $250K, he could have the money delivered to them in person by the end of the week. They agreed.

Kapital hadn’t slept much, yet he felt invigorated, as though his reality was speeding up. Between walking out of his bank with $250K in cash, carefully lining a suitcase with the cash, dropping off his resignation at Alpha Bank, and touching base with his parents… His parents didn’t like that he was traveling to Pakistan, but they understood the circumstances. Omar contacted his family and told them Kapital would be visiting and needed shelter. His family lauded the news. They had never met Omar’s son. Omar warned Kapital, if his family asked about his religiosity, “Just say you’re Muslim.”

Exiting the airport in Islamabad, Kapital spotted his name on a sign being held enthusiastically by a husky man with a cheek-to-cheek smile. This was his cousin, Hamad, and Hamad was surrounded by a boisterous crowd — his father’s family.

“Cousin Kapital! So great to see you!” Hamad exclaimed.

That evening, as he sat around a table with his extended family, enjoying a seemingly endless supply of food, Kapital struggled with expressing his gratitude and reminding them of his business at hand.

“I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever even meet our American cousin,” his cousin Ishaak exclaimed.

“Yeah, I really wish I could have come sooner,” Kapital began to explain, then his Aunt Bahar chimed in.

“My brother told me your friend was kidnapped!”

“Yeah, well, yes. That’s why I’m here. Although, now, being here with you all, with family…” The enormity of his situation was sinking in, and a lump began to swell around his Adam’s apple. “I’m sorry, the circumstances of this visit are actually quite grave.”

The clamor around the table diminished as Kapital explained that he needed to travel to Jalalabad to rescue his childhood friend.

“I can’t let you go without me,” Hamad asserted.

His cousin Ishaak concurred, “I will join you as well.”

“It may be dangerous. I’d prefer that I not get my family involved.” Kapital meant what he said, but also was hoping his cousins would insist, which they did.

“Nonsense. We will join you.” Hamad’s insistence was a kind reminder that Kapital had deep bonds beyond the life he knew. “You are family, and are here in our country with an awful problem. So we are here for you. Besides, these men who stole your friend, they probably are not terrorists. They’re probably farmers who need money. I have a rifle. We’ll be fine.”

Miles away, on the other side of the Pakistani-Afghan border, Talya had come to a slightly different conclusion. While the circumstances of her capture did not follow the hostage-taking M.O. of al-Qaeda, her abductors were as ruthless as any terrorists.

After spending weeks compiling stories from refugees, and then working with Oz in Jalalabad to cross-check those stories, Talya decided to follow a lead out to a farm. Several witnesses claimed that some Afghan men used the US army to seize control of the farm. The men had informed the American soldiers of the farm’s vast poppy fields, knowing the Americans were determined to eradicate the crop. Once the farm’s livelihood was decimated, the men took over the land. Talya sought to speak with these formidable plunderers. However, on her way out there, she and Oz found themselves forced off the road by several men in trucks. The men were armed with military-style weapons. Oz got out of the car, and tried to reason with the men, offering them cigarettes. The men looked at Talya. They weren’t interested in cigarettes. They asked the fixer what he was doing with her. Under pressure, he explained they were working together as journalists. Upon hearing this, they seized his car with Talya still in it.

As they drove off, Talya watched from the car window the militia men get back into their trucks. Oz was alone on the roadside when a loud round of gunshots erupted from the back of one of the trucks. Talya saw Oz fall to ground. She screamed, and then a hand gripped her neck. The man choking her was yelling for something. Her Pashto was sparse, but she understood what he was after. She handed her bag to the man choking her. He let her go, then dug into the bag and pulled out her BlackBerry. One of the men in the car whistled in astonishment when he saw it. They directed her to point out a phone number. They wanted a number to call and arrange a ransom.

After being locked alone in a cinder block room for a few days, Talya began to break down. Leading up to her breakdown, she had kept her mind active by trying to sort out exactly what must be going on. She suspected her kidnappers must have worked out some sort of deal. Most hostages were never held in the same place for long unless they were waiting for something. Talya could tell these men were not jihadists. They were opportunists. Probably the same ones she had sought to interview. She knew al-Qaeda preferred to keep their foreign captives on the move in order to elude coalition forces, but these men didn’t fear the coalition presence — they profited from it. Realistically, she should have been more of a burden than a worthwhile hostage. They likely would have sold her into captivity or killed her to avoid having to feed her unless there was a more lucrative possibility. So what were they waiting for? She had given them Benji’s number, but the likelihood that their business could acquire a large sum of capital in a short amount of time was slim. However, it was possible. But a financial hit like that would destroy investor confidence and force the organization into insolvency. This course of thought distracted her from the last image of Oz… his lifeless body… dropping… The image could only be dismissed for a short while and only with another terrible thought, that her actions would destroy the company she founded. After agonizing over these consequences for days, she exploded into a screaming, incoherent tornado of emotion and recklessness that banged up the room as much as it tore and bruised her body. Her abductors found her on the floor bloodied and winded, but still screaming between each breath. They tied her to her bed, ripped off a sleeve, and injected her with a warm, cozy reassurance that she had never experienced before. She was lifeless, but content. As her abductors released her and made their way out of the room, she couldn’t say a word, but somehow, she understood everything they said to each other. They were saying, “Don’t give her too much. She’s worth a lot.” But she knew that was a lie. She cost far more than she was worth.

Nine days into her ordeal, Talya was completely delirious. Some women had been coming to her room twice a day. One time to feed her and keep her cleaned up, and the other time to sedate her. The heroin helped her sleep and forget the mess she’d caused. That ninth day, when her door opened, the women were replaced by the men. The men who killed Oz. They tied a scarf around her eyes, and led her out of her room. When it was taken off, she saw a room full of men with firearms pointed at each other. When she realized who was there for her, she gasped:

“Kapi…”

Tension dissolved into elation as Kapital and Talya embraced. Kapital’s joy quickly turned when he felt Talya go limp. He saw her arm peppered with track marks and screamed:

“Fucking, bastards!”

The men began yelling at one another, and Hamad, rifle in hand, called out asz clearly as he could, “Kapital! Kapital! Is she alive?”

Kapital could tell she was breathing, “Yes, she’s alive”

“She is not well,” Hamad said, “We can all see that. Take her to my Suzuki. She will survive.”

Together, Talya and Kapital exited her abductors’ compound followed by Ishaak and then Hamad. As he left, Hamad kept his rifle pointed at the men, who had begun putting down their weapons in a rush to clutch handfuls of cash from the duffel bag Kapital had given them.

“How are you?” Kapital asked Talya when she came to in the backseat of Hamad’s Suzuki. Ishaak was driving, and Hamad rode in the passenger seat.

“I’m — sick.”

“Ishaak, can you pull over?”

Hamad helped Talya out of the car. She walked a few feet away and then threw up. Kapital brought her a canteen of water. She dumped some on her head and then poured some into her mouth. She gargled and spit.

“I was really hot. Now I’m ok.” She got back in the car, and they continued on.

Talya suddenly trembled. “Shit,” she said, “now I’m freezing.”

Kapital put his jacket over her.

“Thanks. I feel weak.”

“I can’t imagine what you’ve been through,” Kapital said. Talya began to giggle a little, confusing Kapital.

“Sorry, it’s just. This is nothing,” she began to cry. Kapital put his hand on hers.

“You’re ok now.”

“Kapital, I saw my friend die. It was my fault.”

“Shit, I’m sorry. I know once this is over, you’re going to have a story to tell, and it’ll remind people just how fucked up this war is.”

Talya took a breath. She closed her eyes, nestled into the corner of her seat and faded out. A few moments later Hamad commented, “She’s going to be ok, cousin Kapital. Rest and food, and she’ll be ok.”

“I hope so, cousin,” Kapital replied. “Hamad, Ishaak, thank you, both.” Kapital and Talya held hands as she slept nearly the whole drive back to Islamabad.

Sept 30, 2008Open Letter from News UnCorporated to the World:News UnCorporated has long pushed for more transparency. We value a world without secrets between nations, without secrets between governments and citizens, and without secrets between businesses and stakeholders. We recently were granted access to a trove of classified documents from an encrypted online repository. As we began authenticating these documents, a curious thing happened: the repository grew, and several newly added documents divulged damning evidence of misdeeds concocted by the US Government.We were in the process of making sense of these new documents when News UnCorporated’s private intranet was breached. Several of these digital documents were destroyed in the breach, and we no longer have access to the encrypted repository.But we had backups. Effective immediately, News UnCorporated is going underground. We are not disbanding. We are decentralizing, and those of us who wish to continue to implement our mission are now fully distributed around the globe. The files that some nefarious force attempted to destroy will remain open and accessible to anyone with internet access.Our Brooklyn headquarters has been sabotaged. The lives of all our employees and contributors have been flipped upside down. But we are not giving up our mission. We are committed to maintaining an online portal for whistleblowers to speak truth to power. It’s up to us to shine the light that will disinfect corruption. We encourage workers everywhere to help us expose government manipulation, corporate fraud, and the financial exploits of the top one percent.News UnCorporated will continue to fight the good fight.Yours in solidarity,Benji Heffman, Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of News UnCorporated

Back in Islamabad, Hamad’s wife, Nazanine, sent their kids to her parents so Kapital and Talya could have a quiet place to recuperate. Talya insisted on staying away from any clinics or hospitals, preferring to recover from her withdrawal symptoms from the comfort of a clean bedroom with bathroom access.

“I just need water,” she said, “and some more of Nazanine’s naan.”

Talya’s fever dissipated after a couple days. Late one night, she awoke from a nightmare and found Kapital awake next to her with a warm, wet washcloth.

“Hey, you’re ok,” Kapital said, patting the cloth against her forehead.

“I need the bathroom.”

She got up and made her way to the toilet. When she came back, Kapital was lying on one of the twin beds on the other side on the room. She went and sat next to him.

“Hey, you look like shit,” she joked.

“Ha, yah well, I’ve been busy. Haven’t slept much in a while,” he confessed.

Kapital had gone months with no more than four hours of sleep every night. He was finally hitting a wall, but felt at peace with it.

“You’re the toughest person I know,” he told her.

“Kapital, I can’t believe you came.”

“I was in the room when the call came, and the plan just came together. Your team and Benji really wanted you safe as soon as possible.”

“You came through, and that’s amazing.”

“Talya, you’re my friend. I would have done anything to make sure you’re ok.”

“The shit that went down, Kapital. You have no idea how war just destroys people’s soul.”

“Money fucks people up.”

“Wow, that’s a bold statement for someone who commoditizes capital for a living.”

“Well, I quit my job.”

“Wait, what? Kapi! — ” Kapital pressed his finger to his lips, reminding her that it was late and Haman and Nazanine were sleeping.

“Wall Street was your life,” Talya exclaimed in a whispered voice.

“I made a mistake. If I had stayed, it would have…”

“Destroyed your soul.”

“Pretty much.”

After a moment, Kapital’s eyes began to close. “We should sleep,” Talya whispered.

Kapital fell into a slumber like none he had never known before. His body was telling him to take this time to rest. As he slept, Talya looked at him. He wasn’t the same Kapital who had tried to impress her with talk of buying a brownstone. His black hair hung longer than she’d ever seen it, and his face was hidden behind a scraggly beard. Kapital had left his demanding Wall Street job and pooled his resources — financial and familial — to rescue her, and now, her safety was proof that when pushed to the edge, Kapital would follow his conscience.

Hours passed. Talya was feeling more energetic, but was growing antsy as well. She needed to get her and Oz’s story out, and to let her team know she was ok. Kapital had been asleep for nearly ten hours when Talya told Nazanine she needed to find an internet cafe. Nazanine had a place in mind and suggested that she join her.

“It’s not safe anywhere for you,” Nazanine warned. “Please go with me. I’ll take you to a computer cafe where only women are allowed. It’s better this way.” Nazanine dressed Talya in a full burqa and off they went.

On their way to the cafe, Talya thought about how anti-burqa she was, and yet in this situation, her objections were beside the point. She was being pragmatic, she told herself. The mission was to get the story out, and this journey was part of that story.

As Talya poured her words into a computer, it struck her how lucky she was in this moment. To be working while enjoying a cup of chai and not in the chaos of an average male-dominated internet café was fortunate. The internet speed, however, was less fortunate. In fact, it was lousy. So, she focused on writing drafts, which she then sent as a series of emails to her colleagues, letting them know she was safe, accounting how her story unfolded — how Oz died working to shed light on the brutality that war breeds, and apprising them of her next steps. That last one was the tricky part; how was she going to get out of Pakistan? She decided she’d go to the Canadian consulate, and take it from there.

Kapital woke up in a groggy haze of commotion. Someone was arguing in the background. It was Hamad. When Kapital came to his senses, he saw guns pointed at his face. The men holding the guns were dressed in military garb. They handcuffed him, threw a sack over his head, and dragged him away.

A block away Talya and Nazanine watched the military officers take Kapital. Nazanine worried about her husband for a moment, then heard his loud argumentative tone in the air.

“Hamad’s ok. But they’re taking Kapital away,” Nazanine discerned.

“We need to stop them!” Talya attempted to run toward the officers, but Nazanine grabbed her by the back of her loose-fitting dress.

“Talya, stop! You can’t go over there. They’ll take you, too!”

“Kapital needs our help!” Talya’s concern was evident, but Nazanine held her tight and spoke directly into her ear:

“Kapital came all this way for you. You can’t reason with military men. They’ll take you away, and then all that Kapital did will have been a waste. We need to get you somewhere safe.”

They decided to head straight to the Canadian consulate. However, when they got near the consulate, they noticed military SUVs parked nearby. Talya didn’t know why the Pakistani officers would want to arrest her. She racked her brain to think of what they could be after. Nothing came to mind, but she sensed something ominous was happening.

“This is not good,” Nazanine said, recognizing Talya’s trepidation.

“Yeah, I have a feeling that they’re going to arrest me.” Suddenly, Talya got an idea. “Do you know anyone with a BlackBerry?”

“Hamad’s friend Rajim. I can take you to meet him.”

Time became incalculable for Kapital. He was in a state of constant transport. For most of the journey he couldn’t see anything due to the sack covering his head. At one point, someone guiding him from one transport to the next whispered to him out of nowhere, “Don’t worry, you’ll be ok.” The comment almost knocked him out of his verbal paralysis, but just as he was about to respond, he was handed off to someone else, who then escorted him up some stairs and onto what must have been a plane. Up in the air, someone removed his face covering, and someone else began to speak to him.

“Kapital Nasser,” the man said, “You’ve been detained by the United States of America.” His face was old and tense, and veins bulged around his crew cut. Kapital could tell he must have been some kind of commander by the way he stood out from the other soldiers. “You are now property of the United States government until such time you are seen as fit enough to be released, which might be never. You — ”

“Sir, I haven’t been read my rights, and would like to speak to my mother.”

“Oh, you want your mommy?”

“She’s my lawyer.”

“Ah, yes, well, consider your citizenship null and void.”

“Is revoking my citizenship even legal? Why are you doing this to me?” Kapital pleaded for an answer.

“We have solid evidence of you conspiring with terrorists and working to undermine the integrity of the US military. So, yes, this is legal.”

“Sir, if you give me a chance to explain, I — ”

“Oh, you’ll have a chance to explain yourself,” the commander said with a snarky tone. “And we’ll do whatever it is we have to do to make sure you’re telling us the whole truth.”

“This is a mistake. I’m not the kind of person who deserves this… this treatment!” Kapital’s desperation hung in the air for a moment.

“Well, I know a filthy terrorist when I see one.” The commander eyed Kapital’s shaggy beard and unbarbered hair. “And, Nasser, you are a filthy terrorist. Have a nice flight.” With that, the sack was once again placed over his head.

Rajim was a nice man, who wanted to help. Talya told him the situation, and that she would use his phone to BBM her colleague. He obliged and handed her his phone.

She messaged Benji.

Talya (from unknown number):

Hey, it’s Talya. Do you know why the

Pakistani military might be after me?

Benji:

If it’s really you, tell me something

only you would know.

Talya:

That night you took me out

to a Mexican restaurant on

Bleeker St that didn’t ID.

After dinner we went

to Bulgarian Bar on Canal.

I ended up going home with

someone who wasn’t you.

Sorry about that.

Benji:

Yah, that was kind of a jerk move.

Talya:

What happened?

Benji:

We published some documents

that someone didn’t want public.

Benji explained that their project with Kapital had blown up. Kapital had authorized the backend team with read-only access to an encrypted repository containing the Alpha Bank documents he had collected. But the size of their local clone of the repository kept expanding, nearly filling up a server partition, despite the fact that Kapital was no longer adding documents since he was en route to Pakistan. The team could only view a portion of the repository with the encryption software Kapital had provided, but when they SSHed into their server, they discovered hidden directories beyond the scope that Kapital had granted them. Accessing those directories required administrator privileges to expand their permissions. Because Kapital had used his personal credentials to initiate the cloud sync, the team was able to extend their read-only permissions to all directories of the repository, and then, using the documentation from the open-source tool that Kapital had found online, decrypt the contents of those directories. What they discovered were classified documents, images, and messages from what appeared to be military personnel.

There were correspondences from US diplomats in Africa discussing covert operations to subvert the expansion of Chinese commercial interests throughout the continent. There was a message, seemingly from someone in the NSA, disclosing how the Patriot Act enabled the agency to spy on foreign governments and leverage that intel to help American businesses score lucrative contracts abroad. Emails between the ambassador to Bolivia and the CEO of a highly valued tech firm insinuated that instigating a coup would help drive down the price of batteries.

A soldier had submitted photos of contracts between the US government and Halliburton/KBR, illustrating the exorbitant price tag that taxpayers were footing for everything ranging from electricity to food and toilet paper. Memos were distributed that discouraged service members from leaving base and prohibited soldiers from visiting the shops and restaurants around the bases that local Iraqis had set up. All this despite the fact that the military was engaged in a public campaign to “win the hearts and minds” of locals. Many low-ranking military servicemen and women submitted comments and concerns to Kapital’s tipline that reflected the same disaffection: they had joined the military to protect the American people, not corporate interests, and yet their work contributed to an endless cycle of squeezing taxpayer money for profit and personal gain. The military was being used as a corporate muscle, and any competition to US business interests would be targeted and annihilated.

After making a copy of the data, Benji began categorizing the material with the intention to vet and confirm the authenticity of these claims and confidential documents before publishing, but there had been a breach. As uploads continued to trickle in, someone on the team opened a newly added file with a .jpg extension. They had assumed an image would open up, but it was actually an executable file. The file ran an exploit that enabled some bad actor to wreak havoc on News UnCorporated’s private network, deleting data and compromising any device that accessed the network. The News UnCorporated team had to shut down their local network to stop the damage from spreading. Despite hosting the News UnCorporated website on a separate cloud network, the website’s Content Delivery Network depended on updates from the (now offline) servers in Brooklyn, causing much of the site’s functionality to break. It wasn’t clear who was behind this exploit. What was clear was that News UnCorporated was under attack.

With Talya trapped somewhere in Afghanistan, Benji was left to confront this calamity with his own intuition. He thought about going to another media outlet and explaining the story, but that would mean handing over this trove of classified data, leaving the fate of these seismic documents to linger or possibly never see the light of day. His instincts were telling him to run, but he desperately wanted the public to know what was happening.

As soon as he came up with a strategy, he called an emergency phone meeting with the team. “Everyone: stay away from HQ. Someone is trying to knock us offline, and whoever it might be, they know where our office is. The only way we can fight back is to be 100 percent transparent. I’m talking radical transparency.” He spoke about their lack of options, and then brought his proposal up for a vote. The team was split on the decision, but the majority sided with Benji’s plan. After the vote, he ended the call with this: “For those of you who want to remain part of this endeavor, get on a plane, a boat, whatever. Leave the country. We are going to show the world that we will not allow facts to disappear. Those of you who choose to stay will have to face whatever power is behind this attack, and for that, I’m sorry. If you choose to continue our fight, godspeed.” Not long after the call, he crossed into Canada by train. He then pushed code he had prepared directly to the production server, updating the News UnCorporated domain to feature his open letter along with complete access to their copy of the repository.

The blowback was swift. Kapital’s tipline was removed from the cloud service provider, and the office of News UnCorporated was raided by federal agents. Benji was now messaging Talya from the Russian embassy in Ottawa, Canada. What was left of the News UnCorporated team was now distributed across the globe. They were creating replicas of Kapital’s tipline on international servers. So even with Kapital arrested, the Corporatocracy could not stop these massive leaks.

Talya was flabbergasted. Indiscriminately leaking classified documents wasn’t journalism. This irresponsible behavior was costing her her livelihood, as well as that of everyone involved. Benji insisted he had done what he thought she would have wanted because keeping the leaks flowing was for the greater good — the unfiltered truth was spilling out. But to Talya, it was disconcerting. Either way, she was now a target and had to somehow make her way out of Pakistan. She decided to follow Benji’s move and headed to the Russian consulate in Islamabad.

Chapter 11

Kapital was almost certain he was in Cuba. Guantanamo Bay to be precise. Upon stepping off the plane, a rush of humidity engulfed him. Kapital could taste ocean salt in the air as soldiers led him to his cell, which was the smallest accommodation he had ever encountered. In the solitude of that cell, he could faintly hear seagulls calling. This was a dire predicament, and Kapital couldn’t help but think that this was not how he expected his first trip to his mother’s homeland to unfold.

Lacking any information on why he had been detained, he decided it must have been some mix-up due to paying Talya’s ransom. Still, he didn’t expect such drastic repercussions. She was a dear friend; he figured he could explain when given the chance. It had been a life-and-death situation! But paying Talya’s ransom was not entirely why he was there.

His cell door opened. A sack was once again placed over head and shackles were secured to his wrists and ankles. Kapital was led out of his cell, down a long corridor, and into a dark room.

“Remove his outfit,” a voice called out.

“What!?” Kapital screamed, then a strap was wrapped over the sack and around his mouth. He couldn’t make a sound as his clothes were cut off. He felt his skin exposed, and tried to contort his body inward to hide himself.

The unknown soldiers laid him down on a bench. His limbs were shacked together, restricting his movements.

“Nasser, I’m going to ask you a question. If you don’t answer, you will regret it. Take the gag off.”

The strap was removed from his mouth.

“Please, I just wanted to help Talya. I paid the ransom. I didn’t know — “

“Pour.”

Kapital felt his nose sting with pain as water made its way into his nostrils. His brain burned, and he coughed as if he was choking.

“Stop.”

The water stopped. Kapital immediately took in as much air as he could.

“You are here to answer questions. If you don’t answer, that will be repeated.” The sound of Kapital’s gasps filled the room.

“Nasser, why did you want American servicemen to disclose government secrets to News UnCorporated?”

Kapital was still catching his breath when he answered, “What? I didn’t do that. I was trying to expose Alpha Ba — ”

“Pour.”

The stinging was back, and longer this time. Kapital helplessly flailed his bound body. His screams barely made it through his gargling gasps.

“Stop.”

“Nasser, we know you sabotaged Alpha Bank. We know you sabotaged the United States military. I want you to tell us why you want to sabotage our country.”

Kapital heard the words, but they didn’t make sense. He felt like he was upside-down. The sack was still over head, drenched in water.

“Please, I’m American, I didn’t — ”

“Pour.”

Kapital was sure water was filling his lungs now.

“If you don’t want to answer today, that’s fine. We have plenty of time. Welcome to your new home.”

The pouring continued. Kapital lost consciousness. When the pouring finally stopped, someone pressed his stomach hard, and he vomited water out of his nose and mouth.

“That’s enough work for today, soldiers. I’m sure he’ll be more cooperative tomorrow. Take him back to his hole.”

Kapital was lying on his stomach on a mat on the floor of his cell. He had been crying. He thought he would be given an opportunity to speak with someone, to explain himself. Waterboarding had been this distant reality that only the worst sort of extremists deserved. What did they want from him? Kapital was ready to tell them everything, about setting up a tipline, notifying Ryan, bailing out Talya… everything. But then something unexpected happened. The slot used to deliver meals opened. Instead of food, there was a neatly folded naval uniform with a razor on top of it and a note: “Shave+Haircut”.

Hours after receiving the package, Kapital’s cell door opened. Before him stood a woman in a naval officer’s uniform. She was alone and simply stated, “Come with me.”

Kapital followed. He looked more cleaned up than when he had arrived, but anyone who gave more than a glance at him would notice nicks and uneven stubble where his scruffy beard had been. His hair was also much shorter, but still messy.

It was early in the morning, before dawn. The officer he was following warned him, “Walk like you know where you’re going, please.” Kapital straightened up and pretended he knew what he was doing.

She led him to a massive boat garage at the edge of the bay. There, someone else approached them. The man nodded, and she left, without say anything else to Kapital. The next officer led Kapital into the garage. Inside were docks, one of which had several makeshift boats lined along it.

“These vessels were seized from Cubans fleeing — seeking asylum,” the man said. He led Kapital to a boat at the end of the dock. There was another person waiting next to a small boat there. As Kapital got closer, he realized it was Ryan (minus the dreads).

“Hey, homeslice,” Ryan said with a big smile.

Kapital smiled so hard it hurt his face. They hugged.

“Look,” Ryan started, “I have to apologize. I told some people — people I trust — that my friend was a computer whiz, who built a secure pipe to News UnCorporated, and that shit went viral. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

Kapital looked into Ryan’s eyes. His mind was racing, and he struggled to express what he had been through.

Ryan continued, “I’m going to set things right. I still owe you.”

“They think I’m a terrorist…” Kapital trailed off.

“You’re not. A lot of us know you don’t belong here. You just gave us the sticks — we poked the dam. Now we’re going to get you to higher ground.”

Ryan helped Kapital into the small boat. It was essentially a rowboat with a propeller powered by a set of car batteries instead of an internal combustion engine.

“The batteries are fresh. Cubans are quite inventive. It’s not the safest craft, but it’ll get you out of the bay quietly. Anyone who spots you is rooting for you to make it out of this fucked up place. Just hug the shore, get around the bay, then you’re in Cuba proper.”

“Ryan. Come with me.”

“Look, no time to argue. Like I said, I’m going to fix this. Let’s get you moving.”

With that, Ryan untied the line and got the boat on course. Kapital lowered the propeller, started the motor, and he was off to Cuba proper.

Chapter 12

Talya was living in a suburb of St. Petersburg. She hated the weather, but was happy to have escaped extradition to US custody.

She continued to write, seeking to set the record straight. The media’s portrayal of Kapital demonized him as an American-born Islamic terrorist who had helped fund jihadists in Afghanistan and sought to sow discord within the most vital US institutions: finance and national security. Her efforts to objectively explain the events leading up to his capture were distorted by some to justify his extraordinary rendition and the demands for her imprisonment as well. Despite penning articles detailing her non-involvement in the News UnCorporated leaks, the previous US administration wanted both her and Benji arrested. Her role as co-founder of News UnCorporated carried weight in the court of public opinion, and because the site continued to disclose classified documents on an ongoing basis, her arrest would send a powerful message.

When she first arrived in Russia, there was talk of revolution within the US Department of Defense. Ryan’s actions set off a firestorm that factionalized American service members as well as civilians. Calls to shift priorities from defending the business interests of corporate cronies to protecting Americans from actual threats, such as Climate Change, propagated throughout the military. But as time wore on, the military leaks ended and outrage surrounding the scandal began to fade. Then multiple whistleblowers began using News Uncorporated to release records that identified the owners of various shell companies with offshore bank accounts, as well as the lobbyists who campaigned to ensure those accounts never faced federal scrutiny. As the financial exploits of the rich and powerful came to light, the news cycle moved on from quelling military dissidence to defaming and prosecuting anyone who leaked confidential intelligence to News UnCorporated.

The 2008 election had been hyped as a game changer. Americans voted for change, electing a man who seemed to embody the new direction they hoped to go. They believed this new administration would restore America’s tarnished image, revive military devotion, and reverse the economic downturn. At first it seemed like the newly elected president was following through on those hopes. He pushed for the closure of Guantanamo Bay; he unequivocally condemned waterboarding as torture and banned its use; he framed the military leaks not as acts of mutiny but as a consequence of invading Iraq under false pretenses and then grossly mismanaging the aftermath; and in his heartfelt inaugural address, he declared that those who caused the financial collapse would not go unpunished. A year into the new regime, Guantanamo remained an active detention center for individuals the US refused to label as “prisoners of war,” instead considering them “unlawful enemy combatants.” Ryan Barris faced a military trial that was closed to the public, leaving his fate cloaked in mystery. And the financial institutions responsible for the global economic catastrophe not only went unpunished, but were rewarded with a unique opportunity to leverage markets that were now turbocharged due to the Federal Reserve’s rock-bottom interest rates and quantitative easing.

As capitalists began to concentrate their wealth into intermingling financial pools that compounded exponentially, the fracture between America’s poor and wealthy cratered into a canyon, engulfing the middle class. But the markets looked great on paper, and that’s all the mainstream media outlets cared about: markets are good, work is coming back, stay calm and carry on. And that’s what they expected Americans to do: carry on. Except for these damn whistleblowers, exposing tax havens in Panama and the Cayman Islands, and causing turbulence that threatened consumer sentiment.

Talya hated not being able to actually go out and cover the kinds of stories she was used to: war, famine, genocide, and profiteering. She channeled that frustration into an overactive Twitter account. Even though she severed ties with News UnCorporated, she was compelled to respond to attacks on News UnCorporated’s credibility — to speak truth to power. She refused to let the deceptive narrative shaped by the corporate media and the Washington think tanks go unchecked. The whistleblowers were in the right, and the fact that newly exposed evidence was being dismissed because of how it came to light was maddening.

The truth is what matters.
Those arguing to arrest whistleblowers,

To lock them up for leaking classified info,

Are trying to distract us while they raid our future.

Her tweets seemed to resonate, but she was only one person, alone in a cold room in an old Soviet-era building in the outskirts of St. Petersburg. She missed her old life. Her US passport had been rescinded, but she still had her Canadian passport. She knew international travel was risky, but she’d taken so many risks in her life. And they’d been worth it.

December 2, 2009Dear Senator John McCain,I was saddened by your defeat in last year’s presidential election. My wife and I have long supported you and appreciate the great work you’ve done as Senator from the great state of Arizona. Even though we are California residents, we have donated to several of your campaigns and will continue to do so!But I am not writing to commiserate or to reiterate my confidence in your leadership. I am writing because my son, Kapital Nasser, is stranded in Cuba with no way to come home without going to prison.He is a good son. He has always cared about others, and it was his caring nature that got him into trouble.Kapital was always into computers. Ever since he was young, he was building and fixing and playing with computers. I told him he shouldn’t be so focused on these machines and instead become a banker. But my advice seems to have contributed to his current predicament. He lost faith in his vocation after the financial collapse, and he did a very idiotic thing by leaking confidential documents from his bank. Even worse, he shared the software he made for leaking documents with his friend in the military, Ryan Barris. Because Ryan’s military trial was kept closed to the public, we don’t know why he shared the leaking software with others in the military. I, personally, have not spoken to Ryan Barris since he was a teenager, but I suspect he took advantage of my son’s kindness and skill with computer technology. Nevertheless, if what Kapital explained to me is true, then Ryan may have also saved his life.Kapital said he was threatened and tortured in Guantanamo Bay. Threatened with his U.S. citizenship being revoked, with no right to a lawyer, and with no Miranda warning. And he told me and my wife he was waterboarded until he was rendered unconscious. My son is not a liar. Senator McCain, you understand better than anyone in the US government, how dehumanizing torture is. I am a physician and can confirm the physical and psychological damage waterboarding does to a person. These actions are being described as enhanced interrogation tactics, but nevertheless, to use them against an American citizen is a great shame to our nation and our constitution.I implore you, Senator McCain: please reconsider your position on arresting my son at any opportunity and trying him in a military tribunal. We know he’s currently safe with my wife’s relatives in Cuba. The Cuban government has granted Kapital asylum for as long as they remain on the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list, and, although my wife and I still disagree with Cuba’s communist system, we are grateful that the Cuban Government has ensured Kapital’s safety for the time being.My wife and I are able to speak with him on a regular basis. These calls mean the world to us. But we fear for our son’s future. He is unhappy in Cuba. He was born here in the United States and misses his life here.As a long-time donor to the Republican Party and to many of your campaigns, please listen to my plea and take action. I urge you to use your influence to encourage others in our party, as well as the current administration, to pardon my son.Thank you,Dr. Omar Nasser, M.D.

Kapital’s life in Cuba felt uninhibited yet repetitive. It reflected a similar refrain he’d heard from others in Havana’s ex-pat community: Cuba’s a dichotomy. Bustling but chill. Frozen yet graceful. Sweet people but terrible service. Poor but happy. His great aunt joked that the best parts of the Cuban revolution were free healthcare, education, and housing. The worst were breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Fortunately, Kapital was not much of a foodie.

Holidays came and went and were approaching once again. His days consisted of walks all around Havana, and his Spanish improved. Words he didn’t realize he remembered would come to him unexpectedly. He spoke to his parents often. They were aggressively lobbying for the charges against him to be dropped and for an end to travel restrictions on Americans visiting Cuba. They told Kapital they were recently on television expressing their anxiety at having not seen their only child for over a year.

“We told everyone how much you’ve been through,” his mom told him over the phone. “And for me to not be able to be there for you, it’s painful!”

His dad didn’t talk much about what was going on in their world. He mostly just asked about how Kapital was doing.

“What are you reading?” His dad seemed to ask this every few days.

“I’m still reading Confederacy of Dunces.”

“Oh yeah, right. Must be a long book!”

“Yeah, it is. I like it though. The main character reminds me of the comic book guy from The Simpsons.”

“Oh, ok. I don’t know what you mean, but I am glad you enjoy reading it.”

They kept their conversations simple, and perhaps that’s why Kapital found them so soothing. He needed simplicity. It had been months since he’d been online. When he first settled in with his mom’s family, he found himself visiting internet cafes almost every day. He needed to know what was happening. What was Talya up to? What were people saying about him? His email inbox was flooded with interview requests, fan mail, and plenty of hateful messages. But he really only wanted to hear from Talya. He knew it wasn’t safe for them to correspond. He knew she was alive and free — well, as free as an asylum seeker could be. Either way, she was safe; her tweets confirmed that. Gradually he realized going online wasn’t helping him. The thought of discussing what had happened to him in Guantanamo Bay with reporters made him shutter. He felt ashamed, as though it was his fault things transpired the way they had. Withdrawing from the internet, choosing to ignore the pointless, never-ending screaming match actually expanded Kapital’s freedom.

He read books. He helped his extended family out with preparing meals and mending fences, carts, and whatever else needed fixing. In the evenings, they drank with neighbors, and Kapital talked to them about business strategies. Everyone was an entrepreneur, like him, and a great dancer, unlike him.

There were times he worried about the stress he had caused. Not only for enabling unsanctioned leaks, but also for the stress he was putting his family through. He heard the tension in his mother’s voice. That sound coming from her throat because she was holding back tears. They badly wanted to visit, but Lola knew that visiting him would intensify the spotlight on their family. They could lose everything. She’d seen how governments make examples out of people. She now had no doubt that her government — the United States — might very well use the full power of the state to send a message.

Omar wanted to believe that the many campaign contributions he and Lola had made over the years meant something. He had identified as a Republican since the early 1970s when President Nixon staunchly defended Pakistan in their ongoing confrontations with pro-Soviet India. But now, his letters to the Representatives and Senators he had financially supported went unanswered. His party’s base was becoming less and less tolerant of establishment Republicans, which may have explained the silence from the lawmakers he contacted. Even so, over the years Omar had spent tens of thousands of dollars attending fancy dinners and donor events. He relished opportunities to hobnob with the nation’s most esteemed conservatives. He believed the handshakes, the chats, and the laughs were his way to access the powerful, and had even considered himself part of the elite. But now he felt as ignored as he did when he first moved to the States. It was the same feeling he had experienced while eating alone in the hospital cafeteria, overhearing the other doctors talking and laughing with one another.

Kapital thought about Talya. He was coming to grips with how much damage he’d done, and how little he had known about her life. On a phone call with his mother, Lola griped, “I can’t believe she didn’t invite us to her wedding.” Talya never told him that she married Benji, and now their future together was forever altered by Kapital’s actions. She had intentionally severed him from her life, and he (unintentionally) engineered a way back into it. Kapital wondered if she resented him. He tried to satisfy that worry rationally: there was nothing that could be done now. His motives were genuine, but the forces at play were beyond his control. Beyond his estimation really. Eventually, his worries would subside, only to return upon moments of reflection.

Feeling unsettled can rile you up. That’s how Kapital felt. Like he was slowly getting riled up. It’s why he avoided going online — it sped up that feeling of crass anxiety. The simplicity of his life in Cuba kept that tension at bay, and yet he still felt himself gradually decaying. It was the time that kept passing. Every day was another day his parents had not seen him. Another day away from the future he once idolized. He had let go of his dream of a multimillion-dollar portfolio by the time he was 30. Retirement by 40. These goals were no longer important to him, but a future with a job, a house, a family — these were impossible for him to imagine now. His mom’s family opened their home to him, and he was incredibly grateful for that. They expressed nothing but joy to have him there, but he still identified as a leech, unable to justify his existence.

Occasionally, when feeling an urge for familiarity, Kapital would strike up a conversation with oblivious American tourists, introducing himself as a Cuban national who learned English from American television. They would talk about random things like computers, economics, universities, or whatever iPhone app was popular at the moment. Unfortunately, while these ephemeral chats with strangers helped him cope with the culture he missed, they also made him long for home all that much more. He was stuck without a comprehensible future. And so, he’d find himself walking home, trying to ignore his aimlessness by going through the next ten steps ahead of him. He would get home, brush his teeth, drink water, read, then sleep. This was almost always the same. Until it wasn’t. Because as he approached his family’s home, between him and the ten steps ahead of him was a suitcase, and a friend next to that suitcase. It was Talya. She was there for him.

About the book

Restructuring Kapital began with a simple idea I had back in 2004: what if a brown guy had a breakdown, let himself go, grew out a beard, and was mistaken for a terrorist? This idea led to a silly short film I made back then called “Unbarbered”, and about five years later, I expanded the idea into a feature-length screenplay entitled “Kapital Gains”.

After finishing the screenplay, I tried to get a friend of mine who had produced a few films to read the screenplay. After brushing off the request, he admitted, “There’s no fucking way I’m going to read your screenplay. If the story’s any good, just make it a book. If people like it, then I’ll read it.”

It took nearly 10 years to adapt the screenplay into a novella, and I would probably still be working on it, ever so slowly, if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t hit. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re laid off and can’t find a new gig.

The screenplay differs from the book in many ways. It’s told through several flashbacks that follow a conversation with an interrogator in Guantanamo Bay. But re-reading that old work is cringe-inducing for me. It has its moments, but I definitely think this novella provides a better picture of the overall story.

Still if I ever had the opportunity — looking at you, Netflix — what’s up, Prime Video? — yo, HBO! — I would love the opportunity to once again adapt this story, this time for the small screen, making the story’s journey a nice, convoluted whorl:

feature-length screenplay → novella → TV series?

No matter what, I plan to keep the story going. What happens to Kapital, Talya, and Ryan as the Obama administration begins to ease up on the US embargo against Cuba? What happens when an egomaniac with dictatorial aspirations uses leaks from News UnCorporated to help win the American Presidency? So much to think about. Hopefully next book won’t take another 10 years… but it probably will.

Anyone interested in collaborating can reach me through Medium.

Cheerio, and thanks for reading!

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