Aug 7 2009 9:00am

Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 15 (of 81)


Illustration by Idiots’Books

A month later, Perry was clearing security at Miami International, looking awkward in long trousers, closed-sole shoes, and a denim jacket. It was autumn in Boston, and he couldn’t show up in flip-flops and a pair of cutoffs. The security guards gave his leathery, lopsided face a hard look. He grinned like a pirate and made his funny eyebrow twitch, a stunt that earned him half an hour behind the screen and a date with Doctor Jellyfinger.

“What, exactly, do you think I’ve got hidden up there?” he asked as he gripped the railing and tried not to let the illegitimati carborundum.

“It’s procedure, sir.”

“Well, the doc said my prostate was the size of a guava about a month ago—in your professional opinion, has it shrunk or grown? I mean, while you’re up there.”

The TSA man didn’t like that at all. A minute later, Perry was buckling up and leaving the little room with an exaggerated bowlegged gait. He tipped an imaginary hat at the guard’s retreating back and said, “Call me!” in a stagey voice.

It was the last bit of fun he had for the next four hours, crammed in the tin can full of recycled discount air-traveller flatulence and the clatter of fingers on keyboards and the gabble of a hundred phone conversations as the salarymen on the flight stole a few minutes of cramped productivity from the dead travel time.

Touching down in Boston and getting his luggage, he felt like he’d landed on an alien planet. The feeling of disorientation and foreignness was new to Perry. He was used to being supremely comfortable, in control—confident. But he was nervous now, maybe even scared, a little.

He dialed Tjan. “I’ve got my bags,” he said.

“I’ll be right around,” Tjan said. “Really looking forward to seeing you.”

There were more cops than passengers in the arrivals area at Logan, and they watched Tjan warily as he pulled up and swung open a door of his little sports-car.

“What the fuck is this, a Porsche?” Perry said as he folded himself awkwardly into the front seat, stepping in through the sun-roof, pulling his bag down into his lap after him.

“It’s a Lada. I had it imported—they’re all over Russia. Evolutionary algorithm used to produce a minimum-materials/maximum-strength chassis. It’s nice to see you, Perry.”

“It’s nice to see you, Tjan,” he said. The car was so low to the ground that it felt like he was riding luge. Tjan hammered mercilessly on the gearbox, rocketing them to Cambridge at such speed that Perry barely had time to admire the foliage, except at stop-lights.

They were around the campus now, taking a screeching right off Mass Ave onto a tree-lined street of homely two-storey brick houses. Tjan pulled up in front of one and popped the sun-roof. The cold air that rushed in was as crisp as an apple, unlike any breath of air to be had in Florida, where there was always a mushiness, a feeling of air that had been filtered through the moist lungs of Florida’s teeming fauna.

Perry climbed out of the little Russian sports-car and twisted his back and raised his arms over his head until his spine gave and popped and crackled.

Tjan followed, and then he shut down the car with a remote that made it go through an impressive and stylish series of clicks, clunks and chirps before settling down over its wheels, dropping the chassis to a muffler-scraping centimeter off the ground.

“Come on,” he said. “I’ll show you your room.”

Tjan’s porch sagged, with a couple kids’ bikes triple-locked to it and an all-covering chalk mosaic over every inch of it. The wood creaked and gave beneath their feet.

The door sprang open and revealed a pretty little girl, nine or ten years old, in blue-jeans and a hoodie sweater that went nearly to her ankles, the long sleeves bunched up like beach-balls on her forearms. The hood hung down to her butt—it was East Coast bangbanger, as reinterpreted through the malls.

“Daddy!” she said, and put her arms around Tjan’s waist, squeezing hard.

He pried her loose and then hoisted her by the armpits up to eye-height. “What have you done to your brother?”

“Nothing he didn’t deserve,” she said, with a smile that showed dimples and made her little nose wrinkle.

Tjan looked over at Perry. “This is my daughter, Lyenitchka, who is about to be locked in the coal cellar until she learns to stop torturing her younger brother. Lyenitchka, this is Perry Gibbons, upon whom you have already made an irreparably bad first impression.” He shook her gently Perrywards.

“Hello, Perry,” she said, giggling, holding out one hand. She had a faint accent, which made her sound like a tiny, skinny Bond villainess.

He shook gravely. “Nice to meet you,” he said.

“You got your kids,” Perry said, once she was gone.

“For the school year. Me and the ex, we had a heart-to-heart about the Russian education system and ended up here: I get the kids from September to June, but not Christmases or Easter holidays. She gets them the rest of the time, and takes them to a family dacha in Ukraine, where she assures me there are hardly any mafiyeh kids to influence my darling daughter.”

“You must be loving this,” Perry said.

Tjan’s face went serious. “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“I’m really happy for you, buddy.”

They had burgers in the back-yard, cooking on an electric grill that was caked with the smoking grease of a summer’s worth of outdoor meals. The plastic table-cloth was weighed down with painted rocks and the corners blew up in the freshening autumn winds. Lyenitchka’s little brother appeared when the burgers began to spit and smoke on the grill, a seven-year-old in metallic mesh trousers and shirts wrought with the logo of a cartoon Cossack holding a laser-sword aloft.

“Sasha, meet Perry.” Sasha looked away, then went off to swing on a tire-swing hanging from the big tree.

“You’ve got good kids,” Perry said, handing Tjan a beer from the cooler under the picnic table.

“Yup,” Tjan said. He flipped the burgers and then looked at both of them. Lyenitchka was pushing her brother on the swing, a little too hard. Tjan smiled and looked back down at his burgers.

Tjan cut the burgers in half and dressed them to his kids’ exacting standards. They picked at them, pushed them onto each other’s plates and got some into their mouths.

“I’ve read your briefing on the ride,” Tjan said, once his kids had finished and eaten half a package of Chutney Oreos for dessert. “It’s pretty weird stuff.”

Perry nodded and cracked another beer. The cool air was weirding him out, awakening some atavistic instinct to seek a cave. “Yup, weird as hell. But they love it. Not just the geeks, either, though they eat it up, you should see it. Obsessive doesn’t begin to cover it. But the civilians come by the hundreds, too. You should hear them when they come out: ‘Jee-zus, I’d forgotten about those dishwasher-stackers, they were wicked! Where can I get one of those these days you figger?’ The nostalgia’s thick enough to cut with a knife.”

Tjan nodded. “I’ve been going over your books, but I can’t figure out if you’re profitable.”

“Sorry, that’s me. I’m pretty good at keeping track of numbers, but getting them massaged into a coherent picture—”

“Yeah, I know.” Tjan got a far-away look. “How’d you make out on Kodacell, Perry? Finance-wise?”

“Enough to open the ride, buy a car. Didn’t lose anything.”

“Ah.” Tjan fiddled with his beer. “Listen, I got rich off of Westinghouse. Not fuck-the-service-here-I’m-buying-this-restaurant rich, but rich enough that I never have to work again. I can spend the rest of my life in this yard, flipping burgers, taking care of my kids, and looking at porn.”

“Well, you were the suit. Getting rich is what suits do. I’m just a grunt.””

Tjan had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed. “Now here’s the thing. I don’t have to work, but, Perry, I have no idea what I’m going to do if I don’t work. The kids are at school all day. Do you have any idea how much daytime TV sucks? Playing the stock market is completely nuts, it’s all gone sideways and upside down. I got an education so I wouldn’t have to flip burgers for the rest of my life.”

“What are you saying, Tjan?”

“I’m saying yes,” Tjan said, grinning piratically. “I’m saying that I’ll join your little weird-ass hobby business and I’ll open another ride here for the Massholes. I’ll help you run the franchising op, collect fees, make it profitable.”

Perry felt his face tighten.

“What? I thought you’d be happy about this.”

“I am,” Perry said. “But you’re misunderstanding something. These aren’t meant to be profitable businesses. I’m done with that. These are art, or community, or something. They’re museums. Lester calls them wunderkammers—cabinets of wonders. There’s no franchising op the way you’re talking about it. It’s ad hoc. It’s a protocol we all agree on, not a business arrangement.”

Tjan grunted. “I don’t think I understand the difference between a agreed-upon protocol and a business arrangement.” He held up his hand to fend off Perry’s next remark. “But it doesn’t matter. You can let people have the franchise for free. You can claim that you’re not letting anyone have anything, that they’re letting themselves in for their franchise. It doesn’t matter to me.

“But Perry, here’s something you’re going to have to understand: it’s going to be nearly impossible not to make a business out of this. Businesses are great structures for managing big projects. It’s like trying to develop the ability to walk without developing a skeleton. Once in a blue moon, you get an octopus, but for the most part, you get skeletons. Skeletons are good shit.”

“Tjan, I want you to come on board to help me create an octopus,” Perry said.

“I can try,” Tjan said, “but it won’t be easy. When you do cool stuff, you end up making money.”

“Fine,” Perry said. “Make money. But keep it to a minimum, OK?”

<<< Back to Part 14

Continue to Part 16>>>

* * *

As part of the ongoing project of crafting’s electronic edition of Makers, the author would like for readers to chime in with their favorite booksellers and stories about them in the comments sections for each piece of Makers, for consideration as a possible addition to a future edition of the novel.

Doctorow’s Makers will be released in print by Tor Books in October. You can read all previous installments of Makers on on our index page.

1. DemetriosX
Aren't Tjan's kids too young here? I don't know how long the time jump was, but it feels like it's been at least 5 years. Add to that a general impression in the first part that Tjan had been divorced for a couple of years and 10 and 7 seems really off.
Marcus W
2. toryx
I was thinking the same thing as DemetriosX. I'd gotten the impression that ten years had passed between the collapse of Kodacell and current events.

If that's true, both of those kids would have to be older than ten.

On the other hand, if I'm wrong and it hasn't been ten years, it'd be nice to know how many years it's actually been.

Otherwise, the story continues as enjoyably as before. One thing I've noticed, however, is that the more I read the more uncomfortable I am about the world he's depicting. I sure wouldn't want to live there. I hope this isn't the world we'll be seeing in the future, though I wouldn't be surprised if it's not something like it.

Okay, now I'm depressed.
3. DemetriosX
Yeah, I had that ten years feeling, too, but I looked back and all I could find was a mention in the last section that Perry and Lester had been roommates for ten years. It also bugs me that Perry is only 34. That seems way too young. It's about the youngest I would have placed him in the first part and we're now several years on. I would also make him 24 when he started working with Lester. I'll have to go back and reread their introduction.
Agnes Kormendi
4. tapsi
Suzanne's first impression of Perry's that he's in his early/mid twenties (He was young, 22 or 23, and already had squint-creases at the corners of his eyes) and him being 34 was one of the things that made me think there was a 10 year gap.

Also, Tjan's kids were supposed to be older than this already when we first met him, here it is in Part 3:

“There you go. It’s a growth industry.” He drank his coffee. On the way back to their cars, he said, “My daughter, Anushka, is 12, and my son, Lee, is 8. I haven’t lived with them in four years and I’ve only seen them twice since. They’re good kids, though. It just couldn’t work with their mother. She’s Russian, and connected—that’s how we met, I was hustling for my import-export business and she had some good connections—so after the divorce there was no question of my taking the kids with me. But they’re good kids.”

So unless he married another Russian lady and had another 2 kids off-screen, this is odd.
5. Chris C,
I don't understand why Perry is so anti-profit. He has a cool idea, why is he offended at the notion of making some money from it? He didn't seem this way before.
6. Crazy Hayes
Let's try this for the 5th time

Yeah this section threw me off. With how young his kids are it threw me off that time jump we went through a couple of sections back. The other thing that threw me off as well guys is that this means that in the time gap not only did the companies collapse but also gave the 3 guys time to re adjust back into what they wanted to do. Cory I think the fact that all this happened and Perry and Lester getting back together and started working together would justify a difference in time. Yeah we are stingy but this section felt a bit off to me.

I think that most people will have a problem with this section as it is just filler between Chapter Acts. When we saw Suzanne's home there was a huge conflict going on there, but here there was nothing surprising, but to be honest that is fine. I am sure with what is going to happen next it is going to be huge, and having non stop excitement can sometimes be overwhelming. So I will call this section Sorbet, as it is a pallet cleanser for me.

I do agree though, I was expecting his children to be pre-teen ages. I like the idea that he lives with his children, but they may be a couple years older.
7. DemetriosX
Heh. It occurs to me that Doctorow has now successfully crowdsourced editing.
8. Crazy Hayes
@tapsi: Or he could be a clueless dad. I was called my brother's name for years. Though if that is the case someone in the book needs to call Tjan on it.
Ronald Hobbs
9. dustrider
I wouldn't put it much past 5 years between this and the last section.

This is post .com bust accellerated. Everything from rapidly changing fashions to it being an almost mythical "you had to be there to know what it was like" experience by the insiders, which funnily enough was a phrase used by Suzanne in the first section.
Bill Siegel
10. ubxs113
I didn't notice any incongruity in the jump. You all just automatically assumed it was longer than it really was.
12. Johnny0
Definitely an incongruity here. If the daughter was 12 before and the son 8, and it had been five years, now the daughter would be 17 and the son 13. Also, the daughter was named "Anushka" before, and now she's "Lyenitchka." If the daughter was "9 or 10" now, then we've gone *back* in time two or three years.

Of course, there is the possibility, as tapsi mentioned, that "he married another Russian lady and had another 2 kids off-screen," but that seems very unlikely.

Seems easy enough to fix. Just make the kids younger in the first reference.
Agnes Kormendi
13. tapsi
Crazy Hayes @ 8

He would be a very clueless dad indeed, to call Anushka Lyenitchka and Lee Sasha... (and, given their ages, we've only jumped a few months; 12 and 8 according to Tjan, and 9/10 and 7 in Perry's perception). If it's the same set of kids.

ubxs113 @ 10

There's still the matter of the kids' names and ages, and Perry's age. I don't think Suzanne misjudged his age by 10 years; 4-6 is possible, but 10 is just too much.
14. Kevin D. Clarke
One on my favorite book stores is Glad Day Books in Toronto. Glad Day Books

Every time I go in, there are friendly, attentive staff to help be find what I'm looking for. Even when I only have a 'Devil Wears Prada' idea of what I want.
'Where's that book; a new release, from a Toronto author, about Homo Sapiens'

They have made great suggestions that have launched my imagination into new realms of fiction.
15. Warspoon
In regards to the name change of Tijan's daughter, there may be a "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" thing going on. Many different names for the same person. Its a Russian thing.
Agnes Kormendi
16. tapsi
In Ivan Ilyich's case, Ivan is the only name and Ilyich refers to his dad's name (it means somethingg like Ilya's son), Russians usually use the "name - dad's name - family name" structure. On the other hand, Anushka and Lyenitchka are both diminutives of proper female names; I don't speak Russian so I only guess at Anna and Elena.
David Dudley
17. Warspoon
In the book "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" Ivan was refered to using many different names. Some were obvious variations of Ivan, some were . . . less obvious. Made it difficult to follow the first time through.
Agnes Kormendi
18. tapsi
Oh, sorry, it was a misunderstanding then... Sorry.
19. AndrewCrocker
So, based on earlier chapters was Tjan 10 when he had his daughter? That's a little weird, but now that I think about it even having his kid at 20 would be strange.

It's difficult to get through business grad school with kids, I'd imagine.
20. Lemur
Another piece of evidence for the ten-year jump: we get this snippet about Lester, from Sammy's point of view in part 13:
He gestured at a fit, greying man sitting on a stool ... He had the look of one of the fatkins, unnaturally thin and muscled and yet somehow lazy, the combination of a ten kilocalorie diet, zero body-fat and non-steroidal muscle enhancers. Ten years ago, he would have been a model, but today he was just another ex-tubbalard with a serious food habit.

* Emphasis added
21. pemdasi
The octopus evolution analogy is great! I agree with the other posters here that the ages of the kids seem a bit off. It wasn't enough to actually throw me out of the narrative, though.
22. davidmp
Ten years ago, he would have been a model,
To me that doesn't mean it happened ten years ago.
It is merely saying that ten years ago you wouldn't have seen something like that. Which to me puts the fatkin transformations somewhere in the middle of that.
But there is definately something out of whack with the kids ages.
23. MauiMaker
Ok so I'm come-lately to reading this, but the kids ages really got me here. I immediately jumped down to the comments - rather than hunting back to find the initial reference to them.

Cory, I hope you fix this up for the print version!
24. osofine
I'm in the middle of reading the free download of the entire book from Doctrow's site. I wonder if anyone has read the printed book and knows if there have been revisions made to it that clear up these anachronisms? Unless there turns out to be some kind of parallel-universe thing (of a J.J. Abrams' production sort) going on between part I and part II, this seems really off. I should just finish it before posting.... I'll probably get a hard-copy before this post is answered - I'll try to come back and report.

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