Penguin Random House
Copyright © 2018 Gary ShteyngartISBN: 978-0-8129-9741-5
All rights reserved.
Barry Cohen, a man with 2.4 billion dollars of assets under management, staggered into the Port Authority Bus Terminal. He was visibly drunk and bleeding. There was a clean slice above his left brow where the nanny's fingernail had gouged him and, from his wife, a teardrop scratch below his eye. It was 3:20 A.M.
The last time he had been to the Port Authority was twenty-four years ago. He had gone on a bus trip to Richmond, Virginia, to see his college girlfriend. That youthful bus ride unspooled in his mind whenever the S&P was crushing him or whenever he would discover a new and terrible fact about his son's condition. When Barry closed his eyes, he could picture the sweep of the highway, his country calling out to him from both sides of the road. He could feel himself sitting on a hard wooden bench at some roadside shack. A thick woman with a crablike walk and many stories to tell would bring him a plate of vinegary beans and pulled pork. They would talk as equals about where their lives went wrong, and she would waive the price of the meal, and he would pay for it anyway. And she would say, Thank you, Barry, because despite the vast difference in their assets under management, they would already be on a first-name basis.
He stumbled over to the line of policemen and policewomen guarding the nighttime barricades meant to shepherd travelers from the streets to the gates. "Where are the buses?" he said. "I want to get out of here."
To the cops he looked like just another New Yorker. A bleeding man; roughed-up, sweat-clumped nighttime hair; a Patagonia vest over his Vineyard Vines shirt with the single word CITI. He was tall and had a wide swimmer's build, his thick shoulders tapering to two feminine wrists, a liability at any point in history, but never more so than during the year 2016, at the start of the First Summer of Trump. He was breathing heavily after having dragged a carry-on roller-board from his apartment on Madison Square Park, a total of ten long blocks. The night was warm and windy, a perfect Manhattan I-don't-want-to-die kind of night, and with each block he walked he had felt more assured of what he was about to do to his marriage.
"Downstairs," one of the cops said.
Barry did as he was told, the little rollerboard twisting behind him. The air here was different. He could say with certainty that he had not in recent memory, or any memory, really, breathed air of this quality. The easy way to describe it would be to say that it smelled like a foot. But whose foot? The man was not in the habit of smelling feet, except perhaps in the locker room at Equinox where his own feet smelled of chlorine, because he swam. His wife's feet, he was sure, smelled of honeysuckle like the rest of her, but he was not going to think of her now.
There was a Greyhound counter, but its gate was shuttered and there was no note about when it would reopen. "Socialism," Barry said aloud, even though he knew that Greyhound Lines was a Dallas-based subsidiary of the Scottish company FirstGroup, and not a service offered by our government. He had drunk thirty-three thousand dollars' worth of Karuizawa whiskey that night. He could make mistakes.
There was a Hudson newsstand and Barry headed for the old South Asian man behind the counter. "Where are the buses?" he said.
"Downstairs," the old man answered.
"I am downstairs."
The old Indian shrugged. He was watching Barry and his bleeding face with his hooded eyes as if he wanted in on his ruination. Barry hated him. He could hate him because his wife was Indian.
"Do you have WatchTime magazine?"
"The Watch Lounge?"
"Anything about watches?"
There were no further interactions to be had here. He took another look around. The socialist Greyhound counter was still shuttered. Un-fucking-believable. There was a sign that read TO GATES 1-78. So maybe that's where the buses were. The escalator leading downstairs was broken and yet another Indian wearing a Hudson News vest sat on the top steps holding his head in his hands. He appeared to be weeping. One of Barry's top traders was a guy named Akash Singh, but he was a killer on the floor.
He dragged his rollerboard down the broken escalator, worried about the watches inside. The automatic ones were safe within their Swiss Kubik watch winders, but the manually wound ones should not be exposed to such shocks, especially the Universal Genève Tri-Compax, which was from the early 1940s and in frail health. Barry normally couldn't go on a trip without at least three watches to keep him company, each was an old and rare friend, but he would need no fewer than half-a-dozen timepieces to complete this journey. He picked up his luggage, but lifting it made him want to throw up. He sat down on one of the escalator steps and considered the crying Indian man sitting above him. He would get through this. He could get through anything after what he had been through this year. His wife didn't love him. Didn't desire him. And although he wanted her, he wasn't sure he loved her either. He thought of that long-ago trip to Richmond, Virginia, to see his college girlfriend, Layla, and the wind in his hair as the bus whipped into the Lincoln Tunnel and then into New Jersey. Was the wind really in his hair? Did bus windows open back then? Yes, they must have. Would they open now? Probably not. But he could imagine the wind in his hair, the little that was left, because unlike what his wife had said, he had an imagination. He got up and holding his rollerboard with the watches tight to his chest walked down the remaining steps.
It was not good here. It was not good at all. It smelled like someone had eaten a fish sandwich. There were people sitting on benches, sitting on their luggage, sitting on the brown linoleum floor. There were gates with numbers and destinations, like at an airport, and outside the gates the buses all waited in the stink and gloom. That was the thing. You could go anywhere within our country. The open road! The train was probably faster and nicer, Barry had taken an Acela to Boston once on a dare with Joey Goldblatt of Icarus Capital Management, but this was the open road, and once you got on it the whole country would rush out to say hello and refill your ice tea. You would become a traveler and no one could tell you you had no imagination or no soul or whatever his wife had said to insult him in front of the Guatemalan writer and his Hong Kong doctor wife whose apartment he had left in ignominy just a few hours ago in the whiskey-heat of the night. To be demeaned in front of others, to be cut down in front of one's lessers, he had seen this before with his hedgie friends' wives, and it had always been the first step to divorce. In his field, pride was nonnegotiable.
Barry looked at the destinations. Washington Express. Cleveland Express. Casino Express. Everything was an express. Then he found what he was looking for. A gate that read RICHMOND, VA. It was the only bus that was not an express. Fine. He would go to Richmond. In the last two months, since his son's diagnosis, he had done some very hot and heavy Facebook snooping and it turned out that Layla was in El Paso, Texas, of all places. But Richmond was a start. Richmond was about memories. Her parents might still be there. Wouldn't that be something, if he just showed up. Not on his Net-Jets account, but on a Greyhound?
There was something he remembered from that long-ago bus trip to see Layla. The way the departing Greyhound had turned and turned again through the mysterious dark passages of the Port Authority, but then had emerged onto this golden overpass, beneath which the city glowed in all its art deco metalwork, enticing and beckoning. Barry had thought of that leave-taking, that exit ramp into the sky, with increasing frequency over the last three years, whenever the soul-dismembering red numbers crept onto his Bloomberg terminal, next to which he kept a large framed photo of his son, Shiva, in all his dark-eyed beauty; Shiva, sullenly holding a baby doll named Maurice but never looking at it. Beneath the frame Barry had the words i LOVE you, RABBIT put in in gaudy gilded letters, just to remind himself that he did, more than anything.
A young black man in a green vest stood before the Richmond gate. It was hard to tell what he was doing there, but he had a green vest on. "I want to buy a ticket," Barry said to him.
"Damn," the man said. "What happened to your face?"
This was the first time all night anyone had noticed his pain. "My wife hit me," Barry said. "And my son's nanny."
"Uh-huh." The man had a string of pimples across his face.
"I want to go to Richmond."
"Uh-huh," the man in the green vest said.
"I don't have a ticket."
"You go upstairs to the ticket counter."
"Yeah, but they open it eventually."
"Where's the restroom?"
"There's one on the third floor, but I gotta key in the elevator to let you up."
"I better go get my ticket first."
"Bus ain't going nowhere. I might as well key in the elevator and let you up. Face all busted."
It was time to close the deal just as if this man were a potential investor. "I'm Barry Cohen. It's really nice to meet you."
"I'm Wayne. You sure you don't want the bathroom?"
"I'm going to get my ticket first, Wayne. You're a real stand-up guy. Wish I had someone like you working on my team."
"You work at Citibank?" Wayne had noticed his Citi vest.
"Then I got to question your taste in apparel there," Wayne said. He smiled and Barry smiled back at him. His first smile of the night.
Barry walked back up the escalator with his rollerboard. The man in the Hudson News vest had stopped crying and was now looking blankly down the broken escalator steps with puffy eyes. The Richmond bus was leaving in twenty minutes, but the shutter was still drawn against the ticket booths. A woman wearing purple mesh bunny ears and a wifebeater that had PARIS rhinestoned across the front of it was holding on to the links of the shutter, looking at the empty ticket counters the way a navy wife might look at a ship pulling out to sea.
"I got to get out of here," Barry said to her.
The woman appraised his face. She was thirty or fifty, it was hard to tell, and Barry imagined every second of her life had been painful. "No shit," she said.
"Why won't they open it?"
"There's a ticket counter upstairs, but the guy said it was closed because of some technics difficulty."
"That's what he said."
"This isn't right. My bus leaves in twenty minutes."
"Tell me about it."
"This isn't right," Barry repeated.
"What you want me to do?" the woman said. One of her mesh bunny ears drooped over her face. Her bottom teeth seemed to be where her top teeth should be and she had no bottom teeth. She was white. Just an hour into his journey, Barry was starting to get something about the Trump phenomenon. Like an idiot, he had thrown 1.7 million, almost two bucks, after Marco Rubio. What choice did he have? He had sat through a five-hour dinner with Ted Cruz in a private room at the Gramercy Tavern after which Joey Goldblatt had turned to him and whispered, "He's a psychopath." So they all bet their millions on Rubio. They should have met this woman first. There was nothing Rubio could do for her.
He couldn't get on the bus without a ticket. But the ticket counter was not open. He fingered his phone.
The point of this trip was that it would just be him out in the world solving his own problems, just like the woman with the bunny ears, just like his nineteen-year-old Princeton sophomore self. Where did he lose that nineteen-year-old? The one who had been so ready for love and so ready for heartbreak, not the kind of heartbreak his son, Shiva, had brought him, but the kind that healed.
The woman in the mesh ears was talking to a trans woman eating a bag of Lay's with a lot of emphasis. Barry was standing a foot away from them, but he was being completely ignored.
He called Sandy on her emergency number. It was three-thirty in the morning, but of course she would answer, and it would take no more than two seconds for her to get the sleep out of her voice. Sandy had worked for Pataki in the same capacity when he was governor, that's how good she was. He pictured her lying next to her big-boned Dominican partner ass to ass. Barry was a Republican, but he had been long gay marriage since third quarter 2014. He couldn't shut up about gay marriage. He had actually once given Sandy this huge spiel about how she and whatever-her-name-was should get married, because the problem with our country was —
"What's wrong?" Sandy said.
"I need you to book a Greyhound bus to Richmond, Virginia, now."
"Observation," Sandy said. "You don't sound so hot." She said a bunch of other things in quick succession. She wanted to know if there was anything up from a legal perspective, which they shouldn't talk about on the phone, but she would Uber over right away, just hold tight. Whatever this was about, the morning would bring "resolution." She mentioned "optics." Did he know what it was like on a Greyhound? If he absolutely had to go, there was NetJets out of Teterboro. He could be "wheels up" in two hours. There were direct JetBlue, Delta, and United flights to Richmond. There was Acela plus a regional train. Why was he doing this? Her competency was beautiful. Sandy was the only woman at his firm, other than the hotties in investor relations. They had employed a tart-tongued Oxford ex-biologist who ran risk management, another lesbian who had once actually called him "retarded" to his face, but after three disaster-filled years, their assets down by more than half, plus that other thing, she had pivoted to a start-up in the Valley.
As Sandy's competence grew in scope and pitch across the line, Barry looked at the woman in the mesh rabbit ears and the trans woman with the Lay's chips who kept ignoring him. The anger that may have just cost him his family was still in his veins. Men and women, women and men. His anger couldn't be stopped. "When you hired me as chief of staff, I told you I needed to trust my principal," Sandy was saying. "And this is what I need to know. Can I trust you now?"
"Just do your fucking job!" he screamed.
The trans woman next to him stopped eating her chips. She and her companion surveyed his broken face. Instinctively, they looked around for protection, but despite the Port Authority's name, there was no authority this far beneath the organized precincts of the imperial city. So this was who he was now — a man who screamed at women. Who bullied disabled children. He saw Seema's and Shiva's frightened faces. He had to run away before he caused more damage. "Okay, okay," Sandy said. "Just stay there." By this point her partner was probably all awake and glossy lipped behind her, scared by the commotion ringing through their nine-hundred-square-foot 1.3-million-dollar Downtown Brooklyn glass box, thinking what every New Yorker always thought in times of trouble: Will I have to leave this place?
And so, after destroying his wife and the Filipina nanny, he had ruined the night of two other women.
The transgendered Lay's woman and Bunny Ears had moved across the hall and took turns watching him. They were muttering something, probably about him being crazy, about knowing guys like him, possibly dating guys like him, although not in the stupid Patagonia Citi vest. He had to calm down. The violence was still there, pulsing red at his fingertips. Whenever he felt this out of control, when the world lurched around him and his own body felt counterfeit, he remembered what his shrink had told him: "Look at your watch."
He looked at his watch. It was Nomos Minimatik with a champagne-colored dial. Nomos was his new thing. They were not expensive watches, they topped out at 20K, but they were made in the tiny German town of Glashütte, far from all that overpriced Swiss razzle-dazzle, and they stuck to a strict but playful Bauhaus aesthetic. The watch did its work. It calmed him. The creaminess of the dial, the great rushes of open space between the arabic numerals, and, most important, the tiny orange second hand, a child's hand, really, elegantly, sweeping around its little subsidiary dial, as if life were easy and bright. The watch sucked up the inhuman glow of the space around him and substituted beauty and hope. He remembered three-week-old Shiva asleep in his arms, this sweet brown rabbit, and even then he whispered through all his agnostic lapsed-Jew bullshit, "Please, God, just don't do anything to him, okay? My sins are my own."