I stared at the hummus on my blue plastic plate while some guy named Doug talked at me.
“It’s a great company,” he was saying. “You know, it’s like, it’s great because it’s tech and we get to play with dogs all day.”
The oil from the hummus ran across the plate. I tilted it, and it ran the other direction.
“Like the other day,” he continued, “Javeed from design brought in his mastiff. You know, mastiffs? They’re the big ones, like huge, like…anyways, the mastiff walks right in, walks right up to Wes — he’s in accounting — and jumps on his desk! And everyone just laughed! I can’t imagine a better office, can you even imagine a better office?”
I smiled and drank my beer, and imagined a mastiff jumping on a cubicle desk and ripping someone’s face off while everyone in the office just laughed.
“Anyways, what is it you said you did?”
“Oh, I’m uh…I’m funemployed right now.”
Doug smirked and shook his head. He chuckled — actually said ha-ha — and put his hand on my shoulder. “Been there, buddy. Enjoy it while it lasts.”
Michael asked me specifically to not tell anyone I did TaskRabbit. That’s not a job, he said. It’s an excuse.
“If anyone asks,” he told me on the phone, “You’re funemployed looking for a new company.”
“Yes, funemployed. Only losers are straight up unemployed.”
“But I’m not unemployed.”
“Right, you’re funemployed.”
“Oh my god.”
“Owen, people hiring you to stand in line for brunch is not a job.”
“Someone’s gotta do it.”
“No one has to do that.”
“Well, someone’s gotta do it.”
“Just…wear that blue checkered button-up and be here at 7.”
I wore that blue checkered button-up and was there at 7:30 with a three beer buzz and a bad attitude. Michael wasn’t in any better shape. Evelyn had convinced him that his baby brother needed his help, that he had been too distant, and that I could benefit from seeing him do his thing. Michael adores Evelyn, the middle child. He’ll do anything for her.
He does not feel the same towards me. He let me in the gate, and immediately walked back into the crowd.
Doug had wondered off somewhere to go spread the gospel of bluetooth enabled dog collars. Something about a fitbit, but more fitbark. Fitbark, he said again. Like…like bark. Like how a dog goes. Get it?
I grabbed another beer out of the fridge. It was all fancy beers in glass bottles with fruit in it. I looked at the label. It had a picture of a pufferfish, and said “pineapple sculpin”. Why. I tossed the fridge door shut, and popped the beer open with a lighter from my pocket.
I stood by the kitchen island. Ceramic bowls of chips and hummus and carrots and a few of those black plastic things of California rolls and bottles of wine and a tupperware container of fried rice covered the surface. I popped a California roll into my mouth whole and took a drink. It went alright together.
Beyond the island, the tech industry mingled. My brother co-owns some start-up. Neither Evelyn nor I have any idea what it is or what Michael does for it, but he drives a Tesla and can afford an apartment with a kitchen island in Upper Haight. I could only assume everyone here made about the same. Not that they looked it. Half these guys were wearing zip-up hoodies and cargo shorts. The girls all wore pants and those ridiculous boots. The people either destroying or creating San Francisco, depending on how you looked at it, couldn’t even dress the part.
“Hey,” someone said behind me. I turned around. It was some girl, probably 30.
“You’re Michael’s brother, right?”
“Uh, yeah, hi I’m Owen.”
“Jasmin, nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too. Sorry, I had some California roll in my mouth. Have you tried them?”
“Uh, no, I haven’t. You must be so proud of him.”
It had honestly never once occurred to me to be proud of him. I’m younger. I’m poor. My pride is valueless. “Yeah,” I said, “We all are. What uh, what do you do?”
“I’m a software engineer.”
“Yeah, I’m working on this really stripped down A/B testing suite. Tech for other tech.”
“Oh, wow. Like, this is something you own?”
“Yeah. Well, me and two other people. We still have a ways to go though.”
When people tell me about successful complicated projects, I get mad. It’s probably jealousy, I don’t know, I haven’t looked into it that much. But this weird middle school bully part of me starts to bubble up. I just can’t imagine that kind of shit being the stuff I’m naturally into.
“Do you ever work with Michael?” she asked.
“God no. I don’t think he’s ever even told me what he does, exactly.”
“Oh.” So disappointed. She was just trying to get to him through me, probably.
“Do you know what he does?”
“Venture capitalism.” Bingo. Jesus. “He doesn’t…you’re not close?”
I took a drink and shook my head. “Sorry to disappoint.”
She nodded her head. “What do you do?”
“Oh, what do you do there?”
“Stand in lines and build furniture, mostly.”
I wanted her to be condescending. I wanted her to say “gross” and walk away. I wanted to be able to rest knowing that she might have money, but she was also a bad person. But she just looked at me, relaxed. She held all authority. This woman probably didn’t have any student loans. She had goals and a calendar and a refillable glass hand-soap pump in her bathroom. She probably didn’t have the vague sense that she was in trouble all the time. She didn’t have to be condescending, because there was no point. She was among her peers, and I was an outsider, and if anything I was the one being a dick. Aggressively saying I’m poor, what the fuck is that? Look upon the face of a normal person? I relaxed my shoulders, and tried to show a little humility.
Her voice softened — “Do you enjoy it?”